Conscience, remarriage and holy communion

Here is something you may have missed. Tucked away in the current print edition of the Tablet, dated April 11 2015, on page 28, is a brief report of certain remarks made in a television interview by Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna about the Synod on the family.

The Cardinal said, and I transcribe:

“I expect a clear word on the responsibility of the conscience. For me that is the decisive message. The responsibility of the individual conscience – a mature conscience that is respected by the Church.

“The first question when a relationship broke down was not what the Church did but what the people concerned did. God’s mercy first of all consists in looking at the concrete situation and I first pass the ball to the individual conscience.

“I will never question a person’s decision of conscience even if he or she has remarried.”

It would be very interesting to track down the television interview and find out what exactly the Cardinal said in the original German.

His interview might have been a long one. But this snippet is interesting.

Let us consider the fundamental question that is raised by admitting anyone who is divorced and remarried to Holy Communion – the question of the first marriage – as raised in an interview by the great theologian Cardinal Caffarra:

“Those who suggest this hypothetical situation have so far not answered one very simple question: what about the first ratified and consummated marriage? If the Church admits [such people] to the Eucharist, she must however render a judgment about the legitimacy of the second union. That is only logical. But then — as I asked — what about the first marriage? … The popes have always taught that … the Pope has no authority over [ie. cannot dispense from] a ratified and consummated marriage.

“The proposed solution leads one to think that the first marriage remains, but there is also a second form of life together that the Church legitimises. Therefore there is such a thing as extramarital human sexuality that the Church considers legitimate. But that negates the central pillar of the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

“At that point someone might wonder: then why not approve cohabitation? Or relations between homosexuals? The fundamental question is therefore simple: what about the first marriage? But no one answers it.

“John Paul II said in 2000 in an address to the Roman Rota that ‘It is quite clear then that the non-extension of the Roman Pontiff’s power to ratified and consummated sacramental marriages is taught by the Church’s Magisterium as a doctrine to be held definitively, even if it has not been solemnly declared by a defining act.’

“This is a technical formula… meaning that on this subject discussion among theologians and doubt among the faithful are no longer permissible….” Continue reading

Alexander Lucie-Smith is a Catholic priest, doctor of moral theology and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald.

News category: Analysis and Comment.

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