A license to sin

Why we must exercise great caution when it comes to some proposals to facilitate irregular reception of the Sacrament even if such proposals are couched in apparently sophisticated scholarly terms

There is, I fear, no end in sight of the nonsensical nonsense being unleashed in the wake of various high-level ecclesiastic dalliances with doctrinal ambiguity and disciplinary confusion in regard to holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Call it Life in this Valley of Tears. Anyway, Pope Francis is going to do about this whatever he is going to about it and the Church will respond to whatever he does in due course. For now, I simply write to urge caution about some proposals to facilitate irregular reception of the Sacrament in these cases even if such proposals are couched in apparently sophisticated scholarly terms.

For example, an Australian theologian has proposed a rescript to be issued by a bishop in accord with norms supposedly to be devised by Pope Francis, granting permission for divorced-and-remarried Catholics to take holy Communion. The proposal includes impressive vocabulary such as “juridical” and “administrative” and “canons”; it sports footnotes to “assessors” and “salus animarum” and warns about “anomalies”; it underscores Church teaching on the permanence of marriage and assures readers that it offers no doctrinal or canonical changes to this teaching.

Balderdash. Pure, unadulterated, balderdash. This proposed rescript is really a license to sin.

More specifically, this rescript would (purport to) grant permission to ignore one sin (adultery) and to commit another (sacrilegious reception of holy Communion). It even manages to suggest a third sin (attempting sacramental Confession without firm purpose of amendment)! Couched in mellifluous pastoral, sacramental, and canonical language, to be issued on arch/diocesan letterhead, such a letter, expressly invoking Our Lord’s teaching on marriage and to be signed by a Successor of the Apostles in the name of Christ, who—I kid you not—congratulates the couple on their perseverance in allowing the Church to grant them this favor(!), would constitute, I suggest, a blasphemy (CCC 2148).

As I and many others have said from the outset of this mess, holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics—except for those committed to living as brother-and-sister, and besides some (vanishingly rare, if correctly understood) ‘internal forum’ cases—cannot legitimately be approved unless marriage is not what Jesus plainly said it was, and/or adultery is not what Jesus plainly said it was, and/or the Eucharist is not what Jesus plainly said it was. Every attempt I’ve seen so far to prove otherwise rests on doctrinal and disciplinary interpretations so tortured they would make a Pharisee blush.

If it matters, the article published in support of this proposed rescript is also a hodge-podge of amateur’s errors, including: claiming that mental instability (whatever exactly that is) is a “diriment impediment” to marriage; misreading Mitis to authorize its shorter process only in documentary cases; not realizing that “administrative” acts ARE “juridical” acts; dragging Canon 59 into a discussion of “privileges of the faith” cases; and so on. While some sentences are just funny (“Such administrative acts may address canonically irregular and practically messy situations in respect of which a moderated pastoral response is prudent”) others, such as the paragraph beginning “Such undesirable prospects…” are, well, I don’t know what they, except that most can mean a fantastically large number of things, and I don’t feel like guessing which points might be uppermost in the author’s mind. But it doesn’t really matter.

The bottom line remains the bottom line: anyone who claims that holy Communion may be approved for divorced-and-remarried Catholics without repudiating one of the three fundamental assertions above simply does not know, or care, what he is talking about. I do not know how many ways there are left to re-state this point. Personally, I’ve about run out.

Still, there is, I suppose, one way to secure holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics without attacking any of the fundamental assertions upon which the current prohibitory discipline rests: Simply refuse to defend the doctrine or, less obviously, just decline to enforce the discipline. Don’t change anything; just, you know, ignore certain things, like, say, Canons 915, 916, and 987 in light of, say, Canons 1055 and 1085.

That approach is greatly to be feared.

(This essay originally appeared on the In the Light of the Law blog and is reprinted here by kind permission of Dr. Edward Peters.)

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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.