mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
The Francis Era
Pope's Good Friday Approaches

This coming October the Vatican will run a global summit of bishops themed around “marriage and the family.” In preparation for that summit,  Pope Francis has asked bishops to survey attitudes in their dioceses about the Church’s sexual teachings. Some of those results have come back, and predictably expressed popular discontent with some of the teachings. This week Francis met with most of the world’s Cardinals to discuss the summit in light of these results. Over at the Boston Globe, John L. Allen Jr. situates this meeting in its larger context:

The session with cardinals will set the table for [the summit]… Among the hard questions is whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment, a church declaration voiding the first marriage, should be allowed to receive communion and the other sacraments of the church.

It’s hard to overstate how important the issue is at the retail level. A 2007 study found that in the United States, nearly 10 percent of Catholics are divorced and remarried 10 years after their first marriage, a figure that rises to 18 percent after 20 years.

The October summit, and the meetings running up to it, could very well be a defining moment of Francis’ papacy. By surveying Catholics, the Vatican, intentionally or not, has given the impression that the Church is opening to input on its teachings. The survey wasn’t only about communion for the remarried, although Allen focuses in on that as the area in which movement is most likely. Rather it asked about the whole gamut of issues from contraception to gay marriage. With (reasonably or not) an expectation that the associated teachings could be changed or softened raised, the summit is likely to alienate at least one bloc within the Church.

If no changes (to priestly celibacy, for example, or communion for the remarried) are made to the teachings after the summit, the Catholics (and non-Catholics) invested in those changes will be bitterly disappointed. These have so far given Pope Francis high praise in outlets like The New Yorker and Time Magazine, but that could quickly stop if the summit doesn’t deliver. If changes are made, however, the Catholics who expect the Church keep to its positions on hot-button issues will be disillusioned. Either way, as time goes on, Francis is going to be forced to address these issues in some decisive way. The more time passes, the more the circumstances pushing him to that will grow. This summit will be a key focal point of that energy. It looks like Pope Francis’ Palm Sunday might be ending, and his Good Friday approaching.

Features Icon
show comments
  • PKCasimir

    Since when are matters of faith and theology “hot-button issues.” That is insulting to Catholics of faith. This article reads as if it could have appeared in the NY Times, hastened for publication by one of its secular editors. The future of the Catholic Church, as much as the author believes and wishes, will not be decided in the pages of the Times or the Boston Globe.
    If the author had been in a Catholic Church in the last thirty years, he would know that divorced, re-married Catholics whose first marriage was not annulled by the Church routinely receive communion with the full knowledge of the pastor and the congregation.
    Currently the left in America, dominated by secularists, sees Francis ( who initially wanted to take the name of John in tribute to John XXIII), as some kind of liberal hope for the Church. Time will tell but the concrete actions taken by this Pope have only strengthened the control of the Curia by the Italian Cardinals, hardly champions of “reform.”

  • Brian Stahl

    With all due respect, I don’t agree with this at all. The fact of the matter is, liberal Catholics don’t really care about dogma in any meaningful way, and most people who dissent from the Church’s teaching on contraception, divorce, and other contentious issues aren’t bothered by the fact that they’re spurning the Church’s advice.

    Liberal Catholics care about appearances and posturing, which is why so many of them are eager to praise Pope Francis, even though he has dutifully upheld the Church’s teachings. The only people who would really rejoice if there was some change in dogma are the secularist sexual-revolutionaries who despise the Church simply because it is the most visible beacon of resistance to their vision

  • BobSykes

    Judging from my own family, most Catholics today are “cafeteria Catholics” who pick and chose which teachings they will follow. Many attend Mass and take communion regularly regardless of their moral state (as defined by dogma) or marital status or whatever.

    • free_agent

      But in regard to the remarried, it seems that they’re actively excluded from Mass, and that’s causing a marketing problem, at the very least.

      • BobSykes

        How could they enforce this? All the remarried person has to do is go up to the altar rail and take communion. The priest isn’t going to deny them communion in public or shame them.

        • free_agent

          Certainly priests *could* deny them communion, publicly if necessary. Historically, excluding known sinners from communion was policy, and I gather from the overall discussion that excluding the remarried is still official policy.

  • brad lena

    Americans will soon have much bigger issues confronting them from the emergence of the state personifying heaven on earth.

  • free_agent

    My suspicion is that the interesting part is not that the Pope has taken a survey, but that much effort has gone into publicizing the results of the survey. That would be unusual in any large organization.

    My belief is that Pope Francis is also the heir of the political acumen of St. Francis Xavier, and that the survey and its publicity are part of a deliberate plan to move the hierarchy to the position that Francis wants (not that I know what that is).

  • Jim__L

    If the Catholic Church decides that the teachings of Scripture are irrelevant, the Church ceases to be relevant.

    Without the Word of God, the Church has nothing to offer.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service