Rorate Caeli

Not Even the Pope Can Give Communion to the Divorced and Remarried

By Antonio Socci, (translation by Rorate correspondent Francesca Romana)
October 5, 2014

There is a lot of confusion in the Church about the Synod starting today and that’s going to hold discussions about communion to the divorced and remarried.  Many believers are disorientated  about the “revolutionary” path indicated by Cardinal Kasper, who was asked by Pope Francis to launch the novelty at the February Consistory and is always saying that he speaks in the name of Pope Francis (”I spoke to the Pope. We agreed on everything.”).

An overwhelming number of cardinals are in total disagreement with him.  So now what’s going to happen?  Could it really be true that the Pope may embark on a way that upsets what the Church has constantly taught for two thousand years, based on the words of Jesus Himself and the Pauline texts? Is it possible to challenge the commandments, the Gospel and the Sacraments? Some think that the popes can do it and the mass-media feeds this expectation. In reality it is not like this at all since the Church belongs to Christ and not the popes, who are only temporary administrators and not masters – as Benedict XVI used to say repeatedly. They are subject to the law of God and the Word of God and must serve the Lord by protecting the “depositum fidei” entrusted to them. They cannot take possession of it or change it according to their own personal ideas.

What many (also among believers) ignore are the very rigid limits that the Church has always placed on popes, while at the same time recognizing Petrine “”infallibility” in “ex-cathedra” proclamations on matters of faith and morality.  Specifically in the Dogmatic Constitution “Pastor Aeternus” through which Vatican Council I defined papal infallibility, we find  “For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.”

The great Joseph Ratzinger explained this principle, ignored by the majority of believers, like this: “The pope is not the supreme master– since the time of Gregory the Great, he has been known as "Servant of the servants of God"  but (as I like saying) he ought to be the guarantor of obedience, of the conformity of the Church to the will of God, excluding any arbitrary act of his own.  The pope cannot say:  I am the Church, or I am tradition, but on the contrary, he has precise restrictions and incarnates the obligation of the Church to conform to the word of God.  If temptations arise in the Church to do things differently, to choose  a softer more comfortable way, he has to ask himself if it is licit.   The pope is therefore not an authority that  can give life to another Church, rather he is a barricade against arbitrary acts.”

After these clear explanations, Ratzinger added: “I’ll give an example: we know from the New Testament that sacramental marriage is indissoluble. We currently have trends of opinion that say the Pope could change this. This is not so.  In January 2000, in an address to Roman judges, the Pope (John Paul II) declared that in respect to the trend in favor of revoking the bond of indissolubility in marriage, he, the Pope, cannot do anything he wants, but on the contrary he must emphasize obedience;  also in this sense he must continue “the washing of feet”.

Also Cardinal Caffarra, an authority on moral issues since the Pontificate of John Paul II, in opposition to  Kasper’s proposal, underlined that not even pontiffs can dissolve the bonds of a first marriage, so the Church cannot recognize a second marriage, neither by law, nor de facto, as Kasper advances with the admittance of divorced and remarried to the Eucharist.  Caffarra also recalled the words of John Paul II from his address to the Sacra Rota:  “It is clear that the Roman Pontiff’s power does not extend to valid and consummated marriages and this is taught by the Magisterium of the Church as a doctrine to be definitively held even if it has not been solemnly declared through a definitive act.” It is a technical formula, “a doctrine to be definitively held”, and it means that on this point there is no further discussion to be had among theologians nor doubts among the faithful.” Basically, this truth cannot even be challenged among believers. Consequently it is not even possible to change the discipline as regards admission to the Eucharist.

There is a significant, hard to find and long-forgotten book by Cardnal Kasper, published just ten years ago by Herder e Queriniana entitled “The Sacrament of Unity. Eucharist and Church.” It was written and published on the occasion of the Year of the Eucharist convened by John Paul II in  2004 to 2005.  That book by Kasper touches on various thorny and contested issues and truly seems to be in line with the Church’s perennial teaching as well as Pope Wojtyla’s.  Regarding reception of Sacramental Communion, Kasper emphasizes that it cannot be for everyone: “we cannot invite everyone to receive [the Sacrament]. It is not possible to have access in a state of grave sin, but only when (through confession) one is in the grace of God so as “not to eat and drink unworthily the Body and Blood of the Lord.”

Kasper adds: “the affirmation that unity and communion are only possible under the sign of the Cross, includes something else, and that is: the Eucharist is not possible without the Sacrament of forgiveness. The Ancient Church was fully conscious of this union. In the Ancient Church the visible structure of the Sacrament of penance consisted in the re-admission of the sinner to Eucharistic Communion,  Communio, excommunicatio e reconciliatio were all one.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian killed by the Nazis in 1945, rightly warned against “cheap grace”.  “Cheap grace is a sacramental sell-out, it is the Supper of the Lord without the remission of sins, it is absolution without personal confession.” For Bonhoeffer, cheap grace is the cause of the Church’s decadence.
“A superficial idea” of the Eucharist, Kasper explained, “disconnected from the Cross and the Sacrament of Penance leads to the trivialization of these aspects and the Eucharistic crisis which we see today in the life of the Church.” The German Cardinal even fittingly writes: “The crisis in the idea of the Eucharist is the nucleus of the crisis in the Church today.”

Anyone can easily see the contradiction between this Kasper of yesterday and the Kasper of today. The “innovators” at the Synod, where he is one of the leading proponents, obviously don’t have the courage to challenge doctrine openly, since that would mean shutting the Gospel itself up in the attic.  They sustain that it is not about changing doctrine, but only about pastoral care in the reception of the Eucharist.

Nonetheless, dogma and pastoral care cannot absolutely be separated in the Church. The theological reason  for their indissoluble union is once again explained by Joseph Ratzinger: “pastoral care and dogma are woven together in an indissoluble way: it is the truth of He Who is at the same time “Logos and Pastor”, as primitive Christian art  profoundly understood in its depiction of the Logos as Pastor and in the Pastor the Eternal Word flowed, and this for man is the true indication of the way.”
In substance, Jesus the Good Shepherd is also the Logos, the Eternal Word of God. It isn’t possible to separate mercy from truth.

Which means that access to the Eucharist cannot be changed for a particular category of people like the divorced and remarried (the law is valid alike for all people) but it means too that the Church’s stance towards them – as Popes Wojtyla and Benedict XVI said repeatedly – is to show Her loving care as Mother in a thousand other ways.