Monday, August 24, 2015 Report from Iglesia Descalza
Spanish theologians initiate petition supporting communion for divorced and remarried Catholics
A group of Spanish theologians of considerable prestige has launched a manifesto of support for an eventual decision of the Synod to allow communion to divorced and civilly remarried people. To complement, if not counter, the petition with almost half a million signatures asking the Pope the opposite. The campaign will also be launched in English, French and Italian, according to the petition website, but we are providing you with the translation of the Spanish text right now so those of you who want to add your names can do so immediately. The Spanish petition has already garnered over 3,000 signatures. And, brothers and sisters involved in this petition project, if you want to use my English translation of the letter, you are welcome to do so.
The theologians, including such notables as José Antonio Pagola, José Ignacio González Faus, and Andrés Torres Queiruga, say in their statement that, by admitting divorced people to communion, the Church is faithful to the spirit of the Gospel and not its letter. As it is also faithful to the dogma defined at Trent, well interpreted. And they bring in a series of biblical and anthropological reasons to support their request. They conclude by giving thanks for the Pope’s efforts, “amid cruel resistance, to give the Church a face more in keeping with the Gospel and with what Jesus deserves.”
The hard-line sectors are putting more and more pressure on the Synod and Rome. It is time that the Pope hear the cry of the people of God, silent on this issue so far. Join this petition and sign on to this campaign. Let’s protect the Pope and the Synod Fathers who want to follow him on the path of mercy.
LETTER TO THE BISHOP OF ROME
Brother Francis, “a glimpse of Peter,”
These lines would be to complement, on the other side, the letter of nearly half a million faithful, in which they ask you earnestly to “reaffirm categorically the Catholic teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion.” For the love of Jesus, we would ask with equal zeal that we all be faithful to the spirit of the Gospel, beyond alleged loyalties to the letter of certain teachings of the Church.
We are speaking of alleged loyalty not to judge the intentions of those who wrote you but because, in reality, the teaching of the Church is not that those divorced and remarried “can not receive Holy Communion” but, according to the Council of Trent, “the Church does not err when it denies them communion.” That wording, carefully chosen at the council, left open the possibility that there is no error or infidelity in the opposite position either, and that it is more a pastoral issue than a dogmatic one.
In our opinion, pastoral prudence not only allows but rather today demands a change in position. For these reasons.
1. In 1st century Palestine, Jesus’ words directly concerned the husband who betrays and abandons his wife because he likes another one more, or for reasons of that kind — they are primarily a defense of women. Thus the Master’s phrase is definitive: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
In Jesus’ time, the situation of a married couple failing at their partnership project (maybe the fault of both, or because of previously undiscovered incompatibility), was unknown. Given the situation of women with respect to their husbands in 1st century Palestine, such a scenario was unthinkable. And applying Jesus’ words to a different situation unknown at the time, where what there is is not the abandonment of one party but a failure of both, could amount to distorting his words. We would thus be manipulating Jesus for the sake of our own dogmatic security, and putting the letter that kills ahead of the spirit that gives life, against Pauline counsel.
The gospel must be inculturated, and when it isn’t inculturated, it is betrayed. The following examples may clarify this a bit more.
2. The evangelist Matthew, who is perhaps the one who tells the most transgressions of the law by Jesus, is curiously the only one who puts in his mouth the phrase “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law … I have come to fulfill it…to the smallest letter.” Thus we are given to understand that, in those transgressions of the letter, Jesus was fulfilling the Law to its depths, because he was keeping its spirit.
And the fundamental spirit of the whole Gospel law is mercy — not a wimpish mercy, of course, but a demanding mercy. But by no means a merciless requirement. Perhaps, then, the words with which Jesus responds to the scandals caused by his merciful conduct, have something to say to us here: “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’…” (Mt 9:13 and 12:7)
3. The early church offers another glaring example of this fidelity to the spirit over the letter, with the abandonment of circumcision. Circumcision was something sacred as an expressive symbol of the union between God and His people; the aforementioned words of Jesus could have been valid for it too: “What God has joined together let no man put asunder.” However, the Church abandoned the practice after forceful arguments and against the advice of some who believed themselves to be more faithful to God and, in fact, sought their own security. Thanks to that much discussed decision, the Church was not only faithful to God but opened the door to the evangelization of the world. Today that decision may seem obvious, but it was shocking to many then.
Peter himself, in his speech defending that decision, which today seems so true to the spirit of Jesus, spoke of “not imposing what neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear.” (Acts 15:10) This is one of the biggest sins the Church can commit. And it is quite debatable whether celibate people can understand what it means to live intimately and peacefully every day with another person with whom one isn’t the slightest bit in tune. As it is arguable whether celibate people could abstain from sexual intercourse with a person with whom they live day and night and whom they love.
4. We fear that advocates of the hard-line think that instilling a “discipline of mercy” in the Church would be equivalent to opening the door to moral laxity, or that the Church would accept the same views on divorce as our secular society. Actually it is not so — the indissolubility of marriage is not being questioned at all, and the discipline of mercy remains a discipline that not everyone will be able to accept — because it demands repentance, acknowledgment of guilt and a firm purpose of amendment. What it is about is not leaving those who have failed alone and unaided. Like Jesus — eating with sinners not because they were good, but so that they could be.
Teresa of Avila, whose centenary we are celebrating, recalls in her autobiography that when she felt herself a sinner or unfaithful, she sometimes resorted to refraining from prayer because she did not feel worthy of it. Until she discovered that that remedy was worse than her evil. The Church has always taught (and practice confirms it) that participation in the Eucharist can be a great help and strength to live evangelically. We fear that depriving those who have failed in their first marriage project — and have already done penance for that failure — from this strength, might end up alienating them from the faith.
5. Finally, there is the question of whether the Church must have a double standard for infidelities to the Gospel that concern the sexual field and for those that concern other moral fields.
For example, the Church has always taught that the sole owner of the goods of the earth is God and that we men and women are only stewards of what we think we own. That stewardship status asks men and women to put all the surplus goods they have at the service of those who have less — the poor and those without means. Precisely for this reason, the Church does not recognize an absolute right to private property, but only to the extent that this is a means to satisfy the primary and absolute right of every human being to the goods of the earth. That teaching on the primary destination of the goods of the earth, so often recalled by recent popes, is breached by the majority of Catholics without even showing the slightest remorse or will to amendment for it. Because that teaching of the Church is also very contrary to the mentality of this secular world. But is it not a glaring injustice that those Catholics are allowed to receive sacraments that are denied to other cases of failed couples, when there is repentance and amendment in the latter that aren’t there in the former?
God doesn’t have a double standard, or better yet, His bias is always in favor of the poor and the victims. In the parables told in the Gospel of the Pharisee and the publican, and the older brother of the prodigal son, Jesus was surprisingly on the side of the transgressors — because for those who accused them, all their good deeds had not helped them to have a good heart, but to have a hard heart.
Nothing more, brother Peter. We just wanted to put forward an opinion. But we appreciate your efforts, amid cruel resistance, to give the Church a face more in keeping with the Gospel and with what Jesus deserves.