One of the most popular rhetorical questions may not be that rhetorical after all, at least in the eyes of some Catholic theologians who are accusing pope Francis of possible heresy against Catholic doctrine in his 2016 document titled The Joy of Love, where he opened the door to letting civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion even if their earlier marriage had not been annulled by the church. In the absence of such an annulment declaring their first marriage invalid, these people are assumed to be committing adultery and hence not worthy of receiving communion.
Several dozen tradition-minded Roman Catholic theologians, priests and academics have formally accused Pope Francis of spreading heresy with his 2016 opening to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
In a 25-page letter delivered to Francis last month and provided Saturday to The Associated Press, the 62 signatories issued a “filial correction” to the pope — a measure they said hadn’t been employed since the 14th century.
The letter accused Francis of propagating seven heretical positions concerning marriage, moral life and the sacraments with his 2016 document “The Joy of Love” and subsequent “acts, words and omissions.”
The initiative follows another formal act by four tradition-minded cardinals who wrote Francis last year asking him to clarify a series of questions, or “dubbia,” they had about his 2016 text.
Francis hasn’t responded to either initiative.
According to Wikipedia, in 2006 just 49,000 marriages were annulled with about 27,000 in the US alone.
This whole business is bizarre. Starting with the grounds for granting an annulment which involves violating one or more of the conditions that make a marriage valid in the eyes of the church.
For a Catholic marriage to be valid, it is required that: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they are capable of giving their consent to marry; (3) they freely exchange their consent; (4) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; (5) they intend the good of each other; and (6) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.
Looking at the list, it seems like there are two obvious loopholes: that “they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children” and “they intend the good of each other.” People could presumably argue that they were just kidding about the “until death do us part” or the “love and cherish” bits in the marriage vows. Indeed, former senator Ted Kennedy got an annulment from his first wife Joan by claiming that “he had not been truthful at the time of getting married when he vowed to be faithful to his spouse.” In getting an annulment, it probably helps if you are a wealthy and influential person.
So to be clear, if you deliberately lied during your first marriage ceremony, you can get a perfectly good brand new marriage but if you told the truth then your second marriage is considered a sham. Such are the mysterious ways of god.
As is usual in such situations, it is the truly devout divorced and remarried Catholics who will be having strong feelings of guilt if they receive communion without an annulment or a sense of alienation if they refrain from doing so. Those who are cavalier about their religion will simply ignore the prohibition and take communion. Given the high rate of marriage and divorce in the US, I suspect that Francis was simply accepting the reality that many of the people in the church pews every Sunday are living in sin and sees little reason to add to their psychological burden. And that is undoubtedly heresy for traditionalists who thrive on creating guilt and fear among their followers.
If we can no longer fall back on asking whether the pope is Catholic, we still have the bears in the woods.