By Marco Tosatti
During one of the two Synods on the Family, when the debate inside the Church on the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried was lively – as it is at present – an African cardinal let slip a cutting remark to a friend: “you in the west have successive polygamy, while in Africa we have it contemporary”. Meaning that the widespread custom of considering marriage not as a lifetime bond leads to a succession of relationships which the cardinal’s irony likened to polygamy.
Then there was Amoris Laetitia, with its little footnotes which turned upside down the previous teaching of the Church, explicitly expressed in Familiaris Consortio (no. 84: “However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage”.)
And the South African Cardinal, Wilfrid Fox Napier, a Franciscan, asked logically: “if those who live together as husband and wife despite a still valid previous marriage can receive Communion, why can’t those who live in additional relationships, perhaps sanctioned by a radical cultural tradition, receive too?”
It is a problem of no small consequence in Africa: almost half of the marriages in Senegal are polygamous, and polygamy is not extraneous to the African Catholic world, even if the Church condemns it, and at the time of Baptism that practice is requested to be repudiated. Yet I have known missionaries who highlight the difficulty, and the injustice of applying the law tout court. Moreover, to oblige a convert to choose one wife only would mean ruining the existence of the others, perhaps with children. In short, it is not a question of little importance.
And certainly a lot of missionaries in Africa can make Cardinal Napier’s Tweet question their own: “If westerners may receive Communion in an irregular marriage situation, are we to tell our polygamists and other “misfits ” that they too are allowed?”
The Cardinal responds to someone on Twitter: “Are you saying that a polygamist is ipso facto in a state of mortal sin? Surely only God and the man’s conscience can judge.”
It is the sixth Dubia, added to the five previously expressed formally by the Cardinals, and which still await the Pontiff’s response.
Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana