View From Rome
14 July 2016
Christopher Lamb in Rome
View from Rome
For Francis, popes shouldn’t necessarily have the last word on every complex pastoral and moral issue. But this sometimes leaves the leadership in the Church appearing open, or undecided, on a major question. An example is whether or not there are some circumstances in which communion can be given to divorced and remarried Catholics. It’s a debate that continues to rumble on.
Two big hitters – the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, and the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn – have recently weighed in, each offering a different take on the question. They are also both in the running for big jobs in Rome, with Archbishop Chaput a contender to head up the new laity and family congregation while Cardinal Schönborn, an eminent theologian, is tipped as a future prefect of the doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In guidelines sent out this month, the Philadelphia archbishop said that the divorced and remarried must refrain from sexual relations – living with their partner as “brother and sister” – if they wish to receive communion. Meanwhile Cardinal Schönborn told the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica: “It is possible, in certain cases, that the one who is in an objective situation of sin can receive the help of the sacraments.” Ramping up the tension on Tuesday, the Italian moral theologian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra said that the Austrian cardinal’s interpretation was erroneous.
Francis has remained stubbornly ambiguous on the question, although he has made it clear that Cardinal Schönborn is a reliable interpreter of his document on the family, Amoris Laetitia. In that text, which followed a lengthy consultation process and two synods, the Pope said that when it comes to the sometimes complex question of an individual’s participation in the sacraments it is not up to Rome or the Magisterium to provide a definitive answer for every situation.
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