Does Pope Francis “still hold the doctrine”. The Crisis continues!

The recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome has exposed a rift within the Church. Everyone agrees that there is a “conservative” wing as exemplified by Cardinal Raymond Burke who might be seen as a guardian of the classic Catholic tradition, on the other hand there is a “liberal” wing seeking “reform”, which among other things means seeking acceptance of actions once considered sins. In fact they often would characterize these actions as even positively good.  Much of this is related to sins regarding sex. Later we can explore why the sexual sins are so high on the liberal agenda for reform. Isn’t that an interesting question? Why not sins about greed?  For now however let’s focus elsewhere.

In the case of the synod, the major issue revolved around an attempt by the “liberal” side to revise the Church’s position on divorce. The controversy over this continues. Much of the debate has been about whether divorced and remarried people can receive the Eucharist . In fact the question has been considerably distorted by framing it in this fashion. It is as if there is some peculiar Church “law” that prohibits otherwise devout folks in difficult situations who happen to be divorced from fully participating in the life of the Church. In fact many otherwise apparently orthodox souls are framing the question in this fashion, even when they seek to defend the current Church teaching on divorce and remarriage. An example of this type of confusion is demonstrated by a brief, moving, but ultimately wrong headed, article written in the periodical “First Things” by Luma Simms. You can read her piece here . Ms. Simms is a convert to Catholicism who is divorced and remarried and is obviously deeply pained by a difficult personal situation. Her focus however is all wrong. The difficulty is not primarily about her inability to “take communion”.

The Church really has no specific teaching about divorced folks taking communion! The real issue is that to receive the Eucharist while in a state of mortal sin is a second mortal sin (specifically a sacrilege). So you need to be free of mortal sin in order to receive. If you are addicted to some mortally sinful behavior you must be trying to end the addiction. So if you are stealing, you must confess, repent and stop stealing. If you are cheating on your spouse you must stop the affair. Now this seems obvious enough. The issue with divorce and remarriage, is that it is in essence “having an affair”. That is, if you are engaged in sexual relations with a new partner, in the Church’s view you are committing adultery. The Church does not believe a validly contracted marriage can be ended. (Someone might not have truly entered into a “marriage” as the Church understands the term, and this is where the Church can issue a declaration of nullity. That is to say, the Church can make the determination that the first “marriage” never truly existed. Thus someone whose marriage is annulled is not able to get “remarried” they are able to get married for the first time.) But.. I digress; the teaching on marriage is nicely captured by a simple little cartoon in the old Baltimore catechism.


Charming in its straightforward simplicity is it not? It also has the virtue of being consistent with the actual words of scripture, for example Jesus in Luke’s Gospel:

“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (LK 16:17)

So the barrier to receiving the Eucharist then is the state of continued adultery folks like Ms Simms finds themselves trapped in. There is an immediate solution to their dilemma as well, though it is no doubt quite difficult. You simply need to live like brother and sister with the second “spouse” (therefore the adultery ceases) and you can receive. In some cases this will be temporary until the investigation of the original marriage is complete, and a declaration of nullity can be made. In other cases a declaration of nullity is not possible (meaning the first marriage continues and the second relationship is not a marriage. Think of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 4-42).

So that’s the teaching. You can reject it, think it is harsh, unfeeling and does not mesh with modern life and the view most people have of marriage and happiness. You can say that you know plenty of divorced people and they are really nice… how could God demand this sort of thing from them. I can understand all of that, especially the last point, but none of these address the basic question.
At the end of the day for this teaching to change one would have to say… “Ok, the church was wrong about marriage being permanent, in some cases divorce is ok, and by the way those lines in scripture uttered by Jesus… well they were misunderstood for the last couple thousand years.”
Now, one could respond…. “No wait we believe in the indissolubility of marriage….. We just think the annulment process can be done better, simpler, faster.” If that was the agenda, there would be no controversy. We have no objection to this. There would be no major news stories in the lay press, and the issue would be confined to those with a particular interest in canon Law. Unfortunately this is not the case. We know this is not the case because of the words of Cardinal Walter Kaspar who explicitly denied this is his agenda, as he put it:

“There are situations in which annulments are possible. But take the case of a couple with ten years of marriage, with kids, which in the first years had a happy marriage, but for different reasons fails. This marriage was a reality and to say that it was canonically null makes no sense.”


