This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 31 October 2015 to 23 November 2015.


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lutheran-800x500Pope Francis recently answered a Lutheran woman’s question regarding the possibility of her taking Communion with her Catholic husband at Mass.

His remarks, which he made at an ecumenical meeting in a Lutheran church, have raised eyebrows.

You can read them online here. Another translation is here. You can also watch the exchange in Italian here.


What the woman asked

This is what the Lutheran woman said:

My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many people in our community, I’m married to an Italian, who is a Roman Catholic Christian. We’ve lived happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And so we greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord’s Supper together. What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?


What might the pope have said?

Of course, one response would be, “Become Catholic.” But if popes said that routinely when they were in a Lutheran church, they wouldn’t be invited to Lutheran churches and would lose this form of outreach to other Christians.

Intra-Christian unity proceeds slowly. Being too explicit right up front is a little like saying “Marry me!” on the first date.

So you wouldn’t really expect Pope Francis to explicitly propose swimming the Tiber in this particular context.

He could have said, “Study and pray—especially pray for the day when Christian unity is restored and we can have full sharing at the Lord’s table.”

Or he could have said, “It is a profound sadness that, because of the differences that divide us, we cannot presently share the Eucharist. This does not mean that you and your husband cannot share and celebrate the aspects of the Christian faith that we have in common, and you can work to overcome the obstacles that remain.”

There are all kinds of brief responses the pope might have made.

Presumably, he didn’t have to take the question at all. Papal questions are regularly screened to keep the pope from being put in the position of commenting on something he doesn’t want to address.

Since he took the question, Pope Francis apparently wanted to address this issue—he felt he had something useful to say about it.


What the pope said

The pope’s response is hard to summarize. His answer was somewhat stream-of-consciousness.

After joking that the question of sharing the Lord’s Supper was hard for him to answer—particularly in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper (who, as the former Vatican head of ecumenical affairs, was there)—he reflected on the role of the Lord’s Supper in the Christian life.

He noted that we will all receive it at the eternal banquet in the New Jerusalem, but he had questions about intercommunion here on earth, saying:

To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [provisions] for walking together?


Goal or assistance?

Here he refers to two views of intercommunion. The first would make it the goal of ecumenical dialogues. In other words, we need to restore full unity in faith, and the crowning result of that will be sharing the Eucharist.

The second view would be that sharing the Eucharist is something Christians of different confessions should do now as a way of fostering growth in Christian unity (walking together).

The pope does not decide between these two views, the first of which is the one the Holy See has consistently maintained. Instead, he says:

I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.

The fact he speculates on this question in public, in an ecumenical setting, could be viewed as a source of concern.

Even if he thought the question of eucharistic sharing needed to be further explored, is this the right context to be discussing that? It seems to carry several risks. One is that the pope could look like he’s not backing the Catholic position.

Apparently, Pope Francis thought such risks were worth taking.


Doctrine and baptism

Pope Francis goes on to say:

It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine—underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand—but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same baptism?

The first part of this acknowledges the principle supporting the Church’s historic position on intercommunion: that sharing in the Eucharist means holding the same doctrine, so that people who disagree with Church teaching, especially its infallibly defined teaching, should not be receiving the Eucharist at Mass.

Pope Francis acknowledges the legitimacy of this principle, but he appears to ask whether it is the only relevant principle and whether the common baptism that we share could affect the situation.


Current intercommunion

It’s surprising the pontiff didn’t take this occasion to refer to something that would make the point that baptism does have an effect on the question of intercommunion.

The Church does permit—and has for some time—intercommunion in limited circumstances, on the basis of our common baptism.

Canon 844 §§2-3 of the Code of Canon Law describes the particular requirements for when baptized non-Catholic Christians can be admitted to the Eucharist, confession, and the anointing of the sick.

More on that below.


