Why, to make communion available for unrepentant adulterers (but only those who also abandon their spouses), of course! “But, Bonald, that’s not fair. That’s not what the Vatican says it’s for. They say it’s to brainstorm ways to better instruct Catholics on the Church’s teachings on marriage and family. Given that you think the Church is doing such a crappy job of this, how can you not be pleased?” I say in reply that it doesn’t matter what the bishops plan to do; the more important social reality is what the public expects them to do. The word has gotten out that the situation of the divorced and “remarried” is now up for debate, and the hierarchy has done little to convince people that this is not true. No doubt there are many among them who would love to silently retire Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage, just as the doctrines of male headship and the duty to render the marriage debt have been unofficially retired. Such truths are not explicitly denied; they are just not mentioned at all, while positions incompatible with them are taken on related issues. Yes, our shepherds would like to do the same with the indissolubility of marriage–that shocking idea that the marriage vows mean exactly what they say–but the pastoral care of the remarried keeps forcing the issue. There must be some way to get around what the Gospel teaches. If only we could find it!
As I said, though, we don’t need to assume that most bishops are really thinking these things. Suppose they are all courageous and orthodox men. Stop laughing. Just suppose. It’s still the case that we’re on course for disaster; hopes are being allowed to build up among the laity that cannot (or at least should not) be satisfied. The best-case scenario is another post-Humanae Vitae debacle. Remember what happened then. For years, the laity and lower clergy had been allowed to build up hopes that the pope’s birth control commission was going to overturn perennial Catholic teaching so that we too could get in on all the consequence-free sex. No doubt many married couples, told that the “rule” was on its way out, jumped the gun, and who could blame them? Years with little or no sex is a pretty big price to pay for formal compliance to a rule about to be revoked and still on the books only because of bureaucratic inertia. Sure enough, the wretches on the commission agreed that their job was to gut Catholic sexual ethics. Then at the last minute the Holy Spirit personally intervened and prompted Pope Paul’s magnificent encyclical. The Catholic world, seeing its hopes betrayed, was outraged and openly defiant. This was to be expected. It was predictable. By the time the pope deigned to speak, he was already in an unwinnable situation.
We are recreating this same situation.
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