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Note: TradCatKnight does not hold Francis as the true Pope
So now we know. We knew before, really, but
didn’t have explicit confirmation. The long, agonizing slog, however, is
finally over: from Pope Francis’ invitation to Cardinal Kasper to
address the bishops in Rome in February of 2014 to the pope’s letter
last week to some Argentinean bishops affirming guidelines they had
developed in a joint document that, in “exceptional cases,” people
divorced and remarried (living in an “adulterous” relationship as we
believed for 2000 years in Western Christianity), may receive Holy
Communion. This whole affair is bizarre. No other word will do.
As I wrote on this page many times before the two Synods on the
Family, daily during those events, and subsequently, it was clear – at
least to me – that the pope wanted his brother bishops to approve some
form of what came to be known as the Kasper Proposal. That he did not
get such approval – indeed, that he got significant pushback from
bishops from various parts of the globe – visibly angered him, and even led him into a bit of snark
at the close of the second Synod, that some opinions had “at times”
been expressed there, “unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning
Well, one man’s not entirely well-meaning ways is another’s
conviction about remaining faithful to the words of Jesus. And since
then and even after the publication of Amoris laetitia,
Catholics – indeed, the whole world – have been embroiled in tumultuous
and fruitless speculation on whether things had changed or not. Even the
notorious footnote 351 of Amoris laetitia, for all the worries it caused traditional Catholics, did not really come out and say what the pope evidently thought.
The puzzlement was understandable. Has a pope ever changed something
of such significance via confused footnotes and, now, a private letter
to a small group of regional bishops? In that obscure context, he’s
quite categorical: “The document is very good and completely explains
the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations.” [Emphasis added.]
I say again: bizarre – both in process and substance. It took several
days before it was even certain that the letter to the Argentinean
bishops – leaked, only later confirmed by the Vatican
– was authentic. Pope Francis has no trouble making bald public
statements such as “who am I to judge,” and “if you don’t recycle go to
Confession.” He rails, often rightly, against careerism and gossip and
division within the Curia, but suddenly becomes gun-shy when it comes to
marriage and family? As Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdö said frankly
during the Synods, it all just comes down to a choice: either you give a
certain group of people Communion or you don’t.
Even now that Francis has said yes, we keep hearing that there are
qualifications and nuances and limits. The pope has several times
refused to comment on the change in order, as he’s said, to avoid giving
“a simplistic answer.” But quite apart from the fact that he’s done so
on many other matters, he at least appears to believe that it will be
possible in practice to finesse this process, through accompaniment,
discernment, all those words that have no clear limits. The Argentine
bishops themselves have warned that the change applies only to
exceptional cases: “it’s necessary to avoid understanding this
possibility as an unrestricted access to the sacraments, or as though
any situation might justify it.”
But while they’ve recognized the danger, they haven’t avoided it. In
the world today, everyone thinks he’s a special case, and pity the poor
parish priest or local bishop in the future who seems “too rigid” by not
granting enough people special status.
A Catholic has a right to ask for a little accompaniment and
discernment of his own about what the Church teaches – particularly
which principles define that “exceptional status.” To take a case that
will not long remain hypothetical: what about the gay couple who are
committed to one another and experienced same-sex attraction their whole
lives, through no fault of their own? When the first Synod started down
that path, it was regarded as extremist and quickly abandoned by the
small number of bishops who wanted to push it. But without some clear
principles to distinguish such cases from others, why not?
In the Church’s 2000-year history – a history of apostles, martyrs,
confessors, great saints, brilliant doctors, profound mystics – none
thought this new teaching Catholic. Some even died to defend the
indissolubility of marriage. For a pope to criticize those who remain
faithful to that tradition, and characterize them as somehow unmerciful
and as aligning themselves with hard-hearted Pharisees against the
merciful Jesus is bizarre.
I’ve lived long enough in Washington and spent sufficient time in
Rome not to trust what a journalist says some leader – secular or
religious – told him in private. But I’m convinced that when Eugenio
Scalfari – the eccentric editor of La Repubblica, the socialist
paper in Rome the pope reads daily – said that Francis told him he
would allow all who come to receive Communion, he may not have gotten
the words exactly right. But he caught the drift.
Indeed, Catholics have a new teaching now, not only on divorce and
remarriage. We have a new vision of the Eucharist. It’s worth recalling
that in January the pope, coyly, not ruling it out, suggested to a group
of Lutherans in Rome that they, too, should “talk with the Lord” and
“go forward.” Indeed, they later took Communion at Mass in the Vatican.
In a way, that was even more significant. A Catholic couple, divorced
and remarried, are sinners, but – at least in principle – still
Catholic. Has intercommunion with non-Catholic Christians also been
decided now without any consultation – almost as if such a momentous
step in understanding the Sacrament of Unity hardly matters?
I say this in sorrow, but I’m afraid that the rest of this papacy is
now going to be rent by bands of dissenters, charges of papal heresy,
threats of – and perhaps outright –schism. Lord, have mercy.