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When Will the Guessing Game End?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
August 12, 2015

As cardinals, bishops, priests and hundreds of thousands of members of the laity petition the Pope to speak clearly in defense of the Church’s perennial discipline regarding the impossibility of admitting the divorced and “remarried” to Holy Communion without a renunciation of their adulterous relations, Francis continues to keep everyone guessing.

In his audience address of Wednesday, August 5 (forget the English version at, which is some unknown reader’s summary for the crowd) Francis remains coy about his intentions for the Synod in October.  First, he refers to “those who, following the irreversible failure of their matrimonial bond, have undertaken a new union.”  What “failure” is Francis talking about? Marriage is an indissoluble sacramental union of two who become one flesh; it lasts until death and never “fails,” even if one or more of the spouses fail in their duty to the bond. And what “new union”? No “new union” is possible, for what God has joined together no man can put asunder.

Next, Francis says: “The Church knows well that such a situation contradicts the Christian sacrament.”  Good news, this being the first time Francis has said that much clearly.  But then he continues:  “However” — here we go again — “her concern as teacher draws always on the heart of a mother: a heart that, animated by the Holy Spirit, seeks always the good and the salvation of people….” Then comes a reference to John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio, paragraph 84, which, says Francis, notes “for example the difference between one who has suffered a separation compared to one who has provoked it. There must be this discernment.”

What is that supposed to mean? As John Paul II makes clear in the same paragraph — part of his apostolic exhortation issued following the Synod of 1980 — neither the abandoned spouse nor the one who does the abandoning is free to remarry civilly, and if either does so then neither he nor she may receive Holy Communion without first renouncing sexual relations in the second “marriage.” To quote that part of Familiaris consortio which Francis fails to mention:

However, 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.
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted 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, such as for example 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.

When will Francis simply affirm the teaching of his predecessor, the very Pope he canonized, which reflects the constant discipline of the Church for 2,000 years?  Instead, we get more equivocation as the guessing game continues.  Says Francis:

How can we recommend to these [divorced and “remarried”] parents to educate their children in the Christian life… if we keep them at a distance from the community, as if they were excommunicated?...
[T]here has developed greatly the awareness of the necessity of a fraternal and cordial reception, in the love of truth, for the baptized who have established a new cohabitation after the failure of the sacramental marriage… [T]hese persons are not excommunicated — they are not excommunicated! — and they should absolutely not be treated as such: they are always part of the Church.

Quite simply, when will this crude demagoguery cease? No one has excommunicated the divorced and “remarried.” No one is “keeping them at a distance” from the Church. They are free to attend Mass, their children may be baptized, and no one is preventing the children’s religious instruction.  

Referring next to Pope Benedict XVI, Francis states that Benedict “intervened on this question, calling for an attentive discernment and a wise pastoral accompaniment, knowing that ‘easy answers’ do not exist.”  Meaning what, exactly?  Like John Paul II, Benedict affirmed the Church’s traditional discipline respecting Holy Communion in his own apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, following the Synod of 2005:

The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church's practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2- 12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist.
Yet the divorced and remarried continue to belong to the Church, which accompanies them with special concern and encourages them to live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, Eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.

So, Francis’ two immediate predecessors, following two different Synods, affirmed the Church’s 2000-year-old discipline barring public adulterers from receiving Holy Communion. But Francis, who allowed Communion to be distributed to people living in adulterous “unions” when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires and as Pope has given two different women  living in adultery “permission” to receive the Sacrament, appears to be continuing a sub rosa campaign to ignore the teaching of his predecessors and change the Church’s bimillenial discipline.

Or is he?  How long will Francis keep this absurd guessing game going? Yes or no: Is Francis prepared to defend the bimillenial discipline his two immediate predecessors defended?  Soon — at the Synod, or shortly thereafter in the Pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation — we will know the answer at last. Until then, it would be wise to hope and pray for the best while being prepared for the worst.