The National Catholic Review

Ross Douthat’s article in the New York Times on Sunday sounded the alarm: Pope Francis through his Synod on the Family has brought the church to the edge of a precipice. If the synod continues on its present trajectory, it will “sow confusion among the church’s orthodox adherents” and could lead “eventually to real schism.” This is a dire prediction. It is also call to arms.

Change is in the air at the synod. To that extent Mr. Douthat is right. Moreover, change is problematic for an institution whose very reason for existence is to preserve and proclaim unchanged a message received long ago. Yet, given our human condition, change is inevitable. Sometimes change is required precisely in order to remain faithful to the tradition. It has in that way been operative in the church from the beginning.            

Every council in the history of the church has been an instrument of change, and the synod is in effect a mini-council. Pope Francis convoked it for an examination of conscience about a range of questions directly or indirectly affecting the Sacrament of Matrimony. What will result from this examination? We don’t know. Will it be a declaration, a decree, a simple report? We don’t know. No matter what the form, what will it say? We don’t know.

The synod has completed only part one of a two-part meeting. It has at this juncture issued no decisions, and the “final report” of last week is by no means the last word. The prelates who are participating now have a year to reflect and consult. When they return to Rome they will continue to debate the issues, and then, we presume, will issue an official document in their name and in the name of the Holy Father.

Mr. Douthat cites Vatican II favorably as an example of a council where the debates “while vigorous, were steered toward a (pope-approved) consensus.” This is true. The debates were vigorous, sometimes fierce, a phenomenon of many councils besides Vatican II. Douthat cites the documents on religious liberty and “Judaism” (that is, “Nostra Aetate,” on non-Christian religions) to make his point, They passed, as he correctly states, with “less than a hundred dissenting votes out of 2,300 cast.”

Yes, they finally passed with that degree of unanimity. But before they reached that point they were so hotly contested and seen as such radical changes in Catholic tradition that the Secretariat for Christian Unity, the body at the council responsible for them, seriously considered withdrawing them from the agenda rather than risk a vote.

The pope-approved consensus was achieved at Vatican II only after all parties were heard from and then worked together to see what they could agree upon. The bishops seized the opportunity to speak their mind on issues that until then had been off-limits. Now, at the synod, Pope Francis encouraged the bishops to do the same, to speak their minds “without fear.” They have done so on issues that for at least the past 35 years have been crying for attention.

I am Catholic enough to assume that next year the synod will move to what Douthat calls a “pope-approved consensus.” It is the Catholic way. The synod has in fact already moved in that Catholic way and given every indication that it will continue to do so. After the synod as before the synod, we will face difficult times. But we are not on the edge of a precipice.

What, then, is to be said about Ross Douthat’s arguments? I expected better from him, and he can do better. A case can be made for his concerns. Yet this is not it. Mr. Douthat’s arguments are so loaded with questionable assumptions, historical and theological short-cuts, and parti pris that it is difficult to know where to begin.

A self-professed conservative, Douthat assumes that “conservative” (as he understands it) and “orthodox” are interchangeable. In this logic, “liberal/progressive” and “heterodox” are similarly interchangeable. That is a harsh judgment, difficult to sustain. After all, at Vatican II the so-called progressives turned out to be the orthodox.

But there is a much more disturbing feature in Douthat’s analysis. He, and presumably all “conservatives,” stand unflinchingly against change on “communion for the remarried.” It is specifically this change that would “sow confusion among the church’s orthodox adherents—encouraging doubt and defections, apocalypticism and paranoia.”

What is being said here? I think we can assume that change, if it comes, would come from the synod, a body of duly ordained bishops at a meeting duly convoked by a duly elected pope. It is a body, moreover, that has at its disposal the full range of Catholic theologians and theological opinion on a world-wide basis. I think we can assume that, influential though the reigning pope always is in such situations, Francis neither wants to nor is able to force his agenda (whatever that might be!) on the members of the synod. I say that in the face of Mr. Douthat’s insinuations to the contrary about Francis.

While the synod is in session as a body of bishops working collegially with the pope to take measures for the good of the church, it is a binding and authoritative teaching organ in the church. Do not all orthodox Catholics believe that that authority is to be accepted over their own personal fears, expectations and hopes?

Do not all orthodox Catholics believe that that authority is most certainly to be accepted over the objections of “a minority—sometimes a small minority,” as Mr. Douthat describes himself and his fellow-travelers? This minority self-identifies as orthodox and, it seems, potentially more orthodox than the synod. But it is a self-identification without credentials to validate the claim.

Finally, what are we to make of this: “Remember there is another pope still living!”? “Another pope still living!” This sounds like a threat. Are Mr. Douthat and the like-minded Catholics for whom he speaks appealing to a pope more to their liking over a pope less to their liking? If so, the statement has a regrettable sinister ring. Or what? Let’s hope that Ross Douthat does not mean his reminder to be as schism-suggesting and radically un-Catholic as it sounds to my conservative ears. 

John W. O'Malley, S.J., is university professor, theology department, at Georgetown University and author of What Happened at Vatican II.


Michael O'Brien | 11/11/2014 - 9:50am

The popular rule of thumb in science would be good to apply here : those who make big claims, must provide big proof. You posit that our two popes have two different orientations, namely "One has stated that man is an end in himself, whereas the other recognizes that man was created for communion with God." I don't see that in anything that Pope Francis has said or done. Could you please give exactly what Pope Francis has said that suggests that to you?

Michael O'Brien | 11/11/2014 - 12:16pm

Whoops. This was meant to be in reply to Anne Danielson at 11/2/2014 - 11:53am. Somehow I got turned around in doing my first post.

Michael Barberi | 11/6/2014 - 3:01pm

Since the great majority of married Catholics use some form of artificial birth control, and not NFP, and are faithful followers of Christ, their voices should be heard during the World Meeting of Catholics in Philadelphia next year.

Tim O'Leary | 11/6/2014 - 11:21pm

Some polls of self-identifying Catholics show many do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. See this extensive poll by CARA. It is sad that so many do not attend mass regularly, and shocking that so many do not believe in the Real Presence. Of those who attend mass less than once a month, 60% believe the Eucharist is just a symbol. Of those who attend less than 1/week, 35% do not believe in the Real Presence! No wonder they think it fine to go to communion whenever they show up. The Reverence is lost!

I suppose their voices need to be heard as well, if only to understand why they have drifted so far from the Catholic faith, yet still think they are Catholics?

Back to annulments. I am in favor of a much more efficient annulment process that is fast, fair, free (supported by charitable contributions to the Church) and fully faithful. So, I am happy Pope Francis raised these issues earlier this week.

