It has sometimes been said, rightly or wrongly I don’t know, that the Reformation could be understood in a sense as an argument between different aspects drawn from the thought of St Augustine of Hippo.
Whatever the truth of that assertion, I think it may be possible to similarly think of the arguments regarding Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried as an interior dialogue within the thought of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who has taught both in favour and against the practice in various guises over the years.
One key example of this, often referred to and quoted yet seldom read, is the then Cardinal Ratzinger’s intervention in support of the discipline of Pope St John Paul II in a letter to the Tablet newspaper published in 1991, in response of an article by Canon Lawyer Fr Theodore Davey which favoured a more liberal praxis with reference to an earlier 1972 article of Ratzinger.
The full text of this letter as it relates to remarriage and Holy Communion, as well as the article which prompted it, do not however appear to be freely available online. Accordingly, to assist those who may be interested in this part of the history which has lead in our present time to Amoris Laetitia, I here provide a transcription of both these texts:
When reading these texts it should however be noted that the then Fr. Ratzinger’s 1972 suggestion which is being discussed, and which can be found in his On the Question of the Indissolubility of Marriage, should not be identified with that which has subsequently been accepted in Amoris Laetitia.
This proposal, while it does with Amoris Laetitia accept that the remarried may be able to receive Holy Communion, does so on a very different theological basis than Amoris Laetitia. It is for example without any reference to the concept of reduced culpability, which is key to the doctrinal and pastoral approach approved by Amoris Laetitia.
Accordingly, while it is undoubtedly true that the Pope Emeritus assents to and accepts the magisterial teaching of his successor Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, it should not be assumed either the current or former Pope have rehabilitated or approved any or all of Ratzinger’s specific theological and pastoral conclusions from 1972.
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