Further reflections

Pope Francis reflected further on baptism, though it is somewhat difficult to follow his train of thought. The impression is that he was answering off the top of his head, which can result in hard-to-follow answers, at times, for anybody.

Returning to the subject of the Eucharist, he says:

The question: and the [Lord’s] Supper? There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself.

This is true. The question that springs to mind is the one every Catholic must ask before receiving Communion: Am I in a state where I can receive worthily?

Only the individual knows whether he has fulfilled the requirements, and however much or little theological knowledge he has, he needs to apply it before going to Communion.

That’s not to say that a person can simply “discern” that it’s okay for him to go to Communion. Canon 844, among others (such as canon 915), provides limits on who can receive Communion and when. It is only when such canons do not impede an individual that the question of one’s personal judgment comes into play.

Pope Francis continues:

This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me—this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.

This echoes his point about the Eucharist being assistance for the journey rather than exclusively a goal. The principle certainly applies to the life of the individual believer—Jesus means to strengthen us through the Eucharist throughout life, not just give us admission to the banquet at the end of time.

Whether the principle applies in the same way to the ecumenical movement is a separate question.


An illustration involving a bishop

Pope Francis then tells a story about a bishop “who went a little wrong.”

According to this translation, the bishop was an Episcopalian, and his wife and children were Catholic. However, another translation omits the reference to it being an Episcopalian bishop and, in the commentary, takes it to be a reference to former Catholic bishop Jeronimo Podesta.

The first translation appears to be correct. A check of the Italian original (also here) reveals Pope Francis saying “un vescovo episcopaliano”—“an Episcopalian bishop.”

He says:

He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sunday, and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went forward, the Lord called him, a just man.

It is unclear what this means. It could mean that the Episcopalian bishop “went forward” to receive Communion at a Catholic Mass. It could mean that he “went forward/onward” in his walk with God and became a Catholic or somehow addressed the fact that he had gone “a little wrong.” The latter is suggested by the second translation, which reads, “Then he went forward, then the Lord called him [to realize] ‘I’m not right.’”


Answering a question with a question

I’m not sure what to make of the pope’s story about the Episcopalian bishop who “went a little wrong,” and he doesn’t seem to draw any decisive lesson from it. Instead, he tells the woman:

To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do with my husband, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path?


I can only respond to your question with a question: what can I do with my husband that the Lord’s Supper might accompany me on my path?

Pope Francis thus invites the woman to explore what she and her husband can do either because the Eucharist accompanies her in some sense or so that it might accompany her.

If the former translation is correct, he might be suggesting she explore how the closeness of Christ in the Eucharist (or perceived closeness, given the Eucharist’s invalidity in Lutheran circles) might better inform her marriage.

If the latter translation is correct, he might be inviting her to consider becoming a Catholic to be able to receive the Eucharist with her husband.

Or he might mean something else entirely. It isn’t clear what he is trying to say.


What’s the difference?

Whatever he is inviting the woman to do, Pope Francis considers it a matter that must be sorted out individually. He says:

It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what’s the difference?”

The pastor he refers to is, apparently, a Protestant who believes in the Real Presence.

“So what’s the difference?” could mean, “So what’s the difference between the Catholic position and mine?” Or it could mean, “So why can’t we have intercommunion?”

Pope Francis responds to the question by saying:

Oh, there are explanations, interpretations.

He appears to mean that there are different understandings of the Real Presence, which is true. The Catholic position is not just that Christ is present in the Eucharist but that the bread and wine become his body and blood (transubstantiation).

Not everyone who believes in the Real Presence shares that view. A common Lutheran formulation is that Christ is “in, with, and under” the bread and wine; Orthodox sometimes use the term transubstantiation, but sometimes they understand the Real Presence differently; Anglicans have a range of views; etc.

The pope then says:

Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there.

By this, I assume he means that our fundamental unity as Christians (“one Faith, one baptism, one Lord”) is more significant (“life is bigger”) than the divisions that exist among Christians on particular questions, such as the precise way the Real Presence works.

