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Ten Commandments: No Exemptions Print E-mail
By Fr. Gerald Murray   
Thursday, 19 June 2014

Fr. Andrew McLean Cummings recently published an article entitled, “What Cardinal Kasper Really Said About Divorce.” He attempts to justify Kasper’s effort to overturn Catholic teaching concerning the unsuitability of divorced and remarried Catholics for the reception of Holy Communion. This teaching is the basis for Canon 915, which states that those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

Fr. Cummings writes:

[T]he cardinal does not call into doubt the objectively sinful state of those who have remarried outside the Church. Rather, and this is the key, he questions the personal responsibility of these persons for the situation in which they find themselves. . . .if some such people are subjectively innocent, why are they being excluded from full participation in the Church’s life? The obvious answer is that one cannot know for sure whether or not a person is subjectively innocent for [sic] his bad behavior. . . .Or was the sin merely “material,” as the technical terminology has it? Certainly, whether some people do indeed find themselves in an adulterous relationship through no serious fault of their own, and which people these might be, are not questions that a minister of communion can answer. Therefore, admission to communion must be based on objective criteria. . . .Cardinal Kasper simply raises the issue of individuals who are “subjectively convinced” of their innocence, but he does not pursue it. Not wishing to anticipate the work of the upcoming Synod of Bishops, he does not propose what pastoral approach should be taken in their regard. Nonetheless, it is clear that this is the fulcrum on which centuries of pastoral practice could be overturned.

Fr. Cummings is correct that centuries of pastoral practice would be overturned if the Church were to determine that a divorced and remarried Catholic who is subjectively convinced that his adulterous acts are not gravely sinful should be admitted to Holy Communion.

Denial of Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried, however, is not based on an assumption that everyone in an adulterous relationship is in fact subjectively guilty of mortal sin. (Canon law operates on the assumption that we are responsible for our external acts and their consequences, unless the contrary can be demonstrated). The denial is based on the assumption that those who publicly enter into an adulterous union (such as a second civil marriage) are committing objectively grave sinful acts of adultery, thus wounding the Mystical Body of Christ. When that is not the case, say for a couple who live as brother and sister in view of the good of raising their children, they can be admitted to Holy Communion after making a good confession, provided that scandal is avoided.

The Church’s teaching on the grave immorality of adultery compels her to protect the sanctity of the sacraments of Marriage and the Holy Eucharist by establishing canonical norms for the spiritual welfare of the person living in sin and the common good of the faithful. Simply put: the denial of Holy Communion to a public sinner is a charitable rebuke calling to conversion, and a strong message to the entire community: do not fall into such gravely immoral behavior.

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts issued a Declaration in 2000 that answers Fr. Cummings’ central contention: “In recent years some authors have sustained, using a variety of arguments, that this canon [915] would not be applicable to faithful who are divorced and remarried.” They “offer various interpretations of the above-cited canon that exclude from its application the situation of those who are divorced and remarried. For example, since the text speaks of ‘grave sin,’ it would be necessary to establish the presence of all the conditions required for the existence of mortal sin, including those which are subjective, necessitating a judgment of a type that a minister of Communion could not make ab externo.”

The Declaration continues: “But the unworthiness that comes from being in a state of sin also poses a serious juridical problem in the Church: indeed the canon of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches that is parallel to can. 915 CIC of the Latin Church makes reference to the term ‘unworthy’: ‘Those who are publicly unworthy are forbidden from receiving the Divine Eucharist’ (can. 712). In effect, the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful.”

The subjective conviction of a person in an adulterous second marriage that he is not culpable of a mortal sin cannot be the basis for overthrowing the canonical discipline of the Church regarding reception of the sacraments. Such a subjective conviction can only be truly arrived at if he judges his first marriage to be invalid, in which case the remedy is a Church tribunal, which alone has the competence to confirm or deny his contention. If he considers his first marriage to be valid, then he cannot in good conscience claim to believe in the truth and binding nature of the Sixth Commandment, and at the same time judge his adulterous behavior not to be mortally sinful. There are no self-created exemptions from the Ten Commandments. 

