Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Breaking News: Pope confirms his interpretation of his own teaching is correct [Updated 3x]

Ever since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, the recent papal document on marriage, family, divorce and remarriage, eucharist, there has been a to and fro, across blogs etc, on whether or not the document (from memory, one particular footnote in it) means that remarried-after-divorce-without-annulment Catholics may receive the eucharist or not.

Christian Today reports that Pope Francis has communicated to bishops in Argentina that in certain circumstances such Catholics may receive communion.

"Divorced and remarried Catholics can in "some cases" receive Holy Communion without living as "brother and sister" and without getting an annulment, Pope Francis himself has confirmed.In a leaked letter to Argentine bishops Pope Francis gave his own interpretation for the first time of Amoris Laetitia, his exhortation that followed the recent synods on the family dominated by controversy over the Church's strict rules on divorced and remarried Catholics.Many believe the rules excluding such couples from communion, even where they were the innocent party in a marriage breakdown, are cruel. Traditionalists however stand by what they say is biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman for life and that there can be no flexibility.The pope's letter to bishops in Argentina, in response to a document the bishops produced on the issue, was leaked by a priest. The Vatican has today confirmed the letter from Pope Francis is authentic.In their document, the Argentine bishops focus on the need to integrate divorcees into the life of the Church. They say that "in certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments"."
[Update: note also Catholic Herald report here.]
[Update for the robust among us: Rorate Coeli reports here. Of course I think Rorate Coeli is nuts with its "Pope destroys family" view. The Pope is trying to succour already broken families. Good marriages need no teaching about what happens if they breakdown. Rocky marriages are unlikely to be held back from crashing on the rocks by threats of withheld communion. But families weathering the effects of broken marriage might be helped by the Pope's promulgation of mercy.]
[Update: also with robust response is this First Things article, H/T Nick in comment below. But I like this point made in a comment below the article:

"The job of the Catholic Church is harder than adamant traditionalists admit. The task is to protect the sanctity of marriage (not to mention the actual victims of easy divorce, who are always those family members who most need stability, loyalty, and emotional sustenance), but also to avoid becoming more legalistic than Jesus himself was ..."]

On the one hand this is the final breakdown of Western Christianity, letting the Trojan Horse of "culture" inside the last bastion of theological rectitude, some will say.

On the other hand this is the mercy of God being worked out in the reality of human life, some will say. And I agree wholeheartedly!

35 comments:

Andrei said...

"On the one hand this is the final breakdown of Western Christianity, letting the Trojan Horse of "culture" inside the last bastion of theological rectitude, some will say.

On the other hand this is the mercy of God being worked out in the reality of human life, some will say."


Neither is true - you are trapped in the legalism of Western Christianity

More accurately it is the custom of the Latin Church to say someone who has divorced and then remarried should not take communion

It is also the custom of the Latin Church that priests should be celibate

Neither of these things are strictly adhered to and never have been.

These are not matters carved in stone like say the Ten Commandments

Peter Carrell said...

Well, Andrei, I am a Western Christian, with all the baggage that comes with it :)

Yes, these matters are not carved in stone like the 10C but it is interesting to see a comment or two from conservative Catholics saying that remarriage/eucharist teaching is 2000 years old. That may or may not be true (re the specific Catholic tradition from the gospel verses which record Jesus' teaching onwards, consistency and continuity thereof) but clearly in perception of some it is as thought the teaching is carved in stone.

Father Ron said...

"On the other hand this is the mercy of God being worked out in the reality of human life, some will say. And I agree wholeheartedly!' Dr. Peter Carrell -

Bravo, Peter. Amen and AMEN!

This further evidence of Pope Francis' Mercy strategy - Holy Spirit Filled and Christ-centred, despite the Nay-Sayers.

Father Ron said...

