Will reaffirmation of teaching on divorce and Communion be ignored?

At his fine canon law blog, canonist Ed Peters, sober, offers a rather scary view of a scary trend.  He has no combox over there.

Why the gathering storm over divorce might be worse than was that over contraception

Interesting parallels are being suggested between, on the one hand, Paul VI’s dithering over contraception in the 1960s (which, though reversed by his reassertion of Church teaching in Humanae vitae, contributed to widespread repudiation of that teaching by Catholics), and Francis’ recent mixed signals (or what are widely perceived as mixed signals) over the future of Church teaching against divorce-and-remarriage and the reception of holy Communion. Notwithstanding some important differences between the two men and situations, I write to suggest that the stakes for all might actually be higher this time around.

Consider two points:

First, Church teaching against contraception had to be teased out over the centuries from natural law theory and what we call now ‘theology of the body’. It rests today largely on conclusions of logic, philosophy, and theology. Church teaching against divorce-and-remarriage, in contrast, is expressly proclaimed in the New Testament and any literate Catholic can read Jesus’ strong words about it in the Bible. This teaching was heatedly and repeatedly defended by the Church Fathers, was reiterated consistently in numerous Councils, and has been expounded by all major theologians.

Second, short of personal admission, there is no way to tell whether this Catholic couple or that is practicing contraception, and so there are virtually no ecclesiastical consequences possible in the external forum for disregard of Church teaching by pew Catholics. Indeed, with exceptions too rare to mention, there weren’t even official consequences for high-profile Catholics defending contraception in the ’60s. But cohabitation and post-divorce ‘marriage’, in contrast, are public acts falling squarely with the parameters of well-established (if inconsistently applied) public consequences (withholding of Communion being the best known). Millions of Catholics abide by this consequence. The millions of others who do not abide by it pretty much know they do not.

What does this mean?

It means, I suggest, that the complexity of the arguments underlying Church teaching on contraception allowed for the ecclesial equivalent of “plausible deniability” in regard to acceptance of that teaching by rank-and-file faithful, and the nature of the contraceptive act virtually excluded public enforcement measures. [NB:] But Church teaching against divorce-and-remarriage is utterly obvious to any but the deliberately blind and the appropriateness of public consequences for public violation of that teaching has been unanimously upheld, and usually observed, for two millenia. Those factors combine to imply, I think, higher stakes in the divorce debate today than those confronting the Church over contraception a generation ago. [Couple all that with today's increasing antinomian spirit and plummeting ability to think clearly.]

Now I think Church teaching against divorce-and-remarriage will, in the end, be squarely upheld in principle. My concern is different: what if Church teaching is duly upheld but, as happened after Humanae vitae, that teaching is allowed to twist slowly in the wind? For ecclesiastical officialdom to look the other way on contraception was, in a sense, possible; [Because of its more hidden, private nature.] but for it to do so in regard to divorce, remarriage, and the reception of holy Communion would be immediately recognized as the practical abandonment of a major doctrino-disciplinary point.

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45 Responses to Will reaffirmation of teaching on divorce and Communion be ignored?

  1. dans0622 says:

    We could end up, in practice, with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in regard to a person’s marital status. The priest would then not have to make tough decisions. So, even though a person’s (civil) marital status is objective/public, the priest could feign ignorance.

  2. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Dr. Peters hits the nail on the head. As it is, gay marriage’s popularity already has much of the Catholic world mired in deep dissent and rebellion over this sacrament. For the bishops to even entertain a perceived call to retreat on the doctrine of indissolubility would certainly take catechesis on marriage into the tank, to drown it in the final blow of irrelevance for many.

  3. iPadre says:

    It’s all part of the great apostosy as forewarned by Our Lady. And as Benedict XVI wrote, there will remain only a small flock of faithful. Will there be anyone left when the Lord Comes again? (Lk 18:8) It seems we are living in the fulfillment of St. Timothy’s prophecy in 2 Tim. 31-5. More of a reason to make a frequent confession.

  4. LeeF says:

    There was a reason the Church used to have marriage bans.

