I mostly agree with all that Sandro Magister writes this morning on his blog. A breach or an ideology of discontinuity not seen since the 1960's is occurring in discussions in Rome and fomented by Pope Francis.
Where the perfect storm is for the time being, and unprecedented in the entire history of the Catholic Church, is that a so-called "emeritus" Pope lives in the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI. What does he think of the erasing of his entire papacy in just a year and a half and beginning the very night of the election of Pope Francis in his appearance on the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica?
Can there be a time, as long as he is alive, that the so-called emeritus Pope could step up to the plate and say enough! I was pressured to resign and it was invalid? Or is he in agreement with the quick change that has occurred since the new papacy? Will we ever know?
The Real Dilemma: Indissolubility or Divorce
This synod is not asked to decided on this. But the hypothesis of second marriages now has full citizenship at the summit of the Church. The commentary of Cardinal Camillo Ruini
by Sandro Magister
ROME, October 13, 2014 – After the first week of the synod, one thing is clear: the real focus of the discussion is whether or not to admit divorce in Catholic marriage.
At the synod the word divorce is taboo. Nobody says he wants to go there. Everybody is proclaiming at the top of his voice that the doctrine of indissolubility must remain intact.
But when it comes to giving Eucharistic communion to the divorced and remarried it is as if, in their case, the sacred original bond of marriage no longer existed. As the Orthodox Churches already do, the Catholic Church as well would in fact admit second marriages.
This is in fact the trail blazed by the proponents of innovation: not an unrealistic campaign for Catholic divorce, which only a few theologians like Andrea Grillo or Hermann Häring are calling for explicitly, but the proposal for merciful assistance for those who see communion denied them because they have remarried civilly after the civil dissolution of their sacramental marriage.
The proposal is enticing. It is presented as medicine in cases of suffering because of a sacramental “right” denied. It doesn’t matter that those cases are very few in number. They are enough to act as a lever for a change whose effects promise to be enormously greater.
The sociology of religion would have much to say in this regard. Until the middle of the 20th century, in Catholic parishes, the ban on communion for those who were in a position of irregular marriage did not raise any problems, because it remained practically invisible. Even where Mass attendance was high, in fact, very few received communion every Sunday. Frequent communion was only for those who also went to confession frequently. There was evidence of this in the twofold precept that the Church issued for the faithful as a whole: to confess “once a year” and to receive communion “at least during the Easter season.”
Abstention from communion was therefore not a visible stigma of punishment or marginalization. The main motivation that kept most of the faithful from frequent communion was their great respect for the Eucharist, which could be approached only after adequate preparation, and always with fear and trembling.
All of this changed during the years of Vatican Council II and the post-council. In brief, confessions plummeted while communion became a mass phenomenon. Now everyone or almost everyone receives it, always. Because in the meantime the general understanding of the sacrament of the Eucharist has changed. The real presence of the body and blood of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine has declined to a symbolic presence. Communion has become like the sign of peace, a gesture of friendship, of sharing, of fraternity, “the same old story: everyone else is going, so I’ll go too,” as Pope Benedict XVI said, who tried to restore the authentic sense of the Eucharist by among other things having the faithful kneel and giving the host on the tongue.
In such a context, it was inevitable that the ban on communion would be perceived among the divorced and remarried as the public denial of a “right” of everyone to the sacrament. The protests were and are on the part of a few, because most of the divorced and remarried are far from religious practice, while among the practicing there is no lack of those who understand and respect the discipline of the Church. But within this very narrow spectrum of cases there has emerged, starting in the 1990’s and mainly in a few German-speaking dioceses, a campaign for changing the discipline of the Catholic Church in the area of marriage, which has reached its peak with the pontificate of Pope Francis, with his clear agreement.
The synod’s concentration on the question of the divorced and remarried also risks losing sight of much more macroscopic situations of crisis in Catholic marriage.
