The Church cannot provide communion to those who are divorced and remarried without an annulment. This is because the Church believes communion is real, and because it believes the marriage vows are real (as I happen to be in the midst of explaining over at Catholic Match right now).
But, as Francis X. Rocca summed up at Catholic News Service yesterday, the rumors are swirling that cardinals are taking sides. On one side, German Cardinal Walter Kasper. On the other side, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect (soon-to-be former?) of the Church’s high court, and Australian Cardinal George Pell.
Cardinal Kasper has been asking if the Church might find a sacramental accommodation for Catholics in “irregular situations.”
Cardinals Pell and Burke have co-authored an Ignatius Press book on the question called Remaining In the Truth of Christ. They argue that the Church’s teaching on this matter is not subject to change.
So, who will win this epic battle?
The answer is that there is no battle, and our fascination with intra-Church tension will do nothing but ratchet up the pain for people in difficult situations.
After all, in his remarks on the matter, on the plane on Aug. 5, Pope Francis spoke at length about how the Church needs to reach out to those who are divorced and remarried without an annulment.
But then he cut to the chase:
“About the problem of Communion to those persons in a second union, that the divorced might participate in Communion, there is no problem. When they are in a second union, they can’t.”
That sure doesn’t sound like a Pope who is about to change the rule on communion.
Another key indication is in the document the Vatican released to set the stage for the October Synod on the Families.
It doesn’t envision the Church changing doctrine; it envisions the Church changing her pastoral approach:
“A more painful wound results when these people remarry and enter a state of life which does not allow them to receive Holy Communion. Clearly, in these cases, the Church must not assume an attitude of a judge who condemns, but that of a mother who always receives her children and nurses their wounds so they may heal. With great mercy, the Church is called to find forms of ‘accompaniment’ which can support her children on the path of reconciliation.”
That sums up where the Church is on the matter. No, people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment cannot receive communion.
This is a matter of great pain to many, to couples and their families and friends. The Church wants to reach out to them and find a way to help them back into the fold — not by changing the rules, but by showing her authentic concern and love and mercy.
The more we make it seem that changing the rule is the only compassionate answer, the more we work at cross-purposes with what the Church is really trying to do.