Dear Andrew, are you a 'paid-up' member of the Eastern Orthodox Church? Your answer to this might explain your stance on current questions on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, Rorate Caeli has an interesting report ( though your readers should know before reading it that the title is a rather harsh "communion for adulterers"). The blogger who published the Pope's letter (according to Rorate) says that Cardinal Poli and a canon lawyer challenged the letter at the meeting of Argentinian bishops. The problem recognised by the Catholic Herald is that the Pope cannot change the teaching, but perception will be that he has. And that perception is not unreasonable.

Nick

Andrei said...

Actually Peter looking into this there is not a great change in the Catholic stance - rather the Bishops seem to have been given discretion to relax matters in specific circumstances if they believe it to be appropriate

In the Eastern Church this would be called οἰκονομία (oikonomia)

Wikipedia explains it thus

Andrei said...

We all carry our baggage Peter :)

And while the Christian Press of the West might be dissecting the Pope's missives on dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics - they are not concerned with the commemoration of a WW2 atrocity where maybe a million Christians were martyred concelebrated by the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Serbia in lands currently under NATO Occupation.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Nick
Has the Pope changed the church's teaching on mercy, on the church as a hospital for the sick, on the eucharist as needed sustenance for the journey of life? (!!)

Andrei said...

Here's a point to ponder

In missions in Africa all the churches of whatever flavour have brought people into the fold who are living in polygamous marriages and in every case as far as I know these marriages have been deemed valid and not an impediment to full life in the Church despite monogamy being the long standing position of the Christian Faith

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter; I don't think the Pope has changed teaching on anything in Amoris Laetitia, but I accept that is a canonically correct view which might seem ridiculous to some. But an exhortation is no more than that and the letter is less. The letter to the Argentinian bishops is typically Francis. It doesn't say what either the progressives or conservatives want it to say. On the specifics you ask about; no. The question that Rorate indirectly asks with the A word in the 10Cs is whether mercy is quite the focus of a repeated sin (in Catechism terms). It's a fair question, though I am not the appropriate person to give an authoritative view.

Nick

Shawn Herles said...

The Bible gives several grounds for valid divorce. Divorce is only legitimate on those grounds, and any other reason, especially lifestyle divorces, are illegitimate. Jesus Himself is very clear that invalid divorce and re-marriage is adultery.

So the only relevant question for Christians and the Church is whether or not a divorce was valid on Biblical grounds. Most divorces today in the West are most likely not.

Father Ron said...

I don't recall Jesus distinguishing between 'valid' and 'invalid' divorce. He obviously left that to individual referees - licenced or unlicenced.

Shawn Herles said...

The valid/invalid distinction is taught in Matthew chapter 5 in which Jesus teaches that adultery is a valid grounds for divorce. There are other places in the NT, such as Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians chapter 7.

So Scripture, and thus Christ Himself as every word of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is the Word of Christ, does give us a fairly clear picture of what is or is not valid divorce.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Nick and Shawn
A question to ask is whether repentance from divorce is possible and how this might be recognised.
On the one hand Jesus does not give us a steer on that; on the other hand Jesus does not say remarriage after divorce is the unforgivable sin.
So my point about mercy involves the question whether mercy might be shown to the repentant couple.
Of course the answer could be (as catechetically given in the RCC), either refrain from sex within a second marriage or seek an annulment of the first marriage ... but both those answers have their own problems (e.g. is it not still unfaithfulness to live intimately even if asexually with a person other than one's spouse?)
Go much further down such paths and one is in an ethical labyrinthe, hence the power and beauty of Francis' advice to use some local, pastoral judgment!

Shawn Herles said...

Hi Peter.

I agree with you about the repentance/forgiveness aspect. My initial comment was about where Scripture draws the lines on marriage and divorce, but of course invalid divorce is not an unforgivable sin.

I'm not overly taken with the RCC approach of excluding re-married couples from Communion regardless of the validity of the original divorce. In fact I'm generally not in favour of excluding anyone from Communion for any reason, though it's possible that there may be valid reasons to do so in some cases.

Andrei said...

