POPE FRANCIS has at last published his views on the family following the synod of 2014/15.
I use the phrase “published his views” deliberately because, as seems to be becoming a habit with this Pope, he has declined to provide the faithful with anything that could reasonably be called a decision, and even the phrase “spiritual guidance” would be stretching a point.
So rather than an Encyclical we have an ‘Apostolic Exhortation’ which pretty much leaves us all where we were before though at least we seem to have put a spoke in Kaspar’s wheel which is a mercy since if he had had his way the Lutheranisation of the Church, started at Vatican 2 by Bugnini and his acolytes, would have been nearly complete.
One of the most contentious subjects was the matter of Holy Communion for divorced and remarried couples and it is worth quoting at some length from the Guardian’s editorial on the question. The full text of the aticle can be read here
The most powerful lobby for official recognition of this change came from among the German bishops, who are financed by a voluntary tax collected by the state from people who identify as Catholics, rather than by direct collection from regular congregations. This means that they are rather more directly dependent on the good opinions of bad Catholics than most prelates. They also have a respect for the law, and a sense that it ought to correspond with the way that people actually behave.
Against them were ranged a coalition representing the conservative ideal, that the church ought to respect only the opinions of good Catholics, as defined by the hierarchy. Pope Francis himself would seem to have the instincts of the liberal party. It’s certain that he believes the real business of the church is with those who can’t live up to its teachings rather than those who find it easy. In everything he has said about mercy he is reaching out to those who have been wounded by life and even by the church.
It is somewhat stunning, to a conservative Catholic at least, to find that Church teaching (which is either Christ’s teaching and therefore God’s will or it is meaningless) is supposedly to be pitched at the level of “bad” Catholics rather than “good” ones or that law — religious and presumably secular — should be made on the basis of how people actually behave rather than on the way in which God or society or the community believe they ought to behave.
To speak of the “conservative ideal” is also extremely revealing of the mindset that dictates much of modern thought, certainly the vaguely leftie, semi-atheistic, liberal intellectualism that is supposedly characteristic of Guardian readers. The “ideal” is supposed to be just that — there is no conservative or liberal or any other ideal where God is concerned so once again the concept of “good” Catholics and “bad” Catholics makes no sense and nor does the idea that the hierarchy of the Church determines which are which.
The writer is correct, however, when he says that the “real” business of the Church is with those who can’t (I prefer “find it hard to”) live up to the standard asked of them by Christ. It does beg the question whether there are any sincere and devout Catholics who don’t find it hard. And if there are then maybe a little spiritual guidance is called for.
But how the outside world views Amoris Laetitia is of less importance than how Catholics view it and what we can take from it.
I recently started re-reading Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity* and near the beginning he deals with an increasingly prevalent tendency, even occasionally among those claiming to be Catholic, to consider God as an equal. This attitude. he argues, usually takes the form of a belief that God isn’t making a desperately good job of running the world and if only he would ask our opinion …. etc. We can see where that leads us. I’m sure.
I was reminded of this passage when reading yet another “professional” opinion, this time in The Times by Cristina Odone who, the last time I looked, was a Catholic. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, Pope Francis has let her down because in her headline she tells us “The Pope has not gone far enough to welcome me back”. Her opening paragraph reads:
Although it is called Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), the Pope’s latest statement brings sadness for millions of Catholics. If you sought acceptance for gay marriage or, like me, hoped to be allowed to take Holy Communion even though you are married to a divorcee who had not annulled his first union, Pope Francis’s document disappoints.
Yet more words to stun the average conservative Catholic. Let me try a translation.
The Church has maintained for 2000 years that any and all sexual activity (note, please, how sex invariably is the sticking point when it comes to disputing papal decisions: see also Humanae Vitae) outwith marriage and not “open to conception” is sinful. (Which includes the furtive fumblings of teenagers though I suspect there are many who would consider such experimentation as venial — up to a point!)
Christ’s teaching on the matter is also quite clear; He left little room for doubt that marriage is intended to be permanent (“Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses permitted divorce, but from the beginning it was not so“) and the only exception that might be considered to that rule was if one or other party committed adultery.
But whether or not there is a valid cause for divorce there the act of adultery remains sinful. So here we have an individual, aware of the law of God on the matter, entering into a relationship (presumably sexual because if not then there is no bar on those grounds to her receiving Holy Communion) with a man who in the eyes of the Church and therefore in the eyes of God is still married to someone else and expects the Church to say …. what exactly? …. “never mind what God says; just come along to Communion anyway”? I don’t think so!
The Law of God is the Law of God and not to be tampered with to suit the spirit of the times which — as with Humanae Vitae and contraception — is what a lot of people wanted to see: easier divorce and so an easier life and so back to the Guardian editorial and the idea that laws should be promulgated to make bad behaviour less punishable.
Nobody ever said Christianity was going to be easy and nobody who has read the Gospels properly should ever imagine that there was ever a chance that it would and the fact that some have it less hard than others does not detract from the basic premise.
Lest anyone think I’ve got it in for Ms Odone, she goes on in her article to make some good points and a deeper reading than the secular press headlines points a way forward which I will examine more closely in my next post.
*This is a book which I would seriously recommend and which I saw recently described as one of the top five books which all Catholics should read. It is available in various versions including as a Kindle edition.