Tim O'Leary | 11/6/2014 - 11:06am

Here are some Catholic women that the bishops should pay close attention to in the coming year. I marvel at the faith of these women.

Luma Simms is a divorced Protestant (Calvinist) who's conversion to the Catholic faith was in part made through her encounter with the message of Humanae Vitae. She participates in the mass and has spiritual communion.

HV also played a central role in the conversion of atheist Jennifer Fulwiler. She had a particular cross to bear in following HV, in that she had a genetic predisposition to pregnancy-related blood clots. See here: For a more extensive interview on her conversion, see here: Jennifer's book "Something Other Than God" has just been released.

Lila Rose is another convert who has now become famous as a pro-life activist. See here her story:

Gilberto Pena | 11/5/2014 - 9:01pm

Let me quote St. Agustine:
To say then, that what has once been done rightly must in no respect whatever be changed, is to affirm what is not true. For if the circumstances of time which occasioned anything be changed, true reason in almost all cases demands that what had been in the former circumstances rightly done, be now so altered that, although they say that it is not rightly done if it be changed, truth, on the contrary, protests that it is not rightly done unless it be changed; because, at both times, it will be rightly done if the difference be regulated according to the difference in the times. For just as in the cases of different persons it may happen that, at the same moment, one man may do with impunity what another man may not, because of a difference not in the thing done but in the personwho does it, so in the case of one and the same person at different times, that which was duty formerly is not duty now, not because the person is different from his former self, but because the time at which he does it is different.
Letter 138, C1, # 4

A L | 11/7/2014 - 5:48pm

I wish there was more of a spirit of collegiality in these discussions and much less of a spirit of suspicion. It seems to me that an attitude of suspicion cuts off the flow of the Holy Spirit.

Tim Reidy | 11/6/2014 - 4:12pm

AL, please use your full name in the future per our comments policy.

Michael Barberi | 11/3/2014 - 6:57pm

If young married couples decide to use artificial birth control in the practice of responsible parenthood after attending pre-marital NFP sessions and discussing this decision of conscience with their parish priest, artificial birth control never was, and will likely never be, grounds for a future annulment. The grounds for an annulment are complex. The annulment process may be changed by the Synod on the Family and Pope Francis, but at this point, it is not certain what changes, if any, may spring forth.

Tim O'Leary | 11/3/2014 - 7:57pm

Here is a well-reasoned Canon law article discussing when the contraceptive choice can currently be grounds for an annulment. The timing of the decision and the resolve are very important. I do not know if the bishops would extend this thinking of Pope St. John Paul, but, if they did, many remarried couples would have a way to get reconciled with the Church and receive communion, which I think is a great concern of some at the Synod. It would be particularly merciful for couples who relied on faulty (unorthodox) advice from a local priest.

Michael Barberi | 11/3/2014 - 8:39pm


It is one thing if a couple hates children, is against having children for selfish reasons, and uses artificial birth control to ensure this end. It is quite another (as the article maintains) of using artificial birth control for the spacing of children or for not having more children. There are many examples of couples who have had a miscarriage or miscarriages and suffered severely because of it, both physically, emotionally and psychologically and decided not to have children. There are others where a pregnancy may be life-threatening. Under such circumstances, the use of artificial birth control would not be grounds for an annulment. Only in rare cases, such as an blatant anti-life attitude and other serious issues, would such an attitude be considered grounds for an annulment. Only the rare few of Catholics would fall in this category.

Keep in mind that a marriage is not founded upon the requirement of having children. For example, many couples are infertile and others may have good reasons not to have children. Nor is there any rule about the number of children a couple is required to have. The Church leaves the decision about children up to the couple. In this regard, they should leave the choice of birth control up to the couple as well provided they have knowledge of Church teachings, have studied the issues of birth control, sought the advice of their parish priest, prayed and frequently receive the sacraments, and want and love children or do not want children for good reasons. If they have good reasons, and it is a decision of their informed conscience, and they want and love children, the choice of using artificial birth control should not be immoral.

I do agree that many young couples do not understand the responsibilities and obligations of a Catholic marriage. Depending on circumstances, some of these marriages may be able to be annulled. However, it is a theological stretch to think that if couples do not adhere and believe in every teaching of the Church, in particular the teaching on birth control, their marriages are not valid and can be legitimate grounds for annulment.

Tim O'Leary | 11/6/2014 - 10:44am

Michael - I completely agree that it is the legitimate freedom of the parents to decide when to have children, and even to marry if children seem impossible (such as because of infertility, etc.). But, the key for a valid Catholic marriage is that it not be closed off to children, while at the same time wanting to have sex. The Catholic understanding from earliest time (the sensus fidelium of all past centuries) has been that sexual abstinence, for good reasons, is morally acceptable. Acts that prevent procreation (separate, interfere, etc) while engaging in sexual intercourse has always been taught by the Church as immoral. To quote John Noonan, Jr. "the teachers of the Church have taught without hesitation or variation that certain acts preventing procreation are gravely sinful."

Of course, the choice of artificial contraception by a married couple, made AFTER they are legitimately married, would not be grounds for annulment, since the grounds for any annulment have to be present at the time of the marriage. However, it is a very different situation for couples who, at the marriage, fully intend to use contraception for much of their marriage, even on the honeymoon, and who might even have been using it before the marriage. most couples in this situation have not even considered NFP, nor have they made any serious conscientious evaluation of the Church's teaching. It is these couples who may have a case for annulment, should their marriage breakdown. Unfortunately, there is some correlation with the use of contraception and divorce, so the number of people who end up in this situation is not insignificant. See this:

Michael Barberi | 11/6/2014 - 2:43pm


As you agree, many couples who get married have not decided upon children. As we also agree, most Catholics at the time of marriage are open to children. However, if there are good reasons for not having children after marriage then this does not invalidate the marriage. Pius XII said that a couple can practice NFP for a lifetime for good reasons. If for the same good reasons, couples use of artificial birth control during a marriage then there is no sin in my opinion.

At present, the use of artificial birth control is not grounds of an annulment. Nor would it be in the future, in my opinion. Such reasoning is ridiculous because it would mean that most Catholics who have divorced could have their marriages nullified on this issue alone...Witness the fact that most worldwide Catholics practice some form of contraception. Artificial birth control is an issue of an informed conscience. If the CC said that couples or agents who disagree with a teaching of the magisterium for good reasons, such as the teaching on birth control, can have their marriages annulled, then this would be unreasonably and irresponsibly stretching the grounds for an annulment.

