Can Persons Living in Adultery Receive Communion?
More precisely, the dispute is about whether divorced Catholics living in new civil unions can receive Holy Communion while in that state. Based on our Savior’s words, Catholic morality has always said that a husband who abandons his wife to live with another or a wife who leaves her husband to live with another is in the state of adultery.1
The controversy began at the Extraordinary Consistory on the Family held in February 2014, when Walter Cardinal Kasper, who spoke at the Pope’s request, defended the possibility of allowing divorced and civilly “remarried” Catholics to receive Communion. The polemics culminated on March 19, 2016 when Pope Francis published the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which discreetly accepted the German Cardinal’s thesis.
Considerations and Requests Not Taken Into Account
In the period between the Extraordinary Consistory and the publication of Amoris Laetitia, cardinals, bishops and lay Catholics published books, essays and articles refuting the “Kasper thesis.” Also, 880,000 people from around the world, including cardinals and bishops, signed a Filial Appeal asking Pope Francis for clarification. The document titled “Declaration of Fidelity to the Church’s Unchangeable Teaching on Marriage and to Her Uninterrupted Discipline” was also published, and so far over 17,000 Catholics, including cardinals, bishops, priests and laity have adhered to it.
On June 29, 2016, a group of forty-five theologians and lay scholars sent the cardinals a theological study of Amoris Laetitia which censures several of its statements as heretical, bordering on heresy, scandalous, and so forth.
Unfortunately, though based on solid Church doctrine and tradition, those documents and requests for clarification remain unanswered.
Four Cardinals Seek Clarification
Most recently, given the silence of the Pope and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, four Cardinals of the Holy Roman Catholic Church wrote a letter to the Holy Father, with a copy to Ludwig Cardinal Müller, dated September 19, 2016. With this letter, they attached a formal request for clarification on certain erroneous statements in Amoris Laetitia.
The signers are American Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Patronus of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Germans, Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences and Joachim Cardinal Meisner, Archbishop Emeritus of Cologne, and Italian Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna.
They adopted the traditional request for clarification known as dubium (singular) or dubia (plural). The dubia ask for a yes or no answer on each point without further explanation.
For example, on February 1, 2008, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith answered dubia on the validity of the baptism done with extravagant formulas and whether such people should be baptized in an “absolute” way. The Congregation’s answers were simply: Ad primum: Negative; Ad secundum: Affirmative (negatively on the first, affirmatively on the second).
The Dubia Regarding Amoris Laetitia
The complete text of the Dubia can be read here. This is a summary:
1. Should the possibility raised by Amoris Laetitia in footnote 351 (No. 305) of giving sacramental absolution and the Holy Eucharist “in certain cases,” “be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio [as husband and wife]” keeping in mind that this contradicts the preceding Papal Magisterium?
2. Does the teaching contained in John Paul II’s Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (No. 79) “based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church,” “on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions” remain valid “after the publication of the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia” (cf. No. 304)?
3. After Amoris Laetitia (No. 301), is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (cf. Matt. 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin?
4. After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (No. 302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does the teaching of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor (No. 81), based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice” remain valid?
5. Finally, the cardinals ask whether the teaching of Veritatis Splendor, (No. 81), “based on sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object” also remains valid.
“Loyal to the Holy Father by Being Loyal to Christ Above All”
In an interview with Catholic Action for Faith and Family, Cardinal Burke explained that the request for clarification addressed to the Pope was both a moral obligation and an act of justice and charity toward the faithful, now immersed in confusion.
It was not an act of hostility toward the Holy Pontiff, he added, but one of loyalty. The four cardinals “are striving to be loyal to the Holy Father by being loyal to Christ above all.”
In another interview with journalist Edward Pentin, Cardinal Burke stated:
For us to remain silent about these fundamental doubts, which have arisen as a result of the text of Amoris Laetitia, would, on our part, be a grave lack of charity toward the Pope and a grave lack in fulfilling the duties of our own office in the Church.
