Pope Francis has made several public statements on divorce since being elected to the Catholic Church’s highest office and his comments are creating quite a stir. Instead of the usual punitive tone, he’s forgiving and understanding and compassionate. He isn’t the first to speak generously on the topic but since he is the most powerful, he can’t be quietly ignored.
It is welcome news! Unfortunately, it comes after centuries of what can only be described as psychological abuse.
The long standing Catholic teaching on divorce is any divorced person whose been remarried cannot take communion in the Catholic Church. That is a scary thought if you happen to believe what Catholics teach about heaven, hell and purgatory.
But since the Pope has spoken, Catholic leaders are debating whether or not divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to take communion. It is definitely a positive turn of events but the clerics get no credit for thinking logically or forwardly or compassionately.
The debate was inevitable. Circumstances forced it. Logic was not a factor.
In this case Reality gets the credit.
Barna data suggests the number of divorced Catholics is perilously close to 30%. Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates the number of USA Catholics who have been divorced and remarried without annulment is 4.5 million. That doesn’t include divorced folks who haven’t remarried.
You don’t have to be very clever to realize you can’t treat such a large number of congregants like unwanted infections and expect widespread peace. That’s a lot of squeak to ignore.
Of course, if the ramifications were clear it wouldn’t be so bad, but when it comes to communion and divorce, confusion reigns.
A few divorced individuals can take communion. The squeaky clean ones. The ones whose marriages were worse than an inquisition in the middle ages. But these can only partake if they’ve never been remarried, or in the unhappy event they have remarried, they must agree to remain celibate even though married or get the first marriage annulled.
All other divorced individuals know they can’t take communion. That part is clear. What they can’t be sure of is whether or not getting to heaven at the end of their journey is possible. Some say it is. Others aren’t so encouraging. No one seems to be certain.
To be fair, Catholics tend to be hazy about anyone getting to heaven. The best any Catholic can do is aim for Purgatory and hope the stay is short.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting Catholics won’t go to heaven, at least some of them anyway, but they tend to be uncertain about the idea and candle makers love it!
I’ll talk further about the relevance of communion shortly but that’s not the only issue. The angst is made worse by the complexity of all the other divorce regulations.
A good example are the rules governing Church Membership for the divorced. We know they are treated differently but a look into Cannon Law reveals just how big the difference is. The following conditions on divorced membership illustrate the tangle. [Read more…]