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sacrament by sentiment?

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 07, 2006

Fr. Alberto Bonandi, a priest of the Diocese of Mantua, has proposed that divorced and remarried Catholics can be admitted to Communion even if they are not "living as brother and sister." His reasoning was subjected to some well-earned battery at the First Things blog. Jesuit theologian Fr. Donald Keefe likewise pulls no punches. Below, from Sandro Magister's blog, are Keefe's remarks:

Fr. Alberto Bonandi's argument may be summed up in a quotation:

"With this -- Bonandi writes -- it seems that Catholic doctrine ends up by recognizing the liceity, in a second relationship, of many aspects that characterize marriage, with the sole exception of sexual relations."
This a facile begging of the question: the ancient requirement of a chaste relationship between divorced and remarried Catholics as the condition of their receiving Communion requires precisely that the love and affection they have for each other can have no sexual expression.

This prohibition follows upon the sacramentality of marital intercourse. Lacking that sacramentality, their "second relationship" is pseudo-marital at best, as their first "relationship" was not. Bonandi wishes to regards their chaste, i.e., mutually continent, "second relation" as already sacramental, and thus as entailing a valid sexual expression.

His viewpoint is simply false. Bonandi's assimilation of two irreconcilables, a non-sacramental and a sacramental union, to the same category of "relationship" implies that these two situations exist in some sort of continuity, which is precisely what the Church has always denied. It should be kept in mind that the Church has no authority over her sacraments: they cause her; she does not cause them.

The then cardinal Ratzinger may have had in view the possibility of a non-sacramental union whose non-sacramentality would arguably rest upon the supposed absence of faith in the parties of the first marriages.

In the first place, it would be more than coincidental to find this absence of faith in both of the previous marriages in which the man and woman of the "second relationship" had been joined.

In the second place, to pose the possible invalidity of that "faithless" marriage is to reverse the indispensable presumption of the validity of the Church's public worship, a point of view reductively Donatist.

A considerable amount of ink has been spent on this topic: at what point the intention of the party or parties to a sacrament may be thought to affect the validity of the sacrament. It is evident enough that the worship of the Church is free, incapable of coercion. Any showing of coercion invalidates the sacrament, because of the obvious absence of a "sacramental intent" -- i.e., an intent to enter into the Church's worship. Apart from Baptism, that intent is required in all sacraments: without it, the ministers of marriage, the man and the woman, cannot enter into the free unity in "one flesh" which the sacrament causes, for they do not intend to do so.

Clearly, there is no empirical test of sacramental intent: its presence can never be proven. In these circumstances, the Canon Law relies upon presumptions: summarily, uncoerced entry of a baptized adult into the Church's sacramental signing raises a presumption of sacramental validity whose rebuttal in the case of marriage has become a cottage industry among canonists, in reliance upon psychological theories which have made a laughing stock of the Church's annulment practice.

We may suppose that pope Benedict is well aware of the consequences of the currently effective reversal of the presumptive validity of marriages by a canonical practice requiring proof of sacramental capacity. Heretofore, all the capacity needed was sacramental baptism and canonical age. Now one must prove one's psychological maturity, one's psychological freedom, and so on: matters which the usual diocesan judicialis knows nothing whatever, but upon which he decides nonetheless, routinely in the negative. This has been going on for more than thirty years with only a few whimpers from Rome. I hope the new appointments to the Apostolic Signatura may bring this long travesty to an end.

Bonandi's position is a direct assault upon sacramental realism. It cannot survive serious scrutiny. There was a time when the editors of theological journals provided that scrutiny, by which exercise of responsibility such fluff as Bonandi produces rarely found its way into print. However, the politicization of theology, not least by the priority given diplomatic agendas over orthdoxy during the past forty years, has made it impossible to rely upon the probity of the journals. Bishops in the United States have lived in terror of liberal theologians since the Council: they are generally more concerned for media approval than for orthodoxy.

Benedict XVI is facing a schism long nourished by the unwillingness of his Polish predecessor to govern the Church. A decade or so after John Paul II took office, a well known and highly influential theologian had observed this reluctance sufficiently to remark in my presence that he did not care what the pope said, only what he did. This stance is now nearly universal.

I doubt that any of this is news, but I've been fighting the Bonandis of this world for too long to let this one's insolence go by.

Donald J. Keefe, S.J.
Emeritus Professor of Theology
Fordham University

Viewed from the other end of the problem, who's more likely to be in charge of marriage instruction in your diocese, a Keefe or a Bonandi?

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