  5. Papabile says:

    Peter’s states: First, Church teaching against contraception had to be teased out over the centuries from natural law theory and what we call now ‘theology of the body’. It rests today largely on conclusions of logic, philosophy, and theology.

    This is actually incorrect. Church teaching on contraception was clear from the earliest years of Christianity. Soranos of Ephesus (98-138) wrote at length on this. It was quite a treatise, entitled On the Use of Abortifacients and of Measures to Prevent Contraception. Fundamentally, much of the the reasoning used therein formed the basis straight through Castii Connubi.

    In the Didache (II, 1-2), one finds the following: “Thou shalt not commit sodomy; thou shalt not commit fornication; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not use magic: thou shalt not use drugs; thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide.

    The highlighted parts are referring to contraception and abortion.

    Barnabus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Justin Martyr, St. Jerom, St John Chrysostom, St. Epiphanus were all explicit when it came to contraception.

    About the newest way to look at the Church’s teaching is the “Theology of the Body”, which Blessed JP II put forth in a series of Wednesday audiences. Basically, it is another way to appeal to modern man, as he has seemingly lost his ability to see the natural law and refuses to use Thomistic reasoning. It still does not hold the same teaching authority that one would find with Thomas, and certainly not equivalent to that of the Didache or Humanae Vitae.

  6. norancor says:

    The Church cannot sanction public sacrilege without horrific consequence.

    It is not likely that God would begin to punish directly (by death, dumbness, making lame, etc) anyone that commits grave sin against Him, PERSONALLY, by receiving Communion in an unrepentant state of mortal sin.

    This is, properly speaking, a job for the bishops and clergy — to protect Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, from sacrilege, by exhorting frequent Confession and inculcating the Faith so that souls refrain from receiving in mortal sin. This is part of the more general duty of protecting the sanctity of the Eucharist and the entire edifice of the Church, by thwarting and stopping flagrant reception of Communion in a state of mortal sin, because of the inevitable scandal and collapse of discipline that would result.

    This path we’re on began with the failure to enforce teaching on contraception and the abuse of NFP by confessors and bishops, and dramatically increased when the Church began failing to enforce Canon 915.

    There is a sin of commission – acting as an accomplice in permissiveness towards those on contraception and public officials. There is a sin of omission – failing to admonish and teach the Faith, and protect the Eucharist. By these sins, the Church has said, in word and deed, that committing sacrilege is an acceptable practice.

    Vacillation on one point of law slowly corrupts the whole, and so now we see a hesitation to forbid ANYONE from receiving Communion, making a central pillar of the Church’s mission moot, and allowing Our Lord to be continuously and violently attacked in His Person.

    If bishops and clergy will not defend God here present in the tabernacles of the world, He will exact His vengeance as He sees fit, and we should all curl up in fear at that prospect.

  7. McCall1981 says:

    Honestly, given all the turmoil and confusion around Francis, I would happily settle for this mess Ed Peters describes, as long as the traditional teaching is upheld in principle.

  8. kpoterack says:

    The best response to the Kaspar proposal which I have read so far is that of Fr. Dylan James. Calm, scholarly, right on the money. It needs to be distributed far and wide. (Ideally to all the bishops.)

    http://fatherdylanjames.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/divorce-and-remarriage-oikonomia-and.html

  9. tcreek says:

    All of this confusion could end in an instant by a clear statement from Pope Francis upholding the 2000 year Church teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage.
    Why does he not do so?
    The only answer, it seems to me, is that he, also is looking for way to “get around” the teaching that those who break their vow and remarry do not commit the sin of adultery and therefore can receive communion.

    We should should not forget that when Cardinal Ratzinger was selected pope, the progressives’ choice was Cardinal Bergoglio. This may be (hopefully) their last chance and they intend to make the most of it. If they succeed, God help us and the souls that will be lost.

