Pope Francis welcomes adulterers to reception of the Eucharist. That is what several writers allege when they accuse Pope Francis of writing in such a ambiguous way about the reception of the Eucharist. For an example, follow the link in the Aug 22, 2017 passage below titled: Francis’s Amoris Laetitia & Tolerated Concubinage. · Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez who the Vatican expert Edward Pentin says is the “ghostwriter” of Amoris Laetitia and one of the Pope’s closest advisers according to Crux’s aid: Francis’s Argentina letter is a “authoritative statement” that says adulterers can receive Holy Communion while not living as brother and sister.
Francis Welcomes Adulterers to Communion .
I object to use of the words “adultery” and “adulterers” by critics of Pope Francis. I read the notorious footnote 351 in Amoris Laetitia as permitting on some occasions reception of the Eucharist by a Catholic in the following circumstances. He or she had been in a valid Catholic marriage, that Catholic marriage was legally ended by a civil divorce, his or her spouse is still living, he or she remarried in a civil ceremony and they are living a normally moral life while participating as much as they can in the life of a Catholic community..
For several years, before my first marriage was annulled, I was such a person. I regret having fornicated as a young man but I have never committed adultery. I have always been faithful to the two women to whom I have been married; perhaps due more to God’s providence than my moral character. In my darker moments, I push away entertaining myself with the thought that if dueling were still in fashion, I would be entitled to challenge any man who called me an adulterer.
After 25 years, my first wife deserted me and five our young adult children. She had renewed acquaintance with her old high school boy friend. Completely at odds with her character, she left to live with him. For two years I refused to take any action to end our marriage. I told her that she could return anytime and we would work at rebuilding our family. The state of Ohio allows one party to ask for a dissolution of a marriage if they have lived apart for two years. After two years, she asked for a dissolution of the marriage. On the day of the dissolution I begged her to forget about a dissolution and come home with me. She proceeded with the dissolution process.
For several months after the dissolution I continued to wear my wedding ring. I told myself that I was still married to her. My wearing the ring seemed weird to a colleague. Looking at myself from her point of view, I seemed like a stalker in claiming that I was married to a woman who was another man’s wife. My sense of being married vanished. The sense of being unmarried was heightened by the facts that my former wife moved far away and because of her outrageous conduct she was socially dead. No one even spoke of her.
If a man is recognized as unmarried in a community and does not eschew the company of women he must be prepared for development of that special bonding of the sexes. His intentions are not honorable if he has no intention of ever forming a marital union. As a full professor at the Ohio State University in my early fifties it would be very easy to fall into the scandalous practice of having a relationship which you say is only a friendship but on occasion slip into spending the night at the house of one or the other. A Catholic man in such a relationship could easily deceive himself into thinking that he intends not to have sexual relations, confess his fornication and be eligible for reception of the Eucharist. My friendship with my present wife developed normally to the point where we desired a complete male and female union.
On the basis of natural moral law*, I was fully justified in remarrying. Indeed we had reached a stage at which by natural moral law we ought to marry. With the full support of our Catholic families we married each other in a civil ceremony presided over by a Unitarian minister.
I rationalized a reconciliation of my remarrying with my Catholicism. I read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1650-51 that I was still in good standing with the Church. Somehow I overlooked CCC 1665 which specified that I was not eligible for reception of the Eucharist. I interpreted the exception in Matt. 19:9 “Whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication [sex outside of the marriage], and marries another commits adultery. as excusing me. I did not divorce my wife. She divorced me. She committed adultery; let alone fornication.
Underlying my rationalizations was an erroneous assumption that all sins are violations of natural moral law. It is true that all violations of natural moral law are sins. That is because all sins are contrary to the good God wills for us. Life in accordance with natural moral law is a good God wills for us. However, God wills a greater good for us than the natural good of a life in accordance with the moral law. God wills for us an everlasting spiritual good which is living in accordance with a pattern above and beyond morality which pattern He teaches through His Church.
For a few years after the marriage, I continued to receive the Eucharist at Sunday Mass and weekday Masses during Lent. I was uneasy with my rationalization and I was not going to the sacrament of penance at least once a year. Then I read somewhere that in Familiaris Consortio Pope John Paul II wrote that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics positively could not receive Holy Communion, for two very profound reasons.
I read Familiaris Consortio no. 84
“However, the church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon sacred scripture, of not admitting to eucharistic communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the church which is signified and effected by the eucharist. Besides this there is another special pastoral reason: If these people were admitted to the eucharist the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”
I accepted John Paul II’s reasoning. Notice that he does not talk of adultery. I stopped receiving the Eucharist at Mass. Living together as “brother and sister” was not a healthy choice. I participated fully in parish life. There were some challenges. It frequently seemed that I was the only person in the church not getting up to receive communion. I participated in the perpetual adoration program. My reverence for the Eucharist was the greatest in those years. I longed to receive the Eucharist once before I died.
