As the third week of the Synod on the Family begins, the nature of a key question at the heart of the synod’s deliberations remains in dispute.
On the question of Holy Communion for the divorced-and-remarried, those pushing hardest for a change in practice insist that they are not touching doctrine. The Holy Father himself has repeatedly stated that doctrine cannot change.
It appears that the majority of the synod, as best as one can divine such things, considers that the current practice on the disputed question is in fact a matter of doctrine and so cannot be changed. They have a formidable argument in their favour, namely that the practice of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion does not prevail because anyone takes delight in it, or because, as the charge is often and unjustly put, that there is a desire “to punish” those who have experienced failure in marriage. The only reason the current practice prevails is because it is the logical conclusion of Jesus’s explicit teaching on marriage and divorce, St Paul’s explicit teaching on worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist, and the fact that the sacraments are not our doing, but God’s. To put it more bluntly, more than fifty years into the sexual revolution, the Church would not have the current practice which she does if it she did not believe it to be doctrinal, required by fidelity to the Word of God.
That’s the argument made in great detail in not one, but two, post-synodal apostolic exhortations: Familiaris Consortio by St John Paul II after the 1980 synod on the family, and Sacramentum Caritatis by Benedict XVI after the 2005 synod on the Eucharist. It is not possible to read either document of the magisterium without concluding that the current practice must be as it is because of the doctrine of the Church on marriage and the Eucharist.
Nevertheless, there are a minority with the synod, led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who want to admit the divorced and civilly remarried to Holy Communion while they remain sacramentally married to someone else. Cardinal Marx insists that this would not change the doctrine on marriage or the Eucharist. Either Cardinal Marx is right about that, or he is wrong. For that matter, either the plain reading of Familiaris Consortio and Sacramentum Caritatis is right or wrong.
As the synod draws to a close this week, it would seem of the utmost important to have an answer to that question.
So now it is decision time. Before the question can be answered, it is necessary to know what kind of question it is. Before a decision can be taken, it is necessary to decide to decide, and to decide to decide in this matter requires a decision about the kind of matter it is. If the synod fathers disperse on Sunday with their official documents still not pronouncing on the question, uncertainty will be prolonged, which causes confusion and, inevitably, acrimony.
A week is a long time in a synod, so on Monday morning it is not possible to know where things will end on Saturday night. There is time enough to decide. Indeed, it would be irresponsible not to take a decision.