Crickets in the Communion Line

cricketsThe issue of the sacraments for the divorced and remarried has certainly caught on like fire. Mostly among people who are not affected by the doctrine and discipline it represents. It may be illustrative that remarried Catholics are not picketing, marching in holiday parades, or otherwise pursuing their “aggressivist” agenda in the public square. It seems to me all the heavy lifting is being done by clerics and non-divorced people.

It makes me wonder just for whom we think all the foment is. It might be that too many Catholics have already been chased out of the smaller, purer church. In the end, perhaps nobody will return to the sacraments. Cardinals Kasper and Burke will have nudged their publishing engines to the sound of crickets in the Communion line.

My friend Scott Smith has been dogging me persistently at PrayTell–you caught one of his comments here yesterday, perhaps. I asked for Patristic sources. He gave me Cardinal Burke and one Professor Adam Cooper. He insists he’s not trying to convert me, but I’ve talked to a lot of JW’s and Saints on my front doorstep in my day. I know when “those” expectations float like little balloons in a one-way conversation.

Gathering ancient sources for a survey and discernment is not quite the same as finding the most convincing support for one’s position. When church figures give us their 100% case for no-Communion with a smile, I grow suspicious. Especially when they fail to apply the same rigor to other teachings of the Lord, like waging war.

I don’t recall any such rigorist approach when it comes to organized human violence. Sure, pacifism has its advocates. And perhaps we root for pacifism in select cases … when we don’t want Ferguson to erupt next door or lunch counters to get torn out from in front of the coffeemakers. Or when we can watch Ben Kingsley on the big screen from a safe distance of a chunk of a century.

But there never has been a cited passage of Jesus where he caved in on the issue. And please don’t embarrass yourself by citing his parable about going to war or suing for peace in advance.

I am fully aware that 1 Cor 11:27ff is cited in connection with divorce and remarriage. But the truth is that this instance is not given as a reason for receiving the sacrament unworthily. Rigorists today make the connection. They don’t adopt the patristic/medieval view of how to treat soldiers returning from battle. Imagine the howlers if Catholic military chaplains began to cite the Gospel and the practice of the early Church and suggest a soldier needed some time before returning to the Eucharist.

I think it was John Thavis who reported from an Italian agency that Cardinal Burke’s no-no-no talk yesterday was received with “icy silence.” Do we see where this is going?

For the record, I’m not at all scandalized that people other than myself, people with the reality of broken first marriages, might need the sacraments as much or more than I do. I’m satisfied that the Church seems to be taking an open discernment seriously. I feel fairly sure I can accept what comes from the synod. I don’t anticipate any personal problems, of course, so it’s easy for me to say that.

But however much I think pacifism (to cite one example) is the way to go, and the way we could be considering more strongly, I’m not, unlike my friend Mr Smith, going to suggest that the Just War faction isn’t standing with Jesus because they have set aside his discomfiting statements about hate in the heart. Unlike Cardinal Burke, I believe I can distinguish between accepting life’s paradoxes and difficulties. I’m not scandalized by human failure. And I don’t mind standing up and speaking out in favor of mercy–whatever that might entail within the good bounds of Christianity.

I suggested Scott bring the discussion here from PrayTell. You other readers are certainly welcome to join.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Church News and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Crickets in the Communion Line

  1. I wonder how many divorced & remarried couples have quietly not received this teaching, and/or discerned the annulment of their first marriage in the internal forum, and quietly receive communion anyway.

    Certainly a number of conversations I’ve heard or read on the topic have been primarily concerned with the issue of causing scandal by allowing divorced&remarried couples to receive communion in church communities where their history is known.

    • Jenny2 says:

      the issue of causing scandal by allowing divorced & remarried couples to receive communion in church communities where their history is known

      Perhaps all such tattlers and scandalmongers should be referred to Pope Francis on gossip? From the Catholic News Agency site:

      Vatican City, Feb 16, 2014 / 06:21 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus message emphasized the importance of avoiding all forms of slander in living a Christian life.
      “It’s so rotten, gossip. At the beginning, it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy. But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us,” Pope Francis said Feb. 16.

