Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mercy Nudges the Door

I am trying to make sense of the end of the Synod in Rome. Yesterday's post linked to a conservative commentator concluding it was a conservative victory. Ditto Damian Thompson here

Today I point you to Archbishop Cranmer, to a post which has many links to commentators of varying hues. 

I suggest that a wider reading of commentary on the concluding document of the Synod leads to a fuzzier conclusion about the meaning of the document and the question - if we might put it this way - of 'who won?'. (Update: see now Catholic Herald and the RNS. I think Francis will be well satisfied with the outcome.) 

(Very conservative) Rorate Caeli, for instance, feels quite bleak about the document as he offers citation of the most controversial passages and critical comment.

The concluding document in Italian is here. As best I can tell the English version is not available in full though clearly commentators are making available English versions of some paragraphs. (So also here).

Currently I am working on a project concerning Scripture as God's gracious truth. So I am slightly more interested in the outworking of 'mercy' in this document than I might ordinarily have been.

It beggars belief for this bear of small brain that the appearance of mercy nudging the door to communion for remarried-without-annulment Catholics brought such forceful opposition during the Synod proceedings, as characterised in these paragraphs in America- the National Catholic Review:

"Indeed, the most heated discussion in the synod revolved around one theme in this chapter: the controversial question of whether Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried could, under certain circumstances, receive communion. A sizeable group of synod fathers, including three cardinals heading Roman Curia Offices (Ouellet, Sarah and Pell), sought to totally exclude this possibility from the text but in the end they failed.  
“Discernment” is the key word to understand the synod’s approach to this question, Cardinal Schonborn told the press. He said the synod gives “great attention” to their situation, which is so diversified that “there is no black and white answer, no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’” as some insisted, instead “it’s necessary to discern in each case.” He recalled that this was exactly what John Paul II had advocated in his 1981 apostolic exhortation on the family, "Familiaris Consortio." Moreover, he added, “discernment” is something that Pope Francis knows a lot about; with his Jesuit background of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, he has been doing it all his life. 
This key word—“discernment”—appears in several paragraphs, three of which (83-84-85) encountered very strong opposition from a group of synod fathers that wanted to totally exclude the possibility that the divorced and remarried could ever be allowed to receive communion."
As I understand the 'controversial' paragraphs of the final document, they are not controversial because they change the substance of Catholic teaching on marriage but because they open the door a crack (and only a crack) to some variation around the world as to how individual bishops guide their pastors in responding pastorally to people in new marriages after divorce.

As I also understand life itself, this possibility of variation via 'discernment' fits with life. Some sacramental* marriages breakdown because of wilful destruction (e.g. one partner embarks on an affair and subsequently marries that new partner); it may be (relatively) easy to discern the 'wrongdoer' and the 'wronged'; and it may be (relatively) easy to maintain an application of Jesus' teaching which permanently refuses to give communion to the wrongdoer. But what of the wronged person who then remarries? And what of other breakdowns in marriages which are not as straightforward as 'broken-by-unfaithfulness'?

Is the way of Jesus in these situations best captured by the 'group of synod fathers that wanted to totally exclude the possibility that the divorced and remarried could ever be allowed to receive communion'? Or is it better captured by the fathers who voted for the controversial paragraphs?

*I specifically refer to 'sacramental marriages' because I think it a distraction to keep referring to possibilities of 'annulment' as a way forward for some marriages/remarriages which (on Roman reckoning) never were a sacramental marriage. Sacramental marriages can and do breakdown. As I understand things, those situations are the 'interesting' ones because they do not admit of the theologically simple solution of annulment. (Most such situations are, of course, pastorally complex.) Mercy might apply even to these situations!

From an Anglican point of view it is refreshing to see open debate emerging through mainstream and social media within world Catholicism. This debate should restrain any temptation to cast Anglican anxieties and contretemps as somehow ill-befitting a global church with claims to catholicity. The Archbishop Cupichs and Cardinal Kaspers of the Roman Catholic church have demonstrated that thinking Christians of all persuasions are likely to engender controversy when they articulate the mind as well as the heart of Christ, when they voice the tension between doctrine and practice. They have our Anglican sympathies.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Peter, I look forward to reading your thoughts on mercy in the scriptures.