  10. BLB Oregon says:

    The question is not just divorce and remarriage, but all kinds of co-habitation outside of marriages contracted according to canon law. Even some who are free to marry in the Church are choosing civil marriages instead of Catholic weddings because a priest won’t officiate at some “romantic” wedding venue they’ve chosen, and insists that Catholic weddings take place in a church!

    The issue with divorce and remarriage is the worst because it undermines recognition of the permanence of marriage and essentially asks for us to wink at bigamy, but all these other cuts undermine recognition of other fundamental aspects of the nature of marriage. The societal confusion about the nature of marriage is infecting us, then! This is not the time to become lax about what we teach. When there are souls at stake, the first thing to do is to avoid those actions such that the Lord will judge that a millstone and a date with a large body of water would have been the better choice.

  11. Bosco says:

    I submit the following observation with the hope that it is germane to the issue and that, if posted, it will not languish over-long in the purgatory of: “Your comment is awaiting moderation”.

    I agree fully with Ed Peters analysis as to what is in play here and the dangers involved.

    Not that I’m anything special. I have, however, had 25 years in the field of law (not Canon Law) before retiring, many of those years exercised as an adjudicator.

    To my mind, the question of reception of the Holy Eucharist by divorced and civilly remarried Catholics has been and continues to be permitted to be improperly and obscurely framed (and therefore pre-empted) both by the liberal media and certain heterodox ecclesiastics.

    The question must be framed as: “Does the Church (already) permit divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist?”

    The answer to this question is ‘Yes’ (under certain specific circumstances).

    [ref 14 September 1994 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the CDF issued a letter to all of the Bishops of the Catholic Church "Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful"; John Paul II's " Familiaris Consortio", 84; The Catechism of the Catholic Church; and, the June 24, 2000 Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts “Concerning The Admission To Holy Communion Of Faithful Who Are Divorced And Remarried”]

    If such extant qualified permission (above) be the case, then the question(s) now being raised are moot and, at best, mischievous.

  12. Scott W. says:

    The only answer, it seems to me, is that he, also is looking for way to “get around” the teaching that those who break their vow and remarry do not commit the sin of adultery and therefore can receive communion.

    I don’t think he is doing that because in spite of all his media gaffes, he’s doctrinally sound and knows that communion for the invalidly remarried is a deal breaker that would prove the gates of Hell have prevailed. I don’t think anyone expected JPII to issue ordinatio sacerdotalis, or Paul VI to reaffirm against contraception. If the Holy Father does anything, I expect it to follow that trend in a manner of speaking.

  13. BLB Oregon says:

    Another issue is that the heavy use of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist typical in many parishes inserts another layer of practical difficulty when it comes to even knowing which members of the faithful are receiving Holy Communion when they ought not receive it, for the good of their own souls. How can a pastor reach out as a shepherd when he has lost that contact with his sheep?

  14. Cathy says:

    In diocesan news papers, as well as Catholic alumni news, one can find the overt mention of those both congratulated in their “remarriage”, not to their spouse, and in the case of reprinting obituaries, the mention of same-sex “so-called” marriage. Contraception has no such possibility of being inadvertently advertised. Adulterous marriage and homosexual relationships do, and, unfortunately are not addressed.

  15. McCall1981 says:

    The Instrumentum Laboris document for the Synod will come out around Easter, should we expect some kind of “update” from this document?

    @tcreek,
    The Jesuit sytle of discernment, which Bergoglio has always used, is to have lots of “dialog” or “discussion” hearing all points of view, then decide. So I don’t think the fact that he has been vague and coy about this is necessarily a sign that he wants to change the teaching, since this is the style of discernent he would use regardless.

    On a positive note:
    “Noted Vatican observer Sandro Magister wrote March 11 on his blog Settimo Cielo that the cardinal’s speech generated “a very animated discussion, with numerous cardinals of the first order intervening against the thesis presented by Kasper.”

    http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/cardinal-kaspers-speech-on-marriage-to-be-released-as-book/

  16. OrthodoxChick says:

    Could you imagine if Cardinal Kasper gets his way? I don’t expect that he will (please God), but if it should happen, I would see it as completely negating the parable of the prodigal son. No need to welcome home the estranged son if the father decides the son did nothing wrong to estrange himself from the father in the first place. Actually, if we apply Cardinal Kasper’s theory to the prodigal son, then the father in the story would have been sending fattened calves out to his estranged son and son’s “friends” during all of those years while he was astray. As we all know, that’s not how the story was told.

