PopeWatch: Doubletalk



The example of the Orthodox Churches is often brought up by those who favor allowing Catholics in adulterous marriages to receive communion.  Sandro Magister at his blog Chiesa examines the two chief responses to this argument:
But on the eve of the first round of the synod on the family last October, Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Vatican congregation for the Oriental Churches, cautioned against a “naive” interpretation of the practice of the Orthodox Churches in matters of marriage.

Second marriages – he explained – entered into the practice of the Orthodox Churches at a later date, toward the end of the first millennium. They entered under the invasive influence of Byzantine imperial legislation, of which the Churches were the executors. And even today the dissolution of first marriages is for these Churches almost always the simple transcription of a ruling of divorce issued by the civil authorities.

Vasil is an authority on the subject. A Slovak of the Greek rite and a Jesuit, he was dean of the faculty of canon law at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. His essay on divorce and second marriages in the Orthodox Churches was part of a multi-author book released on the eve of the synod with the contributions of five cardinals, all of them opposed to communion for the divorced and remarried:

“Remaining in the Truth of Christ. Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church”, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2014.

The salient passages of Vasil’s essay are reproduced in this article from www.chiesa:

> Divorce and Second Marriages. The compliant “Oikonomia” of the Orthodox Churches

But not all the experts agree with him.

Enrico Morini, professor of Orthodox Church history at the state university of Bologna and at the theological faculty of Emilia Romagna, wrote in a comment on one of his essays in “Memorie Teologiche,” the online journal of his faculty, in reference to the dissolution of the nuptial bond and to the possibility of a second marriage, admitted by the Orthodox Churches:

“To me, however, it seems to constitute a practice that wisely applies in pastoral care the salvific criterion of mercy, without compromising the principle of indissolubility. In the acute problems raised by the current sociological context, it represents, in my view, a valid alternative to the hypothesis of the admission of the divorced and remarried to sacramental communion. In fact, rather than admitting to the sacrament those who are objectively living in a state of sin, this practice instead heals the sinful situation with a non-sacramental ecclesial ratification that emphasizes what is positive in a natural, stable, and faithful union.”

Go here to read the rest.  PopeWatch has read many examples of doubletalk but that last paragraph is a doozy.  Let’s unpack it:


“This incontrovertible fact of the modification of ecclesiastical practice, taking into account the civil legislation in the area of marriage, seems to be presented in a negative vein by Cyril Vasil, as a secularizing adulteration of the evangelical dictate, almost as an acquiescence to the laws of the state in contrast with the divine law. “

Note that Morini does not give any facts to contradict Archbishop’s Vasil’s argument.

In the acute problems raised by the current sociological context, it represents, in my view, a valid alternative to the hypothesis of the admission of the divorced and remarried to sacramental communion.

Translation:  Lots of Catholics are in adulterous marriages so the Church should copy the Orthodox practice.


In fact, rather than admitting to the sacrament those who are objectively living in a state of sin, this practice instead heals the sinful situation with a non-sacramental ecclesial ratification that emphasizes what is positive in a natural, stable, and faithful union.”

Translation:  We will call what is manifestly sin, not sin, and the Church will bless what the Church previously condemned as adultery.

PopeWatch, although appreciative of the ingenuity involved in constructing such gibberish, prefers the simplicity of Isaiah 5:20:


Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!



More to explorer


  1. Contained in the Seven Precepts of the Church is, “To obey the laws of the Church concerning Matrimony.” What is difficult about that?

    Here is my opinion and wild-eyed speculation regarding divorce. The wilful break-up of a sacramental marriage also (in addition to the Commandment against committing adultery) is a sin against charity as one or both refuse to forgive the spouse (each other?) for an injury/injuries. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is “Forgive all injuries.” The operative word there is “all.”

    To me, this is the modernist heresy that the Teachings of Holy Mother Church are malleable and amendable to conform to morals/practices of the fallen world.

  2. I have this question. Statistically speaking…how many Catholics in illicit second marriages are actually trying to go to Communion and so petitioning their Bishop because they won’t break this Eucharist law even though they broke the Matrimony law. Is this ivory tower thinking like the death penalty renovation….ie no stats involved? Is the Synod really talking about ten people scattered in Hoboken, Tierra del Fuego and Juarez? This simply….in an age of nearly empty Masses here and there….cannot be a crowd big enough to fill McSorley’s Ale House in Manhattan.

  3. There are many dioceses in the U.S. where the Church has been granting nearly automatic annulments for years. In the Archdiocese of Detroit, for example, one of former Marriage Tribunal members told me that he knew of no case where an annulment was not granted. And they are free besides. In a way this is just a roundabout way of doing what Professor Morini condones. Neither is in the spirit of Christ’s instruction on divorce, of course.

