If divorced-and-remarried Catholics should receive communion, as Cardinal Walter Kasper and many of the German bishops suggest, does that mean St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher died for nothing?
In his latest column Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver asked this question and pointed to similarities between Cardinal Kasper’s push for allowing remarried Catholics to receive communion and English bishops granting Henry VIII’s “annulment.”
“As with those who advocate for communion for the civilly remarried, the English bishops were uncomfortable with embracing divorce and remarriage outright,” he said in his Oct. 19 column.
“Instead, they chose to bend the law to the individual circumstances of the case with which they were confronted, and King Henry VIII was granted an ‘annulment’ — on a fraudulent basis and without the sanction of Rome.”
The case for Henry VIII’s divorce came from a “strong utilitarian argument”: the king’s personal happiness and the well-being of the country.
Similarly, Archbishop Aquila said, some of the German bishops at the Synod on the Family “are pushing for the Church to allow those who are both divorced and remarried to receive communion, while other bishops around the world are insisting the Church cannot change Christ’s teaching.”
Two men we now recognize as saints, Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, refused to join England’s bishops in recognizing the king’s divorce and remarriage. Both men were beheaded and later canonized.
Now similar arguments are being heard in Rome as some of the German bishops are calling for divorced-and-remarried Catholics to be able to receive communion, the archbishop observed.
“And this begs the question: Do the German bishops believe that Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher sacrificed their lives in vain?”
In contrast to Cardinal Kasper’s comment that “heroism is not for the average Christian,” Jesus tells us plainly that “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” the Denver archbishop said.
While those who find themselves “on the margins of the faith” must be welcomed with mercy in the Church and parish life, he noted, we must also remember that “mercy always speaks the truth, never condones sin, and recognizes that the Cross is at the heart of the Gospel.”
What is offered by those who support communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics is “cheap grace,” Archbishop Aquila said, citing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work, “The Cost of Discipleship.”
“Jesus showed us throughout his ministry that heroic sacrifice is required to follow him,” he said.
When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to him, Jesus first protected her from her accusers. Then, he told her to turn from her old ways and “sin no more,” the archbishop said.
He contrasted this approach with that of Cardinal Kasper, who holds that we “can’t say whether it is ongoing adultery” when a divorced Christian engages in “sexual relations” with a new partner.
However, Archbishop Aquila said, “the Catholic Church has always taught that divorce and remarriage is simply adultery by another name,” according to Christ’s own teaching in Mt. 5:32, Mk. 10:12 and Lk. 16:18.
“On remarriage, and many other issues, no one would say that the Church’s teaching, which is Christ’s, is easy,” he acknowledged. However, the teaching is clear and the Church must abide by it.
“Let us pray that all concerned will listen to those words of eternal life, no matter how difficult!”