THE SERVANT GENERAL
FOR DIVORCED AND REMARRIED - 15
to show mercy and compassion to those in irregular unions
by allowing them Communion will result in several worrisome
weakening of marriage and family life;
penalizing those who have striven to live out the hard teachings
of the gospel;
sending the wrong signals to the young and newly-married
about the sacredness and permanence of Christian marriage;
keeping those in irregular unions in their sin and allowing
them to be comfortable in their sin;
truly endangering the souls of those who partake of Communion
unworthily (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-32);
exacerbating the divide between liberals and conservatives
in our Church, as the latter will not just accept what they
consider to be wrong doctrine or pastoral practice.
should not fall into false mercy for those in irregular unions,
and destructive mercy for the rest of the Church.
compassion: the dangerous step the Pope might take
Phil Lawler | Nov 13, 2015
soon—we know not when—Pope Francis will issue
a document concluding the work of the Synod on the Family.
One question looms over all others: Will
the Pope endorse the Kasper proposal?
Raymond de Souza predicts that he will. “He has steadily
prepared the Church for just that,” he writes in the
Catholic Herald. “It would be foolish to ignore
the course of the October discussions, Pope Francis dropped
hints of his interest in the Kasper proposal, and
as the meeting concluded he issued what appeared to be an
angry denunciation of bishops who were not open to new ideas.
More telling, Father de Souza writes, is the fact that since
the Synod ended, friends of the Pontiff have been predicting
that he will give the Kasper proposal his stamp of approval.
Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica claimed that the
Pope had told him as much, and although the Vatican press
office quickly reminded us that Scalfari is not reliable,
it seems probable that the Holy Father said something
to give the Italian journalist that impression.
Scalfari, Father Antonio Spadaro, the editor of Civilta
Cattolica, is regarded as quite reliable. In fact the
commentaries published in Civilta are reviewed by
the Secretariat of State in advance of publication, so that
they are perceived as accurate indications of “official”
thinking at the Vatican. Father Spadaro has stopped just short
of an outright declaration that the Pope will embrace the
Kasper proposal, emphasizing a “new openness”
to the question of pastoral care for divorced and remarried
his analysis, Father Spadaro compares the pastoral work of
the Church with the functioning of a GPS system:
one makes a mistake or encounters an unexpected problem, the
GPS does not say to go back to the starting point and make
the trip all over again, but proposes an alternative route.
Analogously, every time we deviate through sin, God does not
ask us to go back to the starting point, but reorients us
toward himself by tracing a new pathway.
an insightful response that appears in Chiesa, an
American theologian, Father Robert Imbelli, remarks that,
yes, a GPS recalibrates directions. “But it does not
change the destination. Otherwise it would lead those depending
on it astray.”
Imbelli goes on to note the irony in Father Spadaro’s
imagery, because for Italians “GPS” are the initials
of Giovanni Paolo Secondo-- St.
John Paul II, whose teaching in Familiaris Consortio was directly
opposed to the intent of the Kasper proposal.
The Synod’s final statement quotes Familiaris Consortio,
and Pope Francis has cited it as well. But
both the Synod document and the Pope’s statements have
conspicuously omitted this passage:
the 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.
Father de Souza’s unhappy prediction is accurate, and
the Pope does open a path to Communion for Catholics who are
divorced and remarried, informed observers believe that he
will avoid a direct contradiction of his predecessor by adopting
the “internal forum”
solution suggested by the German-speaking
bishops in their report to the Synod.
“internal forum” ordinarily refers to the confessional,
and the solution offered by the German bishops was for Catholics
who are divorced and remarried to meet with their confessors,
discuss the circumstances of their failed marriages and new
unions, and, after doing appropriate penance, return to Communion.
The details of this proposal are vague—perhaps, one
is tempted to say, deliberately vague. Under what circumstances
would a confessor be authorized to tell penitent divorced/remarried
Catholics that they might again receive the Eucharist? Would
the decision be left entirely to the individual priest’s
are other practical problems with the proposal. The “internal
forum” solution requires a meeting with a confessor,
and anyone familiar with the normal life of the Church today
knows that most Catholics rarely, if ever, find their way
into a confessional. Yet at the same time, if it is theoretically
possible that a divorced/remarried Catholic may have obtained
a confessor’s permission to receive the Eucharist, few
Catholic priests would dare to question such a person if he
presented himself for Communion. So
in practice, if the “internal forum” proposal
is adopted, a divorced/remarried Catholic may be tempted to
receive Communion—at risk to his soul—without
taking any steps down a “penitential path,”
because no one will question him.
this way, a nightmare scenario could easily develop. The divorced/remarried
individual pretends that he has consulted with a confessor.
His pastor, probably knowing that this is unlikely, nevertheless
pretends that the canonical requirements have been satisfied.
Everyone involved is living a lie!
difficulties arise because marriage is not just one more field
in which the faithful may or may not live up to their moral
obligations. Marriage is a public act. An individual either
is, or is not, married. In an annulment case, canon lawyer
Ed Peters reminds us, “the tribunal asks a single fundamental
question: are the two people before it, who appear to be married,
really married?” This is a question of fact, and from
the answer to that question there flow some inescapable conclusions.
During the Synod there was a great deal of talk about showing
compassion for Catholics in irregular marriage, and few people
would disagree that the Church should—as Pope Benedict
XVI emphasized so strongly—find ways to help people
in that situation. But when the question arises as to whether
those people are validly married, Peters insists, “Compassion
has nothing to do with it.” This is a question of fact.
tribunals are set up to test facts, hearing testimony (if
at all possible) from both parties. The “internal forum”
proposal would encourage a priest to make a judgment after
hearing just one side of what is invariably a complicated
could a pastor, theoretically, hear both sides of the story?
Could there be some sort of “internal forum,”
similar to the confessional, but different in that both partners
would be involved? Here we encounter another complication.
In most divorce cases, one partner does not want to be involved.
Rick Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist who heads the Institute for
Marital Healing, has an important perspective on the matter:
the past forty years, I have never worked with a Catholic
marriage in which both spouses wanted a divorce.
In the majority of marriages under stress, one spouse remains
happy with the marriage, believes the conflicts can be resolved
and is loyal to the sacramental bond.
wait: If one partner wants to work out the problems in the
marriage rather than abandoning the marriage, shouldn’t
the Church show compassion for that spouse? Shouldn’t
pastoral energies be devoted to saving marriages, rather than
picking up the pieces afterward? Dr. Fitzgibbons cites the
disturbing results of a national survey of divorced men and
women, conducted by researchers at the University of Texas,
which found “the honest response that only one in three
divorced spouses claimed that both they and their ex-spouses
worked hard enough to try to save their marriage.” Pastors
and confessors might work wonders by using the “internal
forum” solution prior to marital breakdowns,
helping dueling spouses recognize how they are endangering
their marriages, their lives, and their souls—before
they abandon a sacred commitment.
haven’t we neglected another important consideration?
We have been speaking about the spouses, the partners involved
in a marriage (or divorce). But a marriage creates a family,
and a family includes children; they too are interested parties
in any marriage case. In an excellent article
in America magazine (!), several authors—all
survivor-victims of the divorce wars—write that the
“internal forum” proposal “would dismiss
the needs of children in order to satisfy the desires of adults.”
authors of the America essay note that some public
statements by Pope Francis “seem to suggest that children
are harmed by the current practice of excluding their divorced
and remarried parents from receiving Communion.” They
continue, in plain language: “This notion is mistaken.”
Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30
years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written
eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news
director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full