"A question to ask is whether repentance from divorce is possible and how this might be recognised"

If I may Peter - of course repentance is possible and I'm sure many in this situation do sincerely repent

As to recognizing if someone has truly repented that is of no concern to us - The Lord will know if the repentance is sincere and genuine or if it is for show and we need not trouble ourselves over the answer

When it comes to the matter of receiving communion - well anyone can present themselves to receive communion and it is unlikely they will be refused regardless of their marital state or even being a Catholic - it has happened of course that priests have refused people at the altar rail but it is unusual because most people who shouldn't partake know better - true?

And if you take communion knowing you shouldn't it is to your condemnation.

All of the issues that confront us in our Christian journey are a matter of our conscience and we sometimes don't get it right first time. But God is patient with us - do you doubt this?

So if you are a Catholic, divorced and remarried and the Catholic Church says you shouldn't take communion you could accept that as a discipline for the good of your soul and comply or you could just ignore it and take communion anyway or you could always join another church and take communion there

Each of these choices will have consequences eventually but that is not for us to judge

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Shawn and Andrei!
Food for thought, and for the conscience :)
And, yes, I think God can take care of both recognition of repentance and of discipline.

Father Ron said...

There's been a recent Statement made by the retiring Archbishop of Wales (++Barry Morgan) challenging the Sola Scriptura view on how to read the Scriptures - with special reference to human sexuality. Here is one of the comments about his treatment of this subject, which I find very hopeful:

"He showed how the Bible had more than one view on homosexuality, as well as other important issues, as the authors of its books developed and changed their opinions. To understand God’s will, he suggested, meant seeing the different views in the context of the Bible as a whole, and, in particular, the ministry of Jesus."

Some people seem to forget that Jesus himself 'fulfilled all the requirements of The Law' - on our behalf - thus establishing a new rule of life; based on the 'New Commandment' with its emphasis on Love, rather than Law. For this perceived extravagant 'liberality' Jesus was crucified.

Shawn Herles said...

Liberals have been attacking Sola Scriptura, or anything else that gets in the way of the Liberal agenda, for a long time now, just as Liberals in the RCC or Orthodox churches challenge the authority of Scripture+Tradition. Buit these challenges are not motivated by a genuine desire for a better understanding of God's revelation, but because ALL authority, whether it be Scripture or Tradition, gets in the way of replacing God's revelation with the political ideology of modernity, which is what Liberalism really is.

I have yet to see any argument against Sola Scriptura that seriously held water theologically, and that did not end up effectively denying that God has revealed Himself.

Reducing Scripture to a mere matter of subjective opinion in which we sinners pick and choose what suits us, or suits our politics, is simply making the same mistake that we made in the Garden, deciding for ouselves, without reference to God, what is right and wrong.

Jesus fulfilled the Law for us, but this does not lead to antinomianism. In fact the opposite is true. Jesus fulfiled the Law for us as a matter of salvation, but we are still required, by the command of Jesus Himself, to strive for holiness in our daily lives. Jesus did not fulfill the Law in order to introduce moral anarchy.

Nor was Jesus was not crucified for being liberal, He was crucified because He claimed to be the Messiah, the rightful King of the universe. Liberalism is a purely modernist ideology that did not exist in Jesus' day, or at any time prior to the 1700's.

But, if we, for the sake of debate, read liberalism back into Jesus' day, then surely the Pharisees, with all their extra-Biblical man made tradtions designed to get around Scripture, were closer to modern Liberals, and Jesus, who kept insisting to the Pharisees that man-made tradtions were not equal to the Torah itself, was much closer to modern Evangelical thinking.

Brian Kelly said...

It would take too long right now to "fisk" Barry Morgan's address, which is full of factual inaccuracies about the Bible and what it teaches (most egregiously a deep misunderstanding about ancient "slavery" or 'avodah' and attitudes toward it) as well as being solidly based on the judgment that the Bible consists of changing 'human opinions' rather than being what Anglicanism and the Church Catholic (Roman, Protestant and Orthodox) have always understood it to be, as God's Word Written. (Yes, that is the Catholic doctrine of Scripture and I hope nobody displays historical ignorance by denying this.)
Instead, I will simply note the sad observation of a friend, a retired Anglican priest living in Wales, that Anglicans are leaving the Church in Wales in droves for new independent churches.
The Church in Wales has always had a sizeable 'gay' element in its clergy and Morgan has tried to mainstream this. But many are now voting with their feet and the Church in Wales shrinks inexorably. Lemmings marching to the sea.

