Aiming For Discipline, Not Doctrine

John Allen at Crux continues his pre-synod features on the family and related issues. I see the stories and mostly opinion pieces on that new site, including today’s projected compromise.

Tackling the unforgiveable sin, remarriage after a divorce, this will be difficult. Crux is not alone in media outlets confusing the boundary between what constitutes doctrine and what is an expression of discipline. Many places, in an attempt to maintain the battle lines to protect marriage, have dug their trenches solidly in pelagian territory.

It’s a difficult conundrum, to be sure.

Permitting remarried people to receive the sacraments (not just the Eucharist, it should be pointed out) is not just about those who abandoned one spouse for another and still want to be noticed in church.

It involves people who were in this non-Catholic’s situation: married for a few months long before her children became Catholic. The children, at the time, were in a family with a 25-year-long marriage just at its midpoint. Who is the best arbiter of that? A Tridentine-era canon lawyer, or the local pastor? When weighing a very brief marriage without children or a subsequent relationship with clearly discernible fruits, how many pastors need to refer to a tribunal? Would it help you to know the person in question never became Catholic?

One thing I don’t see in the headlines on Roman marriage practice is how many people are barred entry to the Church for a second marriage that isn’t even their own. A non-Catholic in a first marriage to a person in a second cannot be confirmed and receive Communion unless their spouse seeks an annulment.

The current Roman practice flirts dangerously with the heresy of pelagianism: the smug knowledge that by good sexual behavior (or its appearance) one can avoid the worst penalties of church membership. And we have the tendency of antigospel: that people are barred from even church membership based on youthful errors. Or even mistakes not of their own doing. On top of that, there is a perception of unfairness. “Scandal” is often cited as a good reason not to return remarried Catholics to Communion. But no such incident has ever had the negative impact that the Church’s administrative scandals (not the actual sex abuse, to be sure) have had on membership, participation, and public witness.

And all of this totally evades the possibility that the Eucharist is a means for God to heal and bring people to the fullness of faith. And perhaps even sinners need that.

Chapter 27 in the Rule of St Benedict strikes me as a properly balanced approach for the law-n-order side. Yet how many of these precepts are ignored, especially by the elder siblings, and by the leader of the community?

Let the Abbot be most solicitous in his concern for delinquent brethren, for “it is not the healthy but the sick who need a physician” (Matt 9:12) And therefore he ought to use every means that a wise physician would use. Let him send senpectae,
that is, brethren of mature years and wisdom, who may as it were secretly console the wavering brother and induce him to make humble satisfaction; comforting him that he may not “be overwhelmed by excessive grief” (2 Cor. 2:7), but that, as the Apostle says, charity may be strengthened in him (2 Cor. 2:8).  And let everyone pray for him.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Aiming For Discipline, Not Doctrine

  1. Jenny2 says:

    And all of this totally evades the possibility that the Eucharist is a means for God to heal and bring people to the fullness of faith. And perhaps even sinners need that.

    Umm… wouldn’t that be: “especially sinners need that”?

    As for Pelagianism – didn’t the current Bishop of Rome make a few pertinent remarks on that very subject, not so long ago?

    • Jenny2 says:

      Since I can’t edit my own comments, let me add that everyone is, in at least some measure, a sinner and in need of healing. At least that’s how Pope Francis (that man, again!) recently defined himself in an interview.

  2. Karl says:

    Good Catholics like Francis helped me to see the is no welcome for me in the Church. Enjoy him.

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