Shortly before the synod, for example, there appeared in Italian bookstores a report on the pastoral activity set up by then-cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on the outskirts of Buenos Aires:
P. De Robertis, "Le pecore di Bergoglio. Le periferie di Buenos Aires svelano chi è Francesco", Editrice Missionaria Italiana, Bologna, 2014.
From this one learns that most couples, on the order of 80-85 percent, are not married but simply cohabit, while among spouses “the majority of marriages are invalid, because the people marry when they are immature”, but then don’t even try to get a declaration of nullity from the diocesan tribunals.
It is the “curas villeros,” the priests Bergoglio sent to the outskirts, who provide this information and proudly state that they give everyone communion no matter what, “without raising barricades.”
The outskirts of Buenos Aires are not an isolated case in Latin America. And they give evidence not of a success but if anything of an absence or failure of pastoral care for marriage. On other continents Christian marriage is in the grips of challenges no less grave, from polygamy to forced marriages, from “gender” theory to homosexual “marriages.”
In the face of such a challenge this synod and the next will decide if the appropriate response will be that of opening a loophole for divorce or of restoring to indissoluble Catholic marriage all of its alternative and revolutionary power and beauty.
The following is the contribution to the discussion not of a synod father, but of a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church who has felt it his duty not to remain silent.
The Gospel of the Family in the Secularized West
by Camillo Ruini
That fundamental cell of society which is the family is going through a period of extraordinarily rapid evolution.
Premarital relationships are now lived out in the open and divorce is almost normal, often as a result of the breaking of conjugal fidelity. This is pulling us away from the traditional physiognomy of the family, in countries and cultures marked by Christianity.
In recent decades moreover, at least in the EWest, we have entered into unexplored territory. Inroads have been made, in fact, by the ideas of “gender” and of “homosexual marriage.”
At the root of all of this is the primacy, and almost the absolutization, of individual freedom and of personal sentiment. So the family bond must be capable of being molded at will, and in any case not binding, to the point of disappearing or becoming practically irrelevant.
According to the same logic, this bond must be accessible to every kind of couple, on the basis of the assertion of a complete equality that admits no differences, above all those that can be attributed to an external will, whether this be human (civil laws) or divine (the natural law).
The desire to have a family and if possible a stable family, however, remains strong and widespread: a desire that is translated into the reality of many “normal” families and also numerous authentically Christian families. These last are certainly a minority, but substantial and rather motivated.
The sense that the family properly understood is disappearing is therefore to a large extent the result of the distance between the real world and the virtual world constructed by the media, although it must not be forgotten that this virtual world has a powerful influence on real behavior.
In a serene and balanced view, therefore, there seems to be little foundation for unilateral pessimism and resignation with regard to the family and its future. What the pastoral care of the family needs instead is the attitude of Vatican Council II toward the new times, an attitude that we can summarize as a spirit of welcome that redirects everything toward Christ the savior.
In concrete terms, with “Gaudium et Spes” nos. 47-52 we have a new approach to marriage and the family, more personalistic but with no rupture from the traditional conception. Then the catecheses on human love by Saint John Paul II and the apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” constituted a great exploration that opened new perspectives and confronted many current problems. Although these catecheses could not explicitly deal with more recent and more radical developments, like “gender” theory and same-sex marriage, they already laid the foundations, to a large extent, for addressing them.
Without a doubt, pastoral practice has not always lived up to these teachings - and moreover could never do so completely - but it has followed their guidelines with important results: our young Christian families, in fact, are also the fruit of these.
Now, with Pope Francis, we have two synods on the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of the new evangelization, after the consistory of last February that already began to examine this topic: a further step in this journey of welcoming and reorientation that the whole Church is called to undertake with trust.
The perspective of the two synods must be clearly universal, and no geographical or cultural area can demand that the synod concentrate only on its own problems.
