The fallout on Amoris Laeticia continues to draw attention to the messages Pope Francis is sending to the Catholic Church and the need for clarification on the issues raised by members of the College of Cardinals is indeed long overdue. Without proposing any disrespect to the Holy Father and his teaching authority over the Universal Church, with respect Pope Francis needs to address his conflicting points on the sanctity of marriage and the suggestions that those divorced and remarried Catholics in a civil union without an annulment may possible receive the Eucharist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to the issue of divorce and remarriage for Catholics.

1650 Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”158 The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.

Pope Francis has consistently taught contrary to this point, and maintains it is indeed possible for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Eucharist. His statements on the subject have launched many discussions on the subject and multiple episcopal conferences of Catholic bishops have adopted policies that are contrary to the point made in the Catechism of the Catholic Church while other episcopal conferences have maintained the status quo.

Inconsistency in beliefs are contrary to the successful application of the Catholic Church’s teachings. Furthermore, theological disparity between the college of bishops creates disunity among the faithful and does not build up the Body of Christ. It undermines the message of the Church and compromises the efficacy of the Church’s universal ministry as one, holy, catholic and apostolic in its mission.

While it is indeed laudable that Pope Francis offers the opportunity for Catholics is an irregular marriage situation to return to active participation in the Church, but reception of the Eucharist without a committed determination of civilly remarried Catholics is not the solution. Reception of the Holy Eucharist presupposes that one is properly disposed prior to the reception of the Body & Blood of Jesus Christ. Divorced Catholics, remarried without an annulment are not properly disposed towards the reception of Holy Communion. Pope Francis by insinuating the possibility of those in such an irregular marital state has created confusion and has obscured not just the norms of the Church, but the responsibility we all have as faithful Catholics to be properly disposed prior to the reception of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church’s sacramental life.

No one wants to place obstructions in front of anyone when it comes to celebrating their Catholic faith in the Church’s Sacraments. However, collectively, all Catholics have a moral and ethical responsibility to examine their respective consciences prior to reception of the Most Holy Eucharist. As is true with all aspects of the Catholic faith, responsibility for the rightfulness or wrongfulness of our human actions are determined not just by the Church’s norms, but natural law and ultimately a well-formed conscience.

Conscience is absent from many of the discussions of moral activities today, not because Catholics haven’t heard of the conscience, but because it is an uncomfortable feeling when we must look within our hearts to hear our consciences in relationship to our Catholic faith. However uncomfortable it might be, the relationship of the conscience and faith is an intrinsic component to our Catholic lifestyle.

Collectively, The Francis Effect, minimalizes the role of conscience in the moral life of Catholics and highlights cultural relativism as the pervasive thought behind the morality of human acts and not moral or ethical absolutes which are often associated with Catholic teachings. While relativism is nothing new, Pope Leo XIII first utilized the term in his opposition to Free Masons in Humanum genus in 1884. St. Pope John Paul II in both Veritatis spendor and Evangelium vitae describes relativism as a destructive force that seeks to destroy one’s proper perspective to the truth. He also taught that relativism seeks to destroy the essence of our human nature. Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 prior to his election as pope spoke of relativism in this manner: “…relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude acceptable to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

Catholics throughout the world are perplexed and confused by Pope Francis’ seemingly contradictory statements on well-established Catholic teachings on the Sacrament of Marriage and subsequent civil marriages after a civil divorce. Pope Francis seems to indicate that his papacy is open to changing or at least modifying the norms for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. However, he is not apparently clear on the direction in which he is leading the Catholic Church. Objectively, it seems that Pope Francis is reducing the Church’s traditional teachings on the sanctity and insolubility of marriage to cultural relativism citing the reformations of the Second Vatican Council and societies changing norms as the reasons for his position. Regardless of the causes for Pope Francis’ unorthodox stance on this subject it is readily apparent that Pope Francis is determined to modernize the Catholic Church during his papacy, regardless of the consequences or the subsequent fallout.

Seemingly, Pope Francis’ continued proclivity towards an acceptance of the exceptions are now normative for his moral teachings on marriage and the acceptance of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics back to the flock.


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