Monday, February 03, 2014

I Strongly Doubt Divorced And Remarried Catholics Will Be Allowed to Have Communion

This article by Sandro Magister has been making the rounds of Catholic social media.

He starts off his article:

During the first centuries the divorced and remarried were pardoned of their sins and given communion, but later this practice was abandoned in the West. Today Pope Francis has brought it back onto the field, while the dueling goes on among the cardinals.

Now I want to make a distinction here.

Just because it was the practice of the Church doesn't automatically make it correct.

In the Early Church,it was the practice of many clergy to get married even after vowing celibacy. That didn't make it okay.

Note how he characterizes annulments:
In the Catholic Church today, in fact, the only way for the divorced and remarried to be admitted to Eucharistic communion is the verification of the nullity of the previous marriage celebrated in church.

Nullity can be attributed to numerous causes, and the ecclesiastical tribunals are generally understanding in resolving even difficult marriage cases by this means.

That should automatically make this article suspect.

The purpose of annulments is not to "resolve difficult marriage cases."

It's not to solve your family issues.

An annulment is the product of a study into whether a marriage is sacramentally valid or not.

That's it.

Whether it solves anyone's problems should make strictly no difference in the investigation.

But of course, the problem is that it is suspected that many marriages are suspected of being invalid but there are not enough resources to process them all.

Well here's the solution to that: until your marriage is declared invalid, marriage has the favour of the Church.

That's the solution, but it's a solution that people don't like.

Then Magister goes into a segue that I thought was a little dishonest:
Joseph Ratzinger, both as cardinal and as pope, had repeatedly brought up the hypothesis of allowing access to communion for the divorced and remarried "who have come to a well-founded conviction of conscience concerning the nullity of their first marriage but are unable to prove this nullity by the judicial route."

Benedict XVI warned that this "is a highly complex problem and ought to be studied further."
Pope Benedict has been an opponent of allowing communion of divorced-and-remarried Catholics.

Maybe he did bring it up, but he never permitted it. He only says "it needs further study."

If you read the document that Magister cites, yes, the Pope does bring a number of questions that need further study.

But the crux of the document is this:

The Church cannot sanction pastoral practices — for example, sacramental pastoral practices - which contradict the clear instruction of the Lord. In other words, if the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception. (
Magister then cites the work of Giovanni Cereti as evidence that the Church tolerated second marriages.

The strongest evidence seems to be Canon 8 of the Council of Nicea. It deals with the readmittance of repentant Novationists within the ranks. They had to agree to theological communion with those who had contracted a second marriage.

Now there is no mention of "adultery" in this canon.  Only people who were married twice. Novationists were opposed to second marriages, regardless whether they were adulterous or not.

Now perhaps the context might offer some insight into this canon, but I am not specialist. Still, the fact that there was no distinction between adulterous marriages and valid second marriages seems suspicious to me.

The only other source from the Early Church that is cited is Pope St. Leo the Great who "sought pastoral solutions for rare borderline cases".

Note that it was for "rare borderline cases", which are not named. For instance, did they involve unconsummated marriages?

No other Early Church Father is mentioned. That seems suspicious. If they were so numerous to do this, they should be easy to name.
And of course, as the article mentions, a system of marriage tribunals was developed precisely to deal with these cases with a method more reliable than mere guesswork.

So we're supposed to go back to the age of St. Leo to deal with our marriage issues?

I have not read the work of Giovanni Cereti, and he may be a fine historian. But Magister's method of argumentation reminds me of the way activists argue for women's ordination or homosexuality.  They take some flimsy evidence, produce conclusions that fit 21st century ideology and then use those conclusions to advocate for changes in the Church.

The bottom line is that from a doctrinal perspective it matters less what the practice was than what the Popes and the Fathers taught was true.

They teach unanimously that

* A valid and consummated marriage is indissoluble.

* Violating marriage vows is adultery.

* Adultery is a grave sin.

* Grave sin makes one inadmissible to Communion.

Whatever system is proposed to deal with divorced-and-remarried Catholics must respect these truths.

Let's look at reality in the face.

All these Catholics who are divorcing and remarrying? The vast majority are not Catholics seeking to live up to the teachings of the Church.

They were baptized Catholic, they have personal interpretations of Revelation, and they want the Church to live up to them so that they can live their own Christian philosophy.

The vast majority are not looking to obey the teachings of the Church.

The proof is in the pudding.

If they were so faithful, how come they got divorced to begin with?

Yes, a number were the spouse sinned against because they were abandoned.

A number genuinely had to leave the relationship.

But that's not most cases, is it?

And even if they were sinned against, fidelity is still enjoined upon them.

The fact is, many don't know about Catholic marriage because they don't want to know.
 They feel entitled to get married in the Church on their own terms.

And similarly, they feel entitled to have Communion, on their own terms.

The Gospel is fairly clear: a man and a woman become one flesh. What God joins together let no man put asunder.

There's not a lot of wiggle room there.

So what's the solution to these potentially invalid marriages?

Either we put up the resources to examine these marriages or there is no solution.

Sad but true. Sometimes there is no theologically acceptable solution to a problem, as with the case of excess frozen embryos.
Take this as a cautionary tale: don't get married in the Church unless you know exactly what you're getting into.