    We need to storm Heaven on Pope Francis’ behalf that the Lord grant him strength, courage, and wisdom to uphold the Truth of Christ in both a world and church that no longer value the Truth.

  17. Stu says:

    I just don’t get this at all.

    We go from have divorce allowed by Moses because, as Christ tells us, because of the “hardness of our hearts” to Christ specifically putting an end to that to now talking about returning to the practice, I suppose because of the “hardness of our hearts.”

    And some would call that development. Sounds like regression to me.

    And all in the name of making the family stronger.

    I just don’t get this at all.

    Holy Spirit, please give us some clarity.

  18. tcreek says:

    When Church teaching becomes “discussable” at the highest level, a question alights in the minds of many (most?) catholics that the teaching is not certain and so they can ignore it. That happened, in spades, when the Church began high-level discussions about contraception in the 1960s.

  19. kpoterack says:

    McCall1981: ” The Jesuit style of discernment, which Bergoglio has always used, is to have lots of ‘dialog’ or ‘discussion’ hearing all points of view, then decide.”

    KP: I, too, think that that is what is going on and also read the quote from Sandro Magister. I am starting to pick up other rumblings that not all of Card. K’s proposals met with the ringing endorsement some may fear. Even Card. Nichols said:

    “I don’t think for a minute that fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church are going to change. I think what we will be looking at – and the signs were there in some of the two days of conversations [last week] which have opened this . . . that many people enter marriage with the hope that it will last, but not necessarily with a commitment to its indissolubility. I think that’s the kind of area where there are all sorts of implications . . . it has implications for the patterns of the justice of the Church: that people have a right to have the validity of their marriage looked at that’s sufficient and seeking the truth.”

    So, he seems to be speaking about grounds for nullity – not about adopting the Greek practice of oikonomia.

    He also said in another interview that “[w]hen I was growing up, there was a more reserved approach to the Eucharist. It made demands on us. To receive the Eucharist was the high point. There must be ways in which people can live a very fruitful life in the church even if for the public reasons we all understand they might not have access to the Eucharist.”

    Heck, when I was a boy 40 years ago, I remember one of my classmates saying that he didn’t go to communion because he had had a fight with his brother that morning. Perhaps, a bit excessive, but who would even come close to that today – how many people in mortal sin receive without even thinking?

    Bravo, Cardinal Nichols!

  20. Deacon Augustine says:

    Papabile, I would very much agree with your assessment that Church teaching on the evils of contraception went back to the earliest years. The sin of Onan in Genesis 38 has consistently been taught by both Jewish and Catholic authorities as being a divine condemnation of contraception. Luther, Calvin and Zwingli also cited this text as scriptural justification for the condemnation of contraception.

    Fr Brian Harrison has an excellent article on Gen 38, 7-10 here:

    http://spot.colorado.edu/~tooley/Masturbation-Onan.html

  21. Cathy says:

    tcreek, that may well be. The push to discuss it, however, comes to the forefront in recognition that within the Church dissent is already being, or has been promoted and that hearts hardened against Christ and His Church are openly defiant – priests, religious and laity openly protesting as signatories that they will do as they please regardless of the teachings of Christ and His Church. This must be discussed at the highest level, because, in many cases it has been approved, or at the very least, not reproached in significant terms, at the ordinary highest level within the individual diocese-by the bishop. In “hearing” the arguments of those who dissent, why they dissent, and what they propose as a solution, is a clear hearing of those whose ears, hearts and minds have gone off course. Open dissent against the Church’s teaching on contraception did not begin in 1968, it was already being promoted and practiced prior. I was born in 1965 and three years prior to that, my mother was counseled to go see father so-and-so who would explain why the birth control pill was ok. I owe my very existence to a good Catholic doctor who explained to my mother that women were basically being used as guinea pigs for a drug whose side effects could not yet be clearly known.