      Or possibly to that Middle Eastern troublemaker who said something about removing the log of wood in your own eye before worrying about the speck in your brother’s.

  2. Jen says:

    In these sorts of situations, I do like the Orthodox (as in Eastern/Russian/Greek) notion of the Eucharist being medicine for sinners, rather than a reward. In that case, I’d argue that the divorced/remarried need it *more* than those who aren’t.

  3. FrMichael says:

    “Mostly among people who are not affected by the doctrine and discipline it represents.” And you don’t include clergy among the “affected.” Who is it making the difficult pastoral calls here (often enough “the bearer of bad news” as it were)? Usually parish priests. We definitely have a stake in the discussions of the Synod.

  4. Jenny2 says:

    Who is it making the difficult pastoral calls here (often enough “the bearer of bad news” as it were)? Usually parish priests.

    If you’re talking about the men who have to inform an unassuming, loving couple that they’re “living in sin”, that their children are illegitimate in the eyes of the Church, and that they must either separate or be publicly excluded from one of the major Sacraments – and then, usually, have to watch said couple walk not only out of the door of the physical church, but often out of the Church itself – well, they do (to a limited degree) have my sympathy.

  5. Scott Smith says:

    Thank you for bringing the discussion over here. Hopefully we can manage without the rancour we both managed to fall into at Praytell – We are not playing for sheep stations (as we would say in Australia) in our discussions.

    In that spirit, let me make the following contributions:

    1. I would not assume those participating in this discussion are not personally impacted. My own situation will likely be impacted by the outcome of the synod regarding marriage, though not due to a divorce.

    2. I agree Cardinal Burke’s talk of “aggressivist” agendas is silly, particularly as regards the remarried. Cardinal Danneels’ recently published synod intervention makes this point well (

    3. I apologize if I have been “dogging” you. It was not my intention.

    4. The links were not supposed to be for the modern authors, but the Patristic sources they mentioned, such as from Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Augustine etc.

    5. I really don’t expect to convince you of anything. I suspect our disagreements are prior to our views of the nature of marriage, and thus we will be prone to talking past each other on specific questions such as this (i.e. because of different underlying assumptions).

    6. If you want to talk about Jesus’s teaching on violence, please do. I would likely agree with much of that you might say. But it is a red herring in relation to remarriage. If people fail to apply Jesus teaching on violence, it does not make them wrong on remarriage. It makes them wrong on violence.

    7. A soldier may well need some time before returning to the Eucharist.

    8. I am not supporting a “no-no-no” position. A no-no-no position is certainly not a doctrinal requirement.

    9. The question is not need for the sacrament, but if it is the right medicine. Chemotherapy is a powerful treatment, but it would be a horrible idea to provide it to an ebola patient.

    10. If you set aside Jesus’s statement on violence, you are not standing with Jesus. Cafeteria Catholicism is a bad thing, regardless of if you are on the political right or left.

  6. crystal says:

    When I was taking the RCIA courses, the facilitators bugged me about getting an annulment almost every week (I’m divorced). I did look into it and was appalled by the cost and the roccocco-ness of the rules – I didn’t pursue it.

    I think one reason this issue has become such a big deal at the synod is that it is an easy and fairly painless way to give the impression that the church is actually making some progress in addressing the issues that cause people to leave the church. Painless and easy because very few don’t have compassion for the divorced, and because the church will actually not change a thing …. the divorced, those sad, weak people (sigh), will be allowed to go to communion as a pastoral “mercy” and the doctrine will remain unquestioned.

    • Todd says:

      I’ve known one or two spouses who would be candidates for abandonment. It might be that one partner is more “to blame” quite often. But even the one left behind may have some culpability for a broken marriage.

      I think that the local church is the best, and probably only way to deal with people who leave the Church. If I thought about that some more, I’d come up with something better and more cogent. But …

  7. crystal says:

    I agree about the blame in divorce. I didn’t want to get divorced myself but the ex fell in love with someone else. Looking back, I can see so much that I contributed to the train wreck that was our marriage and I think we were both to blame. When I wrote “the divorced, those sad, weak people (sigh)” I was being sarcastic … we need an emoticon for that ;)

  8. Todd says:

    I don’t think #6 is quite a red herring. It points out that Tradition is willing to compromise on some words, but not on others. It somewhat lowers the credibility on those who are attached to the rigorist position on divorce and remarriage. As a pacifist and an advocate of sacramental marriage, I do want to be sure my experience, beliefs, or even ideology aren’t clouding my hopes or wishes for others and for the synod.

