The last three essays have tried to examine the thought and judgment of the letter of 61 theologians (and 1 schismatic bishop) accusing Pope Francis of heresy. I would like to summarize the points of these three essays and offer a few final reflections.
In essay number one, my main point was to suggest that Jansenism, a theological position known for being excessively rigorous and judgmental (and condemned as heresy) is alive and well in the Catholic Church today. Jansenists in the 17th century believed Jesuits were far too lenient in reconciling sinners; Jansenists today believe the (Jesuit) pope is equally at fault in his desire to show mercy. I suggested that Pope Francis is more in line with the practice to Jesus than the Jansenists. I also observed that divorce/re-marriage today is not the same social phenomenon it was in centuries past.
In essay number two, I dwelt on historical examples of groups opposing the Church’s practice of reconciling, including defiant opposition to two bishops of Rome as well as the great bishop of Hippo in North Africa. And in all cases, the policy of “medicine of mercy” prevailed over “that of severity” (to quote Pope St John XXIII’s opening speech at Vatican II). I also observed, regarding their example of St Paul’s public dispute with St Peter (Galatians 2) that “filial (or ‘fraternal’) correction” not only does not always work, it is not always correct. [Many of you have missed this essay because of not making it to church in the face of Hurricane Nate.]
Finally, in essay number three I observed some of the conditions in which it is virtually impossible to obtain a formal decree of nullity from a given tribunal. And I suggested that Jesus’ strongest words on divorce/re-marriage were not a general statement but a specific condemnation of Herod and Herodias.
I offer some final reflections on our society’s and Church’s reality. We long for Christian unity, and most especially with the Eastern Orthodox. Yet canonically, their Churches permit divorce and re-marriage. Would the signers of the letter of “filial correction” oppose unity with them on the ground that on this point they are heretics? As the view typical of such perspectives allows only the Catholic Church as having the truth, I doubt this would bother them very much. But it is a pertinent question to ask, given the passion for reunion of East and West shown so strongly in the lives of Pope Francis and Pope St John Paul II.
In addition, there are numerous cases of couples living in a second marriage not blessed by the Church who have nevertheless for years been receiving Holy Communion. In good (if mistaken) conscience, they did not know or understand the Church’s prohibition. Should they now be told, after years and years, and while actually trying to regularize their current marriage, that they must refrain? It seems counter-productive to their desire to be fully blessed in the Church, rather like “quenching the smoldering wick” (Isaiah 42:3).
Finally (and this touches on the issue of the Eastern Orthodox), is being barred from Holy Communion the only penalty that can possibly be imposed on the divorced/re-married? Rigorists will insist that it is, because they are living in “objective adultery.” I have already suggested that this is a simplistic (even naïve) viewpoint. In any event, a tribunal’s decree only affirms the reality of a non-sacramental previous marriage—it does NOT MAKE IT non-sacramental.
If any of this helps you, I am glad. If not, I hope it at least did not hurt you (including the time spent reading all this!). God bless us all, and may we remember that as the title of a book by Pope Francis puts it, “The Name of God Is Mercy.”