This isn’t to say that the divisions aren’t important or that they don’t genuinely divide us, just that they don’t deprive us of the common status of being Christians.

The way we should proceed is thus to recognize our common identity as Christians, despite our differences, and work to figure things out from there (“take the consequences from there”).


Pope Francis’s ultimate answer

Returning to the woman’s original question about intercommunion, Pope Francis concludes by saying:

I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.

This is a strong statement. “I wouldn’t ever dare allow” is an emphatic way of saying that he can’t give the woman permission to take intercommunion. In fact, if you watch the video, he uses his vocal inflection to add extra stress to the point that he cannot give permission.

He also cites a reason: It’s not his area of competence. He appears to be using this admission to signal that he’s not refusing to give permission out of ill will. Instead, he recognizes that he’s not an expert in the relevant area and considers it too important an area to make further pronouncements without consultation.


A matter for experts

Why might Pope Francis think that consultations with experts would be needed to answer the woman’s question? Why not simply say, “Sorry, but we can’t offer you Communion as a Lutheran”?

Because the situation isn’t that simple. The current Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1983 by St. John Paul II, allows for Communion to be given to Lutherans in some circumstances.

This woman’s case doesn’t meet the criteria named in the Code, but Pope Francis may be wondering if it would be possible to give Communion in additional circumstances beyond those mentioned in canon 844.

For example, canon 844 §4 states that Communion, confession, and anointing of the sick can be given to Protestants who share the Church’s faith in these sacraments (note that qualifier; it’s an important one) only “if the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it.”

However, according to canon §3, danger of death or other grave necessity is not required to grant these sacraments to Orthodox Christians. They only need to “seek such on their own accord and [be] properly disposed.”

One could ask whether it would be theologically possible to modify the Code so that danger of death or grave necessity isn’t required for Protestants who share the Church’s faith in these sacraments, allowing such Protestants to receive them on terms like those that presently apply to the Orthodox.

That’s a delicate question, and it would require consultation and deliberation among experts.

So it’s understandable why Pope Francis would punt on the question due to it not being within his personal area of expertise.


A general answer

He thus gives a general answer referring to the common elements of our Christian identity, saying, “Talk to the Lord and then go forward.”

In this case, “go forward” does not mean “go forward and receive Communion.” He’s just said he can’t give permission for that. “Go forward” means “proceed on the basis you discern after speaking with the Lord,” and that can mean all kinds of things.

It could mean “proceed to become a Catholic” or “proceed to receive the Eucharist at Mass” or anything in between. The Pope isn’t telling her what course of action she should pursue. He’s pointedly not telling her that, and he’s expressly not giving her permission to receive.

He appears to feel this kind of general answer is all that it’s possible for him to offer, given the limitations of his expertise. Thus he says, “I don’t dare to say anything more,” for he would be moving beyond his personal competence.


Concluding thoughts

It’s good that Pope Francis considers the subject important enough not to go further and to leave technical matters like what may be possible in the future to be explored by those who are competent in these areas.

It’s also good that he recognizes the limitations of his own expertise, despite the fact he is pope.

Indeed, watching the video shows him being somber and seeming to struggle at points, particularly when he is speaking most directly to the woman’s question.

However, it is not easy to piece together his line of reasoning, and at some points it isn’t clear what he was trying to say.

As someone who answers questions live on a regular basis, I know what it’s like to struggle with an answer. You can have an idea what you want to say and yet have difficulty putting it into words.

That happens to everyone. “Even Homer nods,” as they say.

Because of the cautions Pope Francis makes during the course of his answer, I don’t view it as the earthquake that some took it for.

Is the pope giving permission to Lutheran spouses to take Communion at Mass? No. He expressly says he’s not.

Is this a portent of an imminent shift in Catholic doctrine or sacramental practice? No.