As you know, there is a profound disagreement within the CC on the issue about the use of artificial birth control in the practice of responsible parenthood inclusive of theologians, bishops, priests and the general laity. The disagreement is not merely a counting of votes or poll statistics. It is based on legitimate philosophical and theological reasons even though many Catholics may not express these reasons in a theological manner. In my opinion, the Church neglects the end and intention of married couples to ensure that all marital sexual acts are not procreative and will not result in conception, and the physical acts used in NFP that bring about this end. This violates HV 12 because they are performing voluntary human actions that separate the so-called unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act. You cannot merely say "there is an exception" to this because the Church permits NFP. The CC has not adequately addressed this inconsistency and contradiction with any moral rationale that rings true to the deepest levels of Catholic minds, hearts and souls.

The Catholic Church has not "from the earliest of times" morally permitted a formal program of periodic continence where couples have the intention and goal of limiting sexual intercourse to infertile times in order to ensure that all marital sexual acts are not procreative. Such a formal program, as well as sufficient knowledge of the fertility/infertility nexus, was only known in the early 20th century.

Sexual abstinence in marriage was only permitted during the time of Augustine if both agents did it for God. Both Paul and Augustine said that if one partner wanted sexual intercourse, the other partner must oblige. The Church never talks about this for good reason. Also, during the time of Paul and Augustine sexual intercourse during pregnancy and menstruation was immoral because procreation was not possible. While my argument is not based on Augustine, I seriously doubt if Augustine would have permitted a formal program of NFP.

As for the claim that "some" correlation exists between the use of artificial birth control and divorce is an absurd argument because a correlation is not a cause. Few, if any, Catholics or social scientists believe that contraception causes divorce. Nor is there any credible and accepted study published by a prominent scientific organization that has concluded this. Such an argument is nonsense. Many things correlate. The increase in the use of contraception can correlate with the increase in spousal abuse, but no one is claiming that contraception causes spousal abuse.

Tim O'Leary | 11/6/2014 - 5:46pm

Michael - some simple logic is needed. It is certainly not "absurd" or "nonsense" to postulate that a correlation might have a causal relation. All causes are also correlations, although not all correlations are causes. Sometimes, the reason is that the correlated events are themselves caused by a third event. So, a lack of fidelity might be the actual cause of both contraception and divorce. You are being too emotional in your defense of contraception. Long before there was a known mechanism between smoking and lung cancer, a correlation was identified. This correlation was much weaker than that seen with contraception. The tobacco industry kept saying the correlation meant nothing in terms of causation. This is called denial. Similarly, there is a correlation between drinking alcohol and car crashes, or being male and violence, etc., etc.

There is a very strong inverse correlation between NFP and divorce or abortion. And there are plenty of studies and reports showing correlations between contraceptive use, STDs, premarital sex, abortion, etc. (Here is some CDC data on contraception and STDs and Abortion. ).

But, we have debated this issue before. You just do not get HV at all, and you rage against it, while many others find the fullness of the faith through encountering HV. I know of no one who uses NFP for their whole marriage. Many people do use contraception (or vasectomies, etc) because they do not want any children, ever. My specific point for this posting relates to addressing the obstacles to annulments. SOME people (not you, obviously) go into a marriage with a full intention of using contraception for most of their marriage, and/or with the idea that divorce is an option if it doesn't work out. Their marriages could be annulled. Yet 85% of divorced Catholics do not even try for an annulment. We need to hear from those 85% as well.

Michael Barberi | 11/6/2014 - 8:12pm


Many traditionalist theologians make the argument that the increase in contraception since 1968 caused the increase in abortion, divorce, spousal abuse, adultery, etc. I find these arguments to be absurd and nonsense, not because there might be some correlation of contraception with such things, but because of common sense and what we know to be existential reality. Such arguments about the consequences of artificial birth control are unfounded. This does not mean that Western societies have not become more promiscuous, abortions have not increased, etc. However, when scientific studies prove that contraception causes such things, then I will reconsider my position. Until then, I will rely on my common sense and the evidence to the contrary.

When you assert that a lack of fidelity might be the actual cause of both contraception and divorce profoundly exaggerates things. So does conflating the denial of the tobacco companies to the evidence about lung cancer with the possibility that contraception might be the cause of divorce and abortion. Do you really want to list all the articles that argue for and against contraception and such ridiculous consequences? Tim, this will take us nowhere but down a rat hole and deflect from the subject we were discussing which was annulments.

You think you understand Humanae Vitae, but by your past arguments with me you don't. So, let us not go into pointing fingers at each other about our knowledge of things except by staying on-point and directly dealing with the points being made and not by a deflection into specious arguments.

The majority of Catholics do not receive Humanae Vitae for good reasons and you continue to have a hard time in understanding the principles and philosophies that underpin it. Unsubstantiated arguments that try to explain the non-reception of HV do not work, such as: invincible ignorance, a diabolic cancer of the secular culture that somehow prevents Catholics from recognizing, understanding and living the truth, a lack of faith in every teaching of the magisterium, or a distorted reason. Such things are intellectually unpersuasive and are weak old-hat arguments. People are sick of hearing them because they are nonsense.

Just because some things are abused, such as alcohol and drugs are abused by some people, does not mean that the responsible use of them by the rest of us must be prohibited. Ditto for the responsible use of contraceptives in the practice of responsible parenthood.

I am not raging against Humanae Vitae (HV). I am arguing well and my arguments are contributory to the past 46 years of theological debate. If scholars and a Board of Review of a prominent Catholic theological journal rejected my essay, you might have a point about my lack of understanding about HV. However, others more knowledgeable than you think I have something important to say.

Getting back to the subject about annulments. The few Catholics that go into marriage with the idea that divorce is an option if it does not work "distorts" the whole of reality of Catholic marriages. Many Catholics go into marriage with the intention of a lifelong relationship, one blessed by God and permanent. However, most Catholics also believe that Catholics who divorce and remarry under complex circumstances deserve a second chance. This is why Pope Francis may well allow the divorced and remarried to receive Holy Communion provided certain conditions are met.

I do agree that most Catholics who are divorced don't try for an annulment. However, this has to do with the previous knowledge that such annulments are rarely given and are subject to a lengthly and complex process. I don't have any issue with revising the annulment process and educating Catholics about the process and grounds for annulment. This is something that we might agree on. However, it is my opinion that the use of artificial birth control will never be grounds for annulments.

