Scott Eric Alt is a freelance writer and blogger, and managing editor at Catholic Stand, living in Cincinnati. He has an M.A. in English literature (1998) from Southern Illinois University, and in a past life taught introductory college composition and literature. Scott converted to the Catholic Church in 2011, after many years of Protestant church-hopping. He is a Third Degree Knight of Columbus and Benedictine Oblate of St. Meinrad Archabbey. You can find his blog at http://www.scottericalt.org.
This past weekend I was speaking to a gentleman who expressed concern over Pope Francis’s upcoming post-synodal document. He wondered whether it was a good idea for the pope to have given such free range to Cardinal Kasper, and others of his way of thinking, in shaping the synod debate.
I asked whether a similar environment had prevailed in the months leading up to Humanae Vitae.
“Well,” he said, “Pope Paul VI had brought in advisers from a variety of different faiths.”
“Is it possible,” I speculated, “that the reason for doing that kind of thing is precisely in order that the best current arguments against Church teaching will be articulated, so that at the end the pope knows what he needs to knock down?”
“I suppose that’s possible,” he said. “I hope so.”
All, or nearly all, his advisers had told Paul VI that he needed to do what, of course, the Holy Spirit protects the Church from doing, which is to “change” its teaching—in his case, regarding contraception. If Humanae Vitae upheld Church teaching even though everything seemed to be going against it, that—and our own faith in the Holy Spirit—should prevent us from trembling hands over what we will read before the end of the month.
Because all the media coverage, after his flight from Mexico to Rome, was obsessed with what Pope Francis said about Donald Trump and about contraception, it was easy to miss—and I have not seen a single story on this—what the pope said about Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Did you know that he was asked about that? I hadn’t; I only saw it by chance, as I was scanning the transcript for something else.
The pope had been asked how it was possible that the Church could be more forgiving to a murderer than someone who had divorced and married.
Now, of course, by “forgiving” the reporter means “receive Communion.” And the answer to the question is that the Church isn’t “more forgiving” of a murderer: It is just that the murderer, presumably, stops murdering, while the divorced and remarried couple (barring an annulment and regularizing of the marriage) continue to live in adultery.
Pope Francis, whatever the reason, speaks around all this, in generalities, focusing on how unwise marriages end up doing harm to children. But at the end of his answer he talks about the need to “integrate” wounded families into the life of the Church.
“Does that mean they can receive Communion?” the reporter presses.
The pope responds:
Integrating in the Church doesn’t mean receiving Communion. I know married Catholics in a second union who go to church, who go to church once or twice a year and say I want Communion, as if joining in Communion were an award. It’s a work towards integration, all doors are open, but we cannot say, “from here on they can have Communion.” This would be an injury also to marriage, to the couple, because it wouldn’t allow them to proceed on this path of integration.
When I was learning to be a teacher, I was always told, “If you really want to emphasize a point, repeat it three times.” So the pope says here three times that integrating the divorced and remarried into the Church does not mean they may receive the Eucharist. It is not an “award,” the pope says. The goal is the healing of the couple, not the giving of the body and blood of Christ as though it were a prize: receive this and the Church has forgiven you, like magic. To take that attitude, the pope says, would do further injury to the marriage; it would be a hindrance to their healing.
I have not seen this talked about or written about in the general media or in the Catholic press. But the pope said it, and so I bring it up. It is why I keep telling people, Have no fear. The Holy Spirit protects the Church from error. If it has done so for 2000 years, do you really think some machinations by a cardinal in Germany are going to be the undoing of the Holy Spirit? Oh ye of little faith.
I have not seen this part of the interview written about anywhere else, but I am going to make a prediction here and say that the pope has just told us what the post-synod document is going to say on the question that everyone is asking the most.