Mr. Steve Skojec, of 1 Vader 5 infamy (he calls it 1 Peter 5; he’s allowed), was quick to pounce, claws unsheathed, on the latest papal interview. He did so in order to make the self-affirming claim that Pope Francis gave an unambiguous, full-throated “Yes!” to communion for the divorced and remarried. Shazaam. The pope, says Mr. Skojec, gave “a very straightforward affirmation” in response to a “very direct question” from a reporter.
“Straightforward,” you say? “Very direct,” you say?
Then let us hie ourselves to the text of that interview and take a look at this “very direct question.” It comes from Frank Rocca of the Wall Street Journal.
If you permit me, I’d like to ask you another question about an event of recent days, which was your apostolic exhortation. As you well know, there has been much discussion about on one of the many, I know that we’ve focused on this a lot…there has been much discussion after the publication. Some sustain that nothing has changed with respect to the discipline that regulates access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried, that the Law, the pastoral praxis and obviously the doctrine remain the same. Others sustain that much has changed and that there are new openings and possibilities. For a Catholic who wants to know: are there new, concrete possibilities that didn’t exist before the publication of the exhortation or not?
Are there possibilities? Mr. Rocca asks. Well, surely—surely!—you can’t get more “direct” than the nebulous word “possibilities.” Can you?
And in response to this question about the vague presence of unspecified “possibilities,” Pope Francis says: “I can say yes, many.”
Now, it is in the very nature of things for Mr. Skojec to end the quotation with the word “yes.” He does concede that the pope’s “answer went on longer”; but he says nothing about what else the pope added. Naughts and crosses from Mr. Skojec.
I, however, will tell you. Here is the pope’s full answer:
I can say yes, many. [UPDATE 4/17/16: The correct translation is probably “Yes, period.” See my Facebook post here for a fuller explanation.] But it would be an answer that is too small. I recommend that you read the presentation of Cardinal Schonborn, who is a great theologian. He was the secretary for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and he knows the doctrine of the faith well. In that presentation, your question will find an answer.
So yes, Mr. Rocca, you know, there are “possibilities”—I don’t discuss what they are and what they aren’t—but there’s more to it than that, this requires a fuller answer, and I direct you to Cardinal Schonborn’s presentation, where such an answer is to be found.
Sounds very “straightforward” to me.
If truth be told, dear reader—as it must and shall—that is the most unspecific “yes” I can recall reading in a month of 1 Vader 5 posts. It is a vague and fuzzy, kinda-sorta non-answer. Sure, yeah, you know, there are possibilities, in an incomplete kind of way, there are always possibilities, but go and read Schonborn, Mr. Rocca, what’s wrong with you, can’t you do your own homework?
So doing our homework (which Mr. Skojec, who stops at “yes,” does not do), let us hie ourselves, one more time, over to Cardinal Schonborn’s presentation, to which the pope referred the reporter. It is easy to find—lo, I make it easier—ever hear of Google, Messrs. Rocca & Skojec? Here is the relevant text:
What we are speaking of [i.e., with reference to the divorced and remarried] is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God.” But Pope Francis also recalls that “this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church.
Oh, yeah, that part is important. Discernment “can never prescind” from the truth about a couple’s “situation before God.” It can never prescind from what the Church teaches. One can not just go around saying, Oh, you’re good, and you’re good, and you over there, you’re good too; it’s all good. No. Pope Francis says: Discernment, right, but do not presume that discernment means that.
(I know: People are going to presume that anyway, because they want to. There’s a narrative to consider. So it goes.)
Cardinal Schonborn continues:
Naturally this poses the question: what does the Pope say in relation to access to the sacraments for people who live in “irregular situations.” Pope Francis reiterates the need to discern carefully the situation in keeping with St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio.
Oh, this discernment must remain consistent with Familiaris Consortio, must it? Yes, and you know, it’s funny that footnote 329 of Amoris Laetitia would refer us to §84 of Familiaris. Just like Cardinal Schonborn said; you’d almost think he actually read the exhortation.
And what does St. John Paul II say there? I’m glad you asked. Let us take a look, shall we? (FC is here, for I have in mind your convenience, dear reader, and link everything. Please check me out.)
[T]he Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
Oh, that’s what Familiaris Consortio says, does it? And pastoral discernment must be “in keeping with” FC, according to Cardinal Schonborn. Well now. Interesting what you’ll find when you follow the trail of breadcrumbs Pope Francis throws down before a reporter.
Cardinal Schonborn continues:
Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. [Oh, there are limits? Schonborn, to whom the pope refers us, says there are limits. It’s not come one come all? Fascinating.] By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God’. … In the sense of this “via caritatis,” the Pope affirms, in a humble and simple manner, in a note that the help of the sacraments may also be given in “certain cases.”
Okay, but which sacraments? Which cases? Well, that’s where things get tricky, and as Cardinal Schonborn says: “For this purpose [the pope] does not offer us case studies or recipes.”
No, and he doesn’t give “case studies” to Mr. Rocca at the Wall Street Journal either. He certainly sends no case studies off to the inbox of One Vader Five. Much as Mr. Skojec wants to tell us that the pope gave a “straightforward affirmation” that the divorced and remarried may just line up to receive the Eucharist, the pope says nothing of the sort. What he does say is that each case is its own and local pastors must discern the best way to bring this couple or that couple into fuller participation in the Church.
But the pope, in his exhortation, is at pains to point out that it would be a “grave misunderstanding” (AL 300) to think that priests can just go around “making exceptions” to Church law. He says this. §300. Seek and ye shall find.
So what, then, are these “possibilities,” which did not exist before but do now, for access to “the sacraments”? The pope said possibilities exist. Here a possibility, there a possibility, everywhere a possibility possibility. (Do you notice, by the way, how in the minds of some the word “possibility” gets transmogrified into “absolute immediate certainty”?)
The pope does not say. I can think of one: The annulment process has been made easier now, ever since the motu proprio he issued last year. Remember Mitis Iudex? The pope reformed the process. Annulments are now easier and quicker to grant. So there’s one “possibility.”
In truth, the pope can not answer the question any more specifically than he does, because the whole point is that each case is its own. There is no such thing as a flowchart into which you can plug all the data and watch it come back “communion” or “damnation.” So a couple in an irregular union needs to get into that dirty business of talking to their priest, explaining their situation, and discerning what hinders them from the Eucharist and what they need to do if they want to return. At no point, not one, does the pope say that Church law can just be disregarded as part of this discernment. In fact, the pope says that any such notion is—I will say it again—“a grave misunderstanding.” (§300. Check it out.)
Pastors who deal with couples in irregular unions all the time know that each case is its own and requires its own individual response and discernment. Absolutists like Mr. Skojec are scandalized by the real world.