  22. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Papabile, my assertion is not incorrect but, as your own posted citation shows, the intrinsic evil of contraception had to be “teased out” of the condemnation of the evil of abortion which which it was originally, and understandably, entangled. The argumentation on contraception was, by ANY measure, much more complex than opening up to any Gospel and simply reading Jesus own words on divorce.

    Bosco, basically right. The apparent exceptions, well-known to us, are very, very few and easy to account for without damage to other values.

  23. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    ps: I meant to say (but I got distracted above), luv the Fr. Z intro line ” canonist Ed Peters, sober, offers a rather scary view of a scary trend”, as opposed to, I guess, “canonist Ed Peters, completely plastered, offers a rather scary view of a scary trend”. :)

  24. thomas tucker says:

    All the divorced and remarried Catholics that I know, and the divorced/cohabiting ones in addition, still receive Communion anyway. So, I think the situation is analagous to the Humanae vitae situation- the teaching about divorce will be upheld, and many or most of the laity will ignore it. The only difference is that many Catholics were waiting to hear the Church’s decision before deciding about contraception; in this situation, they have already decided and are already ignoring Church teaching.

  25. Scott W. says:

    All the divorced and remarried Catholics that I know, and the divorced/cohabiting ones in addition, still receive Communion anyway.

    Correct, the Church cannot really control the internal forum. But we already knew that.

  26. thomas tucker says:

    Agreed, Scott. My point, though, is that many Catholics aren’t waiting around to hear what the Chruch pronounces on this topic. Those days are gone, and they just decide for themelves. They could not care less what the Magisterium teaches on this.

  27. thomas tucker says:

    Although, now that I think about it, that makes it even more important for the Magisterium to teach correctly on this. Not because the majority of Catholics will be angry or disapponted if traditional teaching is upheld, but becasuefaithful Catholics ( i.e. non-cafeteria Catholics) will be gravely disappointed if it is not.

  28. Scott W. says:

    Fair enough. My apologies. I thought you were giving us the ol’ “Nobody listens anyway, so the Church might as well allow it.” shpeel.

    That’s a good point. Clear teaching is sometimes less about the people with no interest in obedience, but important to the faithful so that they know that they are not abandoned.

  29. FrankWalshingham says:

    The bible is clear. Not even the most liberal prelate in the Church can refute Matthew 5:31-32:
    Dictum est autem quicumque dimiserit uxorem suam det illi libellum repudii.Ego autem dico vobis quia omnis qui dimiserit uxorem suam excepta fornicationis causa facit eam moechari et qui dimissam duxerit adulterat.

    “I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

  30. McCall1981 says:

    @kpoterack,
    You said: “I am starting to pick up other rumblings that not all of Card. K’s proposals met with the ringing endorsement some may fear.”
    This is a new National catholic Reporter article on the reactions to Kasper’s speech. The only person they quote in favor of Kasper’s views is Kasper himself. Given Fishwrap’s leanings, I imagine they would love to print pro-Kasper quotes, and would actively try to seek them out, so the fact that there aren’t any is probably meaningful.

  31. McCall1981 says:

    @kpoterack,
    You said: “I am starting to pick up other rumblings that not all of Card. K’s proposals met with the ringing endorsement some may fear.”
    This is a new National catholic Reporter article on the reactions to Kasper’s speech. The only person they quote in favor of Kasper’s views is Kasper himself. Given Fishwrap’s leanings, I imagine they would love to print pro-Kasper quotes, and would actively try to seek them out, so the fact that there aren’t any is probably meaningful.
    http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/fault-lines-family-issues-emerge-among-cardinals

  32. Vecchio di Londra says:

    The circumstances under which divorced and remarried Catholics may receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion are defined by Cardinal Ratzinger (when Prefect of the CDF) in his letter to the Bishops (14/09/1994) as follows:
    “The faithful who persist in such a situation may receive Holy Communion only after obtaining sacramental absolution, which may be given only ‘to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples’. In such a case they may receive Holy Communion as long as they respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal. Under such conditions the faithful may receive Holy Communion. ”

    The ‘pastoral solution’ would be to communicate this very clear teaching of the magisterium to those who are still unaware of it.

