The Vatican is striking back at conservative critics of Pope Francis’ landmark document on family life, ratcheting up its defense of the pope with new vigor as bishops begin implementing the document around the world.
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on Wednesday carried a lengthy essay by an Italian Catholic historian insisting that Francis’ “The Joy of Love” was absolutely in line with his predecessors and church doctrine on the thorny issue of whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion.
Earlier this month, the Vatican-approved magazine La Civilta Cattolica ran an interview with Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn in which the Vienna archbishop pointedly rejected conservative claims that Francis’ work didn’t count as an authoritative teaching document.
Both articles upped the ante in the increasingly divisive theological and ideological battle sparked by “The Joy of Love,” and were published on the eve of Francis’ trip to Poland, where the Jesuit pope will symbolically deliver the document to the deeply conservative Polish church at a youth rally next week.
When it was released in April, “The Joy of Love” immediately sparked controversy because it opened the door to civilly remarried Catholics receiving Communion. Church teaching holds that unless these divorced and remarried Catholics obtain an annulment — a church decree that their first marriage was invalid — they cannot receive the sacrament, since they are seen as committing adultery.
Francis didn’t create a church-wide pass for these Catholics, but suggested — in vague terms and strategically placed footnotes — that bishops and priests could do so on a case-by-case basis after accompanying them on a spiritual journey of discernment.
The conservative criticism was swift.
American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a figurehead for archconservatives who was removed by Francis as the head of the Vatican’s supreme court, insisted that the document wasn’t part of the church’s teaching magisterium but rather was a personal reflection on meetings of bishops about family matters.
“The personal, that is, non-magisterial, nature of the document is also evident in the fact that the references cited are principally the final report of the 2015 session of the Synod of Bishops and the addresses and homilies of Pope Francis himself,” Burke wrote in the National Catholic Register.
Schoenborn rejected Burke’s claim in his interview with Civilta Cattolica.
The document, Schoenborn said, “is an act of the magisterium that makes the teaching of the church present and relevant today.”
Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, another leading conservative, has criticized the document as vague and confusing, and denied that it opened the door to Communion, since doing so would contradict previous church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
Francis’ own doctrine czar, German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, concurred with Caffarra, saying the pope would have been more clear if he had intended such an opening. Mueller argued in a May 4 speech in Spain that decisions about whether someone can receive the sacraments cannot be arrived at purely in the realm of individual, private discernment.
“A privatization of the sacramental economy would certainly not be Catholic,” he said.
In Wednesday’s Osservatore Romano, Italian historian and politician Rocco Buttiglione said the church has always taught that there can be cases in which the faithful might not believe themselves to be in a state of mortal sin, or might not be fully responsible for it, which can mitigate their culpability.
“The path that the pope proposes to divorced and remarried is exactly the same that the church proposes to all sinners: Go to confession, and your confessor, after evaluating all the circumstances, will decide whether to absolve you and admit you to the Eucharist or not,” he wrote.
Buttiglione’s argument, featured on the front page, marked a shift in the Vatican’s defense of Francis’ document, confronting the criticisms head-on rather than just praising the pope’s text.
The initiative could signal a more concerted campaign by the Vatican to ensure that the “The Joy of Love” is interpreted as Francis intended. Already, conservative Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has said that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can only receive Communion in his archdiocese if they abstain from sex and live as “brother and sister.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Connie Condra says
Francis is the most liberal pope the Roman Church as ever had. He is bent on implementing a socialist/communist agenda that would nullify church teachings. If he succeeds with this, he will be endorsing homosexual relationships. After all, did he not say “Who am I to judge?”
Apparently you consider yourself to be above the Pope & thus in a position to judge him!
What are your credentials for being above the Pope??
Rob – Are you American.
Do you believe in the US Constitution ?
It states ALL men are CREATED equal !!
Robert Petersen says
Seems to me to be true–Pope calls capitalism the “dung of the devil” and has swallowed global warming myth hook, line and sinker!
John B says
Roberson, the Word of God is the standard that will be used to judge mankind including of course the Pope…
1 Timothy 1:10 (KJV)
For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
Leviticus 20:13 (KJV)
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them
Leviticus 18:22 (KJV)
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
Revelation 21:8 (KJV)
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
John Topper says
This wonderful, loving and sweet man is trying to demonstrate 2000 years later what your Jesus said. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” What’s so hard to understand? Why put all the legalese on it? And Connie Condra, your Jesus WAS a socialist/communist, long before those words were coined. Read the Book, it’s all in there! Your Jesus defended women IN PUBLIC, ate with tax collectors, and associated with Samaritans and homosexuals. If you don’t know what any of this means, I suggest you look it up.
I no longer recognize the Mass, as it is currently celebrated. I grew up with the Mass in Latin, and was an altar boy. I have watched the Mass change, over the years, to such a degree (except for a very few prayers and practices which have been retained), that I am unable to recognize it as being the Mass. For that reason, I no longer attend the formal, church based, version. What a shame it is that I’m forced to feel this way. I continue my relationship with Christ through prayer, good works, and charity.
Jim, you are not alone in your view. I also grew up in the pre Vat 2 church, and miss everything about the time before humanizing the Divine. As much as I share your feelings, and completely understand them, I remain in the Church, and attend Mass on Sundays. Why? Because of the richness of the sacraments. I admit, its difficult to get thru. The Church has been completely dismantled, and protestant-ized, and with good reason, since the changes that were made were made with outside influence in the name of kinship between denominations. With all due respect to the Protestant denomination, the Catholic Church is uniquely different. My point in responding is, you arent alone in your feelings of discomfort (and annoyance.. yeah…..I admit…I go there too) But you cheat yourself of the graces associated with the Sacraments, and weaken what’s left by walking away. Hang in there…the promise is, the Church will be restored in God’s time. When it is, you’ll want to have a front row seat. 😉
Barbara Paolucci says
I feel the same way you do. Grew up with the Mass in Latin and English. Watched the Church install Vatican II and lose Catholics -that was the beginning. Now have a leftist clergy and the Mass is not what it was and is supposed to be. I stopped going to Church too. Cardinal Dolan, who sees himself as a real estate agent, has closed about 50 churches in the NY diocese & will continue to sell them to Muslims through straw buyers. I’m looking for a Greek or Armenian Orthodox Church to attend. I’ll always be a Roman Catholic, but won’t attend a Roman Catholic Church until things revert to normal.
Barbara Paolucci says
I believe in my religion. I do not believe in this Pope! Throughout history, no Pope retired, they died seated as Pope.
Don’t know what pressures were put upon Pope Benedict but certainly they were so severe that he resigned and allowed a Cardinal no one ever heard of (including the rest of the Cardinals, because Frances never left his adopted country to visit Rome) to become Pope. Francis doesn’t do a thing to help Christians escape ISIS, doesn’t even say much. I have no faith in him. I put my faith in Christ.