Tuesday, March 22, 2016

“Pope Francis” is on the verge of creating “error and confusion” in one direction or another

Decision of “Pope Francis” on communion for divorced and remarried is expected soon.

The Roman Catholic Church is facing the practical consequences of its “both/and” theology, as the recent synods on the family have shown. And now the contradictions of “both/and” are coming home to roost, as “Pope Francis” takes his time in making a decision about the way to move forward.

“His decision could exacerbate the church’s divisions by disappointing one side or the other—or both if he leaves the question unresolved.”

… nothing the pope has done has raised more hopes or fears within the Catholic Church than his decision to open a debate about divorce and remarriage that his predecessors had declared settled.

It is especially raising the fears of theological conservatives precisely because of the prospect that a doctrinal issue (not a “disciplinary” or “pastoral” issue) that “Pope John Paul the Great” had considered “settled”, is not so settled now.

Starting in the 1970s, some German Catholic theologians argued that people who divorced and remarried might be able to receive Communion in at least some cases.

In 1981, St. John Paul II sought to squelch that notion, forcefully reaffirming the church’s ban on Communion for the remarried unless their first marriage was annulled. Otherwise, “the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage,” he wrote.

Now “Pope Francis” is on the verge of creating “error and confusion” in one direction or another. The doctrine of “papal infallibility” was put into place precisely because of the possibility that one pope would “undo” what a previous pope had put into place. Now the excuse is available, “Pope John Paul the Great did not make this an infallible dogma”.

Three things could happen:

The pope could act unilaterally and endorse a liberalization, under the view that the change would just be a shift in pastoral practice. But given his emphasis on the importance of consultation with the bishops—another principle of Vatican II—it would be awkward for him to override the synod’s failure to endorse any change.

That is especially so because certain prominent members of the synod, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, have since stated publicly that no change on the Communion question is possible.

A third path the pope could take would be to let national bishops’ conferences decide their own practices. Many in Germany hope he will do so.

Conservatives say that would make nonsense of Catholic doctrine, “nationalizing right and wrong,” as a retired cardinal told the Catholic website Crux.

According to some liberals, if the pope fails to endorse a change, the gap between what the Catholic church teaches and what Catholics do will continue to widen. Such a result, they say, would endanger church unity in a less dramatic, yet still gravely discouraging, way.

The question is getting a huge amount of interest because the divorce-and-remarriage rates among Roman Catholics is very high, and typically such individuals leave the Roman Catholic Church rather than stay while unable to receive communion.


  1. John, please enlighten me just how one pope can legally undo the doctrinal decrees of another; if the dodge going to be that Wojtyla didn't explicitly state the teaching to be infallible, then many other allegedly settled issues are up for grabs; if by override, then Bergie violates the vaunted notion of the "spirit of Vatican II;" if national, thaen why not by diocese, because arbitrary lines can be arbitrarily redrawn; if the excuse will be pastoral, then what of the plural marriages of Muslim converts - after all, who wants to break up a marriage and family? By holding fast, he crosses no red lines but further ticks off the sort of people looking for an excuse to leave anyway; he also mollifies the traddies, who he seems more pleased to agitate. Looks like antichrist that man of sin is in a no-win situation.

    1. Hi Kirk -- there are varying degrees of "doctrine" -- and an infallible "ex cathedra" doctrine is very rare (it seems to me there are only two of these: the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary) -- and so whatever JPII wrote in an encyclical really can be over-ruled by a subsequent pope. So you are right, there are many settled issues that could be up for grabs. ("Development" is always a good place to lay the blame).

      I'd hesitate to use the term "antiChrist" about any one person, but the papacy itself qualifies as much as anything I could imagine. The whole thing is a racket, set up to self-perpetuate. That's why it's so important to stress the illegitimacy of the whole enterprise, from its 4th century origins.

  2. In the 1970's my aunt used the"internal forum" with her priest and was able to go to communion. This was done prior to John Paul. I don't know why we wouldn't be able to use it again.

    1. That wouldn't surprise me. It was almost "anything goes" in the years after Vatican II but prior to John Paul II. Rome, post Vatican II, is all about setting up ways to break its own rules, with plausible deniability for itself. That seemed like a cool solution to them at the time of Vatican II -- "let's be 'catholic' and embrace conflicting positions". But now the contradictions are coming home to roost, as they've got a genuine "reformer" in there, who's only interested in expanding his own agenda. Little by little, he is going to open the Rome-specific Pandora's Box, which will take "the faith once delivered" and open it up to all manner of "interpretations".

  3. If God can forgive a murderer he can forgive someone whose marriage has failed, and asks for forgiveness. We strive to live up to Jesus' ideals but we are human and make mistakes. Say your child has done the worst possible act, you would never cast him out you would embrace him and love him even more. God is not some conservative sticking to rigid rules but loves all the sinners.

    1. Colleen, a re-marriage represents an ongoing and unrepentant condition of adultery.

    2. That's not the issue. The question at issue is not whether you think changes in Rome's policy are an improvement. We're not debating the issue on the merits.

      The question, rather, is whether Rome can reverse course on this issue consistent with its claims to unique divine guidance over the centuries–something that benighted Protestant denominations allegedly lack. You may think admitting remarried couples to communion is fine. Maybe it is. But that's irrelevant. The question at issue is not whether a Protestant thinks that's a good idea, but how much Rome can change established positions without making a mockery of her claims to speak authoritatively in matters of doctrine and ethics.

      It's like the debate over contraception. The question is not whether a Protestant thinks that should be permissible. That's not the standard of comparison. Rather, it's a question of measuring Rome by her own yardstick.

    3. My comment is in response to Colleen, not John.

    4. There are lots of folks both inside and outside the Catholic church who approve of what Francis is doing. They like the fact that he's liberalizing or relaxing traditional prohibitions. But that misses the point. The question is whether an papacy with a big eraser has any credibility as a moral authority. Certain things were supposed to be written in ink. Not penciled in. That's the raison d'etre of a Magisterium. How often can the papacy rewrite the rules before it forfeits its claims? Is it wrong now, or was it wrong then? Either way, it got it wrong. That's the dilemma that Francis poses for the future of Catholicism.

    5. These are not small changes, either. What seems to be coming down the line are changes of historic proportions, at least so far as "Official Rome" is concerned. Rome has "guarded the table", so to speak, very jealously. This is almost their whole identity these days. "The Eucharist" is its one big (it thinks) item of legitimacy. If "The Eucharist" is weakened, everyone might as well become Protestants at that point.