Several thoughts occur to me as I get around to thinking about the challenge four cardinals have posed to Pope Francis' teaching in Amoris Laetitia.
My first thought is that it is interesting that the cardinals say they decided to go public because the pope had not responded to their inquiries. How hard did they try? I suspect it is not that difficult to communicate with this pope if that had been their intention.
These cardinals wanted to go public. They sought to embarrass the pope and directly refute his teaching. They chose to back him into a corner, and though their doubts are expressed as questions they are meant to show Francis the error of his ways.
It makes me think that if clerics who had been more progressive had done such a thing to Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI, there would have been outrage.
Beyond the bad faith and wish to be divisive, these Cardinals demonstrate that they don't understand Francis at all. They have missed the point of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The missing link is the failure to focus on the reception of the Eucharist. As Francis has said, the Eucharist is not a reward for being good. It is nourishment for the soul to help one be good.
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What this means is the cardinals are off base in their entire discussion of the indissolubility of marriage and the status of divorced and remarried Catholics. The issue is not about the doctrine of marriage at all. It is about the reception of Communion.
If these cardinals want to question a doctrine it may be about receiving Communion in the state of mortal sin. Yet we know that no one knows the state of an individual's soul. That is why the internal forum is used to explore whether the individual is in good faith with the church, and genuinely seeks the nourishment available from communion with the risen Lord. No one should be denied this opportunity to meet Jesus in the sacrament. After all, we know that Jesus had no problem eating and drinking with sinners and being in their midst.
The Jesus of the Gospels went to Samaria, where he was not supposed to go. He talked with a Samaritan woman, whom he was not supposed to talk to. She apparently had five husbands, but he offered her salvation. He showed that the living water of salvation is available to all, without exception.
Once again, these sad Cardinals have gotten so wrapped up in the minutiae of doctrine that they fail to see the loving and merciful message of the one whom they profess to follow. These cardinals (Burke, Caffarra, Meisner, and Brandmüller) feel so compelled to preserve doctrine that is in no way threatened. Pope Francis has been careful throughout his papacy to challenge none of the doctrines of the church.
The cardinals have failed to see that Francis is trying to get us to be more like the Jesus who walked this earth so many centuries ago. Surely this is something we can all agree on.
In closing, I have to wonder where this is all headed. How far will Francis' dissidents take their issues? Are we headed for schism? Is it possible that the church could break up over a fear that we are being too merciful? Do we care too much about the people we serve?
I believe Pope Francis is being silent to give these clerics an opportunity to back off. He is giving them an opportunity to rethink what they are saying.
Will they take it?