Is it possible that the current rules regarding when Communion can be given to other Christians could one day be tweaked? Yes. It’s imaginable that a pope might one day decide that any baptized Christians who share the Church’s faith respect to Communion, confession, and anointing could receive those sacraments on the same basis that Orthodox Christians can.

Are the pope’s remarks a sign that this—or anything like it—is going to happen any time in the foreseeable future? No.

Could the pope have answered more clearly? Yes. One might argue that, if the pope were going to struggle with the question as much as he did, he would have been better advised not to take it. But these things happen, and there is no reason to see this as a sign of an impending doctrinal or sacramental earthquake.

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PopeFrancis-fingerThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 1 November 2015 to 15 November 2015.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences




Papal Tweets

  • “As Christians, we are called to imitate the Good Shepherd and to help families experiencing difficulties.” @Pontifex 12 November 2015
  • “I am deeply saddened by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Please join me in prayer for the victims and their families. #PrayersForParis” @Pontifex 14 November 2015
  • “I am happy to pray today with the Lutheran community in Rome. May God bless all who work for dialogue and Christian unity.” @Pontifex 15 November 2015

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pope-francis-st-patrickThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 3 September 2015 to 8 December 2015.


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francis-readingThis version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 20 October 2015 to 29 October 2015.


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Wouldn’t it be great if scientists invented a device that enabled us to have a window into the past–so that we wouldn’t just have to read about the past in books?

Instead, with the new device–let’s call it a Time Window–we could actually see events occurring in the past in real time, with our own eyes?

That would be awesome, wouldn’t it?

The exciting news is that scientists have invented this device!

That’s right! The Time Window is real!

What’s more, they invented it just over 400 years ago, so they’ve had the chance to mature the technology to the point that now it’s really, really good.

For comparison, imagine how good an iPhone would be today if Steve Jobs had invented the first one 400 years ago.

The only problem is that they missed a great marketing opportunity.

Instead of calling it the Time Window ™ they gave it a much more boring name . . . the telescope.


How the Time Window Works

The reason that the Time Window–er, telescope–lets us look into the past and see it with our own eyes is that it takes time for light to reach our eyes. The speed of light is not infinite.

Technically, this means that any time you see anything, you are technically witnessing something that happened in the past.

Since light travels so fast, however, if you see someone across the room pick up an iPhone, that happened only the tiniest fraction of a second ago. In fact, you started seeing it while it was still happening. That’s not long enough ago to make it an exciting glimpse into history.

But things get more interesting when you take a telescope and point it at something really distant.


By Jove!

For example, back in 1609, Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope at the planet Jove–er, Jupiter–and discovered that by it there were several moons.

Now the thing is, depending on where Earth and Jupiter are in their orbits, Jupiter is between 33 and 54 light minutes away from Earth.

Let’s just say it’s an average of 44 light minutes away for the sake of simplicity.

That means, it takes 44 minutes for the light from Jupiter to reach an astronomer on Earth.

So when Galileo looked at Jupiter through his telescopes and saw its moons, he was seeing where those moons were 44 minutes ago.

He was viewing actual history that occurred 44 minutes in the past!



Party Like It’s 1879!

The same thing keeps happening when you look further out.

Back in 2008, scientists used one of their spiffy modern telescopes to capture the light in this image . . .

This is an image of the solar system HR 8799.

It’s got a single star in the middle, and we can see that it has at least three planets orbiting it.

What’s more, it’s 129 light years away from Earth.

That means that this image, which was taken in 2008, is of events taking place in 1879.

This is an image of where those planets were in the year that the apparition at Knock, Ireland took place, that the California Constitution was ratified, and that Thomas Edison unveiled incandescent light to the public.

It’s an image of things happening in that year.

Now let’s look really far into the past . . .


An Earth-Shattering Ka-Boom

Also in 2008, astronomers captured an image of a supernova known as SN 2008D.

