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This is why we have Canon 428

October 10, 2013

Updated, 12 nov 2013: CDF has, correctly of course, rejected the Freiburg document.

The Archdiocese of Freiburg in Germany became canonically “vacant” on 17 Sep 2013 when the resignation of its archbishop, Robert Zollitsch, was accepted promptly upon his reaching age 75 (1983 CIC 401 § 1). Now, Canon 428 § 1, a law with roots back at least to the 12th century, states “When a see is vacant, nothing is to be altered.” The Archdiocese of Freiburg is not exempt from this law.

The prohibition against divorced but civilly remarried Catholics taking Communion is regarded as an application of Canon 915 and reflects a Eucharistic discipline going back many, many centuries. From a cornucopia of sources, a quote from the International Theological Commission 1977 statement on Christian marriage sums up this discipline:

In English:

“The incompatibility of the state of remarried divorced persons with the precept and mystery of the Paschal love of the Lord makes it impossible for these people to receive, in the Eucharist, the sign of unity with Christ. Access to eucharistic Communion can only be had through penitence, which implies detestation of the sin committed and the firm purpose of not sinning again.

While this illegitimate situation does not permit a life of full communion with the Church, still Christians who find themselves in this state are not excluded from the action of divine grace and from a link with the Church. They must not, therefore, be deprived of pastoral assistance.”

Auf Deutsch:

Aus der Unverträglichkeit des Zustands der wiederverheirateten Geschiedenen mit dem Gebot und Geheimnis der österlichen Liebe des Herrn folgt für sie die Unmöglichkeit, in der heiligen Eucharistie das Zeichen der Einheit mit Christus zu empfangen. Der Weg zur eucharistischen Gemeinschaft kann nur durch Busse geöffnet werden; dazu gehört „der Abscheu über die begangene Sünde, verbunden mit dem Vorsatz, fortan nicht zu sündigen.“

Auch wenn die unrechtmäßige Situation keine volle Teilnahme am Leben der Gemeinschaft gestattet, so sind diese Christen doch nicht vom Wirken der göttlichen Gnade und der Verbindung mit der Kirche ausgeschlossen, und die Hirtensorge darf ihnen nicht entzogen werden.

When, therefore, someone in some office of the archdiocese (reports I’ve seen don’t clearly say which), issued a ‘policy’ whereby divorced but civilly remarried Catholics could, basically upon meeting with a priest, be permitted to take holy Communion, something pretty big was “altered”.

If this novel ‘policy’ of the Archdiocese of Freiburg is not an (attempted) “alteration” of ecclesiastical discipline, what would be? If it is not, therefore, prohibited by operation of, if nothing else, Canon 428, what is?

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