For 2,000 years, the Catholic Church has clung faithfully to Jesus’ words, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,” as does, “whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband.”
This was an inconvenient truth for Henry VIII, who sought to have his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. Henry’s insistence on a looser interpretation of the meaning of those particular words of Jesus had far-reaching consequences, leading to Thomas More’s beheading and the 500-year-old split-off of the Church of England. Free of rigid Catholic doctrine, Henry ended up taking for himself five more wives.
Pope Francis, too, promotes non-rigidity on important points of faith, especially those for which the secular world and progressive Catholics ridicule the Church. His endorsement of a ‘moderate’ approach is not moderate: It is positively revolutionary.
On June 9, 2016 Pope Francis delivered a homily that is key to understanding his mind. Francis railed against an ‘all or nothing’ approach to the faith, saying “this is not Catholic, this is heretical.” This is the same sentiment behind his frequent severe criticism of “rigid” Catholics. “The ‘rigid’ appear good because they follow the law,” he has said, “but behind this, there is something that does not make them good: or they are wicked, hypocritical or sick.”
Pope Francis will often proclaim a teaching of the Church then, when pressed with hard cases, will back away from the logical conclusion of the truth expressed.
While professing to hold traditional beliefs as a ‘son of the Church,’ in the name of mercy he then hints at giving wide latitude to exceptions for difficult cases. Francis says ‘reality is more important than ideas,’ justifying bending the rules as a means of ‘accommodating’ those who say the Church’s teachings are too hard.
We’ve seen this time and again:
- Amoris Laetitia praises the ideal of marriage ‘for life,’ but leaves open the possibility of remarried divorcees being in full communion with the Church.
- Although he has not formally overturned Catholic teaching against contraception, Francis has claimed it acceptable to use contraception for cases such as Zika virus infection. Moreover he has stressed that Catholics need not breed “like rabbits.”
- While Pope Francis has extolled sacramental marriage he has also called cases of cohabitation, especially when the couple living together are monogamous, ‘real marriage’ with the ‘grace of real marriage.’
- Pope Francis has frequently criticized gender ideology and especially the marketing of it to children. However, he invited a transgender couple to the Vatican and referred to them as “married” and happy.
- While he admits the existence of hell, he has said that “no one can be condemned forever” and went so far as to suggest that those who want no part of God are annihilated rather than in hell.
- Although he has written that homosexual unions are in no way equivalent to marriage, he has nonetheless embraced homosexual couples, thus seeming to affirm their relationships.
To comprehend how truly revolutionary these changes are in the Catholic Church requires an understanding of the Church’s approach on these matters — an approach that has remained consistent for 2,000 years — based on absolute truths or moral principles which do not allow for exceptions or compromise. In truth, these changes are impossible even for a pope to make. As St. Paul wrote in Galatians, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
The Church has always been generous with the weak. Catholics who separated from their spouses and entered a second marriage were accommodated before Pope Francis arrived on the scene. Under Pope John Paul II, remarried Catholics were able to receive Holy Communion on the condition that they live as brother and sister, avoiding sexual relations.
Pope Francis, however, has deemed such requirements to be too much to ask and so has permitted full communion for those in second marriages, dropping the requirement that conjugal relations be avoided.
From a worldly perspective, Francis’ approach makes complete sense, and the world loves him for it. But from a Catholic perspective, his approach undermines confidence in God who blesses and supports those who put faith in Him.
If the Church says it is impossible to resist the temptation to live a moral lifestyle regarding divorce and remarriage, should it not also say it is impossible when dealing with temptations to same-sex attraction, pornography, or to abort an ‘unwanted’ pregnancy? If truths are no longer absolute, where should the Church draw the line?
The notion that Church teaching is “too hard,” is nothing new. When the apostles told Jesus his teachings were hopelessly difficult, Jesus replied, “With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible.”
John-Henry Westen is co-founder and editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com.
Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.