 
The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is pastor of Holy Family Church, New York, NY, and a canon lawyer.
 
 
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Comments (13)Add Comment
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written by Pam H., June 19, 2014
Sorry, but I didn't see the essay content, “In recent years some authors have sustained, using a variety of arguments, that this canon [915] would not be applicable to faithful who are divorced and remarried” as being Fr Cummings' "central contention" but merely a step on the road to clarifying the Church's position that imputability can be determined, apart from "judging". Unfortunately, Fr. Cummings' writing style seems to be a bit winding, and not as direct as some could wish.
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written by Manfred, June 19, 2014
"Those who are publicly unworthy are forbidden from receiving the Divine Eucharist." (Canon 712) Has the Vatican denied that Pope Bergoglio phoned a divorced woman in Argentina and told her she had permission to receive Communion? Are not the Kennedys, Biden, Kerry, Sebelius and Pelosi all publicly unworthy to receive the Divine Eucharist because of their consistent support for abortion and sodomite marriage? What, pray, is the point of having Canon Law in the first place if it cannot be applied as so many catholics (sic) are too immature to live by the Code? We can't even deny Communion to Pelosi who is publicly telling her bishop (Cordileone) that he must not attend TODAY'S March for Marriage in D.C.! Father, you and I are on the same side. Msgr. William Smith+ gave up public lectures years ago as there was never any ENFORCEMENT of Canon Law.You write excellent articles but they are reflections on a time when the Church was Catholic. You should be lecturing the current pope.
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written by Dennis, June 19, 2014
Why stop at marriage? Why not argue that Archbishop Lefebvre was not subjectively guily of ordaining bishops against the will of Rome, and therefore remains in communion with the Church?

I do be bothered by the chronic eagerness of clergy to soil the sacrament of marriage.
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written by Hope, June 19, 2014
I am curious, Manfred, if the divorced woman whom you mentioned being phoned by Pope Francis is civilly remarried or not.
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written by Gus, June 19, 2014
I know two people, both of whom were married in the Church and then divorced, who tried to obtain annulments via the Tribunal process. Both of them gave up part way through the process because of the expense involved, coupled with what they felt were overly intimate and personal questions about their sex lives and their views on sex when they were married. Both have since left the Church (and remarried civilly) because of what they feel was a very painful annulment process 'ordeal.'

Since I don't know what they considered expensive or overly intimate / personal, I can't really comment beyond this, but maybe a less expensive, more merciful and forgiving / understanding annulment process needs to be considered. Seems like the divorced woman in Argentina got an annulment directly from the Pope all for the cost of a postage stamp.
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written by Manfred, June 19, 2014
@Hope: The woman in Argentina is civilly remarried. In fact, her new "husband" answered the phone when the Pope called!
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written by pgepps, June 19, 2014
Fr. Murray's remarks to the issue seem excellent to me, and I will take them as solid guidance. However, I agree with Pam H. above that Fr. Murray seems to be mistaking Fr. Cummings' point. I was very frustrated in the middle of Fr. Cummings' article, only to discover by the end that he had been trying to clarify what the real fulcrum of the discussion had to be. The statement Fr. Murray quotes, especially, the sentence he responds to, seems in the original to refer to the rhetorical situation of the moment rather than to reality as such. I think Fr. Cummings and Fr. Murray agree in substance, but that Fr. Cummings is practicing a somewhat exaggerated hermeneutical charity, while Fr. Murray is practicing a somewhat exaggerated vigilance for sound teaching. Iron sharpens iron.
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written by Karl, June 19, 2014
Completely empty, meaningless words!
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written by Drew, June 19, 2014
Thanks, Fr Murray, for emphasizing the 2000 PCLT declaration. That document is the most succinct and thorough treatment of the question. I also like it's emphasis on the "Divine Law" as the basis for the discipline, quoting Corinthians.
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written by Walter, June 19, 2014
As in a previous comment, I question Fr. Murray's suggestion that living together as "brother and sister" is a sound pastoral option for divorced and remarried couples. It reduces marriage to a legalistic sexual covenant and nothing more. Does not the emotional intimacy of a couple living together under the same roof also scandalize the Body of Christ....not to mention the sacramental spouse who lives a block away?

