by Deacon Nick Donnelly, founder of the suppressed blog Protect the Pope  

In three months time a couple of hundred bishops, cardinals and lay experts from around the world will convene in Rome to take part in the Extraordinary Synod on the “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelisation”. I must admit that, along with many other faithful Catholics, I view this prospect with a sense of growing concern. This is not a theoretical or academic concern, but a very personal concern that involves my life and important decisions I’ve made. 

synod2Like many other faithful Catholics I’ve been convinced by what the Church teaches about divorce and re-marriage, IVF, contraception, euthanasia, and countless other moral teachings.  And with the minority of Catholics who remain faithful to the fullness of the Church’s teaching I have made life-changing decisions based on the assumption that the Church would forever stand by these categorical moral truths, because they are founded on ‘God’s message and not some human thinking’ (I Thess 2:13). I follow the Church’s moral teaching because great teachers throughout her history, and recently St John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, have taught me that it expresses divine truths that liberate me from sin, save me from hell, and enable me to live as a child of God.

The source of my growing concern is the persistent report that the Synod may consider changing one of the Church’s categorical moral teachings that divorced and re-married Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion. This is one of the fixed moral compass points of Catholic morality that can be traced all the way back to the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ that those who divorce and re-marry commit adultery (Mark 10:11-12). This is divine truth and not some human thinking and no synod, cardinal, bishop or theologian can change this.

What are the grounds for these concerns?  Pope Francis’ interview with journalists on the flight back from Rio’s World Youth Day [WYD] in 2013 has been taken by some cardinals and bishops as the Holy Father giving permission for them to consider allowing divorced and re-married to receive Holy Communion. Here are Pope Francis’ actual words:

‘With reference to the issue of giving communion to persons in a second union (because those who are divorced can receive communion, there is no problem, but when they are in a second union, they can’t…), I believe that we need to look at this within the larger context of the entire pastoral care of marriage.  And so it is a problem.  But also – a parenthesis – the Orthodox have a different practice.  They follow the theology of what they call oikonomia, and they give a second chance, they allow it.  But I believe that this problem – and here I close the parenthesis – must be studied within the context of the pastoral care of marriage.’

Pope Francis’ use of the phrase ‘pastoral care’ and his reference to the Orthodox practice of allowing second, non-sacramental marriages, has encouraged those who have long sought to change the Church’s teaching. Three months after Pope Francis’ WYD interview, the German Archdiocese of Freiburg, unilaterally suggested ripping up the Church's teaching by proposing a permissive pastoral approach allowing divorce, re-marriage and communion. Freiburg recommended that if divorced and re-married Catholics could prove to a priest that the first marriage was definitively over, and they could show ‘new moral responsibility’, then after an appropriate sign of repentance, they would be allowed to receive Holy Communion. Freiburg did not address why or how this second marriage was no longer adulterous. Following this blatant rejection of Our Lord’s words and the Church’s 2,000 years of doctrine on marriage and the sacraments a number of German bishops have spoken out in support of the change. They have also neglected to explain how they could put aside Christ’s teaching on divorce and re-marriage. 

Speculation reached fever pitch in February 2014 when Pope Francis chose Cardinal Kasper, the arch-proponent of allowing communion for divorced and re-married, to address the consistory of cardinals in preparation for the October Synod. During his address Kasper proposed that the Church permit the impermissible, when he ‘allowed for the possibility that in very specific cases the Church could tolerate, though not accept, a second union’. Cardinal Kasper has been pushing for the Church to change her doctrine in this area for decades because lots of German Catholics are divorced and re-married. What he fails to take into account is that just because a lot of people are doing it, doesn’t make it right. It’s heartening to report that many senior cardinals took vocal exception to Kasper’s ‘pastoral’ approach.

But since Kasper’s intervention the official line from those seeking change is to state unequivocally that ‘Church doctrine will not be changed’, but that a ‘pastoral solution’ must be found.  Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor gave an example of this approach when asked the question, “Do you foresee that there could be a change in relation to the question of the divorced and remarried?” To which the cardinal replied, “I don’t know. The Church does not change, it develops. By that I mean the doctrine of the Church develops by going out in a different direction.  That is to say, it changes in an indirect way. And it could develop in the question of the divorced and remarried.”

The truth of Our Lord Jesus Christ is crystal clear so when the language of prelates becomes torturous and hard-to-follow we know that the truth is somehow at stake. So I’ll state this clearly – if this bedrock of Catholic doctrine on the sanctity marriage and the sanctity of the Blessed Sacrament is changed, even changed indirectly, John-Henry-Newmanthen we are departing from the truth. If we move from the revealed truth of Our Lord Jesus Christ then what shall we believe? Any of the Church’s moral doctrines can then be changed. Will we hear at some future date a cardinal using the language of pastoral care and mercy saying that the Church could tolerate, though not accept, contraception and IVF? Or even that the Church could tolerate, though not accept, homosexual sex and same-sex marriage?

So what happens if the dual synods of 2014 and 2015 come up with an ambiguous form of words that states that the Church’s teaching on marriage and the Blessed Sacrament cannot change but allows, in some circumstances to be determined by national episcopal conferences, divorced and re-married to receive Holy Communion?

If this tragic day comes I ask you to join me in not regretting or resenting the sacrifices that we have made through being faithful to God’s divine teaching. With all the focus on those who have broken their marriage vows and entered into second unions it appears that many of the bishops have forgotten the faithful who remain true to the Church’s doctrine often at great personal cost. The October synod should honour all those husbands and wives who remain faithful to their marriages, raising children on their own, even though they have been abandoned by their spouses. The Synod bishops should also respect those couples who do not have children because they refused to avail themselves of IVF as the solution to their infertility. The synod should also congratulate all those couples who enjoy large families on small incomes for rejecting contraception.

When I consider the synod in October I find consolation and guidance in what Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote about the orthodoxy of the faithful during the betrayal of the Faith by many bishops during the Arian crisis. He wrote:

‘The Catholic people, in the length and breadth of Christendom, were the obstinate champions of Catholic truth, and the bishops were not. It is not the wise and powerful, but the obscure, the unlearned, and the weak that constitute the Church’s real strength.’

No matter what happens I will trust Our Lord’s confidence in the Holy Spirit, when He said "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children”. (Luke 10:21). Let us stay in love with the truth of the Holy Spirit.