    I suspect we are akin on the nature of marriage as a sacrament and a God-given reality of how we human beings are made. I’m not sure that every person who is married has total buy-in, whether because of their own misgivings or ignorance.

    The permanence of a marriage somewhat depends on the cooperation of the couple with God’s grace. A person can be baptized as an infant and then be totally removed from the Christian community. Or make a choice in favor of apostasy. Certainly the baptism still exists. But a whole sacrament was developed in response to those who denied their baptism and wanted to return.

    It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that a culture that buys into the principle of One True Love would indulge remarriage so.

  9. Scott Smith says:

    If you are of the view the Church has compromised on the words of Jesus regarding non-violence, the proper response would be to seek to call the Church back to the words of its Lord. Because a Church not guided by Christ is a Church lost.

    Personally, I am not sure the Church has compromised. I mean, I seem to remember Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI both indicated that the standard for a just war could not be met in the modern world. There are of course self-styled orthodox Catholics who do seem to talk about every western war as just, but then again there are no shortage of cafeteria Catholics on the right.

    As to the cooperation of a couple and the permanence of marriage, I think is where annulments come in. Indeed, it is why I am of the view it might be proper to presume (at least on a rebuttable basis) that marriages outside the Church are invalid, where say the availability of divorce is part of the package. I cannot see how it could be reasonable to hold people to vows they never made or consented to.

    As to One True Love, does our culture accept that? It is still in our fairy tales, but it does not seem to have much more purchase than that.

  10. Scott Smith says:

    If you have not seen it, I have found the Catholic / Mennonites dialogues an interesting mediation on Catholic non-violence (

  11. Scott Smith says:

    Another thought following on from the latest document out of the Synod. Unlike Cardinal Kasper’s proposal, the principle of graduality could be applied to allow remarried people access to the sacraments without doing violence to any doctrine.

    We could say that while receiving Communion as a “divorced / remarried without annulment” remains wrong, it might be not as bad as the other options (i.e. leaving the Church). That is, let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good (or atleast the better).

    This could allow people to receive, without denying either the doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage or St Paul teaching on receiving unworthily.

    What do you think?

    • Todd says:

      As it stands now, remarried people have access to the sacraments if they take initiative, and if pastors permit it. One big challenge is how to handle baptized non-Catholics who wish to enter the Church. I’m not convinced that people who married a second time likely ignorant of Catholic practice are “wrong” for wanting confirmation and Eucharist.

      The New Testament doesn’t address the status of many second marriages when divorce happened a long time ago, and the second marriage is well-founded in the context of family and community.

      I’m not convinced St Paul applies here at all.

      And I don’t think remarriage after divorce is always a permanent state of sin, even for Catholics who were quite aware of Church teaching. The perfect would be spouses who don’t abuse or abandon their partners. There are a heck of a lot of non-divorced Catholics who would have a darned difficult time living up to the aim of perfection–or at least excellence. Who is to say such persons aren’t themselves a scandal in their community?

      The key is how pastoral practice is done on the parish level, regardless of how the synod turns out.

  12. Scott Smith says:

    With baptized non-Catholics, I would think presumptive annulments would be the best approach. As I said above, I cannot see how it could be reasonable to hold people to vows they never made or consented to, and the great majority of baptized non-Catholics would have married on the basis divorce was available.

    As to the rest, the main point would be that we are all sinners, because we are called to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy. That we don’t achieve that does not stop us from being sinners.

    • Todd says:

      Even the language you present is a potential problem here. We’re not talking annulment as a legal reality, but a declaration of nullity with regard to the sacrament. How can baptized non-Catholics have an “unintended” sacramental life?

