The impending conflict among participants at this week’s Synod is evident:
- Cardinal Kasper urges a reconsideration of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.
- Cardinal Burke says no, that could never be.
And the people in the pews line up behind one voice or the other–waiting, wondering, now in the countdown to the Synod on the Family which begins Sunday, October 5, in Rome.
Disagreement is nothing new to the Church, said Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signatura. Speaking to reporters September 30 in a Tele-press Conference Call organized by Ignatius Press, Cardinal Burke said,
“In the whole history of the church, in the early centuries, the church had to fight to honor the truth that our Lord Jesus Christ is God and man…”
He looked back to the Arian heresy, and noted that even among prelates, there is disagreement which must be addressed and resolved. But when asked about his reaction to Cardinal Kasper’s proposal, Cardinal Burke was adamant in his opposition:
“Well, I certainly have serious difficulties with what Cardinal Kasper was proposing. In proposing it, he was urging a direction which in the whole history of the church has never taken, a direction which would in some way involve either a disobedience to or at least a non-full adherence to the words of our Lord Himself and no one questions the words of our Lord in chapter 19 of the Gospel According to Matthew.”
The issue is not, as some seem to think, that the Church doesn’t welcome divorced persons. Even those who are in a second marriage are encouraged to attend the Sunday liturgy and to join in worshipping with their fellow Catholics. They are, however, unable to receive the Eucharist.
In fact, the whole issue has two distinct parts: (1) What is marriage? and (2) Who may receive the Eucharist.
THE INDISSOLUBILITY OF MARRIAGE
But Sometimes a Marriage Doesn’t Work Out. Why Does the Church Refuse to Recognize Divorce?
Marriage, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, is indissoluble. The Church respects the admonition of Jesus in Mark 10:9,
“What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Paragraph 1664 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this indissoluble one-flesh union of two persons into one:
The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.” They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.” This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together.
So unless a couple obtains an annulment, the Church presumes that the husband is still married to his first wife; hence, any future relationships would be adulterous. In the annulment process, the couple works with Church officials and canon lawyers to investigate whether, for one reason or another, the marriage was never a valid marriage under God.
Even if there were children born to the couple during the years they were married, the marriage may be deemed invalid if certain conditions were not met: If, for example, one spouse was already married to someone else, or one had no intention to remain faithful, or if one or both had no intent to welcome children.
But apart from a serious preexisting problem which prevents a valid marriage, the Church assumes that the couple are married, and that that marriage cannot be dissolved. The Catechism explains:
A valid marriage, even one marked by serious difficulties, could not be considered invalid without doing violence to the truth and undermining thereby the only solid foundation which can support personal, marital and social life. A judge, therefore, must always be on guard against the risk of misplaced compassion, which would degenerate into sentimentality, itself only pastoral in appearance. The roads leading away from justice and truth end up in serving to distance people from God, thus yielding the opposite result from that which was sought in good faith.
WHO MAY RECEIVE THE EUCHARIST?
So the Church is telling you–Divorced and Remarried Man or Woman–that you cannot receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist? How dare they? Paraphrasing the oft-misunderstood words of Pope Francis, “Who are we to judge?”
Well, it’s like this: Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, warned in Chapter 11:29 that we must never eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily, lest we face damnation. He writes:
For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.
A person must be in a state of grace before he takes into his body the pure Body of Christ. Of course, we are all sinners–and we acknowledge our weakness just before receiving the Eucharist, when we pray the words of the centurion from Matthew 8:8,
“Oh Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
But some of us–including those who persist in grave sin such as adultery–should not approach the altar, for fear of God’s judgment and in respect for the holiness of the sacrament. Louise Mensch, a divorced and remarried Catholic, wrote a frank response to Cardinal Kasper in the October 4 issue of The Spectator. “Accept liberal arguments for the convenience of people like me,” she argues, “and you threaten the foundations of the Church.” Mensch writes:
What Cardinal Kasper appears to want to do is to tempt a generation of people into weekly mortal sin. How is that merciful? How is that helping? Is it impossible for liberal theologians to combine their reforming fervour with actual logic? Allow a divorced and remarried person to receive Holy Communion and you are saying one of two things: either that it is not adulterous to have sex outside the marital bond, or that one may harmlessly receive the Most Holy Eucharist while in an ongoing state of mortal sin — a sin one firmly intends to commit again as soon as convenient.
Mensch’s column is excellent. You can read the rest of it here.
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Of course, participants at the Synod on the Family will discuss other important issues, as well. While no formal agenda has been released, we expect that the Synod will address the matters of same-sex relationships, grandparents and the extended family, single motherhood, the challenge of promoting monogamy in polygamous cultures, and more. As the Synod gets underway this weekend, let us join with Cardinal Burke in the prayer which he offers at the conclusion of his essay in Remaining in the Truth of Christ:
May God grant that the coming meeting of the Synod of Bishops lead to a new commitment to “justice and truth” that is the indispensable foundation of a deeper love of God and of one’s neighbor in the family and, from the family, in the whole Church.
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Ignatius Press, sponsor of the Tele-press Conference on September 30, has published four books which are of special interest to those who want to understand the Synod’s emphasis on the family. The books, each of which was featured in Tuesday’s Tele-press Conference, are:
- The Gospel of the Family by Father Juan José Pérez-Soba
- The Hope of the Family: A Dialogue with Cardinal Gerhard Müller
- Of Human Life -Humanae Vitae (Encyclical Letter of Paul VI)
- Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church edited by Robert Dodaro, O.S.A.