Did the Pope Recently Drop a Hint About His Upcoming Document?

Pope Francis aboard the papal flight from Mexico to Rome, Italy on February 17, 2016.
Pope Francis aboard the papal flight from Mexico to Rome, Italy on February 17, 2016. (photo: Alan Holdren/CNA)

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.