      On your second point, divorce and remarriage has not stopped people from being holy, or aspiring to holiness. In carefully discerned situations, the “accidents” of marriage have totally disappeared: living together, mutual support, sex, love, finances, have totally disappeared. The way the Church sees it, the forever aspect of the marriage is a legal–not even a spiritual–reality. Still, I wouldn’t see it as a repeatable reality.

      The notion of divorce/adultery being forever seems silly to me–I can only imagine the language others who have experienced it would use. A person who has divorced for reasons good, holy, and proper is in no need of penance. If an aspect of the way they were made urges them to a second marital companion, there is no sin in that either.

      The real scandal is when people in and out of the sacrament abuse their partners in a marriage, and give false witness through addiction, infidelity, or other forms of abandonment.

      It’s a contortion of morality to fabricate a system in which a person can murder a spouse and remarry and remain in Communion, and a person who opts for divorce cannot. I don’t have to deny the permanence of marriage to realize something is twisted about that.

      • Scott Smith says:

        1. We’re not talking annulment as a legal reality, but a declaration of nullity with regard to the sacrament.

        I am not sure what you mean here. My point is baptized non-Catholics who marry on the basis divorce is available, don’t intend to marry as the Church understands it, and therefore there is no sacrament.

        2. The way the Church sees it, the forever aspect of the marriage is a legal–not even a spiritual–reality.

        On what basis do you think the Church sees it as a legal, rather than spiritual, reality? Marriage is a sacrament precisely due to its spiritual reality.

        3. The notion of divorce/adultery being forever seems silly to me.

        Well, it is the corollary of marriage being undissolvable and thus forever. Which Jesus was pretty clear on. Or was he being silly as well?

        4. The real scandal is when people in and out of the sacrament abuse their partners in a marriage, and give false witness through addiction, infidelity, or other forms of abandonment.

        I don’t believe many people would think that those are good things.

        5. It’s a contortion of morality to fabricate a system in which a person can murder a spouse and remarry and remain in Communion, and a person who opts for divorce cannot.

        It would be a distortion to think there are any legalistic work arounds with regard to the last judgement. Murdering someone on the basis you can seek forgiveness afterwards is unlikely to work out well.

        But, we either believe in repentance and forgiveness, or we do not. A murderer who stops murdering can be repentant and seek forgiveness. Just as an adulterer can – If they stop their adultery.

  13. Todd says:

    1. “Annulment” is not a term I was encouraged to use when I was an advocate for petitioners.

    2. Most of the official commentary on marriage is indeed canonical. Marriage gets as much ink in canon law as any other sacrament. But the theology strikes me as lacking.

    3. I don’t think Jesus was clear at all. Did he mean the act of taking second marriage vows, or the whole extent of a second marriage. When I look at the Gospel passages, there are small differences, and if I read outside of my own eyes, as it were, it doesn’t seem as crystal as people think. Plus the Orthodox accept the reality of broken marriages.

    4. I don’t think people think these are good things. But many Catholics have been caught up in them, including those who have preached the rigorist line. That’s not a cause for celebration or crowing on my part, I hope, but more a sense that for those for whom much has been forgiven, much love can be expressed.

    5. A murder is forever, by definition. This iThat s why the deeply grave sins were considered “unforgiveable” in the early church–including adultery. Remarriage after a divorce does not rise to the seriousness of murder, apostasy, or adultery. The sense of proportion is off kilter. “You shall not kill.” This is ancient law. “You shall not remarry after a partner divorces you.” That strikes me as a contortion, perhaps even an injustice in some cases where the person was not a Catholic, or who has a genuine vocation to family life.

    The Church’s official approach today lacks perspective, suggests a certain prejudice against lay people, or even misogyny. Sex abusers in the clergy do far greater harm and commit greater scandal. A parallel we will never see: excommunicate a sex offender until each of his victims who has left the Church returns healthy and whole.

    The way I see it: clerics are ready, perhaps some like Cardinal Burke even eager to usurp the Lord’s role as Last Judge, but they demur when applying stringent standards to themselves or their own caste. It angers me, the actions, proclamations, and pseudo-theologies of these pharisees. It’s time for a change, not in orthodoxy, but in orthopraxis. I wouldn’t hesitate to say it to any bishop or even Pope Francis if I haven’t hesitated to write it here to you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s