Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What a Holocaust scholar can teach us on moral cost of admitting divorced & remarried to Holy Communion

On a recent visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's exhibit on collaboration and complicity in the Holocaust, "Some Were Neighbors," I saw a sign at the entrance bearing a arresting quotation from historian Raul Hilberg: "At crucial junctures, every individual makes decisions and...every decision is individual."

The words set the tone for the exhibit, which is, in the words of the museum's special-exhibits curator, intended to make visitors "think about their individual choices." And they succeeded in making me think, as a child of divorce and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse—abuse which is exponentially more prevalent in broken homes—about how parents' choices affect their children. It is an issue worth pondering at this time when some Catholic bishops, during the run-up to the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, are suggesting the Church should admit civilly divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Holy Communion.

Robert Spaemann points out in the latest issue of First Things that those who argue it is more pastoral to change the Church's teaching are effectively saying that the most charitable thing to do is to pretend that decisions made out of disordered self-interest do not have human costs:

The Church admits that it handled the sexual abuse of minors without sufficient regard for the victims. The same pattern is repeating itself here. Has anyone even mentioned the victims? Is anyone talking about the woman whose husband has abandoned her and their four children? She might be willing to take him back, if only to ensure that the children are provided for, but he has a new family and has no intention of returning.

Another new article on the topic, this one in the journal Nova et Vetera by a team of theologians analyzing "Recent Proposals for the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried," observes that some arguments for admitting the divorced-and-remarried to Holy Communion are based on "a broad version of 'fundamental option' theory, which claims that one can distinguish a person’s concrete behavior from his or her basic orientation towards or away from God."

The article's authors respond that
St. John Paul II’s encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor condemns just such a “fundamental option” approach, denying that one “could, by virtue of a fundamental option, remain faithful to God independently of whether or not certain of his choices and his acts are in conformity with specific moral norms.” “With every freely committed mortal sin, [one] offends God...; even if he perseveres in faith, he loses ‘sanctifying grace,’ ‘charity’ and ‘eternal happiness.'
They add that, even if one accepts fundamental-option theory on its own terms,
a fundamental option is likely in play when one makes basic decisions about the orientation of one’s life. A decision regularly to engage in sexual relations outside of a valid marriage is surely such a decision. It is a chosen habituation and a way of life. It is hard to describe this as a fleeting sin of weakness or passion.
In other words, at crucial junctures, every individual makes decisions, and every decision is individual—and every decision says something about who we really are.

For more reflections on abuse, healing, and Catholic sexual teaching, see Sean Salai, S.J.'s interview with me in America.