The "brother and sister" option is also bad parenting. Children intuit and absorb the truth of their parents' relationship. How can children be taught about the sanctity of marriage (ie, that the Sacrament reflects the intimacy of Christ's relationship to the Church) if Mom and Dad live together but have separate bedrooms? I fear that parents who are counseled to live together and not to have sexual relations are bound to raise children who will struggle with sexuality and emotional intimacy.
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written by Karl, June 20, 2014
Walter,

Do you honestly think the hierarchy give a care? If you do, you are part of the problem, in spite of the truth and wisdom in your comment.

For twenty five years I have been the sacramental spouse who lives, not down the street but in another state. Yes, it has scarred our children and theirs but it is no interest to the Catholic clergy, NONE!

Adultery is ok, as long as it is punctuated with confession and the legal system destroys the family so the clergy can avoid that blame.

Wise up, brother.
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written by Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick, June 21, 2014
The extent of the confusion (culpable, wilful confusion) that exists on this issue can be seen in the fact that for TEN YEARS, the official policy of the American bishops has been 9that a bishop may “legitimately” choose mortal sin.

I.e., in their document, Catholics in Political Life, adopted immediately after Cardinal McCarrick returned from Rome, concealing a memorandum from Cardinal Ratzinger from his brother bishops, and lying about its substance, the bishops declared that, in the matter of pro-abortion politicians, a bishop could “legitimately” choose to give them Communion.

Subsequently, Cardinal Raymond Burke, then-Archbishop of St. Louis, demonstrated conclusively that this act is ALWAYS a grave sin. Cf. his article: http://tinyurl.com/canon195 .

This scandal is growing like a cancer. An insidious, evil force is at work in the Church. There are undoubtedly unbelieving, pro-abortion bishops. There are others who are cradle Democrats, unwilling to punch their way out of that paper bag. There are those who cannot imagine life without dining and hobnobbing with the powerful–no matter how wicked. There are those who are paralyzed by fear of the loss of government money for their “good works.” There are those who are subject to blackmail because of their corrupt private lives.

One thing is certain. Because the act in question–GIVING Communion to notorious grave sinners–is always a mortal sin, NONE of the specious reasons of a higher order that bishops offer for their behavior can be valid. There can be no honorable, valid reason for committing mortal sin. There are no valid “prudential reasons” for mortal sin. The notion that committing this mortal sin constitutes a “pastoral approach” to the issue is preposterous and is a blasphemy against the very concept of “pastor.”

That all but about fifteen American bishops are guilty of publicly manifest mortal sin, and have closed ranks and stopped their ears, on a moral issue that could not be more settled and certain, tells us that the putrefaction is unimaginably deep and far advanced.
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written by Karl, June 22, 2014
Who are you, Fr. Fitzpatrick?

Are you a legitimate priest? Who is your bishop? Is he a good bishop?
If so, why is he not SCREAMING ABOUT THE COMPLETE DECIMATION
OF MARRIAGE that is decades long?

WHY IS HE NOT OPENLY SCREAMING AND DEMANDING THE RESIGNATION
OF THE HERETIC FRANCIS?

WHY IS HE NOT ENCOURAGING OPEN DEFIANCE OF THIS PURELY EVIL POPE?

I WOULD CONSIDER IT AN EXQUISITE FORM OF LIVING MARTYRDOM TO BE
GIVEN THE DISTINCT PLEASURE TO BE EXCOMMUNICATED, FORMALLY, BY
THIS MONSTER BERGOGLIO!


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