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Bishop Tobin on Remarried Couples & the Eucharist

pptobin280409Has anyone else read Bishop Thomas Tobin’s letter posted on the Providence Diocese’s website?  He invites discussion.  Thus, with all due respect, I would like to share my concerns.  The bishop writes:

In my personal reflection on this dilemma, I turn to the incident in the Gospels in which Jesus and His followers were walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath and because they were hungry, began to pick and eat the grain, a clear violation of an important Mosaic Law. The offense was roundly condemned by the religious experts, the Pharisees. But in response, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:23-28).  In other words, while not denying the validity of the law, our Lord clearly placed it in a “pastoral context,” exempting its enforcement due to the human needs of the moment. Could we not take a similar approach to marriage law today?

One cannot really compare the issue of divorced-and-remarried Catholics being allowed to receive Holy Communion with the incident where our Lord’s apostles are charged with violation of the Sabbath by picking and eating the heads of grain (Mk 2:23-28).  The first is in regard to spiritual disposition and the sacrilege of taking Holy Communion while in mortal sin.  The latter simply focuses upon a pharisaical interpretation of the commandment demanding rest.  The apostles were not in any grievously sinful state.  Jesus excuses them, as a foretaste of the freedom that comes with his dispensation.  But, more than this, Jesus is God.  The lawgiver can excuse whatever laws he wills.  The Church can also make modifications, as with our keeping the Sunday Observance over the traditional Hebrew Sabbath.  However, such authority is not absolute and this juridical rendering is a far cry from trying to circumnavigate around basic objective moral norms.  The Church and the Pope do not have the authority to authorize sin and sacrilege.

What constitutes a genuine pastoral approach?  Excusing or enabling serious sin is no favor to anyone.  While we may be troubled by exclusion and feelings of hurt; how can these compare to the fires of hell and the loss of God’s friendship.  The pastoral cannot be so focused on the external situation or appearances that we neglect the internal reality.  The corollary to the assertion that “matrimony is made for man, not man for matrimony” does not find its solution in feigned second marriages but in a chaste celibacy.  Promises are made to be kept.  If the first marriage is authentic, then as long as one spouse lives, any attempted second marriage is a fiction.  That is the long-and-short of it.  There is no viable solution out of this conundrum.  This is more than “the lofty demands of the law,” but the enduring truth that the two become one flesh.  Affections might stray but one spouse continues to belong to the other.  Infidelity is stealing what is the spouse’s due and giving it to another.  There is no way that the Church could rubber-stamp such a scenario.

The bishop writes,

But at the same time, the Church has taught the pre-eminent value of receiving the Holy Eucharist, and I keep hearing the words of Jesus about the Eucharist, words that are just as valid and important as His words about marriage: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53).

Missing from this assessment is the ancient teaching, recited in the sequence for Corpus Christi, that the same sacrament which brings life to one, brings judgment to another.  Purposely giving Holy Communion to those who are in an adulterous situation would invite condemnation upon them and ridicule upon a hypocritical Church.

Bishop Thomas Tobin states:

And I know that I would much rather give Holy Communion to these long-suffering souls (divorced-and-remarried couples) than to pseudo-Catholic politicians who parade up the aisle every Sunday for Holy Communion and then return to their legislative chambers to defy the teachings of the Church by championing same-sex marriage and abortion.

The bishop means well and he says, honestly, that he does not know the answer to the predicament; however, sympathy for small devils while castigating large ones is no answer at all.  A man can jump from one ledge to another.  If he misses by a foot or an inch, it makes no difference.  He is still just as dead.  This is the appropriate analogy here.

Bishop Tobin echoes an article in the National Catholic Reporter by Fr. Peter Daly who suggested that annulments be simplified by handling the situations entirely at the local level.  The bishop writes:

Can we eliminate the necessity of having detailed personal interviews, hefty fees, testimony from witnesses, psychological exams, and automatic appeals to other tribunals?  In lieu of this formal court-like process, which some participants have found intimidating, can we rely more on the conscientious personal judgment of spouses about the history of their marriage (after all, they are the ministers and recipients of the sacrament!) and their worthiness to receive Holy Communion?

The true Sensus Fidelium is that collection of the laity that keeps our moral laws and regularly goes to Mass.  They would be critical of this proposed solution.  The grounds for annulments often rests in ignorance, deceit, lack of proper discretion, inability to fulfill the obligations of marriage, mental problems, prior addiction, etc.  People are often blind to their own faults and shortcomings; but here the bishop is literally saying, “Physician, heal thyself!”  Would this apply for only the second marriage?  What about the third?  What part would “the other woman” play when marriages were deliberately destroyed?  Such a measure would play into the hands of selfishness.  Many of them do not understand the difference between an annulment and a divorce.  If the bishop’s notion were adopted, there would be no difference— and a basic command from Christ would be explicitly violated.

This is all quite serious.  The marriage analogy plays a crucial part in our understanding of the Church’s relationship to Christ and the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Weaken one and we hurt the others— the dominoes will begin to fall.