In fact the Cardinal is wrong, whether the conditions for a “marriage” existed from the beginning is not directly related to the happiness of the couple or whether they had children, it may have been a legal reality and even in all superficial appearances looked like an authentic marriage, and yet still lack the characteristics that make it a real “marriage”, but to debate this point is not central to the current discussion. That Cardinal Kaspar essentially rejects the classic teaching however was discussed at length in our last blog post here .
So what the “liberals” want is a reversal of the teaching. As we pointed out previously, if the Church is this wrong about such a basic issue for so long, how is it that the Church could be a reliable guide to anything? I have yet to see any of the liberals respond to this question, but it seems to me pretty basic.
What is interesting is that the Crisis has reached such a state that even other Cardinals are now recognizing the crisis and we have the unprecedented situation in which some of them are calling on the Pope to clarify the situation. This goes beyond Cardinal Raymond Burke, a known conservative, and someone the secular media regards as a “right-winger” (meaning over here at Catholic X-ray he is one of our heroes! ) It includes even more “moderate’ Cardinals like Francis George of Chicago, his comments can be viewed at this location .

In some sense I find this almost a relief! Up until now few folks in the Church hierarchy seemed to get the level of crisis. Sure there were some gadfly’s on the right who were critical of the bishops for letting heterodoxy run wild. People like Michael Voris come to mind, but they did not typically have access to an audience that did not already agree. Now at last it appears we have evidence that some Cardinals are concerned about the message being sent. Indeed we even have Cardinal George now asking something we asked very early in the history of this blog. On September 12, 2013 we asked:
“One wonders if Pope Francis knows this is what is happening? I wonder if he knows how much encouragement he is giving this particular ( liberal )side of the intra Church feud? One can only speculate.”

Now we have Cardinal George ask much the same thing:
The question is raised, why doesn’t he himself clarify these things? Why is it necessary that apologists have to bear that burden of trying to put the best possible face on it? Does he not realize the consequences of some of his statements, or even some of his actions? Does he not realize the repercussions?

Well glad to know we are not the only one’s asking this question.
What if the answer is that the Pope really does side with the liberals? Will we soon go the way of the Episcopal Church? My answer to that has been given before… The Holy Spirit will not let things go completely off the rails like that, and in fact as we have stated before it’s not likely that even the Pope wants to go that far, as Cardinal George puts it:

“I can see why some people might be anxious. If you don’t push it, he does seem to bring into question well-received doctrinal teaching. But when you look at it again, especially when you listen to his homilies in particular, you see that’s not it. Very often when he says those {(ie liberal )} things, he’s putting it into a pastoral context of someone who’s caught in a kind of trap. Maybe the sympathy is expressed in a way that leaves people wondering if he still holds the doctrine.”
“…. It’s created expectations around him that he can’t possibly meet. That’s what worries me. At a certain moment, people who have painted him as a bit player in their scenarios about changes in the Church will discover that’s not who he is. He’s not going in that direction. Then he’ll perhaps get not only disillusionment,”

To this I would add the paradox that the Pope has been vigorously pro-life and has spoken about the life issues again, including abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research as sinful in a widely covered talk to the Catholic Medical Association in Italy. You can read a full report here . This suggests as we have pointed out, the Pope is probably not quite the heretic the liberals are praying for.. ( well not sure liberals pray, but you know what I mean…)
So we should not lose hope. God will work through this Pope using both his gifts and his flaws for some ultimate good. It may not always be obvious what that good is, but we can be confident because we have the ultimate reassurance from Christ himself.

“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”Matthew 16:18

So the gates of hell will not prevail, and Peter is the rock… but we know from time to time Peter fouled up, even denying he knew Christ… and still somehow God used Peter… if he used Peter he can use Francis, even though one wonders if “he still holds the doctrine”
Lets continue to ask our Lady for prayer for the Pope and the rest of us.


1 comment for “Does Pope Francis “still hold the doctrine”. The Crisis continues!

  1. January 12, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    The 3rd Council of Baltimore decree #126 states that:

    “We command all (i.e. baptized) married persons that they must not go to the civil courts to obtain a separation from bed and board without previously receiving permission from the ecclesiastical authority. Should anyone attempt this, let him know that he incurs the guilt of grave sin…” This has never been abrogated by 1917 or 1983 code – see canon 1692

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