In the Communion debate, the cogent arguments are all on one side

Catholics receiving Communion during a Mass in Gaza in 2014 (Getty)

Charles Moore, a leading British public intellectual and a master of understatement, has recently given an interview to an Italian magazine in which he describes Pope Francis’s papacy as lacking the intellectual weight of that of his predecessors. “I think this intellectual deficiency in his papacy may also be causing some organisational deficiencies and a slight sense of confusion,” he says.

No one can accuse Moore of having an axe to grind or a grudge to settle. He is above that sort of thing. And we should be grateful for his intervention: it takes someone of Moore’s calibre to articulate what many have been noticing for some time.

Where are the great intellectuals in the Amoris Laetitia debate, for example? They are there, but they are all on one side. Firmly against the idea of communion for the divorced and remarried, and articulate in pointing out why this cannot be done without violating Catholic tradition, is Cardinal Caffarra, the foremost theologian of our time. In his corner – for how could he be anywhere else? – is Saint John Paul II, and, though no one mentions this, the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. So are popes and councils down the ages. Communion for the divorced and remarried just cannot be reconciled with the tradition.

Some proponents of communion for the remarried are intellectually distinguished. But even these bright stars have failed to advance a single cogent argument for the novel practice. Cardinal Kasper’s book, where all this originated, fails to make that case, for while it makes several splendid assertions, it fails to find any convincing evidence to back them up. Again, take Archbishop Charles Scicluna’s defence of his document, which said that avoiding adultery may be “impossible”: “Whoever wishes to discover what Jesus wants from him, he must ask the Pope, this Pope, not the one who came before him, or the one who came before that.” This gives no argument against the traditional teaching; it just takes refuge in ultramontanism. (It also makes unwarranted assumptions about what Pope Francis has actually taught.)

Everyone knows that all mortal sins have to be confessed before receiving Holy Communion – this is what has always and everywhere been believed. To admit the divorced and remarried who live more uxorio – or those not married at all – to Holy Communion is to contradict this basic and millennial teaching. I am of course fully aware that there is a difference between objective sin and subjective guilt, but we know from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the whole historical witness of the Church, that this cannot be used to defend Communion for the remarried.

Charles Moore says: “One thing I value about Catholic teaching is a strong theological and intellectual thread through the argument, allowing you to determine whether you agree with it or not.” This concept – that Catholicism is an intellectually coherent religion – rests ultimately on the principal of non-contradiction: in other words, something cannot be two things at the same time when those two things contradict each other. You cannot be married to Katherine of Aragon but living with Anne Boleyn and be in a state of grace. If the second union is good, then what has happened to the first union? Catholics do not do doublethink; certainly St John Fisher and St Thomas More did not, though numerous Tudor lickspittles did.

All Catholic seminarians study philosophy before they do theology, and the idea behind this is to provided a strong intellectual framework for the theology they learn. The moment a theological position is show to be philosophically bogus is the moment it should be rejected. Charles Moore is reminding us of this heritage. The moment our philosophical discipline breaks down, our theology loses credibility. This applies all too well to those who interpret Amoris Laetitia as overturning Church teaching.

At stake here is something much greater than the question of Amoris Laetitia. At stake is the credibility of the Church. If we can just cancel the teaching of John Paul II and all the Popes up to him, all on the presumed word of the current Pope, then the teaching of each and every Pope is only of any interest until such a time it is overturned. And if teachings can be so easily abolished, the concept of the magisterium crumbles to dust. Is this what the proponents of Communion for the remarried want?