Having established that, the most significant questions for the West seem to be the more radical ones that have emerged in recent decades. These urge us to rethink and to present anew, in the light of the Gospel of the family, the meaning and value of marriage as a covenant of life between man and woman, oriented to the good of both and to the procreation and education of children, and endowed with a decisive social and public significance as well.
Here the Christian faith must demonstrate true cultural creativity, which the synods are not able to produce automatically but can stimulate, in believers and in those who realize that what is at stake is a fundamental human dimension.
But there are other questions that continue to confront us and seem to become ever more urgent, already repeatedly addressed by the magisterium. Among these is that of the divorced and remarried.
“Familiaris Consortio,” no. 84, has already indicated the attitude to adopt: not to abandon those who find themselves in this situation, but on the contrary to take special care of them, striving to make the Church’s means of salvation available to them. This means helping them not to consider themselves separate from the Church by any means, and instead to participate in its life. It also means carefully discerning the situations, especially those of unjustly abandoned spouses as opposed to those who have culpably destroyed their own marriage.
“Familiaris Consortio” however also reiterates the practice of the Church, “which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.” The fundamental reason is 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.”
What is in question is therefore not their personal blame, but the state in which they objectively find themselves. This is why a man and woman who for serious reasons, like for example the raising of children, cannot satisfy the obligation of separation, in order to receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist must take on “the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
This is undoubtedly a very difficult commitment, which is taken on by very few couples, while the divorced and remarried are unfortunately ever more numerous.
A search for other solutions has therefore been underway for some time. One of these, while holding firm the indissolubility of ratified and consummated marriage, maintains that the divorced and remarried could be allowed to receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist under precise conditions but without having to abstain from the acts proper to spouses. This would amount to a second table of salvation, offered on the basis of the criterion of “epicheia” in order to unite truth and mercy.
This way does not seem viable, however, mainly because it implies an exercise of extramarital sexuality, given the continuation of the first marriage, ratified and consummated. In other words, the original conjugal bond would continue to exist, but in the behavior of the faithful and in liturgical life one could proceed as if it did not exist. We are therefore facing a question of consistency between practice and doctrine, and not only a disciplinary problem.
As for canonical “epicheia” and “aequitas,” these are very important criteria in the area of human and purely ecclesial norms, but they cannot be applied to the norms of divine law, over which the Church has no discretional power.
In support of the aforementioned hypothesis one can certainly bring in solutions similar to those proposed by some Fathers of the Church that have also entered into practice to some extent, although these never obtained the consensus of the Fathers and were never in any way the common doctrine or discipline of the Church (cf. the letter of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith to the bishops of the Catholic Church on the reception of Eucharistic communion on the part of the divorced and remarried faithful, November 14, 1994, no.4). In our time, when the problem of civil marriage and divorce has been raised in contemporary terms, there exists instead, starting with the encyclical “Casti Connubi” of Pius XI, a clear and constant position of the whole magisterium, which goes in the opposite direction and does not appear modifiable.
It could be objected that Vatican Council II, without violating the dogmatic tradition, proceeded with new developments on questions, like that of religious freedom, on which there existed encyclicals and decisions of the Holy Office that seemed to preclude them.
But the comparison is not convincing, because a genuine conceptual elaboration was produced on the right to religious freedom, attributing this right to the person as such and to his intrinsic dignity, and not to the truth as conceived of abstractly, as had been done before.
The solution proposed for the divorced and remarried, however, is not based on such an elaboration. The problems of family and marriage also impact the daily life of persons in an incomparably greater and more concrete manner compared to that of the foundation of religious freedom, whose exercise in countries of Christian tradition was already guaranteed to a large extent before Vatican II.
We must therefore be very prudent in modifying, with regard to marriage and the family, positions that the magisterium has proposed for a long time and in such an authoritative manner: if not, the consequences for the Church’s credibility would be rather heavy.
This does not mean that every possibility of development is precluded. One way that appears viable is that of revising the processes of nullifying marriages: these are in fact norms of ecclesial law, not divine.