  4. Bill Bannon,

    That was my question when this matter first came to widespread attention (at the Holy Father’s instigation) back in late 2013. After all, most civilly remarried Catholics have either left the Church or receive Communion anyway, either out of ignorance or contempt for Church teaching. So why the big push to “fix” things for them?
    I eventually concluded that the real purpose of this campaign is to lay waste to Church doctrine on sin and the sacraments. As many have pointed out, once you open the door to one category of person in unrepented mortal sin, you open the door to them all. It would strike a devastating blow against Church teaching on Matrimony, Penance, Eucharist, and Holy Orders in one go.
    That’s why I object to explanations that try to make it all about money issues like the German Church Tax: such explanations not only fail to explain the full scope of the problem, they also give cover to the perpetrators by making their motives seem mundane. In fact, as in previous great heresies, these men are motivated by hatred for the Church and a desire to see her destroyed or at minimum, co-opted.

  5. Obedience to teachings is critical.
    The goal is Heaven!

    From Padre Pio; “Where there is no obedience there’s no virtue. No virtue there’s no good. Where there is no good, there’s no love. Where there is no love there is no God. Where there is no God there is no Heaven.”

  6. Murray,
    There is formal heresy and informal heresy. The latter can be in any of us including Popes on various issues. As Aquinas noted, a person is only a formal heretic in the Church’s eyes when he has been challenged formally by the Church twice and remains obdurate…in accordance with Titus 3:10-11. Informal heresy is all over the place in modern times including in Popes but is often really a sincere erroneous conscience. Informal heresy becomes formal heresy when the Church confronts the person to no avail. If a Pope is under an informal heresy himself, he will not challenge others on that issue in a Vatican heresy court. Thus Kasper and Francis could both have an informal heresy in this matter which could be a sincere erroneous conscience in both men….but who will challenge them formally in a Vatican heresy court? Maybe such will happen after October because this matter has a non infallible venue…ie infallibility of a Synod requires unanimous Bishops’ agreement under a Pope..not 51% or 66%.
    To illustrate informal heresy in a good Pope, I give you section 42 of Benedict’s Verbum Domini wherein he implies that God did not order the massacre of the Canaanites but rather it was sin on man’s part and he hopes scholars trained in ” historical-literary context” will show this. He’s dead wrong but he means well. For him to be correct, the Church would have to state that the first Person imperatives by God in Scripture…ie ” the Lord said”…” thus saith the Lord” are subject to error. She never will so state. Why obey the ten commandments then…maybe they are mistakes too. Benedict also baldly states that the ” prophets…challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual”.
    Elijah killed a minimum of 552 men; Eliseus cursed 42 children who were then killed by bears; the prophet Samuel killed Agag because Saul failed to as ordered by God; Jeremiah told the Chaldeans they were cursed if they showed any mercy to the Moabites (Jer.48:10). John Paul II made similar insinuations in section 40 of Evangelium Vitae against the death penalties of Deuteronomy. Theologian Karl Rahner was correct…informal heresy is all over the place ( including in Karl Rahner).
    Don’t let it worry you. Scripture is there to so protect….as understood by the Fathers, Doctors and infallible declarations. The non infallible statements are less reliable than Lumen Gentium 25 and the oath in the Profession of Faith imply. The latter oath is why everyone who took it can’t protest the new death penalty position even if they wanted to…or so they interpret the oath. Epikeia should tell them otherwise even under the oath.

  7. .cannot be a crowd big enough to fill McSorley’s Ale House in Manhattan.

    Have you seen it on a Friday night? They really jam that place in. Just don’t forget to tip.

    In all seriousness, there are probably two different (at least) crowds in play. First there are those who are divorced and remarried and yet who insist on receiving Holy Communion, and then are those who are divorced and remarried but who do not present themselves for Holy Communion. The former is, I would suspect, quite a larger group than the latter. Change the rules in the interests of helping the latter and we’ve rewarded the obstinacy of the former.

  8. PZ,
    So you’re thinking Hammerstein Ballroom with all standing on the first floor….where I saw Everything But The Girl years ago with my godson because my Chinese wife bailed out….and a tenth of the audience were well dressed Asians anyway as it turned out….almost all in black attire like the hero in Man From Nowhere a heart breaking (but bloody) film from South Korea on Netflix now.
    But…but… where are the real figures as opposed to our hunches…yours high…mine minuscule.