Tim O'Leary | 11/6/2014 - 9:25pm

Michael - you do rage against HV, in that 90% of your posts challenge the Church to change its doctrine, which it will not do. You can describe HV as absurd and nonsense but that is not an argument, but an emotional reaction. Many self-identifying Catholics use contraception, but that doesn't mean they have studied the issue or the history of the Church's teaching at all. They just want to have sex and not get pregnant, whether they are married or single. Such is human nature. Many also believe in divorce, in a right to sterilization, in vitro fertilization, a right to an abortion, premarital sex (at least for themselves, if not their children), in a right to pornography, in gay marriage, in women priests, in a symbolic Eucharist. But, it is absurd to think most have come to these positions after careful conscientious study. Many even will admit that they know the Church is probably right, at least on some of these items. They have a false sense of freedom, a desire to postpone fidelity until they are older. That is the existential truth.

Hence, when someone desires later in life to come back to the Church, to try again to follow its teachings, to be reconciled, to receive the sacraments, the Church can look with mercy and forgiveness, see what can be done regarding defective marriages, and see if legitimate cases for annulments can be found. Certain attitudes to birth control at the time of the wedding should suffice for an annulment. Maybe, not for the more studious but yes for those who didn't think through what they were committing to when they said "I do." That is the more forgiving stance, and is more merciful than your rigorist position.

Michael Barberi | 11/7/2014 - 3:44pm


The choice of the word "rage" you used to describe my arguments is both irresponsible and absurd. The word rage means: an intense, violent and growing anger. Do you really think my scholarly arguments are a rage against HV, Tim? I can disagree and rigorously debate you in a respectful and scholarly manner. However, my style of argument is not violent or growing in anger.

I do challenge many of the sexual ethical teachings of the CC. However, when I use words such as 'nonsense or ridiculous' they pertain to your arguments Mr. O'Leary which often misinterpret and distort the meaning of teachings, or are weak and unsubstantiated, such as your many comments in our recent exchanges on HV. You are the one being emotional and exaggerating my arguments. You can not stand it when I either correct your misunderstandings or put forth a more convincing argument. You like to choose some words, here and there, or some texts here and there, and start moving the argument away from the points we were discussing to some other issue. What often is the result are exaggerated emotional arguments on your part like accusing me of "raging against HV". I think you want people like myself to go away or use your self-constructed and self-imposed criteria for debating. Sorry Tim, but I am not going to be pulled down into the gutter to debate you over who is "raging and being emotional".

Think about what you just said. You conflate and compare Catholic married couples's goal of 'no more children for good reasons' and 'the prudent and responsible use of artificial birth control'…with…Catholics who believe in divorce, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, gay marriage, abortion, pre-marital sex, the right to pornography,…etc. Those type of unsubstantiated assertions are absurd, ridiculous and nonsense!!! Do you really believe that Catholic married couples who use artificial birth control in the practice of responsible parenthood believe that pre-marital sex, the right to pornography, and abortion-on-demand is morally right? These are ridiculous assertions Tim and they insult most married Catholics.

I believe that there is always some truth in the Church's teachings I disagree with. My perspective and arguments are always about moving the conversation forward toward a better understanding of truth. That's it Tim, no more, no less.

Can we come back to annulments Tim? I believe in mercy and forgiveness for those in irregular marriages, those who have been divorced and remarried, etc. I would applaud a revision in the annulment process and the criteria used for annulments. However, the use of artificial birth control in a marriage "by itself" will never be grounds for annulments. That is the Church's present teaching which I agree with.

I will let those who follow our arguments determine for themselves who has the rigorist position, who is being emotional and who is raging. It is time to say goodbye once again Tim because our exchanges are becoming unproductive. God bless

Tim O'Leary | 11/8/2014 - 12:35pm

Michael - the use of all the following words repeatedly, even in just one comment: absurd, nonsense, ridiculous, irresponsible, gutter, Mr. (instead of Dr. - though I prefer Tim) seems pretty clear evidence of rage, or at least emotional distress. You use these words not only against me but against the teachings of St. John Paul, against HV (which you claim to understand and reject) and, hilariously, even against the postulate that two correlated events might also be causal!

From your many posts, I know that you differ with Church teaching on gay marriage, pre/extramarital sex (which includes gay sex), in vitro fertilization, remarriage after divorce, abortion (certain cases), sterilization, women priests, ... so it is not so absurd to postulate that there is a connection between all those beliefs and your fixation on opposing the Church (Popes, Councils, synods, encyclicals, the catechism) on birth control. Your misunderstanding of the role of teaching authority and the role of conscience in settling doctrinal disputes is one common factor.

Michael Barberi | 11/9/2014 - 6:37pm


The terms I used, namely, absurd, nonsense, ridiculous refer to a few, not all, of your arguments. When I do use such terms I offer you some explanation, especially when you misrepresent a teaching such as HV and you insist you are correct. However, I do not demean your intentions, motivations or your character Tim. Consider the fact that In the past you have accused me of degrading the CC, defaming a pope and saint and misguiding Catholics, merely because I disagree with certain moral teachings for legitimate philosophical and theological reasons. I don't mind debating you Tim. However, when you start making unsubstantiated accusations, or misinterpreting certain teachings, such as HV, don't expect me to sit back and not respond to you especially when some of your claims, in my opinion, are ridiculous. At least I try to give you an good explanation as how a teaching or a text in HV is to be correctly understood. I don't believe I am perfect Tim. However, I try to be respectful and saying that some of your comments are nonsense is not being disrespectful. Nevertheless, I think a few of your previous understandings are nonsense especially when you misunderstand the underlying principles and philosophy and actual meaning of texts such as HV 12. Instead of focusing on the substance of arguments, you often choose to focus on a few words and get emotional and exaggerate things out of proportion. Yet, you are comfortable with every word you choose to say to me and don't think anything you say is disrespectful, unsubstantiated or incorrect, whatsoever.

You really need to temper your emotions and your style of argument Tim. As I said, if you accuse me of "raging against HV" and "being emotional", then I will not enter into the gutter of a debate about such issues especially they have nothing to do with the subject we were discussing.

You now erroneously assert that my opinion on pre/extramarital sex is different from Church teachings. "Nonsense", once again Mr.O'Leary!! I argue that the practice of artificial birth control IN A MARRIAGE should be the subject of a rethinking and should be responsibly changed. I have argued that the sexual expression of love between same-gender couples in a permanent, faithful and loving relationship should be the subject of a rethinking as well. But, I never argued that the Church should change its teachings about a marriage between a male and female. In this regard I have always argued that people born with a same-gender orientation/inclination should not have to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for their salvation. I have also said on many occasions that this particular issue is highly complex. Nevertheless, I have always argued about moral behavior in a marriage or in a permanent, faithful and loving relationship.

