The issue of divorced and 're-married' Catholics being admitted to Holy Communion has become very noisy of late, thanks in particular to Cardinal Kasper.
Clearly, the people in this situation are in a difficult position. On the one hand, their natural affections and their sense of loyalty to the new partner in their life are a very strong pull in one direction, and their attachment to the Church, and desire to receive Holy Communion is a strong pull in the other.
It does not take very much imagination to understand how difficult and painful that must be.
Moreover, many, I am sure, genuinely believe that their first marriage was in fact null, for a variety of reasons, and so find the ban on their receiving Holy Communion to be particularly unjust - especially when so many others who are perpetrating worse sins, seem to get a free pass (one thinks of those who promote abortion, for example).
Why is it a sin for them to love their new partners? How can love possibly be something that bars them from Holy Communion?
These are real and pressing questions, and for large numbers of people; one can understand why Cardinal Kasper and others think that addressing them is an urgent priority.
Unfortunately, Cardinal Kasper is doing more to hurt these people than anyone else. His concern, because it is based on a superficial and limited understanding, raises hopes and expectations that cannot be met. (Incidentally, I am not alone in thinking this: see, for example, Cardinal Burke, here, from 10' in)
Our Faith is founded on Christ; and Christ has created the Church as His Mystical Body, animated by the Holy Spirit, to continue to present His saving Truth to us.
Whilst on earth Himself, and through His Church unceasingly thereafter, Christ clearly taught that marriage is indissoluble; and further that anyone who attempts to marry someone who is divorced, is in fact committing adultery.
This is a difficult teaching, perhaps; but we are not at liberty to change it.
However, it does help us to understand how to address some of those difficult questions. 'Why is it a sin for them to love their new partners? How can love possibly be something that bars them from Holy Communion?'
It is not, of course, a sin to love anybody. What is a sin is to love, as a spouse, someone who is not your spouse. Indeed, if one truly loves someone else, entering into an adulterous relationship with him or her should be unthinkable: our love for the other should be oriented to their true well-being - and that is not found in sin.
That is at the heart of why it is wrong for Cardinal Kasper and others to seek to find some way to accommodate the divorced and 're-married.' It is not good for them: they are mistaken to think that it is; and in their own best interests they need to be led to the truth, and helped to put their lives in good order. The solution in such cases is to cease to live together as man and wife.
There are many other reasons why Cardinal Kasper's approach is disastrous, of course.
One is the injustice to those who honour their marriage vows, even when abandoned. I know people who have been left by a spouse, and who soldier on, carrying the cross of their abandonment. To tell these both that their spouse is quite right in his or her new adulterous relationship, and that they have been mugs for honouring their vows and refusing to find a new partner for their bed, would be frankly shameful (as well as untrue).
Another is the injustice to children. Such an accommodation would inevitably further weaken marriage, leading to an ever-increasing number of children dealing with the trauma of parental estrangement.
A third is the injustice to those entering matrimony: everything which, culturally, weakens the marriage bond makes it still harder for them either fully to understand the nature of marriage, or to live this difficult vocation faithfully.
But the fundamental reason is that Cardinal Kasper's approach is founded on a lie: the lie that one can validly contract a second marriage whilst one is already validly married. Finally, there can be no conflict between Caritas and Veritas. Therefore, any such accommodation would be vastly damaging to the Church and the Faithful - and indeed many outside the Church who still recognise her steadfastness as a sign of true witness.
But what of those who sincerely believe that their previous marriage was, in fact, null?
They are required to submit themselves to the judgement of the Church (and not to rely on the so-called 'internal forum.')
There are (at least) two good reasons for this. One is that the Church has the duty of safeguarding marriage and souls. The second is that we are rarely the best judges in our own case.
One of the many things I lament in the change from the Traditional to the New Rite of Mass is the loss of the wonderful prayer from Psalm 140 (said at the incensing of the altar): Pone, Dómine, custódiam ori meo, et óstium circumstántiæ lábiis meis: ut non declínet cor meum in verba malítiæ, ad excusándas excusatiónes in peccátis. (Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round about my lips. Incline not my heart to evil words; to make excuses in sins.)
Every time that I pray it, I am brought up short: how easily we make excuses for our sins...
So of course we should be compassionate and merciful to those who are in irregular relationships. But compassion and mercy do not demand that we lie to them, or collude with their ignorance and self-deception.
Rather we should seek to build a relationship of true charity with them, whereby they may eventually find the strength to re-engage with the Sacraments on Christ's terms, not theirs; and that means starting with the Sacrament of Confession, where they will find Christ's love, peace and strength available to them.
In the meantime, whilst they remain in an irregular situation, we should extend the hand of friendship; it is the Church's job (and possibly their close friends' job, too) to say to them 'Sin no more;' but we must always be mindful that we do not have the qualification to cast the first stone...
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