In 1994, thirteen years after Pope John Paul II promulgated Familiaris Cosortio, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful.
Addressing a gravely dangerous error that was gaining in popularity, the Letter stated:
In recent years, in various regions, different pastoral solutions have been suggested … [wherein] the divorced and remarried members of the faithful could approach Holy Communion in specific cases when they consider themselves authorised according to a judgement of conscience to do so. This would be the case, for example, when they had been abandoned completely unjustly, although they sincerely tried to save the previous marriage, or when they are convinced of the nullity of their previous marriage, although unable to demonstrate it in the external forum or when they have gone through a long period of reflexion and penance, or also when for morally valid reasons they cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.
The errors being addressed in the Letter also include the notion “that in order objectively to examine their actual situation, the divorced and remarried would have to consult a prudent and expert priest;” as if consultation undertaken in the internal forum alone could somehow open the way to Holy Communion for those who persist in mortal sin.
Sound familiar? It should.
This is precisely the “pastoral solution” put forth in Amoris Laetitia of which, according to Francis, “there are no other interpretations.”
The 1994 CDF Letter firmly rejected this proposition saying that such would be a grave violation of that which is “binding” in that it is based upon “the constant and universal practice” of the Church, and as such “cannot be modified.”
In this, the sacred Congregation was merely reasserting the teaching found in Familiaris Consortio.
Though it is hardly necessary to do so, I would remind readers that this Letter bears the signature of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the CDF.
Thirteen years later, writing as Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Ratzinger promulgated the Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, and in a section subtitled “The Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage,” he once again restated the necessity of…
…not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist.
Based on all of this, one might assume that it’s safe to say that Benedict is in no way supportive of the relentless assault currently being led by Francis on “the constant and universal practice” of the Church concerning Communion for the divorced and civilly “remarried.”
But is that really the case?
Speaking in June at a ceremony celebrating the 65th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood (photo above), Benedict stood without assistance and spoke very eloquently in spite of doing so without notes.
Addressing Francis directly, he said:
Thank you, Holy Father! Your goodness, evident from the moment of your election, has continually impressed me, and greatly sustains my interior life. The Vatican Gardens, even for all their beauty, are not my true home: my true home is your goodness. There, I feel safe. Thank you also for the kind words of gratitude, for everything. We hope that you will continue to go forward with all of us on this road of Divine Mercy, showing us the way of Jesus, toward Jesus, toward God.
So, which one is the real Joseph Ratzinger?
Is it the defender of the Faith who on more than one occasion officially decreed that non-admittance to Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried is “the constant and universal practice” of the Church; is “binding,” and thus “cannot be modified”?
Or is it the man who suggested that Francis – the same who is unapologetically running roughshod over said unchangeable practice – is leading “all of us on this road of Divine Mercy, showing us the way of Jesus, toward Jesus, toward God”?
Logically, he cannot hold both positions.
Let’s be very clear – Benedict’s praise for Francis’ “goodness” cannot be separated from the rupture from sacred Tradition enshrined in Amoris Laetitia – the crown jewel of his “reign” – the controversy over which dominated (and continues to dominate) Catholic conversation, both personal and in the global media, at the time his comments were made.
So, which one is the real one?
To assert that the latter position is that of the real Joseph Ratzinger necessarily suggests that he has abandoned the Faith by offering what amounts to a public endorsement of that which he clearly recognizes as a rejection of the constant, universal and binding practice of the Church.
To assert that it is the former necessarily suggests that Benedict does not truly believe that Francis is showing us the way of Jesus, but said so publicly for some other reason.
My sense is that very few Catholics – regardless of how they might be categorized (e.g., liberal, conservative, traditional) – would contend that Benedict no long holds what he so clearly expressed in the documents referenced above.
If indeed it is true that Benedict does not really believe that Francis is leading us on the road of Divine Mercy toward Jesus, then one must ask:
What precisely moved him to say such a thing? Was he somehow pressured into endorsing what he sincerely rejects? What other statements has he made that may not represent his true intent?
While answers are few and far between, one is hard pressed to deny the existence of legitimate, and crucially important, questions; in particular those concerning the true identity of one Joseph Ratzinger.