In your view, what metanoia should follow the end of a sacramental marriage? And at what time does this become a matter of discernment-- separation, dissolution, remarriage?

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

There is a long answer to your question Bowman ...!

The shortest answer I can think of is that there would be genuine spiritual sorrow for culpability and desire for amendment of life (which, depending on 'stage' might mean reconciliation of marriage, but that might not be possible (e.g. If one or both parties has been remarried)). Discernment would not and should not be quick and painless but I think it should be possible rather than impossible. Metanoia could included specific apology to the one who has been wronged (or ones, since often children are involved and have been hurt).

That's my shortest answer!

Anonymous said...

This was a lose/lose/lose situation in my view for progressives, conservatives and the Pope. Everybody seems to be claiming a victory (or if you read Rorate, it's probably just more proof of the incessant protestant doctrine creep). The progressives did not get the penitential pathway, the conservatives did not stop the rot and the Pope (despite overtly stacking the synod with progressives) couldn't get the support he must have wanted. Like many Catholics, I filled in the consultation document and am disappointed that other important issues appear to have had little air time. Call me silly, but I think child poverty is a sort of important. Anyway, John, Cardinal Dew was a member of the ten man drafting committee. So, we NZ Catholics will at least get to hear his report.

Nick

Father Ron Smith said...

As Conservative Cardinal Pell admits, this Synod is not determinative of doctrine. The resultant decisions are made by the Pope. That is what the papal primacy is all about. Normally, we Anglicans have problems with 'papal infallibility', but in this instance even we might acknowledge that such an instrument could bring matters much further forward on issues of justuce in the Roman Catholic Church.

In the menatime, our own putative 'Anglican Pope', Archbishop Wabukala the chair of the Gafcon, has yet to realise he has no authroirity over other Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Father Ron Smith said...

" A sizeable group of synod fathers, including three cardinals heading Roman Curia Offices (Ouellet, Sarah and Pell), sought to totally exclude this possibility from the text but in the end they failed."

Not too surprising, Peter. We at this end of the world know all about Cardinal Pell's endemic opposition to change. Now he's managing the money side of things at the Vatican, one could have hoped that this handle on the power behind the Thrtione of Peter, might satisfy his ambition. Apparently not. I think Cardinal Kaspar has nearer contact with the ear (and the heart) of Pope Francis. Deo graitas!

Liturgy said...

Peter, bear of small brain, I am not at all wanting to argue for the conservatives’ position – but I do think they are to be listened to, and they can be understood.

It is not yet four decades since our own church held exactly the same position – and without annulment as an option. The Supreme-Governor-apparent of the Church of England could not be married in church because he was marrying a divorcee.

The conservative position is, as I understand it, that someone with no intention of giving up adultery cannot receive communion. And they understand this second relationship, alongside what you call “sacramental marriage”, to be adultery.

We see the same underlying approach in the present debate in NZ Anglicanism about blessing (or marrying) committed same-sex couples. It is fascinating that there was/is little to no debate about divorce & remarriage in NZ Anglicanism, so much so that “it beggars [your] belief … that [it has] brought such forceful opposition”.

I wonder if, should Anglicanism survive that long, whether 40 years from now, with marriage of committed same-sex couples as normal as remarrying divorcees is now, whether a latter-day Peter-Carrell-like priest will look back on those who currently oppose that as beggaring belief for a bear of small brain.

Blessings

Bosco

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bosco
I am rather hoping that forty years from now Peter Carrell himself will still be a priest in position to make comment! Though on your prognosis I may be the last remaining member of our church. In which case would I have sole control of all our wealth? ... I digress.

I think it a matter of regret that our church did not have more debate about divorce and remarriage. But I do not regret that our church could have been a church in which a repentant future Sovereign of NZ could have married his present wife and future Consort. Sadly our future Sovereign did not take seriously the possibilities inherent in his nascent role as ruler of overseas territories. As a further digression I remind readers that it is time NZ became a republic!

