ROME – One of four cardinals who recently asked Pope Francis to clarify his position on Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics said Saturday they acted because “only a blind man could deny there’s great confusion, uncertainty and insecurity in the Church.”
“It’s caused by some paragraphs in Amoris Laetitia,” said Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the retired archbishop of Bologna, referring to a document released by Pope Francis in April 2016 drawing conclusions from two contentious Synods of Bishops on the family.
“In recent months, on some very fundamental questions regarding the sacraments, such as marriage, confession and the Eucharist, and the Christian life in general, some bishops have said A, and others the contrary of A,” Caffarra said.
Caffarra appeared to be referring to the fact that since Amoris Laetitia appeared in April 2016, some bishops and bishops’ conferences around the world have interpreted it to mean that at least some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may receive Communion, while others have held that unless those Catholics are living as brother and sister rather than husband and wife, they remain ineligible.
Caffarra’s comments came in an interview with Italian journalist Matteo Matzuzzi, published Saturday in the newspaper Il Foglio.
Caffarra, who joined American Cardinal Raymond Burke and German Cardinals Joachim Meisner and Walter Brandmüller in submitting questions to the pope, said that when Amoris appeared, he tried to argue that it was consistent with Familiaris Consortio, St. Pope John Paul II’s 1981 document on the family, which decreed that only divorced and remarried couples who live as brother and sister are eligible for Communion.
Yet, Caffarra said, he eventually realized that interpretation wasn’t ending the debate.
“There was only one way to deal with it,” he said, “which was to ask the author of a text interpreted in two contradictory manners which one is correct. There was no other choice.”
Out of respect for the pope, Caffarra said, the four cardinals acted first in private, and only when they had the “certainty” Francis did not intend to respond, he said, did they make the decision to go public.
According to Caffarra, the four cardinals decided to act based on requests from ordinary Catholics.
“Many faithful began to be scandalized,” he said, “almost as if we were acting like the dogs that didn’t bark mentioned by the Prophet. That’s what’s behind those two pages.”
Caffarra insisted that it’s “false and calumnious” to describe the questions the four cardinals submitted to Pope Francis, technically known as dubia, as an act of disloyalty.
“I can be obedient to the teaching of the pope if I know what the pope teaches in matters of faith and Christian life,” he said. “But that’s exactly the problem – on some fundamental points it’s hard to understand what the pope is teaching, as the conflict among bishops demonstrates.”
Caffarra vigorously denied that the four cardinals have created division by putting questions to the pope.
“The division that already exists in the church is the cause of the letter, not its effect,” he said.
To explain the “confusion” and “uncertainty” he believes exists in Catholicism today, Caffarra cited a letter at length he said he’d recently received from a parish pastor.
“In spiritual direction and in confession, I don’t know what to say anymore. To a penitent who says to me, ‘I live in every sense as a husband with a divorced woman and now I’m taking Communion,’ if I propose a course to remedy the situation, the penitent stops me and says, ‘Look, Father, the pope has said I can have the Eucharist, without having to live in continence.’ I can’t take this situation anymore. The Church can ask anything from me, but it can’t ask me to betray my conscience. My conscience objects to a supposed papal teaching to admit to the Eucharist, in certain circumstances, someone who lives as a spouse without being married.”
“We’re talking about extremely serious questions for the life of the Church, and the eternal; salvation of the faithful,” Caffarra said.
Aware that some have styled Pope Francis’s treatment of the Communion issue in Amoris as a triumph of pastoral practice over doctrine, Caffarra demurred.
“A Church that pays little attention to doctrine isn’t a more pastoral Church,” he said. “It’s a more ignorant Church.”
Caffarra also rejected the idea that what happened in Amoris is a “development” of doctrine, saying that a development is one thing and a contradiction is another.
“According to many bishops, it’s a contradiction, while many others say it’s a development,” he said. “That’s the reason we asked the pope.”
According to Caffarra, it all comes down to a simple choice: “Can a priest give Communion to a person who lives like a husband or wife with a man or woman to whom they’re not married, without intending to live in continence?”
“Familiaria Consortio, the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all say no,” Caffarra said. “Some believe Amoris says yes, and pastors have the right to know.”