Resistance is mounting, indeed is being pro-actively organized, to Pope Francis and his program of mercy as Catholics of a more conservative stripe are making it clear that they do not want to see our co-religionists who are not married according to Catholic law or who are living in irregular unions admitted to the sacraments. After last October’s Extraordinary Synod where the subject was discussed, Cardinal Raymond Burke, a persistent critic of the Pope, pledged to “resist” Pope Francis should there be any change in the current practice which requires divorced persons to obtain a Church annulment before they can enter a second union. Pope Francis, or rather his “front man” Cardinal Walter Kasper, has spoken of introducing a process similar to the Orthodox Churches where divorced persons can acknowledge their fault in a marriage’s failure, do penance for their role in the marriage’s collapse, and then have their second marriage blessed—albeit it in a more somber rite that distinguishes it from the sacramental first marriage.
Nearly 500 priests, Secular and Religious, from England and Wales signed the following letter to the English Catholic newspaper, The Herald, urging the participants in the upcoming Synod on the Family (Part II) this October to maintain the current discipline that excludes the divorced and remarried from the reception of the sacraments.
SIR – Following the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2014 much confusion has arisen concerning Catholic moral teaching. In this situation we wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia.
We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society. Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony.
We urge all those who will participate in the second Synod in October 2015 to make a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed.
LifeSite News, the media face of the Campaign Life Coalition, published an interview with Cardinal Burke, the leader of the opposition to any change in pastoral practice regarding admitting those in irregular unions to the sacraments, in which His Eminence said the only pastoral help which the Church can give to those spouses who have been abandoned, to the children whose parents have divorced, to those who are “struggling with homosexual tendencies,” or to those who find themselves “trapped” in “illegitimate unions” is to hold the line of “traditional teaching” and to recognize “the sinfulness of the situation in which they find themselves” and to “leave that sinful situation and to find a way to live in accord with the truth.” His Eminence went to say in the interview that the discussion of the possibility of welcoming those in irregular unions to the sacraments should not even have been discussed at the Synod. For His Eminence, judgment rises or falls on the single issue of conforming to traditional sexual morality. In regard to whatever kindnesses or generosity or charitable behavior that those in such unions might show, the Cardinal compared them to “the person who murders someone yet is kind to other people.” The LifeSite News interview concludes with a request to sign a petition to Pope Francis to speak out and put an end to this discussion of changing pastoral practice regarding those remarried after civil divorce.
Cardinal Burke’s remarks have been quoted—somewhat out of context—to say that he is equating the divorced and remarried and people in same-sex unions with murderers. I don’t think His Eminence, who is one to express vociferously his opinions, but not always think them through first, consciously intended that judgment. But then with “The Lady in Red” who knows.
Last year Cardinal Burke was one of five Cardinals who along with an archbishop and three theologians wrote a spirited attack on the proposal that the Church might change its discipline to admit the divorced and remarried to the sacraments. The book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ, was a response to Cardinal Walter Kasper’s The Gospel of the Family as well as several addresses which the Cardinal gave—including one he gave last spring to his fellow Cardinals—in which the Cardinal outline how Church discipline might be changed to admit those whose marriages the Church does not recognize to receive Holy Communion. Copies of Remaining in the Truth of Christ were delivered to the Synod Fathers during the October 2014 Phase I of the Synod to lobby against any proposed changes in sacramental discipline, but the books “mysteriously” disappeared before they found their ways into the Synod Father’s hands. The blame for the books’ disappearance has been fixed on Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the General Secretary to the Synod. American Life League President Judy Brown, a perennial sounder of the tocsin against Pope Francis and the directions in which he is taking the Church, has done much to pin the blame on Baldisseri without establishing the grounds for the charge. And it must be remembered that Synod Rules prohibit any general distribution of materials to Synod members without those materials being first approved and then presented through the General Secretariat. In other words, no one is allowed to just hand out materials on their own authority.
All that being said, however, I must admit that I am not sure that I can see how the practice regarding admittance to the sacraments can be changed. I am not a theologian, only a historian—but there is a long history to the Church’s restricting the sacraments to exclude those in irregular unions. Individual cases have always been able to be adjudicated where due to specific circumstances and with the advice of a confessor or competent spiritual director individuals, either on a specific occasion or as a regular occurrence, are admitted to penance, Eucharist, or the anointing of the sick, but a sort of olly-olly-in-free is somewhat of an innovation. However, should Pope Francis—Synod or no Synod—decide that it is time for such an innovation, I won’t resist, but then I am no cardinal.