Here’s a time-lapse image of the supernova happening, both in x-rays and visible light. Take a moment and watch it:

Hoo-eee! It blowed up real good! (Particularly in x-rays.)

Now here’s the thing: SD 2008D is in the galaxy NGC 2770, which is in the constellation Lynx.

It’s also 88,000,000 (88 million) light years away.

That means that when you’re watching the supernova explode in the images above, You Are Watching an Event That Took Place 88 Million Years in the Past.

That’s right. Dinosaurs were roaming the earth when this event took place. It was the middle of the Cretaceous Era.


So What’s This Have to Do with God? 

Historically, many people have thought that the universe was only a few thousand years old, based on the most common understanding of Genesis.

Modern science has suggested that it is much, much older.

If the above picture reveals an event that took place 88,000,000 years ago, then the view that the universe is only a few thousand years old can’t be right.

So what alternatives do we have in resolving this situation?

Here are three . . .


Option 1: We’re Really, Really Wrong

One option would be to say that we are really–desperately–wrong in our understanding of science today.

Either light doesn’t travel at the speed we think it does or SN 2008D isn’t as far away as we think it is–or something.

This cannot be ruled out on theoretical grounds. The best scientific thought of the day has turned out to be really, really wrong before.

But how likely is this?

At this point we seem to have very, very good evidence about the age and dimensions of the cosmos, about how fast light travels and how far away things like supernovas are.


Option 2: God Is Showing Us Fictions

Another option would be to say that, when the world began a few thousand years ago, God created light already en route from what appeared to be more distant galaxies.

If that’s the case, then any event we see that appears to be happening more than a few thousand light years away is a fiction.

Beyond a certain point, we’re watching God’s Imaginary Astronomy Show.

Mixed in with God’s Real Astronomy Show that’s taking place closer to home.


That doesn’t seem consistent with God’s Truthfulness.

At a minimum, an advocate of this view would need to provide an explanation for why God would do this, why it wouldn’t be inconsistent with his Truthfulness.

Some have tried to mount such an explanation by saying that God created the world with an “appearance of age,” the same way that he created Adam and Eve as full-grown adults rather than babies.

That is the way Genesis seems to depict the creation of our first parents, since they are both apparently created on Day 6 of the creation week in Genesis 1, and since they are married as soon as Eve is created in the second creation narrative in Genesis 2.

If you think that God used evolution to make the bodies of the first humans (of course, he made their souls directly and immediately) then this issue doesn’t arise–at least not in the same way.

But what if you think that God literally created an adult Adam out of earth and an adult Eve out of Adam’s side? Does that provide much support for the “appearance of age” explanation of distant astronomical events?

I have never thought so.

It’s always seemed to me that, if God were to directly create the first humans as adults, there would be a very good reason for that–namely: Babies Cannot Take Care of Themselves.

Without the presence of other humans–or near-humans–to take care of our first parents, they would need to be adults (or at least teens). Either that, or God would have to run his own, direct daycare service, and Genesis doesn’t suggest that he did.

So I can see a reason why God would make the first humans as adults. That’s because of the incapacity to care for themselves that human infants have.

But that doesn’t give us any reason why God would need to plant false dinosaur bones in the ground or false astronomical images in the sky, let alone mix them up with real ones.

He could have just let God’s Real Astronomy Show play in the sky each night.

The sky wouldn’t have had quite as much stuff in it each night, but it would all have been true stuff.


Option 3: God’s Word in the Heavens and in the Bible Is True

The best approach would seem to be the classic one of saying that God’s word in nature and God’s word in the Bible are both true.

They have to be understood in harmony with each other.

Thus if we have good evidence from God’s word in nature that the universe is quite old then that helps shed light on the meaning of God’s word in the Scriptures.

This is the approach taken by the Catholic Church.

Concerning the creation narrative in Genesis 1, John Paul II stated:

Above all, this text has a religious and theological importance. It doesn’t contain significant elements from the point of view of the natural sciences. Research on the origin and development of the individual species in nature does not find in this description any definitive norm [General Audience, Jan. 29, 1986].

