Kicking the Crisis Can Down the Road

April 18, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – On April 10, 2017, InfoVaticana published an interview with Cardinal Burke. It contained good news and bad news. Cardinal Burke indicated that there were “more than four cardinals” who support the Dubia.  That is a spot of good news. The bad news is that, speaking of these other cardinals, Cardinal Burke said “for various reasons they do not want to say so publicly.” The reality seems to be, these other princes of the Church have left their brother Dubia-cardinals twisting in the wind. Such “private” support is not much support at all.

The most surprising thing of the interview, to me at least, was to read that the four cardinals, as of yet, have not privately corrected the pope in relation to the Dubia. Given that we have passed the year anniversary of Amoris Laetitia and seen so much confusion and division in its wake, this is most disappointing. Over this period, the list of bishops supporting communion for the divorced and remarried (living more uxurio) continues to grow. The bright spot in the news has been that other bishops have come out in support of the traditional practice, which denies communion to the divorced and remarried in such cases.

Still, seeing this division, we must wonder—why no private and or public correction to date? I have no inside information on the question. I suspect it might have something to do with the nature of the support the Dubia cardinals have received behind the scenes from other cardinals. The support for a correction among these cardinals might be real, but the intensity and nature of it likely varies among them.  The spectrum of support for a Papal Correction might range from those who accept the theological hypothesis a pope could both fall into and be deposed for heresy to those who reject such a thing as a real theological possibility-even if the error is similar to that of Pope Honorius (i.e., ultimately one of silence). Surely, there are other categories of support for the Dubia as well. However, gathering such divergent support into a focused end-game strategy to resolve the present crisis must be something akin to herding cats. What, if any, “teeth” might a correction have that might compel an answer worthy of a successor of Peter?  Or, does the correction itself remain the last word even if there is no reply to it?

A public correction, with or without teeth, is best given soon. A correction might stimulate a papal response, as Paul’s correction of Peter apparently did. Pope Francis might then see the necessity to “confirm the brethren” and end the division and confusion over communion for the divorced and remarried. However, if the cardinals fail to issue a private and or a public correction (if necessary), they are only kicking the proverbial can down the road. A crisis deferred is a crisis magnified.

If Pope Francis issued a definitive clarification with the voice of Peter, the Church would have the prospect of entering the next conclave unified on the Dubia questions. Without a papal clarification regarding the Dubia, the confusion and division will spread. An unofficial wink will be given to those bishops and episcopal conferences which enact guidelines favoring communion for the divorced and remarried, while other bishops and episcopal conferences will enact opposing guidelines. Thus, the can continues to be kicked down the road. However, the problem with kicking the can down the road is—if you kick long enough and far enough—one eventually runs out of road. It seems to me, that road ends with the next conclave. By that point there will be two broad, but clearly defined factions. One will be the “Francis faction” that would allow communion to the divorced and remarried (living more uxurio) in some way. The other, we might call the Familiaris Consortio faction, would forbid communion in all such cases.

I cannot read the future. That said, I do not see how there can be a “moderate” or “compromise” papal selection between the two sides, any more than there could be a compromise between the Arian and Nicene parties of the 4th century A.D. Then, the “compromise” position—semi Arianism—was itself a heresy. As it stands today, after consulting Wikipedia, there are about 117 cardinals eligible to vote. Of these, 44 or 38% have been appointed by the current reigning pontiff. The pope, given “time and space,” will increase the numbers of these cardinals over the remainder of his pontificate. Presumably, their selection will be based, in part, on the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried. It has been reported that Pope Francis said he might go down in history “as the one who split the Church” (See 1 Peter 5 commentary on this quote in Der Spiegel).  Whatever the truth of this attribution, the danger of a split is real. On our present course, the road down which the proverbial can has been kicked will end—at the next conclave.


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