Divorced, remarried and receiving communion?

June 12, 2014 in News
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‘Divorce, Remarriage, and the Eucharist – the State of the Question: A Lecture Exploring the Limits of God’s Mercy’ by Professor Ladislas Orsy SJ, drew a huge crowd to Milltown Pk’s Arrupe Room on Tuesday 10 June. A challenging topic over which Cardinals have clashed openly but the eminent Canon Lawyer was well up to the task of uncovering possible paths of resolution.

To do so Professor Orsy decided to make as his focus a hypothetical couple, Nancy and Henry.  Nancy is a practising Catholic, and a good mother and wife whose husband leaves her and her two children for another woman whom he remarries. After some time, Nancy meets Henry and they fall in love and she remarries and they have two more children. She wants to receive the Eucharist, but under current Church law she cannot.

In order to see if there can be a positive outcome within the Church for Nancy, Professor Orsy went on to outline three possible resolutions, only one of which it would appear, could be truly satisfactory, were it to be employed.

The first resolution is a totally legal one, as espoused for example by Cardinal Mueller, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It holds that Nancy can receive communion if she lives with her new husband Henry as ‘brother and sister’, i.e. non-congugal relations. This response is totally valid within a purely legal framework, but it would appear to many as a very limited response.

The second resolution the Church might offer recognizes that the law is not perhaps always enough. God is always ‘real in being’ before ‘being in the law’; if Nancy, or anyone in a similar situation, longs for the Eucharist it can only be because that longing has been planted within her. She is, therefore, already in a sense in communion with God and led by the Spirit. The Church has always held on to a sense of pastoral mercy or ‘equity’, as evidenced lately in the utterances of Cardinal Walter Kasper on the subject under discussion. In previous times, as when Pope Alexander III declared that marriage was sacramental at the point of contract and not consummation, nonetheless marriages were dissolved by the Church on the grounds of non-consummation.

But that’s of no benefit to Nancy, so is there a third way? Professor Orsy argues that there could indeed be. He cites a 1972 article by Joseph Ratzinger which helps elucidate the solution. Orsy notes that in taking this route one’s methodology moves away from deducing from laws, or from notions of ‘dispensation’. It involves a ‘leap’ to another level, which emerges from the capacity of the Church to sense an invitation of the Spirit, grasp the invitation and act on it. It is a ‘supernatural’ instinct that recognizes there are human situations for which there are no human solutions. In this case the Church has the capacity to perceive God’s mercy and has the power to open the way for it.

He notes that the early Ratzinger speaks of the requirement that a second marriage prove itself over a long time as “a moral greatness” lived in the Spirit of faith and goes on to quote him saying: “If in the second marriage moral obligations to the children, to the family, and so also to the woman have arisen, and no similar commitments from the first marriage exist, and if thus for moral reasons the abandonment of the second is inadmissible, and on the other hand practically speaking abstinence presents no real possibility…..the opening up of community in Communion after a period of probation appears to be no less than just and to be fully in line with the Church’s tradition.”

The Georgetown University professor said at the beginning of his talk that he hoped to shed light on a complex question. He said it was the duty of a theologian to serve the gathered community, the people of God, so that they might work to find the truth the Spirit was seeking to reveal to them. At the end of his talk those gathered struggled with the implications of his explorations and the question-and-answer session reflected their strong feelings and concerns.