New York Times Attempts to Read Tea Leaves Ahead of Amoris Laetitia

New York Times Attempts to Read Tea Leaves Ahead of Amoris Laetitia April 7, 2016

Amoris laetitia

Photo credit: Richard Corner, Creative Commons

At the New York Times, there is an article today optimistically titled “How Pope Francis’ ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Could Affect Families and the Church.” From the article:

In the document, known as an apostolic exhortation, the pope could change church practice on thorny subjects like whether divorced Catholics who remarry without having obtained annulments can receive holy communion.

I think not. Did the New York Times not read the pope’s interview in-flight from Mexico to Rome? He was asked about this wery thing. The pope said:

Inte­grat­ing in the Church doesn’t mean receiv­ing Com­mu­nion. I know mar­ried Catholics in a sec­ond union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want Com­mu­nion, as if join­ing in Com­mu­nion were an award. It’s a work towards inte­gra­tion, all doors are open, but we can­not say, “from here on they can have Com­mu­nion.” This would be an injury also to mar­riage, to the cou­ple, because it wouldn’t allow them to pro­ceed on this path of inte­gra­tion.

So I don’t expect that. The Times, undaunted, continues:

He might address debates over same-sex relationships, cohabitation and polygamy, an issue in Africa. [Meh.] Or, he could sidestep such divisive topics and stick to broader philosophical statements.

Much more likely.

For the past two years, Francis has guided the church through a sweeping exercise of self-examination that some scholars have compared to the Second Vatican Council.

Really? Methinks “some scholars” doth exaggerate too much. Perhaps it is the result of their own private fantasies of hope and change.

Having led Catholics into such delicate terrain, Francis has stirred hope and fear. Some religious conservatives warn he could destabilize the church and undermine Catholic doctrine. [The sky is falling.] Some liberals, though, are hoping Francis will directly address same-sex marriage and contraception in a way that would make the church more responsive to today’s realities.

By “responsive,” read “obeisant.” That is what the Times hopes. But the conservatives and the liberals are both wrong. (That will not stop either of them, after tomorrow, from claiming vindication; but wrong they are.)

Some who study Francis predict the apostolic exhortation will be a broad statement on universal problems affecting families, like poverty, migration, domestic violence, health care, youth unemployment and the neglect of children and the elderly. Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” released in June, was an enormous study in connecting the dots, and experts are expecting a similar sweep in “Amoris Laetitia.”

That is probably right.

One of the major issues debated was the church policy that bars divorced Catholics who have remarried without seeking a church annulment of their first union from receiving the sacrament of holy communion, a centerpiece of Mass.

Well, I am not sure this question got quite so much attention during the synod as it did in the ventilating media. But I must point out here, to the New York Times, that this is not properly described as a Church “policy”; as though it were something that might be changed. It is Church doctrine that a second union, without annulment of the first, is adultery. The Church has received this teaching from Christ Himself, in Mark 10:11. It is divine revelation; no pope has the authority to change this.

It is likewise Church doctrine that to receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin (and adultery is a mortal sin, being a violation of the sixth commandment) is itself a mortal sin. This too is divine revelation, taught by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 11:27. The Church cannot just say: This is no longer a mortal sin; go ahead. No pope has the authority to do so.

This is not “policy”; it is prohibition of mortal sin. The pope can not just wake up one morning and say “Meh!” to mortal sin. He can’t; he won’t.

We can be certain there will be no change in this regard. Ever. Get used to it now, liberals. It will save your frenzied hearts from disappointment after disappointment for generation after generation. It has been 2000 years, you know.

At the synods, many bishops insisted that giving communion to divorced Catholics would undermine a core church doctrine that marriage is indissoluble. But other bishops were intent on finding a way to welcome back the divorced.

Well, it is the divorced and remarried; and that “way” of return has long existed; it is called an annulment. I have one myself. Or adultery can be repented of; yes, in a marriage such repentance does requires sacrifice and the support of the Church, but God gives us the all the grace we need to obey him.

It must also be said that communion for the divorced and remarried does not undermine the indissolubility of marriage so much as it undermines church doctrine about adultery. One can be divorced, without an annulment, and still receive the Eucharist as long as there is no second union.

What the pope can do, as the supreme legislator of the Church, is to make annulments quicker and easier to obtain, in recognition of the peculiar realities of the time we live in. (There may, for example, be more invalid marriages now than at earlier times.) The pope has already made such changes, in a motu proprio entitled Mitis Iudex (here). I suspect that Amoris Laetitia at most will supplement what Pope Francis had already done in that earlier document.

I would not be surprised if the pope laid out steps the Church can take to reaquaint the culture with the proper understanding of marriage, and to help Catholics in the pre-Cana process, so that fewer invalid marriages occur in the future.

Now, everyone is looking to Francis to settle the matter. But he may sidestep it, some experts said, by reaffirming church teaching that marriage is permanent, while encouraging flexibility in pastoral practice toward the remarried.

Well, sure, but any such “flexibility” will need to come with prescribed limits, which can be set forth in this or future documents from this or future popes. The point is not just that marriage is indissoluble as much as that remarriage (assuming validity of the first marriage) is adultery.

Apostolic exhortations are not as authoritative as papal encyclicals, and they do not normally change church doctrine.

This is when you have to wonder what the Times understands. Church doctrine does not change. It never has. Name for me the last Church doctrine that changed. Look long and hard and report back to me.

Francis may want to be a bold reformer, but he knows the church can be pushed only so far, so quickly, especially given differing opinions among church leaders. He needs the world’s bishops to be unified behind him if he wants changes to filter to the parish level.

Church doctrine can only change so fast, you know, it hasn’t in 2000 years, but it is at the very door.


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