The magazine The Week has a little column called “boring but important”, in which it reports the latest on diplomatic appointments and infrastructure reform. Perhaps news about Communion for the remarried should go under such a heading: the subject is so familiar now as to be tedious, and yet what could be more important than marriage, Confession and the Eucharist?
Hence the excitement last week when, for a moment, it seemed that Pope Francis had reaffirmed the Church’s traditional teaching. The story came originally from the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, which had interviewed two of the nation’s bishops who met Pope Francis at the Vatican in February. During the ad limina meeting, the Chilean bishops had discussed Communion with the Pope. He said that his divorced-and-remarried nephew-in-law goes to Confession but does not ask for absolution and, by implication, does not receive Communion.
He also said, at another point, that politicians who support abortion should be denied Communion. And that was about it. But by the time it was translated into headlines, it had become “BREAKING: Pope tells Chile bishops: No communion for divorced and remarried or politicians who support abortion.”
The story travelled quickly around social media, before dying away when it turned out to be much less substantial. The Pope reportedly suggested limits on Communion, by saying that pro-abortion politicians should be denied the sacrament. And that prohibition has the same root in canon law as the prohibition on Communion for the remarried. He also gave an example of a remarried man accepting that he could not receive the sacraments. But he did not make a general doctrinal statement.
Even if the Pope’s comments were less significant than they seemed, they demonstrated that the issue is still live. That is partly because so many are convinced that the traditional teaching can’t change. At a conference on African theology last week, the participants said that Communion for the remarried – where there is no commitment to live “as brother and sister” – is impossible.
Cardinal John Onaiyekan, for instance, told cruxnow.com that there is no “big debate” over Communion in Africa. The doctrine affirmed by the popes, including John Paul II and Benedict, is widely accepted: “Our people are aware that this is the rule.”
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