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Divorce, remarriage, Communion, and the sense of the faithful

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 06, 2014

Some critics of Pope Francis (and some critics of yours truly) seem to think that it’s only a matter of time before Pope Francis endorses the the Kasper proposal, and gives the green light for Catholics who are divorced and remarried to receive Communion. Some traditionalists are already planning how they might organize resistance to this papal move. I say they’re wasting their time, because the Pope is not going to change Church doctrine.

It’s incontrovertible that the Pope has encouraged discussion of the Kasper proposal. But discussing a proposal doesn’t necessarily entail accepting it. (I’ve encouraged discussion at the family dinner table about what we would do in case of a fire in our home; I wasn’t suggesting that the kids should burn down the house.) Sometimes a serious discussion of Option A, which is unworkable, will lead to discovery of Option B, which fits the bill.

The Kasper proposal, in anything approaching its current form, is unworkable. We already know that the proposal drew sharp criticism during the cardinals’ consistory. We know, too, that Cardinal Kasper represents one end of the theological spectrum; just last night he was voicing his support for dissident theologians and distancing himself from the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Kasper justifies his proposal by suggesting that it reflects the sensus fidelium--that most Catholics are hoping for a change. That argument is going to backfire. Maybe most Catholics in Germany would side with their cardinal, but in other parts of the world—and especially in the parts where the Catholic faith is growing—there is very little sympathy for such doctrinal innovations. (And here we are not even taking into account the fact that the sensus fidelium reflects what faithful Catholics always and everywhere have believed—thus including what Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead,” the witness of the many generations of Catholics who have firmly upheld the indissolubility of marriage.) Actually support for the Kasper proposal might be said to show the “sense of the unfaithful”—the consensus of opinion in societies where Catholicism is in retreat.

Sandro Magister of L’Espresso points to the clear division on “hot-button” moral issues “between the majority opinion in some areas of Europe and North America, where indifference reigns with regard to abortion, the dissolution of marriage, and "gender" ideology, and the opposite sensibility of other immense areas of the world, especially in Africa and Asia, which nonetheless have serious problems of their own, from arranged marriages to polygamy.” When the Synod of Bishops convenes in October, the Church will hear pleas from African bishops whose communities cannot afford any ambiguity on the exclusivity of marriage. We will hear from Asian bishops who want to emphasize the permanence of marital vows. And, I hope and pray, we will hear from American bishops who recognize the damage that is done when Catholics who flout the teachings of the Church continue to receive Communion.

Should we ignore those bishops, to satisfy the immediate needs of self-absorbed Catholics in the affluent West? To do so, as Magister observes, would be to violate an essential goal of this papacy:

If, as Pope Francis tirelessly preaches, the Church's mission is not to close itself off in its old geographical and cultural perimeters but to open itself to the "peripheries" of the world, it is evident that the Catholicism of Germany cannot be-- as is happening to some extent-- the universal parameter for changing the teaching and practice of the Church in matters of family, communion for the divorced and remarried, and same-sex marriage.

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: shrink - May. 07, 2014 11:38 AM ET USA

    Phil, I agree with your main points. Nevertheless, the Francis style gives rise to the question of why he is encouraging Kasper et al. to raise expectations of a change? I am just old enough to recall the expectations that Paul VI created when the pill commission was formed. There was no middle ground then, and it would seem that there is no middle ground now. So why let important 'reformers' give voice to this expectation?

  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 07, 2014 8:49 AM ET USA

    There have been reports that Pope Francis has applauded Kasper. There are so many concerns at present, revisiting this issue is puzzling. Why not simply confirm that Church's teaching? Why not remind the faithful that Christ elevated marriage to the status of a sacrament, that marriage reflects the relationship between Christ and his mystical bride the Church? Why not speak to the unique sacramental graces available to help the married persevere if they just ask? How many were ever told?

  • Posted by: mateskub8508 - May. 07, 2014 8:10 AM ET USA

    @bruno "...may attain the fullness of redemption" is praying for their conversion. And I don't see how that can be contrasted with being very respectful. Praying for one's conversion is greatest respect you can have if you really mean it.

  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - May. 06, 2014 2:44 PM ET USA

    Jacob, I'm unaware of Kasper's position on that, but JPII and Francis were/are both very respectful of Judaism and the Chuch has given up on even praying for the conversion of Jews in Good Friday.

  • Posted by: jacobtoo - May. 06, 2014 11:44 AM ET USA

    Why is Kasper still around? Years ago Cardinal Dulles demolished his argument that Judaism and Catholicism were equally true and therefore Catholics should not try to convert Jews. That should have ended the standing Kasper had in the intellectual community, but I guess when you have so few spokesmen any heretic will do.

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