I consider pre-marial and extra-marital sex to be immoral. How many times do I have to repeat this to you? I keep bringing this to your attention and you deliberately misrepresent my arguments. I never called for or argued that remarriage after divorce should be changed, although I do often point out Matthew's exception clause and the disagreement within and outside the Church. This continues to be a highly controversial issue in Christianity as well as in the Jewish religion. I do believe that Catholics deserve a second chance, but this refers to access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried under certain conditions. I do argue my convictions respectfully. It is not rage Mr. O'Leary. Nor am I fanatical or am I irresponsibly fixated on moving the conversation forward toward a better understanding of truth and in the changing of certain moral teachings.. Many in the Catholic Church argue similarly including clergy, theologians and laity. Most who disagree for good reasons with certain moral teachings of the magisterium are faithful Catholics, informed and knowledgable and love Christ, His Church, and strive to live morally upright lives. Respectful disagreement is good the the CC and this has been true from the beginning. Think about what kind of Church we would have if disagreeing voices were silenced?

I do not misunderstand the role of the teaching authority of the CC and the role of conscience. Far from it. I have read many books of this subject, consult moral theologians in my studies, and have read many articles representing both sides of the theological divide. My arguments are different from yours and the present teachings of the magisterium, but they are legitimate, reasoned arguments.

I admit I do not see the fullness of truth. I am a humble pilgrim on a life-long road where I strive to follow Christ and to understand and be faithful to His teachings. I am not so ignorant and misguided as your comments claim.

Once again, our exchanges are moving into irrelevant issues that are deflecting from the subject we were discussing. I suggest we stop the finger-pointing and the accusations over "raze", "emotion" and the like because they go nowhere. Sorry Tim but I think others who follow our arguments can make up their own minds. Let's leave it there for now.

Tim O'Leary | 11/9/2014 - 9:27pm

Mr. Barberi. It is Dr. O'Leary, not Mr. O'Leary, if you insist on being formal about it.

Michael Barberi | 11/10/2014 - 6:53pm


I will honor your request and call you Tim. At least we can agree on this.

Tim O'Leary | 11/3/2014 - 3:20am

The idea of schism is complete hyperbole. The output of the synod (final document, but even the interim, with its messy language) is totally orthodox. A question asked is just that. It is not answered in a particular way. The traditionalists need to have more faith in the Holy Spirit - the progressives more understanding in the mercy that already exists in the doctrine, which the Holy Spirit has already given us.

Fr. O'Malley probably goes too far when he speaks of calling the synod a mini-council, since it is purely advisory to the Holy Father, just as the commission was advisory to Blessed Paul VI before he composed HV. While I have no vested position in how the Holy Spirit will determine how to influence Pope Francis as he thinks about how to best evangelize those who have abandoned their spouses, my guess is that the only procedural change will be a more efficient annulment process (not weaker process, but more efficient process). I do think that many Catholics have been going into marriages with little intention of actually having a marriage that is faithful to Catholic teaching, and hence might not be real Catholic marriages. For example, if one or both spouses marry with the intention from the beginning of using artificial contraception, or if one spouse does not believe in God or in the Catholic understanding of fidelity, or in the proscription against in abortion, and then they split up, I think they should have a good case for an annulment. This might provide an opening to many modern marriages. More merciful too.

Douglas Fang | 11/2/2014 - 7:31pm

Reading some of the comments here reminds me of Father Raymond Edward Brown, hailed by Cardinal Mahony as “the most distinguished and renowned Catholic biblical scholar to emerge in this country ever". He once wrote that if Jesus would come again today, he would be put to death again by some of his own followers.

After all, Jesus was put to death by the religious leaders of the Chosen People, those who were supposed to be the Keeper of the Law, those who felled vindicated by their righteousness. Jesus was not killed by the sinners such as the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the thieves, etc.

The complaints of Mr. Douthat about “the good Catholics” that feel betrayed by their leaders reminds me of the indignant feeling of the good son as he complained that he did not deserve the father’s treatment, or the upset of the vineyard workers who have labored the whole day that feel shorthanded by the vineyard’s owner…

The essence of God’s revelation via Jesus is total mercy and forgiveness. God did not come to this world to seek or vindicate the righteous, but to seek out and embrace the sinners. If God wants, He can turn the stones into the children of Abraham. He never needs us to justify his glory. Human existence on this planet is so utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of this universe with respect to both time and space. If you truly believe that you are a sinner, you will have a very different view about this world – this is my own experience. The Pharisee praying in the temple did so with a very honest mind and sincere intention. He just completely missed the point of praying to God.

Someone comments that “We do have two popes. One has stated that man is an end in himself, whereas the other recognizes that man was created for communion with God”. This is completely nonsense and shows a high level of both ignorance and arrogance. Pope Francis is the one who teach us that our faith and hope totally depends on Jesus. Without Jesus, all the beautiful, elegant, and sophisticated doctrines and teachings are just… that - “Though I command languages both human and angelic -- if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing”

Anne Danielson | 11/5/2014 - 8:12am

Our Human Dignity comes from our having been created for communion with God. The fact that we recognize that man is not an end in himself, but that man was created to know, Love, and serve God, does not make us ignorant or arrogant. In fact, prior to being elected pope, on page 117 of the book, On Heaven and Earth, Francis condones same -sex sexual unions that he defines as being "private", do not include children, and are not called marriage, and thus, according to Francis, do not affect society. Man is not an end in himself, nor is man a means to an end; from The Beginning, man was created for communion with God, Who Willed us worthy of Redemption.

Douglas Fang | 11/5/2014 - 5:34pm

Anne – I’m not sure why you keep on repeating the statement “man is not an end…, man is created to know and love God…” again and again as a mantra in every of your posts. What’s your point? Every Catholic believes in this basic principle if he/she still considers him/herself a Catholic. It seems that you do believe that our beloved Pope Francis is promoting this point of view, I have the following to say:

1. “Man is an end to himself” – Only some hardcore atheists can hold this point of view. The moment that you accept the existence of God, whether you are a Christian or not, you cannot hold this view any more. I grew up in a country where Catholic is a small minority. I can see that most of my non Catholic friends don’t even hold this point of view.