And the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

283 The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man.

These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers.

With Solomon they can say: “It is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements. . . for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me.”


337 God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity and order. Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine “work”, concluded by the “rest” of the seventh day.

On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation, permitting us to “recognize the inner nature, the value and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God.”

Having said that, I’m looking forward to seeing more events from distant history–with my own eyes–through the amazing Time Window! (Er, telescope.)

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 115 October 2015 to 27 October 2015.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences



Papal Tweets

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synod-of-bishopsThe German-speaking members of the Synod of Bishops have made a report which some are touting as a breakthrough for the proposal to give Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

What did they really say, and what significance does it have?

Here’s what we know at present . . .


1) What was the report that the German-speaking bishops made?

After the synod opened, the bishops divided up into small groups (known as circuli minores or “smaller circles” in Latin). These were divided based on the language the bishops speak (Italian, English, French, Spanish, or German).

The small groups have produced a number of reports as they worked their way through the synod’s preparatory document.

This week they each turned in their final report, which covered the part of the preparatory document that dealt with the divorced and civilly remarried.

The German-speaking group’s report thus was just one of several reports on this section, which was turned in as a matter of course.

You can read the full text of the report in German here.

And you can read part of it translated into English here.


2) Who is part of the German-speaking group?

The group is headed by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn and Archbishop Heiner Koch.

Members of the group include Cardinals Walter Kasper—who made the proposal to give Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried—and Cardinal Reinhard Marx—who favors the proposal.

The group also includes Cardinal Ludwig Muller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who has opposed the plan.


3) How is the German report being portrayed?

It is being portrayed—both by advocates and critics—as suggesting a way in which the Kasper proposal could be implemented using what is known as an “internal forum” solution.

This is particularly striking since the group includes Cardinal Muller and each of the German group’s reports has been unanimously approved.

Since Cardinal Muller has previously and strongly opposed the Kasper proposal, it’s natural to ask what happened here.

Did Cardinal Muller change his view? Did he not change his view? Is someone misrepresenting something?


4) What is an “internal forum” solution?

Canon law draws a distinction between what are known as the external and internal fora.

The external forum deals with actions that can be publicly verified—e.g., this person attempted marriage with such-and-such a person on such-and-such a date, they were later civilly divorced, they later civilly remarried.

The internal forum deals with matters that cannot be publicly verified—e.g., a real but never-expressed intention to refuse to have children, hidden sins, legally unverifiable private convictions.

The discussions held in the sacrament of confession represent one expression of the internal forum.

More on the distinction between the internal and external fora here.

In recent years there have been proposals to allow Catholics who otherwise would not be qualified to receive Communion to do so based on “internal forum solutions.”

The idea is that if a person is convinced in the internal forum that he is qualified to receive Communion, even though this cannot be verified in the external forum, that he should be able to do so.

The so-called internal forum solution is fraught with difficulties and has been the subject of much abuse. See here and here for comments on it by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.


5) Did the German-speaking bishops propose an “internal forum solution” in this case?

This is ambiguous. They certainly didn’t come out and say, “We propose that Communion be given to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics based on an internal forum solution.”

Instead, the text reads like a compromise. It is ambiguous—apparently deliberately so—about whether an internal forum solution is being proposed.


6) So what did the German-speaking bishops say?

The relevant section of their report begins by noting:

We have at length discussed the integration of the civilly divorced and remarried into the church community.

This can be important because it frames what follows as a summary of what they discussed. A person can agree, “Yes, that is what we discussed,” without always agreeing with every proposal that came up in the discussion.

They continued:

It is a well-known fact that at both sessions of the Episcopal Synod there was an intensive struggle over the question of whether and in how far divorced and remarried people who want to take part in the life of the Church, may receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist under certain conditions.

