An American cardinal’s disclosure he “will resist” any persistent attempts by Pope Francis to allow Holy Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics has further alerted Catholics to what is at stake ahead of a Synod on the Family in October.
Tensions are growing in the run-up to the meeting — the second of two synods to debate the church’s current approach to marriage, the family and human sexuality — over fears that established Catholic teaching on these key moral issues will be weakened and undermined.
In a Feb. 8 interview with France2 television, Cardinal Raymond Burke stressed he could not “accept that Communion can be given to a person in an irregular union because it is adultery.”
Based on Christ’s teachings, the Catholic Church has always upheld the indissolubility of marriage, and so it considers remarriage following a divorce to be adulterous.
Asked what he might do if the Pope persists in this direction, Burke said, “I shall resist, I can do nothing else. There is no doubt that it is a difficult time; this is clear.”
The cardinal, who Francis last year demoted from heading the Church’s highest court, was the most vociferous opponent of last October’s synod when proposals were presented for a possible opening to allow some remarried divorcees to receive Communion. Other controversial areas for discussion, ones that many delegates felt were imposed on the synod, concerned the “positive aspects” of same-sex relationships and cohabitation.
In the France2 interview, Burke said same sex relationships have “nothing to do with marriage” but are an “affliction suffered by some people whereby they are attracted against nature sexually to people of the same sex”.
Last November, he called on all Catholics to “speak up and act” against such pressure to undermine the church’s teaching, but this is the first time he has publicly acknowledged the Pope himself could lead the church in a direction he couldn’t accept.
Burke later qualified his comments slightly, stressing they related to a “hypothetical situation” and that he was simply affirming his “sacred duty” to always “defend the truth of the church’s teaching and discipline regarding marriage.”
But his remarks appear to have prompted others to speak up, not just about the synod but about a crisis in the church in general. In an open letter made public Feb. 10 on the Rorate Caeli blog, Jan Pawel Lenga, archbishop emeritus of Karaganda,
Kazakhstan, wrote that his conscience would not allow him “to remain silent while the work of God is being slandered.”
He said he felt forced to write an open letter as any other method would be “greeted by a brick wall of silence and disregard." He also criticized the Vatican for pursuing a path of political correctness, and said most bishops today resemble “the silence of the lambs in the face of furious wolves, the faithful are left like defenseless sheep.”
Lenga largely blamed poor episcopal appointments as well as Freemasons who, with the “connivance of false witnesses," occupy some senior positions in the church. He also said he found it “difficult to believe” that Pope Benedict XVI freely chose to resign as pontiff.
The archbishop’s comments come just a week after the Polish archbishop of Warsaw, Henryk Hoser, said the church “betrayed” the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II at last year’s synod. They also follow similar outspoken statements from another Kazakh bishop, Athanasius Schneider, who last year called the synod’s final text “radical neo-pagan ideology.”
Meanwhile, there is a growing sense in Rome that the divorce and remarriage issue is simply a Trojan horse, appearing innocuous and affecting relatively few people, but if passed, would erode a key teaching of the church and so pave the way for weakening Catholic teaching in other areas such as same-sex relationships. “We all thought this was about divorce and remarriage,” one well informed source close to the Vatican told me. “It’s not, it’s about gays.”
Some of the most powerful figures pushing this agenda appear to be senior members of the German Catholic Church. Most of the country’s bishops are not only publicly supportive of allowing remarried divorcees to receive Communion, but they are also openly intent on passing a new labor law in April allowing Catholics in same-sex relationships or remarried divorcees to be employed by Germany’s many church-run institutions.
Opponents fear such a development would seriously weaken the church’s teaching in these areas, and have wider implications. “This is being done ‘under the radar’, but if this goes through, it will be presented as a ‘done-deal’ at the synod,” a source close to the German Church told me. “They’ll bring this to Rome and say, ‘There’s nothing more to discuss, we’ve already gone in this direction and if we can change this, we can change anything.’” He said he sees this as a “crucial issue” which has the potential to do “enormous damage” to the wider church.
Some orthodox-thinking Catholics therefore see preparation for what might be sprung on the upcoming synod as one of the best forms of resistance advocated by Cardinal Burke and others. Like Communists, the other side, they say, has been highly organized, while those upholding the church’s teaching have, so far, not been prepared or organized enough.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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