Buenos Aires directive

Were it not that my eyes had strayed into the Internet at large, I could have guessed from my own email that Pope Francis has “done it again.” The convulsion this week is his letter to Argentine bishops (the authenticity of which took some time to confirm), declaring that their “Buenos Aires directive” correctly interprets his views on Communion for the divorced and remarried, conveyed in Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia, and that “no other interpretation is possible.” They say the pope says they can now give Communion in unspecified cases where, objectively, the communicants remain in a state of mortal sin. The pope says that they understand him correctly.

For those who read such things, Canons 915 and 916 spell out the old rules with admirable clarity — not only on the controversial issue, but also on who is responsible for what. Read them, and gentle reader will discover the issue is not who can approach the altar to take Communion. Rather, it is to whom the priest may licitly give it. From what I (and at least one canon lawyer) can see, the pope’s affirmation of the Argentine directive slurs this vital point.

It is important because, in the Catholic dispensation, “conscience” may be a jade. One may sincerely believe one is doing something in good conscience. That is subjective. But what one is doing is right or wrong, regardless of one’s strongly held opinion. That is objective, and the priest is bound to follow criteria not of his own making. He has all the latitude in the world to consider what might reduce mortal to venial, in the cure of souls. He has, or had, no discretion to permit the re-elevation of that venial to a mortal sin, by letting his penitent take Communion. Except now, according to the pope, he has.

I am scandalized but not shocked by the pope’s letter. By now, I am not the only Catholic who has become accustomed to Bergoglio’s capricious playing at the edges of received Catholic doctrine and practice — which he is by his papal vows bound to uphold. There are by now many hundred examples of this mischievous playing at the edges. But in this case he has irretrievably gone over. He has put faithful Catholics, including all priests, in an impossible position, where they must choose between what this latest pope says, and what the Church has taught since time out of mind.

The way he has done so is also appalling. Rather than formally changing the wording of canon law, to make any “reform” explicit and comprehensible (and potentially reversible), he has gone around it. Some will argue that this is a good thing, for he has thereby limited the scale of the convulsion. It is a bad thing, because it creates a precedent for going around every other canon, without grave, formal restraints. He blemishes, thus, not one facet of Catholic law; he mars the whole thing.

Meanwhile, in recent days, he has delivered himself of an emotional harangue, condemning all those who through the “terrorism” of “gossip,” cause disunity within the Church. His wanton abuse of both words is noted. But more. To do something profoundly divisive — to tamper with fundamental principles on which that unity rests, while pronouncing anathemas on those who would defend them — is a tactic I associate with the lowest sort of politician.

What can we do about this? So far as I can see, nothing, except pray for the conversion of the pope; and pray that the next one will not also be such as we deserve.