Pope Francis on the airplane: The Synod, the family, Communion for the divorced and remarried...
You may have heard that Pope Francis visited the Holy Land. On the flight back to Italy, His Holiness held another presser.
At this point many of you might be cringing as the thought “What could possible go wrong?” flashes through your brain. After all, it was on a flight that Pope Francis uttered That Infamous Line™.
And so, during this return flight, from the Holy Land, the Pope was asked, inter alia, questions about Communion for the divorced and remarried and about the possibility of priests being able to marry. The first I will treat in a separate post. I will confine myself, here, to the second.
A Spanish language reporter asked:
… In the Church, for example, what is going to happen with Communion for the divorced and remarried, ….
The Holy Father answered saying, inter alia:
…. [T]hanks for the question about the divorced. The Synod will be about the family, on the problem of the family, on research about the family, on the present situation of the family. The preliminary essay that Cardinal Kasper made had five chapters: four on the family, beautiful things about the family, the theological foundation, some familiar problems; and the fifth chapter, the pastoral problem of separations, of matrimonial nullity, the divorced… Holy Communion come into this problem. And I don’t like that many people – even in the Church – priests – have said: “Ah, the Synod for giving Communion to the divorced”, and they’ve gone right there, to that point. I have heard it as if the whole thing had been reduced to case study. No, the matter is more than this, it is wider. Today, everyone knows it, the family is in crisis: it is in a global crisis. Young people don’t want to marry or they don’t marry or live together, marriage is in crisis, and so too the family. And I wouldn’t want we fall into this (as if it were) case law (Italian “casistica”: it is hard to render what what the Pope is talking about here in his less than clear Italian. He means by this, surely, that he doesn’t want an impersonal, theoretical, legalistic view of the problem.). Can you do it? Can’t you do it?… For this reason, thanks much for this question, because it gives me the opportunity to clear this up. The pastoral problem of the family is very, very broad, very broad. And it must be studied case by case. Something Pope Benedict said three times about the divorced has helped me a lot. Once, in the Valle d’Aosta, another time in Milan, and the last time in the public consistory which he held for the creation of cardinals: to study the procedures for matrimonial nullity; to study the faith with which a person comes to matrimony and [NB] to clarify that the divorced are not excommunicated, and so many times they are treated as excommunicated. And this is a serious thing. On this case study (casistica – here I think he means something like “problem to be examined”), the Synod will be about the family: the riches, the problems of the family. Solutions, nullity, all that.
I’ll stop translating there. Hacking through this stream of words, which is in an Italian that is less than perfect, we find a couple main points. And note that he doesn’t always speak of the divorced and remarried, though it is fairly clear that he includes them in his remarks.
First, the Holy Father is upset that all the talk about the Synod is focusing on the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried. Thus, he says the word “family”, over and over again.
Second, he was clearly prepared for this question, because he worked in that his (still living) predecessor treated the issue three times and even said where. He was telling the newsies to look up what Benedict XVI said. Thus, by the way, he was telling the newsies what I said for an entire year after Francis’ election: Read Francis Through Benedict. He aligned himself with Benedict even as he clings to what Card. Kasper presented (which in many respects – not all – was flawed).
Third, he wants to review the procedures by which “annulment” cases are handled. Fine. A review doesn’t hurt anything. However, I can assure you, there has to be a canonical procedure. The Synod and the Holy Father won’t sweep aside canonical procedure in the review of marriage cases. The Synod really can’t change that. Changes to the procedure could very well imply changes to doctrine. Thus, changes to procedure would have to be studied closely and with great caution. Alas, what could happen, an unintended consequence, is that priests will simply stop sending in cases. The low-information, weak-synapse type (liberal) priests out there in LaLa Land may do what they did in the matter of Humanae vitae: distort and defy and do their own thing. That would be bad.
Fourth, Francis wants everyone not to treat the divorced as if there were excommunicated. Or else, “stop treating the divorced as if they were excommunicated”. I am not sure where that is taking place. After all, some people who divorce may be divorced for good reasons, sad as the circumstances may be. Moreover, those who are divorced for good reasons are admitted to the sacraments (read: they are not excommunicated). They can go to confession and receive absolution. They can receive Communion. They can be anointed. Sure, there are some divorced people who divorced for sinful and ignoble motives. They must amend their lives, just like anyone else who sins and must amend their lives. But make no mistake! That line about making sure that the divorced are not treated as if they were excommunicated is probably the most important line of the longish answer. The Holy Father clearly wants the Synod to reinforce that people who are divorced as treated with compassion as well as with justice.
I could go on, but that is enough.
The Pope obviously tried to move the discussion away from Communion for the divorced and remarried. That is not what he wants the Synod to be about. He is unhappy that some people are making the Synod out to be mainly about this point, as important as it is.
That said, the question is not going away. It must be addressed with force and clarity, because we uphold our Catholic identity and we defend the doctrine of the Faith.