There must therefore be an examination of the possibility of replacing the judicial process with an administrative and pastoral procedure, essentially aimed at clarifying the situation of the couple before God and the Church. It is very important, however, that any change of procedure must not become a pretext for granting in a surreptitious manner what in reality would be divorces: hypocrisy of this nature would bring great harm to the whole Church.
One question that goes beyond the procedural aspects is that of the relationship between the faith of those who marry and the sacrament of marriage.
“Familiaris Consortio,” no. 68, rightly places the accent on the reasons that induce one to maintain that those asking for canonical marriage have faith, albeit in a weakened condition that must be rediscovered, strengthened, and matured. It also emphasizes that social reasons can licitly enter into the request for this form of marriage. It is therefore sufficient that the engaged couple “at least implicitly consent to what the Church intends to do when she celebrates marriage.”
The attempt to establish further criteria of admission to the celebration, which would take into account the level of faith on the part of those to be married, would instead involve grave risks, starting with that of pronouncing unfounded and discriminatory judgments.
In fact, however, there are unfortunately many baptized today who have never believed or no longer believe in God. This therefore raises the question of whether they can validly contract a sacramental marriage.
On this point, Cardinal Ratzinger’s introduction to the booklet “On pastoral care for the divorced and remarried,” published in 1998 by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, retains its fundamental value.
Ratzinger (Introduction, III, 4, pp. 27-28) maintains that it must be clarified “whether every marriage between two baptized persons is ipso facto a sacramental marriage.” The Code of Canon Law affirms this (can. 1055 § 2) but, as Ratzinger observes, the Code itself says that this applies to a valid marriage contract, and in this case it is precisely the validity that is in question. Ratzinger adds: “Faith belongs to the essence of the sacrament; what remains to be clarified is the juridical question of what evidence of the ‘absence of faith’ would have as a consequence that the sacrament does not come into being.”
It therefore seems to have been established that if there truly is no faith, neither is there the sacrament of marriage.
With regard to implicit faith the scholastic tradition, with reference to Hebrews 11:6 (“anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him”), requires at least faith in God as rewarder and savior.
It seems to me, however, that this tradition must be updated in the light of the teaching of Vatican II, on the basis of which the salvation that requires faith can also be obtained by “all men of good will in whose hearts grace is invisibly at work,” including those who maintain that they are atheists or in any case have not come to an explicit knowledge of God (cf. “Gaudium et Spes,” 22; “Lumen Gentium,” 16).
In any event, this teaching of the Council by no means implies an automatism of salvation and a trivialization of the need for faith: it instead places the accent not on an abstract intellectual recognition of God but rather on an adherence, however implicit, of him as the fundamental choice of our life.
In the light of this criterion, it could perhaps be maintained that under the current circumstances there are more baptized persons who do not have faith and therefore cannot validly contract sacramental marriage.
It therefore seems truly opportune and urgent to strive to clarify the juridical question of that “evidence of lack of faith” which would make sacramental marriages invalid and prevent nonbelieving baptized persons from contracting such marriages in the future.
We must not conceal the fact, on the other hand, that this opens the way for much more profound and difficult changes, not only for the Church’s pastoral care but also for the situation of nonbelieving baptized persons.
It is clear, in fact, that like every person they have the right to marriage, which they would contract in civil form. The greatest difficulty does not lie in the danger of compromising the relationship between the canonical order and the civil order: their synergy has already become very weak and problematic, through the progressive distancing of civil marriage from what are the essential requisites of natural marriage itself.
The effort of Christians and of those who are aware of the human and social importance of the family founded on marriage should instead be aimed at helping the men and women of today to rediscover the significance of those requisites. They are founded on the order of creation and precisely for this reason apply to every age and can be made concrete in forms adapted to the most diverse times.
I would like to end by recalling the common intention that animates those who are taking part in the synodal debate: to hold together, in pastoral care for the family, the truth of God and of man with the merciful love of God for us, which is the heart of the Gospel.