The scandal of the Family on the Synod doesn’t seem to end: is it money that is unifying the German bishops in their new “pastoral approach”?
From the just-published DICI issue #309, we offer the editorial of Fr. Lorans followed by an insightful piece on the next Synod on the Family that is currently being prepared discreetly and what is a possible motive behind the unified German episcopacy.
This disturbing news comes on the heels of the report that Pope Francis approved the Synod’s scandalous Relatio prior to its publication.
Why is Cardinal Walter Kasper, who wants to change Church doctrine about the indissolubility of marriage by giving Communion to the divorced-and-remarried, supported by the German episcopate in its entirety? Whence this rock-solid Germanic unanimity? George Weigel reports in the current issue of the American monthly magazine First Things the answer given to him by someone who knows the Church in Germany very well, and the answer can be summed up in one word: money.
Indeed, the German dioceses are very rich thanks to the church tax paid by the Catholic faithful; but they are leaving the Church in droves and no longer provide that manna. Hence the very simple calculation by the bishops: let us avoid the flight of the faithful (and of the funding), let us make doctrine more flexible and broaden our pastoral outreach.
Could it be, then, that these arguments in favor of mercy, as opposed to doctrinal rigidity, are in reality nice-sounding arrangements aimed at the bottom line? If so, the bishops would be abandoning a not very interesting doctrine for the sake of a not at all disinterested pastoral approach! In order to dispel the suspicion that weighs heavily on them, it would be enough for the German bishops to declare unanimously: “We prefer the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage to church tax revenues. We serve Jesus Christ, not Mammon.” It would suffice… but would it be sufficient for them? For the answer, stay tuned for the next Synod in October.
Fr. Alain Loran | DICI 1-30-2015
The next Synod on the Family is being prepared discreetly…
After the very lively reactions provoked by the first meeting of the Synod on the Family (October 5-19, 2014) (see DICI no. 303 dated October 24, 2014), preparations for the next assembly of the bishops (October 4-25, 2015) are being made discreetly, as though calm had returned after the storm and everything was normal again. Should we rejoice blissfully or worry seriously about it? In an interview granted to Le Figaro Magazine (December 18, 2014), Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, one of the chief opponents of the scandalous proposals of Cardinal Walter Kasper concerning communion for the divorced-and-remarried (see DICI no. 301 dated September 26, 2014), admitted:
I am very concerned, and I call on Catholics—laymen, priests and bishops—to get involved between now and the next Synod assembly, in order to bring to light the truth about marriage.”
A very slanted working document
On December 9 the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops published the lineamenta (the working document) for the Synod assembly in October 2015. Besides the final report from the October 2014 Synod, the secretariat proposes 46 questions addressing the challenges of pastoral ministry to families, so as to “draw near to families in extreme situations”.
The bishops’ conferences are supposed to fill out the questionnaire “while avoiding, in their responses, a formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine” (sic). Taking up again the topics that shook the assembly of bishops, the Roman document asks, as though about a trivial matter, how the Christian community “can assist in discerning the positive and negative elements in the life of persons united in a civil marriage”; it even asks, with regard to divorced Catholics, “How can the procedure to determine cases of nullity be made more accessible, streamlined and possibly without expense?”
The Roman questionnaire even assures the reader that “with regard to the divorced-and-remarried, pastoral practice concerning the sacraments needs to be further studied,” and it asks what advances are possible in light of the “second chance” (sic) proposed in certain cases in the Orthodox Church. This document likewise poses the question of pastoral care to homosexuals: “While avoiding any unjust discrimination, how can such persons receive pastoral care in these situations in light of the Gospel?” The answers to this questionnaire are supposed to arrive in Rome by April 15, 2015.
