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Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyons
Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Ban on Communion for divorced and remarried is ‘absurd and inhuman’: Cardinal

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

October 20, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin commended Catholics in new unions who bear witness to true matrimony by refraining from partaking in the Eucharist but clearly opened a door to those who feel they should receive communion while remaining in a second “marriage.”

Cardinal Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon in France and Primate of the Gauls, held a special service last Sunday at his cathedral for Catholics from broken marriages. The event was designed to share reflections on the controversial chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia and how it is interpreted in the diocese – one of the most ancient dioceses in France that was created in the second century and glorifies saints such as the martyrs Irenaeus and Blandine.

“In the Church, Everyone is Needed” was the title of Cardinal Barbarin’s talk. He said, “Everyone can see whether it is possible or not to change his or her situation; everyone realizes what is best today, for oneself or for those with whom one is now bound by a relationship of love and mutual service.”

Clearly, a new union despite an existing marriage, in the eyes of the French Cardinal, can be defined as a “relationship of love and mutual service.”

Six divorced and “remarried” couples joined in the presentation, including Florence and George, who are active in the local Catholic community and participate in their parish reception service. They now regularly come to Mass together with their family.

From the top of the altar steps, they explained how they would feel “isolated in the pews” at communion time. “The more we found our place, the less we felt a right to it,” they said. At that point, a priest offered to “accompany” them, encouraging them to follow a course for people in this situation linked to the “Notre Dame Teams” that help Catholic spouses in the married state of life.

At the end of the course, after a period of discernment with the parish priest of Bron, near Lyon, a special celebration was arranged in which the couple was “blessed.” On the following Sunday, they both received communion. The first question the priest had put to them was: “Are you at peace?”

It does not appear that they indicated they are now living as brother and sister, nor was there any mention of that in Cardinal Barbarin’s own talk as a completely traditional solution to the problem. He had listened to them from the pews together with the lay participants in a symbolic gesture.

Cardinal Barbarin, in fact, endorsed the more liberal interpretations of Amoris Laetitia’s chapter 8, insisting that “listening” and “discernment” are necessary in the face of difficult situations but also calling for “respect and attention towards the love lived out today by each person,” all of which wound up in an appeal to help people find their place in the Church, even if that means allowing some divorced and “remarried” couples to receive the Eucharist.

Barbarin spoke of his most frequent experience with people living in new matrimonial or family situations, saying their “cry” is that of “people who feel judged, misunderstood, excluded – that is perhaps the most frequent word – who feel useless in the Church, which remains their family and which should always remain a ‘fraternity.’”

He went on to ask “forgiveness for all these wounds inflicted on brothers and sisters, by a look, a judgment, or a brutal rebuff” – not wounds inflicted by him but by others who are not attentive to Jesus’ words: “Judge not, that thou be not judged.” “What hurts me most is to hear … expressions or reactions that I thought were things of the past. (…) It scandalizes me and I want to ask your forgiveness,” he said, commending those divorced and “remarried” who have already generously pardoned this sort of reaction.

As the Cardinal said later during his talk, among these reactions is the fact of “defining someone with an adjective: divorced, separated, remarried.” “We know, we need, we love these people. It is their name that we should know first of all, that life, their personal history, which should be discovered and listened to,” he said.

The implication is that perhaps we should also stop defining people as being married: all of these situations are the result of a personal choice, after all.

Cardinal Barbarin then explained that he was in a way giving the Pope’s own interpretation. He told the audience that he had been received by the Pope some 10 days earlier with a group of 80 priests from the diocese of Lyon who were unanimous in saying they wanted to hear Francis speak about Amoris laetitia’s chapter 8, which says a lot about the centrality of this conversation and about the questions it raises.

“The Pope said to us that in Amoris Laetitia, he was careful never to use the language of that which is permitted and that which is not. I’m thinking of the expression of Cardinal Schönborn that sums it up like this: Francis has ‘liberated the Church’s teaching from its legislative constraints without changing it at all.’” It is a difficult path. It is clear that Jesus’s phrase, ‘That which God has united, may no man tear asunder!’ (Mt 19:6) will not cease to be valid by the decision of a Pope. It will cross the centuries, continents and cultures, that is for sure. We can also note that this desire to liberate the Church’s doctrine, the truth of marriage, from legislative constraints will cause incomprehension and deviations. Some get the impression of being lost. “We do not know anymore. … everything is uncertain!” “When we put such a pastoral responsibility on priests’ shoulders, the load becomes too heavy for them …” There are also deviations: “At last our demands have been heard! … Now all that is over, everyone does as he pleases. As to you, just follow your feelings!”

“In particular as regards access to Communion for the divorced and remarried, the positions and expectations were as contradictory as they were clear-cut. On the one side, some said: ‘Let’s hope that Francis will scrap that inhuman rule!’ Others, on the contrary, said: ‘In any case, he cannot alter a thing to the discipline that forever was.’”

