THIS is a statement of Pope Francis. He is staying at the helm. That was the message of his sermon when he celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop at the Vatican some time ago, indicating that he had more to do to impart his “dream” to future generations.
He and other elderly cardinals – he will be 81 this December – were, he said, like grandfathers “called to dream and to give our dream to the young people of today”.
It is a vision of a Church where God’s mercy overflows beyond the boundaries set by rigid rules and offers a way forward for everyone, whatever their situation. It is a vision that has caused problems, however, for it has stirred up opposition, dissent and some perplexity.
Dissatisfaction largely focuses on passages in Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. They were widely taken to mean that there was no longer an absolute bar on individuals who had been divorced and remarried, or who had married a divorcee, from receiving Holy Communion.
Previously, they had been required to obtain a declaration of annulment or to agree to live in a platonic relationship – as if they were “brother and sister”. The rule was not universally obeyed, but was universally understood.
Pope Francis’s intention appears to be that such situations should be judged case by case, which implies that exceptions to the general rule are possible. Four cardinals protested to him privately, then published their criticisms in the form of a series of questions known as dubia.
When they had no reply, they asked for a meeting with him.
There is a genuine unresolved issue here. As the four pointed out, some bishops, like those from Poland, say Amoris Laetitia cannot be interpreted to mean the previous bar has been withdrawn, as it is based on official church teaching, which cannot be revised.
Some, such as the two bishops in Malta, have issued guidance to their clergy in line with the more common interpretation of Amoris Laetitia, setting out criteria for the admission of divorced Catholics to Communion. These differences of interpretation apply not just to Poland and Malta. There are Catholic bishops in England, not to mention Scotland,
Wales and Ireland, who have signaled to their clergy that such criteria may be applied and permission given. And there are some, notably the diocese of Portsmouth, where the bishop, Philip Egan, has said no relaxation is possible, as Church doctrine has not changed. By staying at the helm, the Pope can help the Church weather the storm.
I remember, when I left the priesthood and marry my present wife, I did not ask for dispensation in Rome, because that cost a lot of money but I personally believe that we are married before God and that He agreed to our marriage. I believe, this is also in line with the spirit of Pope Francis.
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