The debates have shown that there are no simple or general solutions here. We bishops experienced the tensions connected with this question just as much as many of our faithful whose worries and hopes, warnings and expectations accompanied us throughout our consultations.

The discussions clearly showed that certain clarifications and in-depth study were necessary in order to further deepen the complexity of these issues in the light of the Gospel, of the Church’s teaching and with the gift of discernment.

So they’re saying this is a difficult and complex subject.

They then go on to point to something John Paul II said:

We can, of course, name certain criteria that help to differentiate. Pope St. John Paul II states the first criterion in [his 1981 encyclical] Familiaris Consortio, paragraph 84:

Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.

It has been pointed out that they don’t quote the part of Familiaris Consortio, which followed this, that explicitly rejected the Kasper proposal.

Of course they don’t. You’d hardly expect a group including Cardinal Kasper to quote that part (not and arrive at a unanimous vote—which was apparently important to them—see below). But everyone knows that passage followed this one. It’s the elephant in the room.

They then get to the role of individual pastors:

A pastor’s task is therefore to accompany the person concerned on the path towards this differentiation. In so doing, it will be helpful to proceed together in an honest examination of conscience and undertake steps of reflection and repentance.

Thus the divorced and remarried people should ask themselves how they treated their children during their marriage crisis. Were there attempts at reconciliation? What is the situation of the abandoned partner? What consequences has the new partnership had as far as the extended family and the community of the faithful are concerned? What example is it for the younger members considering marriage?

An honest reflection can strengthen the trust in God’s mercy, which no one who brings his or her failure and need before God is refused.

All of this is non-controversial. People who are divorced and civilly remarried should undertake such examinations of conscience.

Now we get to the important part:

In view of the objective situation in the talks with the confessor, such a path of reflection and repentance can, in the internal forum, contribute towards the formation of conscience and the clarification of whether admission to the Sacraments is possible.

According to the words of St Paul, which apply to all those who approach the Lord’s table, everyone must examine themselves:

“A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (I Corinthians 11, 28-31)

The German-speaking bishops then conclude:

As with the procedures for the first two parts of the Instrumentum laboris [i.e., the synod’s working document], the procedures of [this] third part were handled in a good synodal spirit and unanimously approved.

This is a message that, despite their known differences, they played nice with each other (“good synodal spirit”) and that they agreed on the final report (“unanimously approved”).


7) What should one make of the part of their text about the internal forum?

As noted above, they don’t come out and say, “We propose giving Communion in these cases based on an internal forum solution.” That would state the matter much more strongly than what we’ve got.

In actuality, the text is ambiguous.

For a start, it’s true that talks with one’s confessor in the internal forum can “contribute to the formation of conscience.” In fact, that’s a key things that a confessor should try to accomplish during internal forum discussions with penitents—help them understand the requirements of God’s moral law better.

It’s also true that such discussions can help with “the clarification of whether admission to the Sacraments is possible.”

And therein lies the ambiguity.

For an advocate of the Kasper proposal, this could mean a dialogue like this:

Confessor: Do you feel in conscience that it’s okay for you to receive the sacraments?

Penitent: Yes.

Confessor: Then it’s okay for you to do so.

But the same text can be read another way, envisioning a dialogue more like this:

Confessor: Since you are divorced and civilly remarried, I need to ask if you are living chastely with your present, civil spouse.

Penitent: No, I’m not.

Confessor: I’m sorry to hear that. You need to understand that God loves you but, until such time as you are living chastely, you are not eligible to receive the sacraments.

The text of what the German-speaking bishops wrote can be read either way, but only the first of these scenarios is what would be called an “internal forum solution.” Therefore, it’s ambiguous whether the text calls for such a solution.

Advocates of the Kasper proposal can read it as calling for one; opponents of the Kasper proposal can read it as not calling for one.

