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Why not Communion for polygamists if we give it to divorced and remarried?: South African Cardinal

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If someone in Germany who is divorced and civilly remarried can receive Communion without being expected to change his lifestyle, why can’t someone in Africa who is “married” to two women do so as well?

That’s the question that Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the archbishop of Durban, South Africa, asked in a recent interview with Catholic News Service. Napier added that a better way forward for the Church than the recommendation made by the German Cardinal Walter Kasper is to recommend the traditional Christian practice of fortitude in the face of suffering; the carrying of the cross. 

“Jesus didn’t say ‘I want the easiest cross to carry.’ He took what was coming. And I think that in many instances married people who find themselves in impossible situations – second-married people – are maybe just called to do that, to carry the cross with Christ.”

Cardinal Napier, who earlier joined those bishops denying any possibility of a change in Catholic teaching, said the logic should be applied to the question of polygamy, a practice that is common throughout Africa.

Speaking to an interviewer with the US bishops’ Catholic News Service, Cardinal Napier said, “What happens to a man who not a Catholic, but is married to a Catholic and then he takes another wife in a polygamous type of set-up, and he wants to, on occasion come and receive Communion?”

If Communion is to be offered to those who are divorced and civilly remarried, “on what basis are you going to refuse him?”

The cardinal described those who have remarried outside the Church as being “engaged in successive polygamy,” and asked if these people can receive Communion without changing their lifestyles, “why can’t a simultaneous polygamist have the same advantages?”

“After all, in his culture, it’s quite acceptable. For him, it’s natural, and the natural law theory [says] that if something is natural, there’s going to be some goodness in it.

“So there’s no conflict of conscience about accepting Christ and living polygamy at the same time. How are we going to deal with those? I think that’s what I meant by [saying] we are going to have to make some hard choices, I think.”

“Do we say that you don’t have to carry the cross because the world says, ‘No no, the soft option is always the easier one’?” Cardinal Napier said.

“And ultimately, is it the easier one? How do you get your children to marry, then, if you don’t get married … [How do you] get your children to make a life-long commitment if you have failed to do it yourself?”

In another interview, Cardinal Napier commended the intervention of the couple from the Philippines who asked the bishops for a stronger defence of the Church’s teaching on contraception and marriage.

With regards to the problems of conveying the Church’s teaching that have arisen since the start of the Sexual Revolution, the right way forward is more recourse to faith.

“Where there is strong faith,” he said, “those problems can be met and can be overcome.”

Their intervention set the tone, he said, for the rest of the interventions. “Whatever topics were then spoken about, I was measuring them against the context of an actual life testimony of a couple.”



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