The news that five bishops have made a declaration upholding the Church’s teaching about marriage and its teaching about divorce is cheering news. At the same time it is depressing that only five (so far) have signed up to it. The statement can be found here. The whole thing is worth reading, but the key word to note is found in the title, namely “immutable”.
The Bishops are not saying anything new, but merely restating what has been always and everywhere believed. Moreover, no one should object to this, given that we are constantly being told that “the doctrine has not changed”.
What I particularly like in the statement is the following, which cannot be stressed enough: “The admission of so-called “divorced and remarried” faithful to Holy Communion, which is the highest expression of the unity of Christ the Spouse with His Church, means in practice a way of approving or legitimizing divorce, and in this meaning a kind of introduction of divorce in the life of the Church.” The document then goes on to note that Our Blessed Lord prohibited divorce in no uncertain terms.
The divorce by the back door argument has been made before, by many, including myself. I have yet to see any proper response to this argument.
Of course, some may dismiss this latest statement as just the work of a small unrepresentative minority. I doubt that it the case, while at the same time not expecting many others will sign this document, and noting that two of the bishops who have are already retired.
But there will be many who do not sign but who will heartily endorse what is said, and I can think of several. One only needs to remember how few have endorsed the guidelines of the Maltese Bishops, for example, and how the vast majority of Bishops in the world have said nothing at all on the subject. “But have you noticed that the majority of bishops throughout the world are remarkably silent?” as Fr Thomas Weinandy asked. These bishops constitute the silent majority: it would be great if they all spoke, but one can perhaps appreciate their reasons for keeping shtum.
After a time, though, one notices a pattern. This declaration of the five bishops comes after numerous other declarations, letters, corrections and other documents. The first of these, the letter of the five hundred or so priests, I signed, and have no regrets about signing. All the other declarations essentially repeat what was said then, to whit: “We wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia.”
Almost four years have passed since then, and has the conversation moved on? It would be nice if we could have a proper dialogue on this matter, and a good place to start would be with an answer to those dubia of the four Cardinals. After all, we are not afraid of dialogue, are we?