We are seeing in Rome a rather unusual unfolding of the Synod, wherein cardinals and bishops with very different points of view are airing those differences quite publicly. Even prior to the Synod there was the publication of various competing books.
To be fair to the bishops and cardinals, it would seem that Pope Francis himself has largely encouraged this. It is more typical at synods for the sparring and debates to take place more privately, and press conferences usually just issue summaries of things discussed. Time will tell of the wisdom (or lack thereof) of such public airings, but if the permission for frank discussion may extend to a lowly parish priest, I will say that it concerns me greatly. It is never pretty to see how the sausage is made and some who are less familiar with the internal debates may well be discouraged, while others will be inappropriately heartened. Again, though, to be fair, vigorous debates in Church Synods and Councils extend all the way back to the first one described in Acts 15.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, what I think about the matter of Holy Communion to those in invalid matrimonial states and other irregular situations is no secret. I simply cannot see how it is possible for us to extend Holy Communion to Catholics living in invalid marriages unless they are willing to live as brother and sister. Rather than restate all the reasons, I’ll just refer you to earlier posts I wrote: HERE and HERE.
And while the pastoral solution of living as brother and sister may not seem a “pastoral” or reasonable solution to many, it does remain a solution if Holy Communion is sought. Of course it is not a perfect solution. There is still the possibility of scandal, since not everyone will know or understand that an individual who is coming forward is not sexually intimate with his or her current “spouse” from a second union. But if celibacy is generally known as a possibility, others could presume good will and a large degree of scandal could be avoided.
I was speaking of this matter recently on the phone with someone (not a parishioner) and she scoffed at the notion of asking celibacy of people in these situations. She shifted the terms and asked me somewhat rhetorically,
How can you go on denying something as important as Holy Communion to people just because they are in what you consider a bad marriage?
I told her that I would answer her question if she would answer mine:
How is it that many have come to regard having sexual intimacy as more important or necessary than receiving Holy Communion?
I went on to add:
While Holy Communion is important (and I surely think that it is), I wonder why the people you describe as seeing it as so important wouldn’t choose to live celibately in order to be able to receive our Lord. You suggest I’m being cruel by denying it, but it isn’t really I who is making the choice here. The choice is really theirs. I am not the master of the Eucharist; I am His servant. Given Jesus’ description of second marriages as adulterous (Matt 19), and Paul’s clear warning against receiving Communion in an ongoing state of serious sin (1 Cor 11), it doesn’t seem that I have any choice. The choice is and remains theirs: either to so value Holy Communion and intimacy with the Lord that they are willing to forego sexual intimacy, or to seek solutions in the annulment process, or to continue refraining from Holy Communion.
Though I was being accused of somehow denying Holy Communion, I am not really doing any such thing. I celebrate Holy Communion every day for God’s faithful who are not impeded to receive. If they are somehow impeded, I will do what I can to help them overcome this impediment. If at the end of the process there can be no way to address the impediments, then the choice returns to them: live celibately and receive Communion, or choose not to and refrain from Communion. I am not denying anyone Communion; some choose to exclude themselves.
I realize that some people are in difficult and complex situations, but I cannot simply overrule the Lord or what He said to St. Paul. At the end of the day there is a choice for those who desperately seek Communion but are in second unions. That choice is celibacy. I realize that this is difficult and some conclude that this would be unjust to the second “spouse.” But it is ultimately their choice, not mine. I am respectful of the fact that some do not think they can reasonably choose to live celibately in their second union. However, it is not fair to say that just because other avenues have been exhausted, those in these situations have absolutely no choice. They do. It is difficult, but it is their choice to make.
It is sad that the Synod on the family has seemingly become a synod on divorce. I do hope and pray that some discussion is being had about the grace of living according to the Lord’s plan for matrimony and family. Surely the agenda will expand!