In my small brain I suggest the question of remarriage after divorce and the question of marriage of same sex couples are related questions because discussion centres on the nature of sin and the possibility of repentance. On divorce and remarriage I understand out church to have agreed that a broken marriage can be repented of and a new marriage contracted after amendment of life. On same sex marriage I understand out church to not yet be agreed on whether such marriage is a holy state or a sinful state. (For reasons of time I am simplifying nuances in both matters and how they are best expressed). I suggest that when we are not agreed on whether sin is or is not involved in such a relational state then it is appropriate that we keep talking to one another.

I note that there are other matters in the life of our church on which continuing lack of agreement remains and we are no nearer resolving matters than forty years ago and forty years hence we could be (or I as the last remaining priest could be) still unresolved. For example, militarism/pacifism, requirement that Methodist and Presbyterian presbyters be ordained by a bishop in order for them to enter into presbyterial ministry in our church.



MichaelA said...

"As Conservative Cardinal Pell admits, this Synod is not determinative of doctrine. The resultant decisions are made by the Pope. That is what the papal primacy is all about."

Not really. Catholic dogma teaches that the Pope CAN proclaim a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals, but in practice this almost never occurs. Since the First Vatican Council formulated this dogma in 1870, the Pope has made just one ex cathedra pronouncement (infallibility of Mary in 1950). In practice, Popes are reluctant to proceed too far in any direction without the support of a healthy majority of the bishops.

Catholic doctrine may also be proclaimed by the Bishops sitting in "Ecumenical Council", and in practice this happens far more often than Papal ex cathedra pronouncements. Otherwise, catholic doctrine is what it is, based on divine revelation but subject to the interpretation of the bishops in exercising the ordinary magisterium.

"In the menatime, our own putative 'Anglican Pope', Archbishop Wabukala the chair of the Gafcon, has yet to realise he has no authroirity over other Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion".

Really, Fr Ron - you assert that ++Wabukala believes he has authority over other provinces in the AC? And on what objective facts or reasons do you base this assertion?

Well?

MichaelA said...

"It is not yet four decades since our own church held exactly the same position – and without annulment as an option"

However other Protestants recognised the biblical teaching early, i.e. that Christians are permitted to divorce in circumstances of adultery or abandonment:

"VI. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments, unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage; yet nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage: wherein a publick and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed, and the persons concerned in it not left to their own wills and discretion in their own case."
[Westminister Confession of Faith, Cap 24, 1647]

"The Supreme-Governor-apparent of the Church of England could not be married in church because he was marrying a divorcee."

I don't think being able to marry in a CofE church was really a concern. Given that Edward was prepared to enter into a morganatic marriage, he presumably would have been prepared to eschew a church wedding.

The problem went far deeper - Wallis Simpson's history was racy even by today's standards. She could hardly plead adultery as an excuse for divorcing her two previous husbands because it was HER multiple adulterous affairs that ended both marriages - including with Edward. In effect, Edward wasn't just flouting convention, he was hurling it in the collective faces of the population of the empire.

Hence the British PM gave Edward three choices: he could give up the idea of marriage, he could marry against his ministers' wishes (i.e. have them all resign), or he could abdicate. It wasn't an issue of church rules (even though ++Lang was ad idem with the PM on this) but that Edward was scandalizing the entire Commonwealth. This extended to non-Christians as well - there were plenty of Hindus, Jews, Atheists etc who weren't impressed, and PM Baldwin was well aware of this.

MichaelA said...

Mark Coleridge is currently RC Archbishop of Brisbane. He is understated and careful, so when he said, "But I just think that there are difficulties at the point of an understanding of what our task is and therefore how to go about it." it was indicative of some real disagreement behind the scenes.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
Bosco was referring to the marriage of Charles to Camilla, not the marriage of Edward to Wallis Simpson!

Anonymous said...

"The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep our hearts and minds..." Despite St Matthew 5:22, I believe that it is possible that confrontational hotheads will not be cast into the lake of fire. If they are penitent, the Holy Spirit might heal their passion for conflict. But in one way or the other, the kingdom will be peaceful, and those truly in Christ are already becoming so.

Bowman Walton

MichaelA said...