  9. The history of Byzantine legislation and its influence is rather more complicated than either the summary of Archbishop Vasil’s or Professor Morini’s views suggest. The discipline of the Orthodox churches is, in reality a legacy from the Roman jurists of the 2nd century AD, mediated through the extremely conservative compilers of the Corpus Juris (promulgated 529-534),, who sedulously preserved the classical law in the Digest of Justinian.
    The Byzantines inherited from Roman marriage law the notion that marriage required the continuing consent of the parties – adfectio maritalis (which should NOT be translated “affection,” but rather “will,” “volition,” or “inclination.”) The withdrawal of consent by one or both parties ended the marriage. No legal formalities were required; the dissolution of the marriage was a pure matter of fact, although according to Gaius, the words “tuas res tibi habeto/agito” – “You look after your own affairs” was customary (Dig. Paulus insists that any attempt by contract to limit the right to dissolve the marriage or to impose a penalty for divorce was void (Dig. 45.1.134 pr.)
    Starting with Constantine in 331, the Christian emperors enacted severe penalties for divorce, except in limited circumstances, but they never asserted, or even contemplated, that marriage could survive the unilateral repudiation of one of the parties or their mutual agreement to terminate it. They still saw marriage very much through the lens of the Digest; for them, the words, “let no man put asunder” was a prohibition that could be disobeyed, not a declaration of indissolubility.
    Their legislation is easily accessible in the Code and Novels of Justinian, who extended the permitted grounds. Later developments can be found in the Basilika of Leo VI (Leo the Philosopher) who reigned from 885 to 912. This is a Greek epitome and update of the Corpus Juris of Justinian and it is in Greek, not Latin and the text that influenced the later Eastern canonists.

  10. The chapter by Archbishop Vasil’ is a real eye-opener. On the basis of the evidence he presents, it is difficult to see how certain of the Orthodox Churches have any meaningful doctrine of indissolubility.

  11. Eastern Orthodoxy has managed to keep the wrecking ball away from its liturgy. When it comes to (official) teaching, they aren’t nearly as strident against abortion, birth control and the sanctity of marriage. All three of these are important Catholic teachings, the fact that many Catholics ignore them notwithstanding.

  12. So according to Vasil (my interpretation) the practice of the Orthodox comes from “Caesaropapism”… and Morini suggests that the mob (Tyranny-of-Relativism) could share Teaching Authority with the Pope or.. you could say “Secularopapism”.
    Doesn’t this Show the weakness of the Orthodox organization and the political nature of their original excommunication of us and strengthen the 11th century hand of the Latins when you really look at it?
    ¿ Now that folks see the difference .. the Healing of the Schism is right around the corner

  13. Anzlyne wrote, “So according to Vasil (my interpretation) the practice of the Orthodox comes from “Caesaropapism”… “
    In this I believe Vasil ignores the factor that is really doing all the work: the extent to which Byzantium never really succeeded in detaching itself from its legacy of pagan thought, in the form of Greek philosophy and, particularly in this instance, Roman law. That inheritance included, not only the substantive law of marriage, but, I suggest their whole notion of οἰκονομία is derived from the power of the Prætor, in granting or refusing actions, to apply or dispense from particular laws. Their distinction between the law as enacted and the law as applied is remarkably close to the Roman model.
    In the West, particularly in Gaul, the new nations were more thoroughly christened, precisely because they had less intellectual baggage to shed. In examining the Protestant doctrines of marriage, it is worth noting that the Reformation coincided with the Reception of Roman law, particularly in Germany.

  14. Bill Bannon

    Calvin, of course, was a Civilian, who had studied Roman Law under one of the greatest professors of the time, Andrea Alciato (Latinised as Andreas Alciatus) at the University of Bourges.

    Alciatus was the founder of the French School of Legal Humanism; they believed that one should interpret the Civil Law by the history, languages and literature of antiquity, and insisted on original research, rather than following the servile interpretations of the glossators.

    Calvin brought a similar approach to his study of Erasmus’s Greek text of the NT.

