Church teaching on the impossibility of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion is a matter intrinsic to the nature of the Eucharist, not of the “external disposition” of individuals, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference said this week. Hence, the attempt by politicians and media to redraft in political terms the issue of reception of Communion by politicians who oppose Catholic moral doctrine bypasses the meaning of Eucharistic Communion, he said.Cardinal Bagnasco, the archbishop of Genoa and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, said at a book launch this week that reception of Holy Communion “does not depend on an external disposition but rather comes from the interior of the sacrament of the Eucharist itself, the sacrament of the perennial unity between the love of Christ and humanity.”
The comments came after the charismatic Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, shocked his local bishop, Sebastiano Sanguinetti, on the weekend by loudly demanding that the Church change the “rule” prohibiting divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion.
The Guardian reported yesterday that Berlusconi is on a personal campaign to try to persuade the Church to change its teaching. While at Mass near his home in Sardinia this weekend, Berlusconi, at the distribution of Communion, loudly demanded, “When are you going to change this rule that stops me taking [sic] communion?” Bishop Sanguinetti did not give Mr. Berlusconi Communion.
However, Cardinal Bagnasco observed that Catholic doctrine on the nature of marriage and of the Eucharist is not a matter of changeable “Vatican policy”, as though the Church were a political party. Catholics who divorce and remarry are understood by the Church to be adulterers, and therefore in a state of mortal sin. Persons in a state of mortal sin cannot receive Holy Communion without first confessing their sins and receiving sacramental absolution, none of which is possible while the person persists in the sinful activity.
Berlusconi was married in 1965. In the early 1980s, however, he had a public affair with an actress. He then obtained a divorce and married his mistress, Veronica Lario, in a lavish society wedding, attended by a former Prime Minister and leader of the Italian Socialist Party, Bettino Craxi. He has had three children with Lario.
In nearly all countries where Catholics enter political life, the media has helped to promote the concept of Catholic doctrine as mere “Vatican policy”, portraying the Church as intransigently backward in its rules governing the reception of Communion, particularly in relation to politicians who support abortion while continuing to receive.
This situation was brought to special prominence starting in 2004 when the US Democratic Party ran John Kerry as its candidate for president. Kerry loudly proclaimed himself a Catholic and liked to be photographed receiving Communion on campaign stops, all the while enjoying the strongest possible endorsement of the US abortion lobby for his unwavering support for abortion “rights”. The resulting scandal has resonated to this day, with some bishops in the US and abroad starting to make more forceful statements clarifying the Church’s teaching on the subject.
While Berlusconi has recently made public statements in support of Catholic teaching in defence of the unborn, Cardinal Bagnasco made it clear that his campaign to push the Church to change its “rule” on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the Church’s moral teaching.
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