As Catholics continue to debate pastoral and doctrinal approaches to marriage, they should remember that the Catholic approach to marriage and the Eucharist has a direct impact on what the Church teaches about society as a whole, an expert on the Church’s social teaching has said.
“Protecting marriage as a social institution has protected all of society and its order,” Stefano Fontana, director of the Cardinal Van Thuan Observatory, said in the Feb. 28 edition of its newsletter.
The Church’s protection of marriage would suffer if adultery changes “from an intrinsic evil to a situation to be interpreted case by case,” if this interpretation is left simply to individual conscience and if the divorced-and-remarried are administered the Eucharist, Fontana said.
“A diminished theological consideration of the Eucharist would also imply worrying consequences in terms of the Catholic commitment in the public arena,” he said.
The Cardinal Van Thuan International Observatory for the Social Doctrine of the Church provides information about the Church’s social teaching and its relevance to society. It is named for Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, a Vietnamese bishop who spent years in prison before being liberated. He went on to serve in the Roman Curia, where he was named president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
For Fontana, Catholic social thought is based on the Eucharist.
“The Eucharist is the real foundation of the communion among men,” he said.
He reasoned that admitting the divorced-and-remarried to the Eucharist “would provoke many difficulties in the Catholic commitment to defend and promote family and to embody the principles of social teaching in society.”
This would be challenging even if the doctrine were left untouched, if access to Communion were granted according to the “case by case” rationale. If doctrine were not formally touched, Fontana said, “doctrine would be embodied anyway in a pastoral approach detached from it.”
According to Fontana, there is a concrete link between the Church’s sacramental life and “the Catholic commitment to politics.” Christians’ commitment to build a world according to God’s plan for the salvation of men has “a theological motivation and grace in the Eucharistic sacrament and in all the sacraments.”
Marriage is one of these sacraments and the basis of society. Without marriage, society becomes “a group of individual relations variously interconnected with no order.”
Fontana noted that marriage comes from the natural order, but nature cannot be self-sustained without grace.
Only in marriage between man and woman is there a basis of complementarity. This is the foundation of any other social relation intended to follow a natural order, and not “any subjective wish.”
Based on this rationale, Fontana draws a clear conclusion: “If we eliminate marriage, little is left of society. And the sacrament of marriage is important also from the political and social perspective.”
Fontana emphasized that this is the reason why the Church has protected marriage by considering adulterous acts as intrinsic evils.
His comments come amid serious debate about pastoral practice in light of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.
The Cardinal Van Thuan Observatory is based in Trieste, the seat of Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, a former secretary of the Pontifical Council Justice and Peace. It works with many bishops conferences. Its work is given consideration by many in the Roman Curia.