The uneasiness expressed by Cardinal Burke during the above-cited interview is understandable, therefore:
In an age filled with confusion, as we see with Gender Theory, we need the teaching of the Church on marriage. Yet, we are being pushed on the contrary towards admitting divorced-and-remarried persons to communion. Not to mention this obsession with streamlining the procedures of annulment of the marital bond. All this will lead de facto to a kind of ‘Catholic divorce’, and to the weakening of the indissolubility of marriage, even though the principle thereof is reaffirmed. However, the Church must defend marriage, and not weaken it. The indissolubility of marriage is not a penance, nor a suffering. It is something very beautiful for those who live it; it is a source of joy.”
Pope Francis intervened twice, along the lines of the lineamenta and of the accompanying questionnaire, on January 23 while addressing the members of the Apostolic Tribunal, and on January 24 during the conference organized by Gregorian University on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the instruction Dignitas Connubii (The Dignity of Marriage). To the first group he declared that the Church cannot ignore the suffering of many households that are disintegrating, leaving behind the debris of their emotional relationships, plans and shared expectations. The judge is called to determine whether there was a defect of form in the matrimonial consent, and so he must take into account the context in which that consent was formed. Thus the pope is saying that he wishes to see a pastoral conversion of ecclesiastical structures so as to come to the aid of those who turn to the Church to shed light on their marital situation.
During the conference at the Gregorian, Francis called for a streamlining of procedures, insisting that the appeals process should be simplified so as not to subject couples to painful, exhausting delays. And in order to avoid complicated, useless formalities, he does not rule out the possibility that new norms may be issued in the future. In his two recent interventions everything suggests that the experts are gradually moving toward an alignment (modestly presented as a “harmonization”) of the prescription of canon law with the concrete situations of contemporary society.
The forceful critique by Cardinal Velasio de Paolis
The reason for this alignment, theoretically, would be “pastoral mercy” as opposed to doctrinal intransigence and legal rigidity. But that is an artificial contrast, as Cardinal Valsio de Paolis, President Emeritus of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, explained during a conference given at the Canon Law Faculty of the University of San Damaso in Madrid (Spain) on November 26, 2014, during which he magisterially critiqued Proposition 52 of the final report of the October 2014 Synod.
Here is an important excerpt from it:
The issue of access to the sacraments, especially to the Eucharist, on the part of the divorced-and-remarried was the object of reflection at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops last October. This is referred to in proposition no. 52 of the final Relatio, which says: ‘The Synod Fathers also considered the possibility of giving the divorced-and-remarried access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Various Synod Fathers insisted on maintaining the present discipline, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as her teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage. Others proposed a more individualized approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering. Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop. The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that ‘imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).’”
And the high-ranking prelate asks: Is the question about communion for the divorced-and-remarriage a question of discipline, of doctrine or of Magisterial teaching?
We observe that the wording of the text of the proposition generates ambiguities. It speaks of the ‘current discipline’ and a possible modification of this, but this prompts a few doubts that require examination. In reality, the regulation in effect is not only a ‘current discipline’, as if this were a matter of a merely ecclesiastical norm and not of divine norms ratified by the Magisterium, with doctrinal and magisterial motivations that concern the very foundations of Christian life, of conjugal morality, of the meaning of and respect for the Eucharist, and of the validity of the Sacrament of Penance. We are looking at a discipline founded on divine law. It is not emphasized enough that the documents of the Church in this matter do not impose obligations originating from its authority, but rather affirm that the ecclesiastical authority cannot act otherwise, because this ‘discipline’ cannot be modified in its essential elements. The Church cannot act otherwise. It cannot modify the natural law or respect for the nature of the Eucharist, because this is a question of the divine will.
To the extent to which it provides for the possibility of admitting the divorced-and-remarried to Eucharistic communion, the proposal actually constitutes a change of doctrine. Notwithstanding the fact that its proponents say that they do not want to modify doctrine. Moreover, doctrine by its very nature is not changeable if it is the object of the authentic Magisterium of the Church. Before talking about and discussing any change in the discipline currently in force, it is necessary to reflect on the nature of this discipline. In studying this question one must, in the first place, reflect on this doctrine and on its level of certainty; there must be careful study of what can be modified and what cannot be. The doubt has been insinuated in the proposal itself when it calls for more in-depth study, which must be doctrinal and prior to any decision.
