There has been considerable discussion over the last year or two concerning the question of admitting Catholics in a second marriage to the Eucharist. I summarise this by the statement of Pope Francis in 2016: In his September 5, 2016 letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis endorsed their interpretation of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia, saying that the bishops’ document “is very good and completely explains the meaning of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations.”
The document by the Buenos Aires bishops, entitled “Basic Criteria for the Application of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia”, allows communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, saying that in “complex circumstances” when the remarried couple could not “obtain a declaration of nullity,” the priests can nevertheless move forward to grant them access to Holy Communion.
On the other hand Cardinal Müller recently affirmed that the Catholic Church is the “instrument of salvation”, that heaven and hell are eternal, and that moral teaching is essential to the path of salvation. He said that the divorced and remarried cannot receive the Eucharist if in a sexual relationship. (This is, in effect, confirmation of what the Church has traditionally taught.)
So what do you think? Behind this particular issue lies a broad and important question with regard to Catholic moral teaching. Briefly, the basis is the Natural Law. Or, to put it another way, if we follow the requirements of our nature, we flourish; if we go against our nature we damage ourselves, and often others. Traditionally adultery has always been taken as against the nature of marriage – which is not surprising given that Scripture is equally clear on the matter.
It looks to me as if Francis, and those who agree with him, are arguing that the established principles of natural law may not apply in certain circumstances. Presumably there is reason to argue that in such cases the importance of sexual expression in the second marriage may be seen to be closer to human flourishing than abstention. This is not entirely novel: Josef Fuchs SJ, the great natural law theologian, accepted the possibility of artificial contraception after he had discussed with married women their understanding of flourishing as it might occur in marriage.
Are we moving towards a situation in which the morals laws, as they are described, for instance in the Catechism, should be regarded as strong guides rather than absolute rules. And what might be outcomes be?