Profiles in Obedience (to Rome)

May 9, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – It has been sad to see the shabby treatment the former Grand Master of the Knights of Malta received at the hands of Pope Francis. By all accounts, the former Grand Master is a great man who has done great work for the poor throughout the world, and throughout his life.  Rather than the ignominious end which befell the Grand Master, one would have have thought that this professed knight’s life of service to the poor and the Church would have instead deserved praise from a pope, especially from one who professes to hold mercy and humility in high regard. Yet, the Grand Master resigned, apparently, for no other reason than it was the wish of the Successor of St. Peter that he do so. Whatever the merits of the pope’s request, it is laudable to see that someone take the authority of the See of Peter seriously in this day and age.

Yet, I can’t help but contrast this example of obedience to the Successor of Peter to the example of another man, one who was consecrated an auxiliary bishop in June of 1992. At the time this man became an auxiliary bishop, Pope John Paul II had already reaffirmed on two occasions the ancient prohibition which refused communion to the divorced and remarried. He had done so in two apostolic exhortations, Familiaris Consortio (1981) and Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (1984). Just a few months after this same man was consecrated a bishop, the Catholic Catechism was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in October 1992.  In it, as well, the Church taught communion could not be given to unrepentant public adulterers.

In 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Cardinal Ratzinger, with the approval of the Pope John Paul II, issued a response to questions Rome had received regarding possible exceptions to this teaching (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994). In it, the Cardinal Prefect stated in part:

“At the same time it (i.e., Familiaris Consortio) confirms and indicates the reasons for the constant and universal practice, “founded on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion”. The structure of the Exhortation and the tenor of its words give clearly to understand that this practice, which is presented as binding, cannot be modified because of different situations.[ Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful. September 14, 1994.] (Emphasis added)

Thus, by the time the man in question became an archbishop in February 1998, he would have already been aware of four interventions of the papal magisterium on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried.  This same archbishop was then created a cardinal in February 2001.  In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis which, yet again, reiterated the teaching prohibiting communion for the divorced and remarried.

Given the above, it is improbable that this archbishop and prince of the Church could have been unaware of these recent reaffirmations of this ancient teaching by two popes in three separate apostolic exhortations, by the Catholic Catechism, and by guidance issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – specifically on this question. Yet, according to various reports in the press, this archbishop and prince of the Church ignored and or did not enforce this papal teaching in his archdiocese.

Given the above, here is another dubium for Pope Francis:  If these press reports are accurate, is the aforementioned example of obedience, faithfulness and consent to the teaching of the Successor of St. Peter via apostolic exhortations, the Catholic Catechism and the CDF, as demonstrated by the actions of the aforementioned prince of the Church, one that Pope Francis would both commend and recommend to other cardinals, bishops and priests, as well as to the laity at large?  (Yes or no)


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