Jerry Slevin on Pastoral Treatment of Divorced and Remarried Catholics, and Popes Benedict and Francis: Which Pope Is Infallible?


William D. Lindsey

In a recent posting at his Christian Catholicism blog, Jerry Slevin points readers to William McDonough’s Commonweal essay about Pope Benedict XVI and the issue of divorce entitled “Right the First Time.” As Jerry notes, McDonough reports that Benedict is in the process of issuing his opera omnia. Nine volumes of his theological work have now been published.

The latest volume has a 1972 essay on the indissolubility of marriage, written when the then Joseph Ratzinger was a theology professor in Regensburg. The 1972 essay “had proposed that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics be allowed to return to Communion in some circumstances” (I’m quoting Professor McDonough here). As Professor McDonough notes,

In an important change, that proposal is conspicuously missing from the newly rewritten conclusion.

And so, as Jerry Slevin rightly concludes, what the emeritus pope is effectively doing with his revised essay, which is being published at a moment when the pastors of the Catholic church are now debating the question of pastoral reception of divorced and remarried Catholics and when there is strong support among the German bishopsfor pastoral leniency for such Catholics, is to put into play for Pope Francis the issue of the pastoral treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics.

Francis has been seen by many Catholics as advocating a more merciful, pastoral, church-as-field-hospital-for-the-wounded approach to this group of Catholics. As Jerry suggests, Benedict’s yawing in the opposite direction raises the question, Which of our two popes is infallible?

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