Opponents can even point to the warning that follows, quoting St. Paul about eating and drinking judgment on oneself, as evidence that the text is not calling for an internal forum solution.


8) Why would the German-speaking bishops write this kind of text?

Based on the clues in the text itself, my sense is that they very much wanted to present a report that was as unified as possible.

One reason for this is that, if they presented a fractious one, it could undermine their respective positions when it comes time for Pope Francis to decide.

He knows that the German-speaking group includes both some of the strongest advocates of the Kasper proposal (e.g., Kasper and Marx) and some of its strongest opponents (e.g., Muller).

If he got the idea that their group had a big, fractious, uncivil blowup then that could sour Pope Francis on whichever group he blamed for the bad behavior.

To preserve their positions’ credibility with Pope Francis, both groups needed to appear as cordial, flexible, and unified as possible. If anyone was perceived as being hostile or rigid, it would undermine him and his position.

The result was an ambiguous, compromise text that concludes with a formula noting the positive spirit of the German-language discussion and the unanimity it achieved.

With this in view, you can see which elements of the text were likely proposed by which parties.

For example, the Kasper advocates would have wanted the reference to the internal forum and the fact that discussions in it can clarify the extent to which one can receive the sacraments. This could be read as calling for an “internal forum solution.”

Muller would not have been able to oppose this without appearing fractious—because it’s true that internal forum discussions can shed light on this matter.

By contrast, Muller or his associates would have wanted the warning from St. Paul about eating and drinking judgment on oneself if one receives Communion unworthily.

The Kasper advocates would have, in turn, found that difficult to oppose because it is in Scripture and thus is also true.


9) So what is the takeaway from this?

It’s important to recognize the German-speaking bishops’ text for the compromise document that it is.

Somewhat like Schrodinger’s cat (Schrodinger himself being a German-speaker), the document both does and doesn’t call for an internal forum solution.

What role it will have going forward remains to be seen. An early sign of this will be what note is taken of it in the upcoming document that the synod fathers will be voting on and that may or may not be released by Pope Francis.

Stay tuned. And keep praying!

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question-markA reader writes:

Does the Church teach of any parallel between the 12 Apostles and the 12 tribes of Israel?

I don’t know of a Church document that stresses this connection off the top of my head, though there probably are some that do. It is generally acknowledged among Bible scholars that the New Testament draws clear parallels between the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes–and, more specifically, with the twelve patriarchs (sons of Jacob/Israel) who were the progenitors of the twelve tribes.

By appointing twelve apostles, Jesus clearly indicated his intention to establish the Christian community as a New Israel, without depriving the original Israel of its place in God’s plan.

Does each Apostle represent a separate tribe or a characteristic associated with the tribe?

So far as we know, the twelve apostles correspond to the twelve patriarchs/tribes only in a generic manner. We can’t match each of them up one-to-one.

Also, are the Apostles the inhabitants of the twelve thrones of judgement for the tribes?

Without excluding the idea that there will be other thrones of judgment, Jesus does say that the apostles will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28, Luke 22:29-30).

Lastly, do many faithful Jewish people still know their tribe ancestry or is that knowledge long gone?

At this point, no. Most Jewish people do not know their specific tribal ancestry, though most would be descended from Judah, Benjamin, or Simeon (the southern tribes).

An exception is the tribe of Levi. Jewish people with names like Cohen (“priest”), Levi (“Levite”), etc., are generally thought to derive from the tribe of Levi and–in the case of Cohens–to be descendants of the priestly line of that tribe. They thus can have special roles in the synagogue liturgy.

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question-markA reader writes:

I have been asked to be the godfather to my cousin’s daughter.

My fiancee wanted to know, given the unifying nature of the marriage vows, what her responsibility/relationship to my goddaughter would be once we were married.

So, what is the role of the godparent-in-law?

Canon law does not provide any particular role for godparents-in-law. It doesn’t contain that category.

That said, they can always help the actual godparents just do good in the world.

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