  15. When my husband and I were going through RCIA 14 years ago, then civilly married for 3 years, our priest impressed upon us the fact that once we were sacramentally married, it truly was until death, for better and for worse. He said we must be prepared to forgive ANYTHING, even adultery. And that if separation was necessary (say, due to addiction, abuse, or other safety issues), then we must be prepared to spend our lives alone, with nothing more than platonic friendship with the opposite sex. I suspect this catechesis (warning?) is why I have never, ever thought about leaving during the trials of the past 20 years. And why separation, in my Catholic mind, isn’t synonymous with divorce, as it seems to be for the rest of the world. I have had many conflicts with Catholic friends who have left sacramental marriages and then expected me to rejoice over their adulterous new spouse. I have always simply pointed to the words of Jesus himself on the issue. Yes, it’s possible for remarried Catholics to grow in holiness despite living in a state of mortal sin; the Lord calls all of us to holiness despite our spiritual state. I understand that sometimes, the situation is no-win, such as those who have reversions to authentic faith during a 2nd (or 3rd) marriage and who now would seriously wound innocent children if they unilaterally decided to break up the family to follow God’s laws. But there’s a difference between God leading his children to heaven through the side gate (because they destroyed the front gate), and the Church effectively denying the truth about marriage when Christ himself was crystal clear. There are ugly and often unintended consequences to sin; as an atheist who had gravely offended God, I still had to hold back during Communion before I was baptized and confirmed. I yearned for the Eucharist with all my heart, but my desire to partake of the sacrament didn’t change the objective fact that I was not living in conformity with God’s laws. I don’t understand why we need to obfuscate God’s law about marriage to be pastoral to people. The Eucharist is a privilege, not a right. Those I’ve seen demand access to it always have lacked sufficient understanding and/or humility to grasp that it’s Jesus himself they’re demanding. The Lord will provide every grace you need to get to heaven and as the saints have demonstrated, He prizes obedience as a preeminent virtue. Those in irregular situations can trust that Jesus will not abandon them and those who demand the Eucharist (under any circumstances) ought to be denied Him. The only thing that declaring sin to not be sinful will do is scandalize the faith and lead countless others into the sin of adultery, because apparently it’s not THAT bad if the church says I can be openly adulterous and still receive the Lord in Communion. I have to wonder how the folks who want to contradict Jesus himself on this issue intend to justify themselves when standing before Him.

  16. bill bannon: “I have this question. Statistically speaking…how many Catholics in illicit second marriages are actually trying to go to Communion and so petitioning their Bishop because they won’t break this Eucharist law even though they broke the Matrimony law.”
    This is a great insight, Bill Bannon. Are these couples ready to express eros through Agape as Pope Benedict said? Caring for the other person’s eternal life, his soul and his relationship with God is as important in the conjugal act as it is outside of marriage. If the homosexual were to appreciate this teaching of agape and concern himself with his partner’s soul and eternal life, there would not be an issue of so called gay-marriage.

  17. Mary De Voe.
    Your welcome. Saint Pio IS a wonder worker. How blessed we are to put away fiction and pick up the lives of the Saints. Aim higher! We are all called to sainthood regardless the past.

  18. An annulment between two Catholics requires that the person who is not seeking the annulment be asked to grant permission for the annulment process to go forward. Lacking his or her permission for the annulment to go forward, the Catholic Church views the marriage as valid for as long as the injured spouse refuses permission for the annulment to go forward. Permission that is not forthcoming from the other Catholic spouse ends the annulment process.
    There was a marriage annulment request between a Catholic Kennedy and a Protestant. The Kennedy went forward without permission from his Protestant wife. Kennedy was granted his annulment without permission from his Protestant wife. The media was in an uproar. Kennedy’s Protestant wife drew the Catholic Church over the coals for not asking for and getting her permission. This is the Pauline Privilege on the reverse. The Protestant spouse’s permission was not an essential part of the annulment process for the Catholic.
    From Wikipedia: The Boston Archdiocese initially granted Kennedy the annulment, which was discovered by Rauch only after the decision in 1996.[57] Sheila, who is an Episcopalian, wrote a book Shattered Faith: A Woman’s Struggle to Stop the Catholic Church from Annulling Her Marriage,[59] explaining that she was opposed to the concept of annulment because it meant in Roman Catholic theology that the marriage had never actually existed, and claiming that the Kennedy family influence made it possible to unilaterally “cancel” a 12-year marriage. A tribunal decision in favor of annulment is automatically appealed, and the decision is not effective until a second, conforming, sentence is granted. Instead of allowing the appeal to take place in the United States, Rauch appealed directly to the Holy See.[60]
    The original decision was overturned by the highest appellate tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Rota, in 2005. Rauch was not informed of the decision by the Boston Archdiocese until 2007.[61]
    As the first decision was never confirmed, there was no time at which the Church declared the marriage to be null or gave Kennedy permission to remarry. Because the Rota was sitting as a second-instance appellate court,[62] Kennedy could appeal the decision to another Rotal panel

  19. Dawn.

    I enjoyed your perspectives. You have a great love for God. I agree with you and pray the Mercy of God be upon all of His children. No reasons to change teachings but more reflection on true mercy is needed. He knows each soul perfectly and loves each soul immensely.

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