The Catholic Church is poised for an all-out battle over the question of whether remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive communion. That issue was one of the more divisive questions at the time of 2014’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on marriage and the family, a gathering that received a large degree of media attention. That Synod ended without any formal statement advocating that the Church change its position on communion for the remarried. Indeed, the backlash against a leaked summary of the discussion, which included more “liberal” language, seemed to ensure that no such statement would be made.But the 2014 was just a prelude to a second, larger Synod on the same questions in October 2015, and in advance of that gathering Bishops and Cardinals appear to be choosing sides. The issue of communion for remarried Catholics is quickly becoming “the question” to ask new leaders in the Catholic scene, intensifying the Bishops’ focus on it in advance of the second Synod.Take, for example, these two stories on Crux, the Boston Globe‘s Catholic site headed by John L. Allen, Jr., one of the most experienced Vatican reporters in America and also a man typically placed on the “liberal” side of the Catholic divide. First, the site published an interview with Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra in Ghana. In January, Pope Francis confirmed Palmer-Buckle as a participant in the 2015 Synod, and the Crux story reports that he is “inclined to vote yes” on the proposal to allow pastors to decide on a case-by-case basis if a remarried Catholic can receive communion. The interview presents him as particularly keen to contradict the idea that African bishops are “rigid” as a group:
“When a person comes to me, I think I should be able to sit with him or her, or with the family, to find out what the situation is and to give solutions to individual cases without making a sweeping statement,” Palmer-Buckle said. […]Palmer-Buckle dismissed impressions that there will be a uniform African line at the synod hostile to any departures from tradition on the family or sexual morality.“This is the world’s mentality, everything has to be black and white,” he said. “I don’t think we [Africans] are so dogmatic and rigid.”
Crux followed this up a day later with a story on Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi, who this Saturday will become the first ever Cardinal from Tonga. Here’s Mafi’s answer in the Crux story on the communion question:
Mafi said he doesn’t come into the debate with a fixed position.“As pastors, we meet people who ask, ‘When will the Church relax this? We need to receive Communion.’ We see that often,” he said.“I believe in the need for discerning, for the Church to listen and to be open,” he said. “It’s not for one person to decide. It’s not an individual opinion. I believe in that, [and] I remain open.”
Of course, it’s not just those open to or in favor of the change that are speaking up. Bishops opposed to it have been vocal as well. In an interview with Polonia Christiana, a Polish bimonthly Catholic paper (h/t One Peter Five), Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan had this to say about the 2014 Synod and the proposal to allow the remarried to receive communion:
In fact a Divine commandment, in our case the sixth commandment, the absolute indissolubility of the sacramental marriage, a Divinely established rule, means those in a state of grave sin cannot be admitted to Holy Communion. This is taught by Saint Paul in his letter inspired by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 11, 27-30, this cannot be put to the vote, just as the Divinity of Christ would never be put to a vote. A person who still has the indissoluble sacramental marriage bond and who in spite of this lives in a stable marital cohabitation with another person, by Divine law cannot be admitted to Holy Communion. To do so would be a public statement by the Church nefariously legitimizing a denial of the indissolubility of the Christian marriage and at the same time repealing the sixth commandment of God: “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. No human institution not even the Pope or an Ecumenical Council has the authority and the competency to invalidate even in the slightest or indirect manner one of the ten Divine commandments or the Divine words of Christ: “What therefore God has joined together, let man not separate (Math 19:6)”.
Behind the scenes, Pope Francis is still working on other reforms, but this is quickly shaping up to be the defining question of the moment. If these early interviews and statements are any indication, October 2015 is likely to be a month of loud controversy and tension beyond what we saw even in 2014.