Andrew W said...

"Rocky marriages are unlikely to be held back from crashing on the rocks by threats of withheld communion."

This is a somewhat simplistic view, Peter.

A consistent ethos and expectation of behaviour can and does restrain the expression of sin. When we say "that's bad, but we wouldn't actually want to condemn you for it", what we communicate is "it's not that bad, really". We call this "mercy", but it's actually "weakness". Rescuing people from the consequences of their sin is only mercy if they are rescued from their sin also. Knowing that unholiness will be disciplined by the church teaches people the importance of holiness and buttresses their motivation.

"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands." (1 John 2:1-3).

If there is no opportunity for repentance, it is not a Christian message. If there is no requirement for repentance, it is likewise not a Christian message.

Shawn Herles said...

The issue of divorce that we have been discussing here clealry shows that vast gulf between modern liberalism and what Jesus actually taught.

Modern liberalism says that married people can divorce for any reason whatsoever, and this is never wrong, and nobody else has a right to criticise the reasons.

Jesus totally contradicts this view when he says "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

Now, were Jesus walking around in the flesh today, and said this, he would be condemned by liberals for being puritanical and judgemental, condemned as an intolerant bigot, and condemned for not having any understanding of "modern realities" and individual freedom of choice.

"And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth." - 1 John 2:3-4

"I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." - Jude 1:4

As the above passages show, the difference between Scripture/Christ and modern liberalism could not be starker.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew W
Yes, I think you are right but the simplicity here can work both ways: marriages will have been helped by an ethos which is disciplined, but the simple application of that discipline has driven some Catholics from their church.

Hi Shawn
On the question of divorce and what Jesus taught, have you come across the writings of David Instone-Brewer?

Shawn Herles said...

Hi Peter.

No, until now I had not heard if him. I Googled and got a CT article by him on the issue, which I'm reading through now. I don't want to give an opinion until I have digested and understood what he's saying.

Father Ron said...

"I have yet to see any argument against Sola Scriptura that seriously held water theologically, and that did not end up effectively denying that God has revealed Himself.' Shawn Herles -

Au Contraire, dear Brother, A proper reference to Scripture would tell you that the whole enterprise was pointing towards God's Perfect Revelation of His Word occurred at the INCARNATION, when The WORD became flesh and dwelt among us!

I think most of us who are dubious about the paucity of S/S understanding of total revelation - while yet understanding scripture's place of information about the Coming of Messiah/Jesus - are wholly certain of Christ-The Word's Real Presence in the Eucharistic Celebration, where Jesus actually promised He would always be Really Present. In partaking of the Blessed Sacrament, we, His devoted followers, become the Hands and Feet of Christ in the world.
There has been a transformation from Words about Christ to the Word Himself.

Mere words have no power to give life. It took the WORD, Himself, to do that

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, Elliot Milco makes an interesting point about mercy here https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/09/franciss-argentine-letter-and-the-proper-response
He points out that the church has always taught that through grace we can keep the ten commandments, even when we fail to do so. This must of course apply to any sin. He suggests that it is presumptuous of Francis - however benign his intentions - to decide that his version of "mercy" trumps that given by God. So, when you ask whether divorce is forgivable (or people can repent of divorce), I agree that it is possible. The question remains however whether they prefer "go and sin no more" or Amoris Laetitia? And yes I agree that non-sexual intimacy and annulment raise their own problems. Of course in a different culture, celibacy would be an option. I make no attempt tp preach, because these are very hard issues, but for myself I think that chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia is not the answer and my canonically correct response is that it has not changed RC doctrine. A Pope Sarah might even correct it.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Nick
It is hard to escape the impression that some of us Anglicans are closer to the Pope on this matter than some of his flock. I don't suppose Cranmer or Reginald Pole ever envisaged that happening :)

Anonymous said...