Further on, responding to question about what would happen if the Pope did not respond to the dubia, the cardinal categorically said:
Then we would have to address that situation. There is, in the Tradition of the Church, the practice of correction of the Roman Pontiff. It is something that is clearly quite rare. But if there is no response to these questions, then I would say that it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.
Has the Pope Answered the Cardinals?
Several Catholic outlets are presenting Pope Francis’ recent statements to the Italian bishops’ newspaper, Avvenire, as an indirect answer to that formal request for clarification.
For example, on the Crux blog, Inés San Martin comments:
Pope Francis has fired back at his critics over the document Amoris Laetitia, suggesting they suffer from “a certain legalism, which can be ideological.” The critics now include a group of four cardinals who’ve accused the pontiff of causing grave confusion and disorientation and even floated the prospect of a public correction.
“Some – think about the responses to Amoris Laetitia – continue to not understand,” Francis said. They think it’s “black and white, even if in the flux of life you must discern.”
Obviously one should not mistake such hardly merciful criticism of the cardinals for a formal response to their doubts, formulated in correct theological and canonical terms. In fact, instead of clarifying the doubts raised, the Pope’s statements have added to the confusion.
The quote seems to imply that principles drawn from divine Revelation do not suffice to form a moral judgment because things are not “black and white,” that is, good or bad. On the contrary, it is in the “flux of life,” in the praxis, that one discerns whether or not an act or situation is morally correct.
Now then, this is one of the concepts in Amoris Laetitia most deserving of criticism. It reminds us of the “situation ethics” Pope Pius XII condemned. For example, in a 1952 speech to the World Federation of Female Catholic Youth, he said:
[These new morals] could be called “ethic existentialism.” [They] are not based on universal moral laws such as the Ten Commandments but on concrete and real conditions or circumstances in which one must act and according to which the individual conscience must judge and choose.
[The] new ethics is so contrary to the Catholic faith and principles that even a child who knows the catechism will realize it.2
Also to say that there is no “black and white” in moral matters but that the moral principles have to be discovered in the “flux of life,” calls to mind the Modernist theory of continuous evolution of dogma. This error of Modernism, as Saint Pius X explains, “they [the Modernists] deduce from the principle of vital immanence; that religious formulas, to be really religious and not merely theological speculations, ought to be living and to live the life of the religious sentiment.”3
Support for the Four Cardinals
At the moment of this writing, some progressive bishops and laity have attacked the brave prelates. Others have come out in their defense, such as Most Rev. Józef Wróbel, Auxiliary Bishop of Lublin (Poland), Most Rev. Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana (Kazakhstan), Bishop Jan Watroba, President of the Council for the Family of the Polish Bishops,’ Fr. George Woodall, Professor of Moral Theology and Bioethics at Rome’s Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, and Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith a doctor of moral theology.
There may be other statements by ecclesiastics along the same line. In any case, it is impossible to list here all the blogs of Catholic laity that fully support and show real enthusiasm for the cardinals’ statement.
Dubia Regarding Communism
In addition to these dubia on Amoris Laetitia raised by the courageous cardinals, should others be raised on matters of Catholic social doctrine?
If we consider the Pope’s repeated hostile statements about private property and free enterprise, his sympathy for the socialist and communist rulers of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and China, his support for subversive revolutionary social movements, and finally his declarations with a “pauperist” or “miserabilist” bent, is the Church’s traditional doctrine condemning socialism and communism still true and binding?
It would seem there are grounds for such dubia, if we consider, for example, Pope Francis’s recent statements to the journalist Eugenio Scalfari—his confidant, an atheist and apostate from the Faith—as published in the secular Italian daily La Repubblica on November 11. In this interview, the Pope dreams of an egalitarian world and sees inequality and not sin as the greatest evil:
What we want is a battle against inequality, this is the greatest evil that exists in the world. It is money that creates it and that goes against those measures that try to make wealth more widespread and thus promote equality.