Going on to present the pastoral concern that defines Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Barbarin specially quoted its paragraph 304 and reasoning he attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas: “The Pope took his time to show that a moral teaching of the Church cannot be identified with the law of the Republic, it cannot be reduced to the landmarks of that which is allowed, forbidden or compulsory” because of the “extraordinary variety of personal situations,” he remarked.

“A piece of civil legislation, a traffic rule or a tax instruction apply to all without exception, while a moral or pastoral norm can never apply to each particular case. On the other hand, the discernment judging a personal situation cannot become a general norm. (…) How many times, in my priestly ministry, have I seen people giving a marvelous witness to the sacrament of the Eucharist and to that of marriage (…) by not going to communion because of the breakdown in the history of their marriage. It is certainly a source of suffering for them, but these people give us a beautiful witness. They cannot live out this situation without a profound faith: they know that God will not be lacking in generosity towards them and will give them all they need to go down their road,” he said.

But having made the questionable point that “a moral or pastoral norm can never apply to each particular case” – this is the equivalent of saying that no moral norm is ever absolute – the Cardinal very logically went on to make exceptions.

“On the other hand, when a divorced and remarried person cannot bear not being able to receive communion and finally decides, because of this interior burning, to stop coming to Mass, it would be absurd and inhuman to go on brandishing a prohibition sign in front of that person. It would lead them to a break that would be even more serious, locking them up in their resentment. When someone is living in that situation and decides in conscience to go and receive communion, no one judges them. It is not to be lax to say that it means welcoming and loving each person as they are, at the point they have reached, it means accompanying them personally in their spiritual combat, and above all, I hope, to pray for them ‘in secret.’ The important thing is to explain, to understand well the organic unity of the sacraments, how baptism, marriage, Eucharist, reconciliation … are all bound by the logic of this new and eternal Alliance that Jesus came to seal by giving up his body for us. Everyone sees what step they can take today, whether they can or cannot yet take the path the Church is showing them, to move forward and to follow the Lord as a disciple,” the Cardinal said.

Clearly, he is leaving the ultimate decision to approach the Eucharist to the faithful themselves, whatever their situation.

He went on to say: “For some people, this journey in the faith will mean receiving communion, for others, it will be to participate in Mass without going to communion. (…) Since a long time, there exists in Christian morals a small technical word – epikeia – that explains this. It means that one can get around a norm whose legitimacy one acknowledges, when it is clear that its strict implementation would lead to even more serious harm for the person.”

Epikeia as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, IIa, IIae, q. 120, a. 1, ad 1, 2) is in fact “equity,” that which is just as opposed to that which is legal. It requires judging the effect of a positive – man-made – law in regard to a particular case where following the law would be wrong. “Thus the law requires deposits to be restored, because in the majority of cases this is just. Yet it happens sometimes to be injurious – for instance, if a madman were to put his sword in deposit, and demand its delivery while in a state of madness, or if a man were to seek the return of his deposit in order to fight against his country. On these and like cases it is bad to follow the law, and it is good to set aside the letter of the law and to follow the dictates of justice and the common good. This is the object of ‘epikeia’ which we call equity. Therefore, it is evident that ‘epikeia’ is a virtue,” taught Saint Thomas.

A lot has been written about epikeia, but in the context given by Cardinal Barbarin, it would lead to putting aside negative precepts of the natural law (“Thou shalt not…”), which is certainly not the traditional sense in which the Church has used it.

The Cardinal concluded his remarks by addressing “you, the disciples of the Lord who are in a situation of (marriage) breakdown. Look at your life and the path you are taking with serenity, courage and confidence, within the logic of the alliance. Everyone sees what can or cannot be changed in one’s life situation; everyone realizes what is the best today, for oneself and for one’s loved ones to whom one is now bound by a relationship of love and mutual service.”

He did encourage all to go to Mass and to confession even if they could not receive sacramental absolution. “Grace abounds for the man or woman who suffers because of the feeling of not being up to God’s call in the mystery of their life,” he said.

During his talk, the Cardinal did not mention the objective gravity of adultery. This is a form of “discernment” that refuses to tell the whole story. It is particularly remarkable that divorced and remarried couples were invited to share their experience in order to help others “discern,” and to share it, as it were, from the altar, in the position of those who teach. They were certainly aware of the teaching of the Church on marriage – if not, there would have been no problem, no long wait before returning to Communion, no lengthy talks with a parish priest.

“Discernment” in the Diocese of Lyon, according to the dictates of Amoris Laetitia, must therefore be identified as a reflection that leads to minimizing a couple’s sense of personal responsibility and allowing them to approach the Eucharist once they have decided they feel unable to live up to the full demands of the Church’s teachings.

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