Ahhh, thank you Peter and apologies to Bosco. Still it was fun thinking about those wild times in the 1930s...

Father Ron Smith said...

"Really, Fr Ron - you assert that ++Wabukala believes he has authority over other provinces in the AC? And on what objective facts or reasons do you base this assertion?

Well? - MicaelA

Yes thankyou, Michael, quite well.

However, re your remark (above-quoted), have you not even read the 'Jersualem Declaration' originally s-called the 'Jerusalem Declaration' issued under the seal of Gafon whose Chair-person is the gentleman in question? Did you not read his latest pronouncement on the Gafon letterhead?

If you had read either of these documents and even partially understood their content, you could not have missed the underlying current of dogmatic certainty that is usually - in ecclesiastical circles - attributable to magisterial utterances on dogma by either the reigning Pope, or some of the non-conformist religious leaders of the past and present eras of Church government.

This is what os so un-Anglican about the Gafcon Primates. They really do believe the have 'The Real Oil' of certitude in Christian doctrine - so much so, in fact, that they refuse to share the Eucharist with fellow members of the Anglican Communion, who happoen to thin kdifferently from themselves usually on matters of adiaphora, rather then the Doctrine of Christ.

Father Ron Smith said...

"it's probably just more proof of the incessant protestant doctrine creep." - Nick -

Are you saying, Nick that there are no catholic doctrinal creeps? The very thought of such an epithet makes my flesh crawl!

Anonymous said...

Fr Ron, the context is that conservative and progressive Catholics claimed a win. Even traditional Catholics (who usually prefer the Tridentine mass and Councils prior to Vatican 2) could claim a win in that their fears of ambiguity were justified. I cannot speak for trad Catholics, but at least a reasonable proportion see Vatican 2 as a protestantising of the Church. The Pope's devolution can only have confirmed that view. As for Catholic doctrine creep, I suppose the Oxford movement was a leaning in that direction. Of course, at St Michael aAA, you might properly consider veneration of the sacred host, the rosary and prayers to the saints part of your own tradition. Are they? I assume you accept the real presence.

Nick

MIchaelA said...

"However, re your remark (above-quoted), have you not even read the 'Jersualem Declaration' originally s-called the 'Jerusalem Declaration' issued under the seal of Gafon whose Chair-person is the gentleman in question?"

Yes, I have read it, and I can't think of anything in it that amounts to asserting authority over other provinces, rather the opposite. So, I assume you now concede that your assertion had no justification at all?

By the way, the Jerusalem Declaration was not "issued under seal of Gafcon", which did not exist in 2008, and ++Wabukala did not become the chairman of Gafcon until 2011. You are a few years out.

"Did you not read his latest pronouncement on the Gafon letterhead?"

Yes, I did, and again, I can't think of anything in it which could rationally be characterised as asserting authority over other provinces. Hence why I assume that you now concede that your assertion had no foundation.

"...you could not have missed the underlying current of dogmatic certainty that is usually - in ecclesiastical circles - attributable to magisterial utterances ,,,"

Oh come now, Fr Ron - the greatest "current of dogmatic certainty" is to be found in your own posts! They are masterful assertions of authority as you tell others what the truth is. ;) You can hardly complain when others state what they believe in the same way that you do.

"...so much so, in fact, that they refuse to share the Eucharist with fellow members of the Anglican Communion, who happoen to thin kdifferently from themselves usually on matters of adiaphora, rather then the Doctrine of Christ."

But you know perfectly well that the orthodox do not classify the errors of TEC and ACoC as "adiaphora", so this isn't a fair characterisation, is it? You don't have to agree with them of course, but you can't misrepresent their beliefs in this way. Orthodox provinces and dioceses have declared themselves in impaired communion with TEC and ACoC because they believe that those two have departed from the doctrine of Christ, not differed on adiaphora (which means peripherals for any readers not into the ecclesiastical jargon).

Anonymous said...

In terms of ex cathedra Papal infallibility, there are two accepted occasions (albeit one pre Vatican 1); they are the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary and the assumption of our Lady. The last time I read the text, I thought it was broad enough to accommodate the Orthodox dormition.

Nick