2. Your quote about page 117 of the book “On Heaven and Earth” lack some key points:
a. This book is about the collection of conversations between then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka with the goal of promoting a productive interfaith dialogue in helping to repair a broken world. This does not reflect the official teaching of the Church.
b. There is a clear distinction between same sex civil union and the same sex marriage. Pope Francis have repeatedly stated that marriage is only between a man and a woman. However, Pope Francis challenges the Church to come up with some compassionate pastoral care for the people living in these kinds of irregular unions, i.e. cohabitation, same sex unions, divorced and remarried, etc. After all, they are also the children of God and are invited to receive the same salvation that God promises to all mankind. A deeper context for this debate can be found here:

c. There is NOTHING in this debate that can be used to claim that Pope Francis is promoting the viewpoint that “man is an end to himself”. It seems that you are making a fallacious deductive reasoning here.

3. After all, Pope Francis was elected by the Cardinals in the Conclave under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the prayer of the whole Catholic Church. Do you imply that the Holy Spirit made the wrong choice in guiding the Cardinals to elect Pope Francis? Does it make you wiser than the Holy Spirit or God Himself? Is it an ultimate act of arrogance?

This is my last response to this topic. To be honest, I love and respect every modern Pope even though sometimes I don’t completely agree with all of their teachings. I truly believe that they are the successors of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ in this world. I do so because I believe in the promise of Jesus. God bless.

Douglas Fang | 11/4/2014 - 1:18am

My assumption is that the statement “One has stated that man is an end in himself” is referring to Pope Francis. If this is the case, this statement is completely nonsense, ignorant, arrogant, and truly heretic. If it is not, than you can ignore it.

Michael Barberi | 11/2/2014 - 8:05pm


Good comments especially about someone's comments that "We have two popes…one has stated that man is an end in himself, whereas the other recognized that man was created for communion with God". I agree such comments are nonsense and irresponsible.

I would add: The Truth never changes, but our understanding of truth is constantly evolving especially with regard to the moral law. It is in dialogue, often about disagreement, that we often find a better understanding of the moral truth. Dialogue and disagreement has served the Church well. Witness the fact that many teachings that have been proclaimed as truth for centuries were eventually changed.

Michael Barberi | 11/4/2014 - 4:26pm

Honestly Anne, such a remark without a proper context and understanding is not worthy of further comment. The manner in which you made these comments implied that Pope Francis said that man is an end in himself. Our ultimate end is in God, pure and simple. I believe Pope Francis said that the Law is not an end in itself and such a statement was in a proper context that can easily be understood. You are entitled to your interpretation of things but they are not mine. God bless.

Anne Danielson | 11/5/2014 - 11:37am

No, a precipice is not yawning, nor will one be dawning; we are already in the midst of a Great Falling Away.

"IAm The Beginning and The End." Jesus The Christ, The Word of God Made Flesh.

"Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place." - Jesus The Christ

We cannot transform The Law, The Word of God transforms us. Love does not divide, it multiplies, just as the loaves and fishes.

Anne Danielson | 11/2/2014 - 11:53am

With all due respect, the Line that was drawn in The Sand does not separate liberal from conservative; it separates those who are for Christ from those who are anti Christ. There is no division in Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Truth is not a matter of opinion, thus any change we can believe in, would affirm and sustain that which we must believe with Divine and Catholic Faith; from the moment of our conception, every human person has been created in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a son or daughter, Willed by God, worthy of Redemption. To change this truth from The Beginning, would be the change that would change everything.
Mr. Douthat is correct. We do have two popes. One has stated that man is an end in himself, whereas the other recognizes that man was created for communion with God. Truth cannot contradict truth. Which statement about man is true? Something to think about in the days ahead.

Mike Bayer | 11/1/2014 - 6:03pm

I was fortunate to be schooled by the Jesuits at Fordham. Mr. Douthat has now been schooled personally by Father O'Malley. Thank you, Father, for taking the time to help this lost sheep, which is in the great tradition of the Church and your order. The Lord continues to speak to us, yet we must have ears to listen.

Michael Barberi | 11/1/2014 - 3:53pm

The final report, now translated into English, of the first session of the Synod on the family is a great starting point. It is clear that the Synod fathers will have a difficult time chartering a better pastoral road for families who are trying to make the morally right choices in regard to the many issues they face.

The focus of the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family is on pastoral theology, not on debating or changing doctrines or teachings. While many teachings and Scripture will be discussed in the exchanges between the bishops, the objective is how to deal with the moral dilemmas, existential realities and profound burdens that many families and Catholics find themselves in today.

The word "obsessing" should not be used to denigrate or characterize disagreement or agreement with either teachings or the possibility of changes in pastoral guidelines on the many issues under consideration. Such a word does not help to move the conversation forward towards a better understanding of truth and love. Pope Francis calls for honest and open exchanges of ideas, opinions and arguments without the fear of retribution or being characterized as less Catholic or less faithful or too liberal and not conservative.

The agreement among the approximately 250 invited guests at the 2014 extraordinary Synod on the family and their support for Humanae Vitae (97%) or for certain Vatical II documents (that were voted on by a worldwide council) should not be confused with the opinions and beliefs of the more than 5,000 bishops throughout the world. Most of these bishops will likely participate in the more important final session in 2015. What is most important is that all the bishops listen to the Holy Spirit but also to the worldwide laity inclusive of theologians. Nor should anyone presume to known what actions or positions Pope Francis will ultimately take in his much anticipated Apostolic Exhortation.

Finally, it is not a certainty that every issue discussed at the Synod on the Family will result in a pastoral change. Nor should we expect that a newer and more convincing moral theory in support of certain teachings, such as Humanae Vitae, will spring forth from this Synod. The Catholic Church will likely continue to struggle with many teachings and the profound worldwide non-reception as well.

Nevertheless, there is much hope and faith in the Holy Spirit who guides the entire Church and faithful Catholics, as the People of God. Let's pray for Pope Francis and the bishops.

Richard Bourne-Vanneck | 11/1/2014 - 2:01pm

To the point that remarriage negates contrition because the individual is in a continuing state of adultery unless they refrain from sexual relations, is that not the same as with any other sin that is within the scope of Reconciliation. I.e., if one steals, lies, etc. after confessing those sins isn't that person able to confess those sins again? Access to the Eucharist in such a case is not foreclosed. Whether or not a person has the requisite "firm purpose of amendment" is ultimately a matter of the individual's conscience; as it is for every sin confessed. Does the priest ask to check someone's internet searches to see whether they are still looking at pornographic material? It seems that the rule here is based on ease of administration. That is, the marital status of remarried Catholics is readily ascertainable as such; hence, the usefulness of a per se rule. (Subject, of course, to another readily ascertain able exception for annulments.)

