Through social pressure and the internal logic of the situation, the upper hand will undoubtedly go to the opinions oriented toward broader permissiveness.



Synod. Cardinal Antonelli’s Twofold Cry of Alarm

For five years he presided over the pontifical council for the family. Communion for the divorced and remarried, he warns, would mark not only the debasement of the Eucharist, but also the end of the sacrament of marriage

by Sandro Magister

ROME, June 12, 2015 – Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, 78, is an expert on the subject. For five years he was president of the pontifical council for the family, and he organized the two worldwide meetings that preceded the next to be held in Philadelphia: in Mexico City in 2009 and in Milan in 2012.

He has also accumulated substantial pastoral experience. He was archbishop in Perugia and then in Florence, in addition to being the secretary of the Italian episcopal conference for six years. He belongs to the Focolare movement.

He did not take part in the first session of the synod on the family held last October. But he is actively participating in the discussion underway, as shown by the book that he has published in recent days:

E. Antonelli, “Crisi del matrimonio ed eucaristia”, Edizioni Ares, Milano, 2015, pp. 72, euro 7,00.

It is a special book. Brisk and brief, it can be read in one sitting. It is introduced with a preface by another cardinal who is an expert on the subject, Elio Sgreccia, past president of the pontifical academy for life.

The website of the pontifical council for the family has posted it online in its entirety and in three languages, including English:

> The Marriage Crisis and the Eucharist

Below are a few sample passages.

In them, Cardinal Antonelli re-proposes with amiable firmness and practical realism the existing doctrine and pastoral practice in matters of marriage.

And he highlights the unsustainable results that would come with some of changes now being proposed at various levels of the Church.



by Ennio Antonelli


[emphasis in boldface type added by Abyssum]

In addition to the divorced and remarried, the pastoral position in effect as of now gives similar guidelines with regard to those who cohabit without any institutional bond and to Catholics who are married only civilly.

The treatment reserved for them is practically the same: no admission to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist, acceptance into ecclesial life, respectful and personalized accompaniment in order to get to know them as individuals, to guide and accompany them toward a possible regularization.

Now, some are hypothesizing admission to the Eucharist only for those who are divorced and remarried civilly, leaving out the officially and unofficially cohabiting as well as cohabiting homosexuals.

I personally maintain that this last limitation is hardly realistic, because the cohabiting are much more numerous than the divorced and remarried. Through social pressure and the internal logic of the situation, the upper hand will undoubtedly go to the opinions oriented toward broader permissiveness.


It is true that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation, but this does not mean that only those who receive this sacrament are saved. A non-Catholic Christian, or even an unbaptized believer of another religion, could be spiritually more united with God than a practicing Catholic and still could not be admitted to Eucharistic communion, because he is not in full visible communion with the Church.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of spiritual and visible communion. Visibility is also essential, in that the Church is the general sacrament of salvation and the public sign of Christ the savior in the world. But unfortunately the divorced and remarried and others who are in irregular cohabitation find themselves in an objective and public situation of grave contrast with the Gospel and the doctrine of the Church.

In the present-day cultural context of relativism, there is the risk of trivializing the Eucharist and reducing it to a ritual of socialization. It has already happened that persons who are not even baptized have approached the banquet, thinking that they are performing an act of courtesy, or that nonbelieving persons have demanded the right to receive communion on the occasion of weddings or funerals, simply as a sign of solidarity with their friends.


The wish is to grant the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried while affirming the indissolubility of the first marriage and not recognizing the second union as a genuine marriage, in such a way as to avoid bigamy.

This position is different from that of the Eastern Churches that grant the divorced and civilly remarried a second (and third) canonical marriage, although with a penitential backdrop. In certain ways it even appears more dangerous, in that it logically leads to admitting the licit exercise of genital sexuality outside of marriage, in part because those who cohabit are much more numerous than the divorced and remarried.

The most pessimistic predict that in the end ethical approval will be extended to premarital cohabitation, registered and unregistered cohabitation, casual sexual relationships, and perhaps homosexual couples and even polyamory and polyfamily.


It is certainly desirable that a constructive attitude should be taken in pastoral practice, seeking “to grasp the positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation” (Relatio Synodi, n. 41).

Of course, even illegitimate unions contain authentic human values (for example affection, mutual help, shared commitment to the children), because evil is always mixed with good and never exists in a pure state. Nonetheless one must avoid presenting such unions in themselves as imperfect values, as this is a matter of grave disorders.

The law of continuum concerns only the subjective responsibility of persons and must not be turned into a continuum of the law, presenting evil as an imperfect good. Between true and false, between good and evil there is no continuum. While it abstains from judging consciences, which only God sees, and accompanies with respect and patience any steps toward a possible good, the Church must not cease to teach the objective truth of good and evil.

The law of continuum serves to discern consciences, not to classify as more or less good the actions to be performed and much less to elevate evil to the dignity of an imperfect good.

With regard to the divorced and remarried and the cohabiting, far from favoring the  proposals of the innovators this law definitively serves to confirm the traditional pastoral practice.


The admission of the divorced and remarried and the cohabiting to the Eucharistic banquet involves a separation between mercy and conversion that does not seem to be in harmony with the Gospel.

This would be the only case of forgiveness without conversion. God always grants forgiveness; but this is received only by the humble, by one who recognizes that he is a sinner and strives to change his way of life.

The climate of ethical-religious relativism and subjectivism that one breathes today instead favors self-justification, particularly in the affective and sexual spheres. There is a tendency to minimize one’s responsibility, attributing any failures to social influences. It is also easy to attribute the fault of the failure to the other spouse and proclaim one’s own innocence.

One must not, however, remain silent over the fact that, if the fault of the failure can sometimes belong to only one party, at least the responsibility of the new (illegitimate) union is that of both of those cohabiting and it is above all this that, as long as it endures, blocks access to the Eucharist.

There is no theological foundation for the tendency to consider the second union positively and circumscribe the sin only to the previous separation. It is not enough to do penance for this alone. What is needed is to change one’s way of life.


Those in favor of Eucharistic communion for the divorced and remarried and the cohabiting usually affirm that the indissolubility of marriage is not in question.

But apart from their intentions, given the doctrinal inconsistency between the admission of these persons to the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage, in the end there would be a denial in concrete practice of that which would continue to be affirmed theoretically in line of principle, with the danger of reducing indissoluble marriage to an ideal, beautiful perhaps but able to be realized only by the fortunate few.

Instructive in this regard is the pastoral practice that has been developed in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

These affirm the indissolubility of Christian marriage in their doctrine. Nonetheless, in their practice there has been an increasing multiplication of the reasons for the dissolution of the previous marriage and the granting of a second (or third) marriage. The applicants have also become very numerous. So now anyone who presents a document of civil divorce also obtains an authorization for a new marriage from the ecclesiastical authority, without even having to go through a canonical investigation and evaluation of the case.

It can also be expected that Eucharistic communion for the divorced and remarried and the cohabiting would rapidly become a generalized practice. Then it would no longer make much sense to speak of the indissolubility of marriage, and there would be a loss of practical relevance in the very celebration of the sacrament of marriage.


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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