One thing all Catholics agree on is that Jesus sets a pretty high standard. Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Cordoba, Spain says the pope cannot change the Church’s “teaching” because Jesus established it. But what did Jesus actually establish, and did he mention Communion?
As for the matter of divorce, I think there are three key passages in the Gospels:
But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32)
Looks like the instigator of divorce is on the spot, and the one who marries a divorced woman. Going by the literal text here, women don’t get called out. Hmm.
Luke zeroes in on men with the same text:
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (19:32)
So, is it just the men getting condemned here? The oldest gospel, includes women who divorce in the condemnation:
He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12)
Mark’s account is not just a saying, like we read in Matthew 5:32 or Luke 19:32, but a longer narrative with a bit more exposition. It may be illustrative that the Pharisees use the topic of someone else’s misery and failure to trap Jesus. The religious establishment, according to the evangelist, is less concerned about actual divorce, but more interested in using God’s teaching and the Mosaic practice as a tool against the Lord.
In Matthew 19, the account of Jesus and the Pharisees gives some additional insight. Jesus provides an out for those in an “unlawful marriage,” however that may be interpreted. And none of these passages mention a culpability for people who are abandoned by their spouses. A secular law might be “no-fault.” But the Bible doesn’t seem to care, at least all the time.
The real key to Church practice with regard to sacraments for the remarried is Saint Paul’s admonition about receiving the Eucharist unworthily.
From Bishop Fernandez:
The Pope said that “this was established by Jesus Christ and the Pope cannot change it.”
The pope cannot change it. But God can. The synod might discern God’s will to be different from how it was judged earlier. The highest loyalty is to the Gospel and to the mission of Christ. Not the particulars that might have been thought once to be the means to do this.
And Pope Francis might well be saying that he, personally, as the Bishop of Rome, does not possess the power to make changes here. That was the first thing that came to mind when I read the news piece.