Michael Cobbold | 11/2/2014 - 4:24pm

Another detail, which is surely not irrelevant, is that access to the Eucharist depends in the end on the conscience of those availing themselves of it. The words of St Paul make clear what is meant, and why, and how. In 1 Corinthians 11, a section on the Eucharist is preceded by remarks on various disorders in the Corinthian church (vv. 2 to 16.). Verses 17 to 22 begin the Apostles rebuke of disorders anent the Eucharist; 23 to 33 is the section including the Institution Narrative given by the Apostle. It is in this last section that he writes:

27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

The Corinthians are to judge themselves - their judgement of themselves, and not judgement by others in the Church, is the judgement to be applied. But the Church has long lost this approach, and more or less substituted for it judgement by clergy, and by still others. STM one cause of this change and this externalism is a loss of the sense that the Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit - external obedience has replaced authentic Christian freedom, because the conscience of the Christian judging himself in the way the Apostle describes cannot be relied upon to correspond to the decisions of Church authority. Christian freedom in the Spirit cannot be relied upon to be doctrinally orthodox - people are too imperfect to exercise such a gift, which cannot be guaranteed to favour the decisions of ecclesiastical officialdom. It is far safer to regiment what they do or don't do. The result - a dead Catholicism that has become so dependent on external approval that it has lost the fragrance of the Spirit of Christ: it has become another dead ideology.

That may be overdrawn in places, but there is an unmistakable difference between the self-judgement the Corinthian Christians are to undertake, and the knotweed of Church law and discipline that governs Catholics in a Church whose Church personnel are required to be orthodox & Pope-centred, rather than to be the Christian pastors described in the Pastoral Epistles. Modern Roman externalism is not the self-judgement described by St Paul; and the difference shows.

J Cabaniss | 11/3/2014 - 9:08am

It is certainly true that the individual Catholic is to judge his own fitness to receive communion; the guidelines are laid out in Canon 916: A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession..

Since adultery is a rather grave sin it isn't clear how someone in an invalid second marriage could assume he could validly receive. Beyond that, however, it is equally true that the church also has a responsibility in determining whether an individual may receive. This is specified in Canon 915: ...others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

The key word here is "manifest". The difference between a man committing adultery with his neighbor and man in an invalid second marriage is not the sin but the fact that it is unknown in the first case and (often) quite public in the second. The clergy has no obligation to ferret out sins to judge someone's worthiness to receive, but they do have the obligation to withhold communion from those whose sins are grave and public.

Tim O'Leary | 11/1/2014 - 12:18am

I think Ross Douthat worries too much. I did enjoy his "medieval" gloss on the events at the synod (the Germans vs. the Africans; or more like the 5th century). In fact both sides of the theological spectrum seem to have more in common when it comes to thinking the bishops or the pope are free to decide what to do (hence the political campaigning). The Holy Spirit will protect the Church.

The English translation of the final synod document has just been released. It can be found here:

While many will be obsessing about 3 paragraphs out of the 62, some of the others are also very interesting. Paragraphs 17-22 reiterate the teaching of the Church on marriage and family and all had near unanimous support. I note the final wording of the bishops on Humanae Vitae (para. 18) garnered more support than most VCII documents (175-5, 97%):

“In the wake of Vatican II, the papal Magisterium has further refined the doctrine on marriage and the family. In a special way, Blessed Pope Paul VI, in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae, displayed the intimate bond between conjugal love and the generation of life. Pope St. John Paul II devoted special attention to the family in his catechesis on human love, his Letter to Families (Gratissimam Sane) and, especially, his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. In these documents, the Pope called the family the ‘way of the Church,’ gave an overview on the vocation of man and woman to love and proposed the basic guidelines for the pastoral care of the family and the presence of the family in society. In specifically treating ‘conjugal love’ (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 13), he described how the spouses, through their mutual love, receive the gift of the Spirit of Christ and live their call to holiness” (Instrumentum Laboris, 5)"

Steven Krause | 10/31/2014 - 9:24pm

Could somebody more theologically literate than myself please help me out? Surely, we are all sinners, and none of "deserve" the Eucharist. The fact that we get to receive it anyway is simply one example of God's innumerable gifts to us. Yet, there's all this debate over whether to allow communion to the divorced/remarried, or to politicians who take public positions opposing church teaching. What are the criteria by which some sins are seen as requiring denial of communion, but others aren't?

Tim O'Leary | 10/31/2014 - 11:59pm

It's really very straightforward, Steven. As long as one accepts what the Catholic church teaches, and is truly sorry for a particular sin (any sin), and makes an honest commitment (in confession, or elsewhere) not to sin again and prays for the grace not to sin again, one can receive the Eucharist. The problem arises if 1) one does not believe what the Church teaches (i.e. is not a Catholic), or 2) refuses to leave behind the sin (in other words, wants the Eucharist without the Repentance).

You are correct that no one "deserves" the Eucharist. None of us. It is a gift that only a repentant heart can even worthily accept. It is not a civil or religious right. Yet, we all need it. Jesus said: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (John 6:53). He also said "But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Luke 13:3). And St. Paul said: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord." (1 Cor 11:27).

So, the synod has a very difficult task ahead of it. But, nothing is difficult for the Holy Spirit. He is in charge, not the pope or the bishops. So, we should not worry.

Michael Cobbold | 11/2/2014 - 5:53am

In practice, that leaves the Eucharist available to clerical predators and to dictators & torturers with the blood of thousands on their hands. But that seems not to be a problem. Catholics in good standing like Pavelic & Tiso (the latter a priest), or more recently Franco, Videla & Mugabe, could receive the Eucharist, despite their crimes - whereas nobodies who contract second marriages without the first having ended in due form, cannot. Murders & tyrants & corrupters of minors, are treated as more welcome in the Church than adulterers. Yet again, the Church's phobia of sex, & its unhealthy obsession with it, trip it up.

This is ridiculous, unfair, and (most of all) contemptible. To prevent a lesser evil, a greater one is allowed.

Tim O'Leary | 11/6/2014 - 2:15pm

Michael - in Catholic teaching, there are several reasons for excommunication other than unrepentant adultery, including the so-called sins that "cry out to heaven for vengeance": murder (Gn 4:10), sodomy (Gn 17:20-21), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), and defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4). There are also the six sins against the Holy Spirit that are mortal: despair, presumption, envy, obstinacy in sin, final impenitence, and deliberate resistance to the known truth. This list of the severest sins includes only a minority of sexual sins. So, the obsession with sex seems not be be the Church's but some of her opponents.

The bigger concern I have with your comment, however, is your judgmental desire to withhold forgiveness for your list of major sinners, irrespective of repentance. Jesus demands repentance from all sinners, the great and the small sinners. It is only those who refuse to repent who close themselves off from forgiveness.