    But those now kicking up a fuss are – I hope in vain – expecting much more of a concession than that.

  33. joan ellen says:

    To me it seems that the Sacrament of Matrimony – the Sanctity of Matrimony – the Sacredness of Marriage – has been weakened so much that the argument for life is gone, or nearly so. How on earth will the Sanctity of Matrimony ever be restored so that the argument for life is also restored.

  34. tcreek says:

    @ Vecchio di Londra above quotes Cardinal Ratzinger.
    This quote is faithful to the catechism and constant church teaching.

    Catechism – 1650
    Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.

    So what is their to discuss, other than how to “get around” the teaching? Some bishops are obviously working on that. Including the bishop of Rome?

  35. SimonR says:

    Apparently, Cardinal Caffarra has given an interview where he said: “Don’t touch matrimony of Christ, don’t bless divorce. Hypocrisy is not mercy”.

    http://www.ilfoglio.it/soloqui/22326

  36. Bosco says:

    I don’t know if Dr. Ed Peters will revisit this particular posting of Father Z’s, nonetheless I offer the following for all who may be particularly interested.

    In 1972 Rev. Joseph Ratzinger published a work: “On the Question of the Indissolubility of Marriage – Remarks on the dogmatic-historical state of affairs and its significance for the present”

    I attach the link to a translation of same by Joseph Bolin and published March 25, 2011.

    http://www.pathsoflove.com/texts/ratzinger-indissolubility-marriage/

    I believe the insights, and particularly the conclusions, of Rev. Professor Ratzinger are well worth the read even though this apparently was his thinking in 1972.

  37. Vecchio di Londra says:

    tereek, Yes, the teaching seems blindingly obvious, doesn’t it – but I bet there’ll be a whole wave of poorly catechized Catholics attempting to apply concepts like ‘quite continent’ or ‘extremely continent’ or ‘as continent as is reasonable’, or even (as in the old joke about pregnancy) ‘a little bit continent’.
    Not to mention ‘Oh, what’s ‘continent’ anyway? Nobody’s explained it in terms I can understand. I thought the continent was in Paris!’

  38. tcreek says:

    Vecchio di Londra – how about “living in complete contentment.”

  39. McCall1981 says:

    @SimonR,
    Wow, nicely done Card Caffarra!

  40. Justalurkingfool says:

    Will reaffirmation of teaching on divorce and Communion be ignored?

    By no means.

    What remains is to integrate empathetic pastoral reality through sophisticated terminology within the evolution of the understanding of God’s teaching, in its appropriate dynamic life-giving historical context; thus maintaining a hermeneutic of continuity for all.

    >>>>> Based upon my experience, those teachings were marginalized long ago.

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  42. Philemon says:

    What if the real issue here is not doctrine at all but how to deal with those who are scandalized by what they think they know about someone else’s living arrangements?

    We talk about remarriage being a grave public sin in part because it is a matter of public record. Does not the mind boggle at the thought of a parish priest or his staff taking time out from all of the tasks, mundane and sublime, of running a parish to perform a public records search? It’s not like priests are issued Lexis-Nexis accounts for free or that they are taught how to use them in seminary either.

    How do people come by this information? It’s possible the remarried couple announces it, maybe even on church grounds and to members of parish staff. It could be more subtle: a big new ring, notice that Ms. Smith is changing her address to the same one as that of Mr. Jones. When Father gets this information directly, I don’t envy him the pastoral task he now has.

    On the other hand, Father could come by this information indirectly. Some parishioner puts 2 and 2 together (Jones and Smith always go to Mass together and now Jones and Smith wear rings when they haven’t been before). Parishioner brings these observations to Father and asks that they be denied Communion.

    What is Father to do? Is he supposed to independently investigate? Call the couple in for a chat?

