Pope Francis is challenging conventional church ideals by promoting forgiveness to “imperfect” Catholics, even those who have gotten divorced and remarried, saying that “no one can be condemned forever.” While he may be in support of changing marriage ideals, he firmly reiterated the Church’s position on gay unions, saying that they cannot be equated in any way to heterosexual marriage.
The Pope released a 260-page treatise that has been eagerly awaited by his followers. The document, entitled “Amoris Laetitia”, or The Joy of Love, quotes Martin Luther King, Argentine Poet Jorge Luis Borges as well as the 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast, all in support of his case to make the Church more loving and forgiving. Followers have been waiting to read this document, especially in regards to the re-integration of Catholics who have been divorced and remarried.
The current Church teaches state that those who have been divorced and remarried are forbidden from receiving communion unless they have not had sex with their new partner. This is because in the eyes of the Church, the only valid marriage is the first one; therefore, any sexual partner besides the original is considered to be an adulterous union. The Church teaches that one must receive a Church annulment, ruling that the first marriage never existed due to immaturity or the lack of free will. Progressive Catholics have offered a solution of an “internal forum,” where a priest conducts counseling with the divorced and remarried Catholic church member and they decide together in a private setting, on an individual basis as to whether or not the member can be reintegrated into the Church and be eligible for communion.
“No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves,” the pope wrote in his deposition. He did appreciate the possibility of the individualized forum for reintegration, saying he could “not provide a new set of general rules ... applicable to all cases”, but he called for “responsible, personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases”.
While the Pope did not give full authorization for remarried Catholics to receive communion once more, Father James Bretze, who is a professor of moral theology at Boston College, said, “the dots are pretty close together, you can connect them reasonably easily and conclude that he is saying this is a possibility. If he’s not opening the door, he is at least showing you where the key under the mat is.”
The Pope made sure to appreciate the conservative Catholics who feel that rules should be more cut and dry, but he explained that the Church should be receptive to the good in the world “in the midst of human weakness”. “The Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an imperfect manner,” he said. He also included those Catholics that are civilly married, cohabitating and those who are divorced and remarried. George Weigel is a conservative American Catholic author who analyzed the Pope’s dissertation. He said that there was not a clear opening for divorced and remarried members to reintegrate. Rather, he noticed “a call for the Church to be creative in integrating people in difficult situations”.