Reminding the Pope that this was the program of Marxist socialism and communism, the journalist asked, “Are you therefore thinking of a Marxist type of society?” The Pope answered: “It has been said many times and my response has always been that, if anything, it is the communists who think like Christians.”4
Vatican Radio reported on this interview, and L’Osservatore Romano ran it on November 11, giving it widespread publicity in the Catholic world. Two weeks have passed, but the Pope has not withdrawn or corrected these remarks.
If one were to formulate dubia regarding these statements of Pope Francis, they might look something like this:
1. In light of the statement “inequality, this is the greatest evil that exists in the world,” is it possible to continue upholding the Church’s traditional teaching that wealth inequality is legitimate and in accordance with the order established by God?
2. For example, does this teaching from Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical Sertum Laetitiae (1939) remain true?
“Worthy of honor are the poor who fear God because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven and because they readily abound in spiritual graces. But the rich, if they are upright and honest, are God’s dispensers and providers of this world’s goods; as ministers of Divine Providence they assist the indigent through whom they often receive gifts for the soul and whose hand – so they may hope – will lead them into the eternal tabernacles. God, Who provides for all with counsels of supreme bounty, has ordained that for the exercise of virtues and for the testing of one’s worth there be in the world rich and poor; but He does not wish that some have exaggerated riches while others are in such straits that they lack the bare necessities of life. But a kindly mother of virtue is honest poverty which gains its living by daily labor in accordance with the scriptural saying: ‘Give me neither beggary, nor riches: give me only the necessaries of life’ (Prov. 30:8).”5
3. In light of the affirmation that “it is the communists who think like Christians,” are the following statements by Pius XI in his encyclical Divini Redemptoris (1937) still true?
a. Communism is a “satanic scourge” that “contrasts with its false principles the clear doctrine of the Church.”
b. Communism “flow[s] with satanic logic” from a “polluted source.”
c. This system “hold[s] the principle of absolute equality, rejecting all hierarchy and divinely-constituted authority, including the authority of parents.”
d. Communism “is absolutely contrary to the natural law itself.”
e. Regarding Catholics “who are more or less tainted with the Communist plague” he “prays the Lord to enlighten them that they may abandon the slippery path which will precipitate one and all to ruin and catastrophe.”6
4. Is the same Pope’s teaching in the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931) that “no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist” still true?7
Mother of Good Counsel, Pray for Us
We close these considerations quoting the words by the great Catholic champion, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, written at the end of the Sixties, when confusion was beginning to spread in the Church:
The Church can analogically apply to herself the words of Our Lord: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). If confusion is rife in Catholic ambiences, it will inevitably extend to all other domains of existence. And no worse confusion can exist in the Church than that regarding principles.
It is natural, then, for us to affirm that these times represent the greatest confusion of history and for our lips to plead a supplication to the Mother of God: Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us and help us to remain faithful to the Way, the Truth and the Life in the midst of so much rebellion, so much deceit and so much destruction!8
- Cf. Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18. Our emphasis throughout the article.
- Pius XII, “Speech to the Conference of the World Federation of Female Catholic Youth,” Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di sua Santità Pio XII, Apr. 18, 1952, Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, Vol. XIV, 72, 75 (our translation).
- Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, September 8, 1907, No. 13, http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-x/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-x_enc_19070908_pascendi-dominici-gregis.html.
- Più volte è stato detto e la mia risposta è sempre stata che, semmai sono i comunisti che la pensano come i cristiani.
- Nov. 1, 1939, Nos. 34-35, http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_01111939_sertum-laetitiae.html.
- May 15, 1931, No. 120, http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_19310515_quadragesimo-anno.html.
- Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, “Neste século da confusão, rogai por nós ó Mãe do Bom Conselho,” http://www.pliniocorreadeoliveira.info/1968_208_209_CAT_Neste_seculo_da_confusao.htm#.WDxl1lwZnyQ (our translation).