Why all the fuss over allowing Communion for the remarried in just the hardest of cases?

Why not allow the happily married new couple to be good Catholics and go to Holy Communion?
Tue Sep 13, 2016 - 11:18 am EST
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September 13, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – After the battle in the Catholic Church over the last two years culminating in the publication of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, many Catholics may be left scratching their heads. One of the most common thoughts has been why all the fuss over allowing “remarriage” in some cases? And why not allow the happily married new couple to be good Catholics and go to Holy Communion?

This was also one of the most frequent criticisms of our report on September 9 about the Pope’s letter praising the Argentinean bishops’ directive allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried.

But while this practice, giving Communion even in only some of the hardest cases, may sound eminently reasonable, it would in fact totally undermine the faith. Let me explain, by among other things, using very applicable comments on the same arguments by then Cardinal Ratzinger, approved by Pope John Paul II in 1994.

First though let me offer an analogy.  Many of the moral nightmares we face today were brought in using the ‘hard cases’. We have three prominent examples of this playing out over the last 40 years: contraception, abortion and euthanasia. 

When the (Anglican) Lambeth conference proposed allowance of contraception in 1930 it was to be only for married couples, and then only in some cases. Prior to this, all Christians in the world had opposed contraception.

When abortion was legalized it always first came in under the guise of protecting the life and health of the mother, with multiple doctors needing to confirm the necessity. Euthanasia was begun as a voluntary ending of the intolerable suffering for only those whose deaths were near.

In all of these cases, we have seen how initial, limited violation of the previously inviolable principle has led to far more liberal use and moral anarchy.

The famous Kasper proposal, now known to be favored by Pope Francis, was never quite as simple as a blunt demand that the divorced and remarried be admitted to the Eucharist.  That confusion led some commentators to read Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation as a rejection of the Kasper proposal.

For Kasper, whether intentional or not, his modus operandi has never been an outright demand for something heretical. It has always been a conniving and nuanced way to undermining Church teaching.

Twenty three years ago, while he was a bishop in Germany, Kasper issued a pastoral letter to be read in all churches suggesting that the prohibition on Communion for remarried couples was not universally applicable and needed to be decided case by case.

A summary of the matter by Rev. Professor Joseph Bolin at the International Theological Institute notes that in 1993, Kasper, along with Bishops Karl Lehmann and Oskar Saier, issued a pastoral letter urging a dialogue to consider if the "generally valid" prohibition against the remarried receiving the Eucharist applies in all cases, arguing that there ought to be "room for pastoral flexibility in complex, individual cases."

The bishops give a misleading nod in the direction of Familiaris Consortio saying that "divorced and remarried people generally cannot be admitted to the Eucharistic feast as they find themselves in life situations that are in objective contradiction to the essence of Christian marriage." But Familiaris Consortio has that as an absolute prohibition.  It says, "the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried." The German bishops go on to argue that canon law can "set up only a valid general order; it cannot regulate all of the often very complex individual cases."

Sound familiar? It should. It is indeed the same language used in Amoris Laetitia.

Kasper’s document received a Vatican reprimand in 1994 through a letter approved by Pope John Paul II but written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and later to become Pope Benedict XVI.

Since the Kasper proposal remains largely unchanged in its current iteration, which is now known to be accepted in Amoris Laetitia, the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger may be read as a response to the Kasper proposal as reflected in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

The Vatican letter took up the hardest of cases intentionally so as to show the logic of the necessity to adhere to the teaching and practice of the Church in every case. Laying out the scenario, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote about a situation where the couple considered themselves justified in conscience in receiving Communion.  He wrote:

This would be the case, for example, when they had been abandoned completely unjustly, although they sincerely tried to save the previous marriage, or when they are convinced of the nullity of their previous marriage, although unable to demonstrate it in the external forum or when they have gone through a long period of reflexion and penance, or also when for morally valid reasons they cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.

Cardinal Ratzinger proposes in the scenario that the couple must consult an expert priest who undertakes a “benevolent and pastoral solution” respecting their consciences without even implying an official authorization.

He then lays out the response with clarity and charity (emphases by LifeSiteNews):

In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ(5), the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists(6).

This norm is not at all a punishment or a discrimination against the divorced and remarried, but rather expresses an objective situation that of itself renders impossible the reception of Holy Communion: "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 his 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"(7).

The faithful who persist in such a situation may receive Holy Communion only after obtaining sacramental absolution, which may be given only "to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they 'take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples'"(8). In such a case they may receive Holy Communion as long as they respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal.

In conclusion Cardinal Ratzinger, with the approval and sanction of Pope John Paul II, calls on pastors and all the faithful to ensure this teaching is well received. “In pastoral action one must do everything possible to ensure that this is understood not to be a matter of discrimination,” he writes, “but only of absolute fidelity to the will of Christ who has restored and entrusted to us anew the indissolubility of marriage as a gift of the Creator” (LifeSiteNews emphasis).

  amoris laetitia, catholic, communion for remarried, pope francis, walter kasper

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