After several years, my pastor urged me to apply for an annulment. I was, and still am, convinced that my first marriage was valid. At 22 years of age, I was fully aware of what a life long commitment entailed. In my written statement, I told the diocesan court that I had no doubt that my first marriage was valid. Nonetheless I humbly accepted the annulment. It was a humiliation to be informed that due to immaturity the marriage was not valid. With only one other witness our pastor presided over our remarriage. Benedict XVI was still Pope. The pastor in question is a good and holy man whom I respect.
My pastor encouraged me to receive the Eucharist while the annulment appeal was in process. With reluctance I followed my pastor’s recommendation. What my pastor recommended to me is exactly the pastoral practice Pope Francis endorsed in footnote 351. I suspect that Pope Francis was well aware that such a practice was widespread amongst priests. The point of fn. 351 was to send a signal to priests that he was not going to interfere with such a practice. However, Pope Francis was asked to make a doctrinal statement on the issue. He couldn’t and wouldn’t. The ensuing controversy has serious damaged Pope Francis’ credibility as a leader in teaching the faith. The damage is unnecessarily exacerbated by shallow thinkers who accuse Pope Francis of admitting adulterers to reception of the Eucharist.
It has taken me a long time to realize that I sinned by remarrying after the divorce before receiving an annulment and that I sinned in another way in the reception of the Eucharist before a valid remarriage. It is very misleading to call my sins adultery. Such talk leads away from seeking a spiritual diagnosis.
I was doing something spiritually wrong by receiving the Eucharist between the time of my second marriage and the annulment of the first.. My pastor erred by encouraging me to receive the Eucharist while the annulment was pending. Pope Francis should not have so-to-speak, winked at the practice in fn. 351. Reception of the Eucharist as I did before the valid remarriage was a serious disorder in the spiritual realm which is more fundamental than the moral realm. We can call this spiritual realm the Kingdom of God or the Communion of Saints. Jesus came to tell us how to know love and serve him by living in this Communion of Saints. Trying to understand what this disorder is helps us understand what God wants us to do in order to be in his Kingdom. Merely noting that there is a formal similarity based on lack of some type of valid marriage between the acts of womanizers, married men with mistresses and a divorced Catholic remarried in a civil marriage leads to no investigation of spiritual conditions. We can say that on this topic of fn. 351 talk of adultery induces spiritual blindness. Jesus cannot be accused of shallow thinking in Matt. 19:9. The context makes it clear that he is talking about marriage in the spiritual realm – the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, Jesus’ hyperbolic use of “adultery” has led to the superficial thought that all invalid marriages and the ensuing marital acts are cases of sexual immorality. Some are sins of the spirit; not the flesh.
What was the spiritual disorder in my married life between the civil marriage and the small Catholic wedding ceremony? The place to begin is with the first reason John Paul II gave for why Catholics in my situation should not receive the Eucharist. Here are my articulations of some of the insightpacked into his single sentence.
In Matt:9 and elsewhere. 19, Jesus laid out, as the church teaches, the pattern for proper attainment of the spiritual good of natural marriage. The spiritual good of marriage can be attained only by a life long monogamous marriage open to the possibility of conception with each marital act. From the natural point of view, the spiritual good may not be recognized. Nonetheless, the spiritual good outweighs natural goods. So, in the spiritual realm there is a categorical prohibition of divorce and remarriage while both spouses live. In the kingdom of God divorce and remarriage is intrinsically wrong; not so in the natural moral order.
But what is so wrong with reception of the eucharist by Catholics invalid marriages. According to John Paull II, the Eucharist symbolizes the marital act of Christ with His bride – the Church. This act is a genuine act of love in which the partners are in perfect harmony with one another. So when Catholics receive the Eucharist they, as the Church, are signifying that they are in harmony with the spiritual pattern set out by Christ. So when those of us who receive the Eucharist while in spiritually invalid marriages we lie to ourselves, the others and to Christ that we are in harmony with the pattern He has set out for our spiritual good, which is the only good we have for eternity.
In conclusion, I propose a few suggestions for a pastor accompanying a Catholic in an invalid marriage.
1. Warn him that for all that the Church can say, if he were to die in his present condition he would be eternally separated from God. He is not eligible to enter into the Kingdom of God apart from the natural world.
2. Advise him to participate as much as possible in parish life and this includes fervent prayer for guidance.
3. Advise him not to receive the Eucharist.
* I have written a book on natural sexual morality. My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.
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