Peter, you may very well be closer, but like Milco, I think the position is incoherent and muddled. The bar cannot be too high to meet because God says it isn't. As you know from prior comments of mine (and I accept that you have some good contrary arguments), I find it difficult to follow the Amoris approach in divorce, but not apply that approach to another sexual area that I don't contribute to any more.

So, I'm praying for Francis and that his successor (Cardinals Sarah or Mueller?) will correct this.

Nick

Shawn Herles said...

"Au Contraire, dear Brother, A proper reference to Scripture would tell you that the whole enterprise was pointing towards God's Perfect Revelation of His Word occurred at the INCARNATION, when The WORD became flesh and dwelt among us!"

The only reason we know about the incarnation is because it is revealed Scripture.

" are wholly certain of Christ-The Word's Real Presence in the Eucharistic Celebration"

The only reason we know to celebrate the Eucharist is because we are told to in Scripture.

It is impossible to get away from the primary authority of Scripture.

"Mere words have no power to give life."

Every word of Scripture is the living, breathing, Word of Christ.

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
Hebrews 4:12

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Nick
I'll keep that "incoherent and muddled" comment to myself, better to bear the burden of that alone than worry the Pope himself with it :)

Lightheartedness aside: I do appreciate that there is a right muddle going on within the logic of Roman theology, pastoralia and catechetical constraints. Whether the next Pope will solve the muddle is another story. Sometimes things get worse before they get better (e.g. the Dark Ages were not just a couple of Popes in duration!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter; I was careful to quote Milco when I said incoherent and muddled. I agree with Milo, but true pastors don't consult the law before they meet needs. Although I am happy to be in communion with the sovereign pontiff of the universal Church, I am also hopeful that Pope Sarah will mop up some of the mess. Sancte Joannes Paule ora pro nobis.

Nick

Glen. said...


Hi Peter,

Perhaps the unifying thoughts between Matt.5/32 +19/9 and Matt.19/6 are the words:"What therefore God hath joint together,let no man put asunder."
It strikes me that Jesus was quite clear that God does "put asunder" marriages
in the case of fornication.The other party then has the right of remarriage.

Cheers,Glen.

De notsew said...

So, nhere is the rub. 44 years ago I married a young girl and in our innocence believed this was God.'s will - greatly encouraged by our families! After six years whilst remaining good friends we called it a day. 44 years later after years of thinking through whether I wished to be a convert to catholicism - being remarried 35 years ago. I am told I may be a member of the catholic church - attend church - pray with the church BUT, no sacrament! I am God's child but I may not partake of the most blesed sacrament! Now Francis gives me hope! Anulment - I went down that path, met a canon lawyer and gave it up! It was a very specultaive - questionable solution. I still long to be catholic? Maybe Francis will come to my assistance! I am now Anglo Catholic - the closest I could get!

Father Ron said...

One can only hope, 'De notsew', that your Anglo-Catholic Church is as well-disposed as Pope Francis on his new declaration of openness to the Eucharist for for divorcees. His 'Year of Mercy' gives hope to many whose lives have been affected by the outdated policy of withholding the Blessing of Christ in the Eucharist - despite the fact that all are sinners - something the Pope admits of himself. Deo gratias!

Glen said...


Dear De notsew,

I do know you or where you live;but I love your attitude.If you dearly LOVE CHRIST,as you appear to,go to HIS CHURCH and be part of it. You have every right to partake of the BLESSED SACRAMENT.It is CHRIST'S CHURCH and CHRIST'S SACRAMENT.If anyone objects,remind them of John 8/1-11.

Neither the Church of Rome or the Church of England are beyond reproach for the manner in which they turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse committed by certain of their clergy. Some Church leaders perceive the motes in their brothers eyes but not the beams in their own.

While these yearnings are in your heart,you are indeed a CHILD of GOD and I pray that you long continue to be so.

Blessings,Glen.