Cardinal Angelo Scola, a prominent cardinal who in 2013 was the bookies’ favourite to become Pope, has re-entered the controversy over Communion for the remarried.
In a new book-length interview, the former Archbishop of Milan defends the Church’s traditional teaching, namely that the divorced and remarried cannot receive Communion unless they resolve to live “in complete continence”.
This teaching, Cardinal Scola says, “is inherent in the very character of Christian marriage”, because of the close connection between the bond of marriage and the bond between Christ and the Church.
The cardinal has expressed his opinion to Pope Francis during a private audience.
At the 2014-15 synods on the family, bishops debated the traditional teaching. Cardinal Walter Kasper proposed that the remarried could take Communion, while continuing to have sex with a new partner, if they had gone through a “penitential process”.
But the bishops were unpersuaded by the proposal, which was not directly mentioned in the synod’s final document or in Pope Francis’s 2016 exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The exhortation, and the Pope’s subsequent statements, have received contradictory interpretations from bishops and theologians.
Malta’s two bishops, for instance, claimed that, according to Amoris, refraining from adulterous sex may be “impossible”. By contrast, the six bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, in their interpretation of Amoris, affirmed the traditional teaching.
Individual bishops around the world have given similarly varied responses. Most bishops’ conferences, including that of England and Wales, have stayed silent.
In the new interview, according to excerpts reported by L’Espresso, Cardinal Scola says the “heart of the problem” is that marriage and Holy Communion are intimately connected. The Eucharist, the cardinal says, “is the sacrament of spousal love between Christ and the Church.”
Since the Eucharist is “foundational” to marriage, the cardinal says, someone who leaves a marriage and starts a new union has also “excluded himself from the Eucharist”.
He writes: “The non-admissibility of the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist is not a punishment that can be taken away or reduced, but is inherent in the very character of Christian marriage, which, as I have said, lives on the foundation of the Eucharistic gift of Christ the bridegroom to his bride the Church.”
Cardinal Scola’s argument echoes the language used by Pope St John Paul II in his 1981 exhortation Familiaris Consortio. The Polish pope said the Church “reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.”
John Paul explained this in terms of the connection between marriage and the Eucharist: “They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.”
This teaching was repeatedly reaffirmed by John Paul, as well as by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and by Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Scola followed John Paul in saying that the remarried can only receive Communion if they go to Confession and resolve to live in complete continence.
The cardinal also argued that Amoris Laetitia was not the first instance of the Church showing “attention” and “sensitivity” to divorced Catholics. Benedict XVI, Cardinal Scola recalled, had said in 2012 “that it is not enough that the Church should intend to love these persons, but ‘they should see and feel this love.’ And he added that ‘their suffering, if truly accepted from within, is a gift to the Church.’”