Source: The New Yorker
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For the better part of the past two years, Catholics around the world have been fighting over a footnote. In April, 2016, Pope Francis, after leading two synods devoted to “the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world,” published a teaching document titled “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love.” Tucked away in the eighth chapter of the text is footnote 351, which corresponds to an anodyne-sounding sentence about the extent to which “mitigating factors” might affect a pastor’s handling of certain personal predicaments—such as divorce, followed by remarriage—that are considered sinful. Catholics who find themselves in such situations, the footnote explains, might be helped along by the very sacraments that their transgressions would typically bar them from receiving. Communion “is not a prize for the perfect,” Francis writes, “but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
For Pope Francis’s progressive supporters, this was the latest sign of a pastoral tendency toward inclusiveness and mercy. For his more traditionalist critics, it was a direct threat to the Catholic injunction against divorce, about which Jesus was brutally clear, in the Book of Matthew: “Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful), and marries another, commits adultery.” Catholic doctrine holds that marriage is an “indissoluble” ontological state, and that, for this reason, Communion is not extended to those who violate it. A few weeks after the release of “Amoris Laetitia,” the German Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann said in an interview that footnote 351 could lead to “a schism that would not be settled on the peripheries, but rather in the heart of the Church.” He added, “May God forbid that from happening.”