Monday, March 17, 2014

Like a needle in a haystack?

Pope Francis is leading a charge to deal with an open wound in the body of Christ centred on Rome, the wound caused by the clash of doctrine and pastoral care in which remarried divorcees are unable to receive communion. The gist of the issue can be picked up in this reflection on Cardinal Kasper's attempt to propose a way forward. For a dyspeptic reaction which, in its own way, also presents the gist of the issue, read this.

The logic of current doctrine-come-practice is (i) marriage cannot be dissolved (ii) relationships with the appearance of marriage (e.g. there was a wedding, it was consummated, children are born to the couple) breakdown (iii) new relationships with the appearance of marriage (e.g. there is a wedding, it is consummated, children are born to the couple) are desired but constitute adultery (according to our Lord's teaching) while the former spouse is alive (iv) adultery is a mortal sin which prevents reception of communion (v) but if the former relationship can be shown (through responsible, church-authorised investigation) to not have been a marriage (despite a wedding, consummation, even children) then a (proper) marriage to a new partner (canonically spouse number one, not number two) is possible and communion is accessible.

The failure of the logic, pastorally speaking, is that it leaves those unable to secure an annulment (for whatever reason, and tragically, for some, for reasons beyond their control, even though their marriage has broken down through no particular fault of their own) in a state where otherwise indistinguishable from fellow parishioners, they are excluded from communion. That is what Kasper is putting his finger on and, we surmise, that is what Pope Francis wants to find a solution to.

I am not here going to analyse this theological dilemma for Rome further, suffice to say that the very existence of this kind of logic, the manner of how it might be undone and the counter-logic of those who resist any change highlights why many Anglicans (and other Protestants and Eastern Orthodox) are not especially enamoured by Rome as a 'theological system'.

That is not to say, of course, that Anglicans doing theology are without problems. Indeed far from it. As time permits this week I would like to explore some of the difficulties we face in being theologically coherent when (one might say) among the few things uniting Anglicans theologically is a wish to avoid casuistry of the kind demonstrated above (and in the linked articles).

One of the driving motivations for this blog is a search for theological coherency. But is the search like looking for a needle in a haystack?

PS Talking of coherent theology, I see that an ecumenical Orthodox synod, for the first time in 1200 years, is being planned.


Father Ron Smith said...

I guess, Peter, that this reference to the doctrine of the Church of Rome is just one of the reasons that many people cannot subscribe to the Roman Catholic Magisterium.

Most Anglicans that I know of do not necessarily agree with the hard-line stance on Divorce and re-Marriage that prevents divorcees from partaking of the Sacraments of the Church.

Of course, when preparing such people for a Church Wedding, one has need of some evidence of repentance at the failure of the first marriage. If this were not present, I think even Anglican clergy might be reluctant to go ahead with a Church Wedding.

The Roman Catholic Church gets around this problem with its casuistic theory of annulment - which, in fact, may not have any penitential element in it.

To my mind, the honest acceptance of responsibility for a failed marriage, and penitence for one's part in that, ought be a pre-requisite for a new start in a new marriage relationship. This, in fact, can be a springboard for the couple's rehabilitation into the life of the Church.

We must always be aware of the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners - not to turn His back on them.

carl jacobs said...

Pastoral care. Noun. The practice of counseling someone on how to behave badly without being troubled by a guilty conscience.

Does that seem like an overly cynical definition? Because that's how it always seems to be used.