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Ambiguity does not serve discussion, and bad logic destroys it

October 11, 2014

John Allen reports that two influential Italian cardinals, Coccopalmerio and Tettamanzi, have expressed support for permitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics access to holy Communion. Did they?

I ask this not rhetorically but sincerely because, in his report, Allen does not actually quote any statements by Tettamanzi (retired from Milan) about Communion (the only substantive assertions attributed to Tettamanzi are platitudes or irrelevant to the question) and Coccopalmerio (an important dicastery head), says everything but ‘divorced-and-remarried Catholics should be allowed access to holy Communion’. On a matter of such importance I think that important prelates’ exact words (even in translation) should be offered. If those words are direct, quote them, so that due response can be made; if they are ambiguous, quote them too, so that requests for clarity be made.

Of course, Allen the journalist might himself be faced with incomplete reports and/or badly rendered transcripts; besides, it is quite possible that neither man expressed himself clearly, relying more on tone or gesture to convey their positions. This seems especially likely in regard to Coccopalmerio whom Allen quotes in several passages that admittedly imply support for a dramatic change in praxis. But, call me a lawyer, I need to know what a man said before I can respond to what he meant.

I have in mind here something Cardinal Burke said about halfway through a 28 minute interview that is a must-see, namely, that one crucial step toward discussing marriage, divorce, and Communion coherently would be for discussants to abide by the “principle of non-contradiction” (that is, accepting that something cannot be and not be in the same way and at the same time). In that spirit, and granting that the Church is very skilled at teasing out subtleties and qualifications in statements of doctrine and rules of practice and that some finer points apply below, the following seems clear:

Either the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2384 is right, or it is wrong, to call remarriage after civil divorce “public and permanent adultery,” and either Canon 915 is right, or it is wrong, to prohibit administration of holy Communion to Catholics whose protracted public conduct is gravely at odds with fundamental Church teaching. Either the Sacrament of Confession requires of penitents a ‘firm purpose of amendment’ (that is, one’s casting off the sinful act), or it does not require such resolution for absolution (CCC 1451, CIC 959), and either Jesus’ frequent words against divorce and remarriage conveyed His meaning, a meaning which the Church in turn correctly understands, or not. But, if the Catechism is right, if the Code is correct, if sacramental theology is sound, and if Jesus knew what He was saying and His Church has rightly understood Him, then, how does one countenance administration of holy Communion to the typical divorced-and-remarried Catholic without at the very least disregarding the logical principle of non-contradiction?

That’s why I would like to know (and not just have my own hunches about) what some important voices in the Church said before I conclude that they really are, as they seem to be, disregarding one or more of the above considerations.

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