    What if there is more to the story and Father knows it. Maybe they are waiting on an annulment and the rings are engagement rings. Maybe the address where they live is superficially the same, but is actually a large apartment complex. Other scenarios can be proposed. Let’s stipulate that the impeccably orthodox Father has information that he cannot reveal that means no one should be scandalized.

    What if Fr. could thank that parishioner warmly and say, “We’ll, you know, there are these new pastoral provisions. Please trust that this matter is being taken care of.”? No doctrine changed. No sins ignored. But maybe, a weaker conscience salved. Wouldn’t that be helpful?

    Maybe. The parishioner might then go on his merry way. Or, he might decide that Fr., whom he previously supposed to be impeccably orthodox, had instead become a member of those Insidious Forces Trying to Tear Down the Church from the Inside!

    If I’m right and the real aim is stop people from being scandalized, I’m just not sure how well it would work. Maybe it would be better to have a few homilies on Minding Your Own Business (at least as far as charity allows)?

  43. Justalurkingfool says:

    Philemon,

    Indeed, you are right!

    Just a we should pay no attention to that troublemaker and malcontent who was crucified for his arrogance. What a scandal He was, indeed. I am so glad I have forgotten His name. Good riddance to Him and His ilk.

  44. Daniel W says:

    I admire Dr Peters efforts to clarify things canonically, but I sometimes wish he would make more of an effort to support our pontiff. In my mind it is not enough to write publically that the pope is sending mixed messages and then cover yourself by qualifying this as being just that people are perceiving them as mixed messages. Was St Peter sending a mixed message about Baptism of gentiles when he asked the opinion of those around him (Acts 10:47), or when he let it be a topic of discussion at the council of Jerusalem? Was Christ sending a mixed message when he mentioned the famous exception clause “except in cases of fornication” (which by the way could only refer to Deut 22:21, which St Joseph feared would be applied to his own marriage because of Jesus).
    When one spouse in a pagan marriage converted to Christianity, St Paul allowed that spouse to remain in that marriage even though the other partner might prove a constant occasion of sin to the Christian. At present we allow a couple whose relationship began in adultery to remain together as long as they commit to living as ‘brother and sister’ (ie. avoid adulterous acts), for example for the sake of the children. I cannot see why we should not at least discuss the possibility of extending this to allow a person to return to Communion if that person repents of adultery, commits to avoiding adulterous acts and seeks to persuade their partner to also commit to live as “brother and sister” (eg. for the sake of their children).
    There also seems to be no reason why a bishop could not be given power to decide on the invalidity of a putative marriage, bypassing the complex proofs required in the tribunal processes, just as the bishop can now decide on the putative death of a spouse based merely for example on credible “rumor” when the usual proofs are lacking (ie Pope Francis could legislate a parallel to canon 1707).
    I agree these solutions would be open to abuse, but I am not sure the present system is much better.

  45. Daniel W says:

    Dr Peters is still posting on this issue http://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/lest-so-many-words-complicate-a-simple-question/ . I agree with him that “The present Eucharistic discipline demands, as a matter of personal integrity and public honesty, observance by faithful and hierarchy alike, and the Synod must grapple with its pastoral ramifications.” However, the present discipline includes granting Holy Communion to remarried spouses in “a situation of public and permanent adultery” (CCC 2384) if the couple “have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.” (CCC1650).
    What Dr Peters does not seem to consider is the possibility of CHANGING the discipline to fully account for the teaching in CCC 1650, which is worded so broadly as to include the possibility of individuals who are committed to living in complete continence receiving Holy Communion even before they have convinced their partner in what had been an adulterous union to make the same commitment.
    At the moment, it can be argued that the present discipline denies Holy Communion to the partner committed to continence and to converting his or her partner to repent of adultery while continuing together as “brother and sister” for the sake of the education of their children. There remains the issue of scandal, but if the faithful are scandalised, they need to be catechised (i.e. have CCC1650 explained to them). Peters does not help simplify the discussion by leaving out this catechesis.