Cardinal Velasio De Paolis
|His Eminence Velasio Cardinal De Paolis|
The issue of access to the sacraments, especially to the Eucharist, on the part of the divorced and remarried was the object of reflection at the extraordinary synod of bishops last October. This is referred to in proposition no. 52 of the final Relatio, which says:
The synod fathers also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried access to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Various synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present discipline, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as her teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage. Others proposed a more individualized approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering. Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop. The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that "imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).
1. The Meaning of the Synod Proposition
The text did not receive a sufficient amount of support, meaning two thirds of the votes, the reason why it was not approved by the synod; it is therefore not to be considered a synodal text. But it must be said right away that it is difficult to evaluate the significance of the vote. The text is made up of various parts that are not homogeneous, even conflicting, with motivations that are inadequate or not totally appropriate or, at least, incomplete in lining up with the doctrinal sources.
In effect, the proposal begins with a reference to current events: there has been reflection on the issue. It then refers to a group of fathers in favor of the current discipline and to others who are in favor of a change in the discipline. The text continues by explaining in what points the discipline should be changed, also pointing out what responsibility should belong to the bishop. It concludes with a caution and an invitation to further consideration, even suggesting some elements for doing so. So it would be difficult to pin down the specific reasons for any vote of rejection or approval of the text.
2. Limitations of the Proposition
The proposition is presented with a limited formulation. It refers to a limited category of persons who are living in a situation of irregular union: the divorced and remarried. This is a matter of a category that deserves, according to the proposition, particular and exceptional attention, motivated by the particular situations worthy of consideration that this category could present, as the text effectively explains immediately afterward.
It is not difficult to find in these words some significant elements of Cardinal Kasper's proposal. But we have already had occasion to study this proposal and to verify that it is not supported by any valid argument. Moreover, that proposal was already known to the competent authority, which had studied and rejected it, not finding in it elements that could exempt it from evaluation according to the doctrinal principles of the documents of the Church. So the hypothesis advanced in the synodal proposition had already been studied and evaluated in an explicit manner and the conclusion had already been reached that it did not imply exceptional principles but fell within the category of general principles, since from the point of view of moral gravity and in the order of access to the Eucharist the hypothesis advanced in the proposal constitutes in all cases a grave violation of conjugal morality and of the discipline of the Church, which cannot permit access to the Eucharist. This is why the documents of the Church never make a distinction between the different categories of persons living in irregular unions: the various kinds of persons living together irregularly are not distinguished as far as conjugal coexistence and access to the Eucharist are concerned.
Moreover, the conditions by virtue of which special consideration is claimed for the divorced and remarried can be found among all those living in irregular situations. And in some cases, the situation could even be made worse: it could seem like a reward and an invitation to establish new bonds.
We can still make a further consideration. The proposition, in restricting the hypothesis to a specific category, recognizes the doctrinal and normative value of the Church documents that regulate this matter. And, seeing that the proposition calls for exploration, a certain perplexity surrounds the proposal itself. On what could this exploration be based? Not on the doctrinal and normative value of the documents, but on the possible exception contained in the proposition. And from where could the doubt arise if not from the fact that the proposition contains within itself an exception to the two essential conditions for access to the Eucharist, since what is involved is a grave violation of the natural moral law and a personal situation not appropriate for receiving the Eucharist?
In effect, in this category as well the divorced and remarried find present the two conditions that prevent access to the Eucharist, which leads the ecclesiastical authority not to be able to act in any other way, since the ecclesiastical authority cannot dispense with the natural and divine law: respect for the natural law of marriage and the need for sanctifying grace.
The situations described might not permit the separation of the two persons who are living in an irregular union, but they do not necessarily require life in common more uxorio and the permanent situation of sin.
3. Discipline, Doctrine, or Magisterium?
We observe that the wording of the text of the proposition generates ambiguities. It speaks of the "current discipline" and a possible modification of this, but this prompts a few doubts that require examination. In reality, the regulation in effect is not only a "current discipline," as if this were a matter of a merely ecclesiastical norm and not of divine norms ratified by the magisterium, with doctrinal and magisterial motivations that concern the very foundations of Christian life, of conjugal morality, of the meaning of and respect for the Eucharist, and of the validity of the sacrament of penance. We are in the presence of a discipline founded on divine law. It is not emphasized enough that the documents of the Church in this matter do not impose obligations on the part of authority, but rather affirm that the ecclesiastical authority cannot act otherwise, because this "discipline" cannot be modified in its essential elements. The Church cannot act otherwise. It cannot modify the natural law or respect for the nature of the Eucharist, because this is a question of the divine will.
The proposition, to the extent to which it provides for the possibility of admitting the divorced and remarried to Eucharistic communion, in fact constitutes a change of doctrine. And this contrary to the fact that it is said that there is no intention to modify doctrine. Moreover, doctrine by its very nature is not modifiable if it is the object of the authentic magisterium of the Church. Before talking about and dealing with any change in the discipline in force, it is necessary to reflect on the nature of this discipline. In addressing this matter one must, in the first place, reflect on this doctrine and on its level of firmness; there must be careful study of what can be modified and what cannot be modified. The doubt has been insinuated into the proposition itself when it calls for exploration, which must be doctrinal and prior to any decision.
We can also ask ourselves if it is the competency of a synod of bishops to deal with a question like this: the value of the doctrine and discipline effective in the Church, which have been formed over the course of centuries and have been ratified with statements on the part of the supreme magisterium of the Church. Moreover, who is competent to modify the magisterium of other popes? This would constitute a dangerous precedent. Furthermore, the innovations that would be introduced if the text of the proposition were approved would be of unprecedented gravity:
a) the possibility of admitting to Eucharistic communion with the explicit approval of the Church a person in a state of mortal sin, with the danger of sacrilege and profanation of the Eucharist;
b) doing this would bring into question the general principle of the need for the state of sanctifying grace in order to receive Eucharistic communion, especially now that a generalized practice has been introduced or is being introduced into the Church of receiving the Eucharist without previous sacramental confession, even if one is aware of being in grave sin, with all of the deleterious consequences that this practice involves;
c) the admission to Eucharistic communion of a believer who cohabits more uxorio would also mean bringing into question sexual morality, particularly founded on the sixth commandment;
d) this would also lend support to cohabitation or other bonds, weakening the principle of the indissolubility of marriage.
4. The Reasons Adopted for Keeping the Current Discipline
In this regard the proposition affirms the following:
Various synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present discipline, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as her teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage.
The text is not very clear, and in any case it is insufficient because it does not place the accent on the problems involved. This is not only a matter of disciplinary matters to be decided in agreement with the majority, but of an indispensable doctrine and magisterium, which certainly goes beyond the competencies of an extraordinary synod of bishops. In reality, this problem involves doctrinal questions of the greatest importance, to which we have made reference. It must be specified that the reason behind the ban on receiving the Eucharist is, simply, the condition in which the divorced person cohabiting with another person finds himself: a condition of grave objective sin. The fact that this condition has been caused by divorce or by a new civil bond has no bearing on the moral condition that excludes the Eucharist: finding oneself in a permanent state of violation of the moral norms of the Church.
The proposition upholds the following:
The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that "imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).
The text affirms the need for exploration from just one point of view, rather weakly. In fact, it cites the catechism of the Catholic Church, with which it is not possible not to agree. The problem lies in understanding to what extent this paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church applies to the difficulties discussed here. The first source of morality is the objective one. And it is with objective morality that we are dealing here.
(Source: Sando Magister's Chiesa)