Michael Barberi | 10/31/2014 - 7:55pm

There are more inconsistencies and contradictions by priests in their pastoral role in their acceptance and practices regarding certain teachings of the magisterium than the Vatican wants to admit. For example, the principle of graduation for habitual sinners is often applied in the sacrament of reconciliation for married couples who use of artificial birth control in the practice of responsible parenthood, but this principle is not applied to other so-called habitual sinners such as the divorced and remarried. Many priests continue to leave the decision of birth control in a marriage to the informed consciences of Catholics as long as they understand NFP or have gone through the obligatory sessions as a preparation for marriage.

Just about every priest knows that most of the married people who are standing in line to receive the Eucharist each week practice some form of artificial birth control that has been condemned by the Vatican as intrinsically evil. Poll after poll attest to this fact, especially by reputable institutions such as the Catholic University of America. Yet few, if any priests, withhold Holy Communion or have the courage to remind Catholics at Mass that those married Catholics who are practicing artificial birth control and have not confessed it as a sin and received absolution should not stand in line. This is what USCCB guidelines require. One priest in Brooklyn NY did this and found that a significant percent of his weekly parishioners started to attend the neighboring parish Church where the priests did not impose or mention such a requirement.

What the Synod fathers should address in the coming year is the profound non-reception by U.S. priests of many sexual ethical teachings. This has more of a impact, in terms of moral confusion, on the consciences of most Catholics than anything else. Witness the fact in 2002 the percentage of older and younger priests who considered the following actions to be seldom or never a sin:

1. 40% regarding the use of artificial contraception for birth control
2. 43% regarding the use of condoms as protection against HIV/AIDS
3. 42% regarding masturbation

Clearly, doctrine is not formulated or developed by vote. However, there are legitimate philosophical and theological reasons to allow Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried under certain circumstances. The final report on the Synod on the Family and Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation may surprise many, God willing.

J Cabaniss | 10/31/2014 - 4:09pm

Reading this article by Fr. O'Malley left me unprepared for the one written by Mr. Douthat. That is, Fr. O'Malley seems to have missed the point regarding the central question of schism and whether the church is "on the edge of a precipice."

Was Mr. Douthat correct in asserting that to change the church's position that the divorced and remarried cannot receive communion would be a contradiction and reversal of current doctrine? Yes obviously, but not only that, a reversal of the doctrines involved here would inevitably signal the fact that no doctrine was irreformable. This might be a welcome approach to some, but to those who actually believe the church is protected from such doctrinal errors it would be catastrophic. The fact that such a decision might come from a majority of those involved in the decision would be irrelevant; church doctrines are received, not decided on by an examination of one's conscience and majority rule.

Joseph Codsi | 11/1/2014 - 3:31am

I sympathize with this view. “Church doctrines are received, not decided on by an examination of one's conscience and majority rule.” This is exactly how the Church’s doctrine was understood in the past two thousand years. During all that time, the Church kept defining the faith, not against unbelievers but against other Christians who had different views. Now the defining process has reached a dead end. In the next phase, we will have to undo, one by one, all the definitions of the past. Either the Church does that, or it will become irrelevant as far as the modern world is concerned.

Tim O'Leary | 11/6/2014 - 2:25pm

Joseph - sounds like you hold relevance with the modern world as the most important criterion for doctrinal definitions. But, you have the Episcopal church for that, at least for a while longer.

Richard Bourne-Vanneck | 10/30/2014 - 9:14pm

Excellent response. A theological defense of Kaspar might begin with a reflection on the fundamental thrust of Our Lord's mission as noted in the Canticle of Zechariah: "to give his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins." Why is forgiveness available for every conceivable sin except for divorce and subsequent remarriage? Granting that there be sin in that, why is it excluded from the sacrament of reconciliation and consequential access to the Eucharist? Absolution for murder can be granted in the confessional, but not remarriage? Is this the sort of legalistic hair splitting that is reflected in the Gospel? The Eucharist is the heart of a Catholic's faith! We believe in the Transubstantiation that takes place in the Mass. Yet the so-called "conservatives" cherish the denial of the sacrament to those who have remarried after divorce. For shame! Shame on those who misappropriate the license of God's mercy. Our Lord shamed and silenced the hypocrites, Pharisees and Sadducees on many, many occasions, notably when they sought to stone the adulteress. Our Lord did not say her adultery was right; it was sinful. But Our Lord taught that the larger message, the Christian message was to be a message of mercy and forgiveness. Where is that message in the Church today? I think those who buttress the walls if exclusion and relish banishing good, sincere Catholics from the Church will have much to answer for at the Last Judgment.

Michael Cobbold | 11/2/2014 - 4:49pm

I wish it were possible to "like" posts on this weblog, for that deserves a lot of likes. If the Eucharist is "the medicine of immortality" (to quote St Ignatius of Antioch), those most in need of it are of all people those who should have access to it. Including revolting characters like Videla & Mugabe, & suchlike Catholic tyrants & criminals - but not them only: if adultery is wrong, it should be given to adulterers & gay activists, as well as to clerical predators. Precisely because it is is holy, those who need it most - those least "worthy" of it - ought to be encouraged to receive it.

In Jesus, God Incarnate becomes a member of a fallen race - He is so fully identified with those He comes to save, as to become gallows-fodder, something accursed, an abomination to God, unclean & defiling. That is Holiness - the Holy God of Christians gets His hands dirty. He does not stay "safely" outside human history, but redeems by entering fully into it. The trouble with "holy things for the holy" is that it reflects a holiness of apartness from men, rather than Christ's holiness shown by getting His hands dirty. And this has effects in sacramental practice. This is a paradoxical holiness - yet it is the definitive revelation of God's Holiness.

J Cabaniss | 10/31/2014 - 4:29pm

The reason the divorced and remarried cannot receive communion is not because of having committed the one time sin of remarriage but because they persist in the ongoing sin of adultery. Every sin can be forgiven, but only if it involves contrition, and contrition includes the intent not to repeat the sin. A person who has remarried and is sexually abstinent may validly receive; a person who has remarried and has sexual relations commits the sin of adultery, which cannot be absolved unless and until the person intends to stop committing the sin. Do you really consider a central concept of the sacrament of reconciliation nothing more than legalistic hair splitting?

Frances Gomez | 10/30/2014 - 6:12pm

Gene you are right.

Catherine McKeen | 10/30/2014 - 3:27pm

Will those same prelates use their year to actually "consult" the whole church by way of parish/diocesan surveys or questionnaires? Such consultation could be the most interesting and dramatic change of all in the life of the modern church.


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