Sandro Magister, at his blog Chiesa, provides us with the ending of a 1972 article written by the Pope Emeritus when he was Father Ratzinger. In that article Father Ratzinger, under certain conditions, supported allowing divorced and remarried Catholics whose prior marriage had not been annulled to receive Communion:
The Church is Church of the New Covenant, but it lives in a world in which there continues to exist unchanged the “hardness of … heart” of the Old Covenant. It cannot stop proclaiming the faith of the New Covenant, but very often it is forced to begin its concrete life somewhat below the standards of the Scriptures.
So in clear emergency situations it can make limited exceptions in order to avoid worse things. The criterion of this manner of operating should be: the limits of acting against “that which is written” lie in the fact that this action cannot bring into question the foundational form itself by which the Church lives. It is therefore bound to the character of the exceptional solution and of aid in a situation of urgent need, as for example in temporary missionary situations, but also in the concrete emergency situation of the union of the Churches.
This brings up the practical question of whether it is possible to cite such an emergency situation in the present-day Church and indicate an exception that would correspond to these parameters. I would like to attempt, with all the necessary caution, to formulate a concrete proposal that to me seems to be situated within this context.
When a first marriage has been broken for some time and in an irreparable manner for both parties; when on the contrary a second marriage contracted afterward has shown itself for a prolonged period of time to be a virtuous reality and has been conducted in a spirit of faith, particularly in the raising of children (such that the destruction of this marriage would cause the destruction of a virtuous entity and would cause moral harm), through an extrajudicial route and on the basis of the testimony of the pastor and members of the community, those living in such a second marriage should be granted permission to receive communion.
Such an arrangement seems to me justified by tradition for two reasons:
a. One must expressly remember the margin of latitude that is to be found in every process of annulment. This discretional margin and the disparity of opportunity that inevitably stems from the cultural level of the persons involved, as also from their financial resources, should put one on guard against the idea that justice could be perfectly satisfied in this way. In addition, many things simply are not judicable, even though they are real. Juridical questions must necessarily be limited to that which is juridically demonstrable, but precisely for this reason they can overlook decisive facts. Above all, in this way the formal criteria (errors of form or intentional disregard for ecclesial form) become so prevalent as be able to lead to injustices. Overall, from the juridical point of view the fact of focusing the question on the foundational act of marriage is inevitable, but nonetheless it constitutes a limitation of the problem that cannot fully render justice to the nature of human action. The process of annulment indicates practically a group of criteria to establish if the parameters of marriage between believers cannot be applied to a particular marriage. But it does not exhaust the problem and therefore cannot advance the claim of that rigorous exclusivity which must be attributed to it in the domain of a particular form of thought.
b. The recognition that the second marriage has demonstrated itself for a prolonged period of time to be a virtuous reality and that it has been lived in the spirit of faith in fact corresponds to that type of indulgence which emerges in Basil, where, after a protected period of penance, the “digamus” (meaning someone living in a second marriage) is granted communion without the annulment of the second marriage: with trust in the mercy of God, who does not let penance go unanswered. When the second marriage produces moral obligations with regard to the children, the family, and even the wife and there are no analogous obligations stemming from the first marriage; when for moral reasons, therefore, the cessation of the second marriage is inadmissible and, on the other hand, abstinence is practically not a real possibility, (“magnorum est,” Gregory II says), openness to Eucharistic communion, after a trial period, certainly seems to be just and fully in line with the tradition of the Church: here the granting of “communio” cannot depend on an act that would be immoral or, in fact, impossible.
The distinction made in comparing the first thesis with the second should also correspond to the Tridentine caution, although as a concrete rule it goes further: the anathema against a doctrine that is intended to make the fundamental form of the Church an error, or at least a dispensable custom, remains in all its rigor. Marriage is a “sacramentum,” it has the irrevocable fundamental form of a decision undertaken to the full. But this does not rule out the fact that the Eucharistic communion of the Church should also embrace persons who recognize this doctrine and this principle of life but find themselves in an emergency situation of a special nature in which they have particular need for full communion with the Body of the Lord. In this way as well the faith of the Church would remain a sign of contradiction: it is this which it considers essential, and precisely in this knows it is following the Lord, who proclaimed to his disciples that they must not presume to be above their Master, who was rejected by the devout and the liberal, by Jews and pagans.
The Pope Emeritus long ago changed his mind on this subject. Perhaps as a result of Cardinal Kasper citing this article, the Pope Emeritus this year has rewritten the ending of this article: Continue Reading