We can also ask ourselves whether it is the competency of a Synod of Bishops to deal with a question like this: the value of the doctrine and of the discipline currently in force in the Church, which have developed over the course of centuries and have been ratified by statements of the supreme Magisterium of the Church. Moreover, who is competent to modify the Magisterium of other popes? That would constitute a dangerous precedent. Furthermore, the innovations that would be introduced if the text of the proposal were approved would be of unprecedented gravity:
a) the possibility of admitting to Eucharistic communion, with the explicit approval of the Church, a person who is in a state of mortal sin, with the danger of sacrilege and profanation of the Eucharist;
b) in doing so the Church would call into question the general principle of the need to be in the state of sanctifying grace in order to be able to receive Eucharistic communion, especially now that a generalized practice has been introduced or is being introduced in the Church of receiving the Eucharist without previous sacramental confession, even if one is aware of being in a state of serious sin, with all of the harmful consequences that this practice involves;
c) the admission to Eucharistic communion of a Catholic who cohabits more uxorio (as though married) would also mean calling into question sexual morality, which is founded in particular on the sixth commandment;
d) moreover, in acting this way, the Church would also lend support to cohabitation or to other arrangements, which in fact would weaken the principle of the indissolubility of marriage.”
Another enlightening commentary, less doctrinal and much more concrete, is provided by the American scholar George Weigel in an article that appeared in the January issue of First Things magazine. If you know that Cardinal Walter Kasper is supported by the German bishops as a whole, by the very admission of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of their Bishops’ Conference, you may wonder what drives those bishops—and them especially—to their militant advocacy of communion for the divorced-and-remarried. Here is the answer that Weigel got:
Ten months before the Synod met, I asked a knowledgeable observer of German Catholic affairs why the German Catholic leadership insisted on revisiting the issue of Holy Communion for those in civil second marriages, which most of the rest of the world Church thought had been sufficiently aired in the 1980 Synod on the Family, and which seemed to have been settled by the reaffirmation of the Church’s traditional teaching and practice in St. John Paul II’s 1981 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Community of the Family) and in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. I got a one-word answer: ‘Money.’
The German Church is funded by the Kirchensteuer, the ‘church tax’ collected by the Federal Republic from every citizen who has not taken action to opt out of it. The funds involved are considerable; in 2011, the Kirchensteuer provided the Catholic Church in Germany with $6.3 billion. Recently, however, more and more German Catholics have been choosing to opt out. In a clumsy attempt to stanch the bleeding, the German bishops issued a decree in 2012, stating that anyone who opts out of the tax has ‘left the Church’ and that such de facto apostates are cut off from the Church’s sacramental life, except in danger of death. The decree was widely mocked and German canonists declared it a nonstarter, for it takes more to ‘leave the Church’ than signing a civil affidavit. In any event, payment of the Kirchensteuer has continued to drop.
Many German bishops seem to have concluded that this pattern of defection from payment of the Church tax can best be explained by the perception of the Catholic Church as a mean, narrow, and cruel exponent of propositions—such as the indissolubility of marriage—that no self-respecting 21st-century European can accept. That people have stopped paying the Kirchensteuer because they have stopped believing that Jesus is Lord and that the Catholic Church is his Body might seem the more straightforward explanation. But adopting that interpretation would require acknowledging that the meltdown of Catholic faith and practice in Germany has had something to do with the colossal failures of German theology and catechetics to transmit the Gospel effectively under the challenging conditions of late modernity and postmodernity. And that, to borrow an image from another battle, seems a bridge too far.”
[Editor’s note: The author alludes to the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far which tells the story of Operation Market Garden in September 1944, in which, after a crushing defeat, English General Browning admits: “We tried to go a bridge too far.”]
(Sources: Apic/Imedia/Figaro Magazine/Chiesa.espressonline.it/First Things—DICI #309, January 30, 2015)