CV NEWS FEED // As the Synod on Synodality concludes this week, Catholics are still wondering how and whether the delegates will respond to controversial questions about women’s ordination, LGBTQ Catholics, and remarried or cohabitating couples receiving communion in a state of sin.
In honor of Pope St. John Paul II’s feast day on October 22, here are definitive teachings from his papacy about some of the hot button issues that have surrounded this synod.
Synod delegates confirmed at press conferences that they have discussed women’s ordination to the diaconate during their meetings. Pope St. John Paul II released an apostolic letter in 1994 definitively saying that the Church cannot ordain women to the priesthood.
“The Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful,” he wrote in the letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.
He stressed that this limitation does not mean the Church believes women are worth less than men.
“The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable,” he wrote.
Under Pope Paul VI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) also commented on the role of women in the Church. Pope John Paul II reiterated its teaching in his letter, saying:
“As the Declaration Inter Insigniores points out, ‘the Church desires that Christian women should become fully aware of the greatness of their mission: today their role is of capital importance both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church.’”
Same-sex attraction is a hot-button topic, both at the synod and in the Church throughout the world. During his papacy, Pope St. John Paul II shared a renewed understanding of human sexuality with the Church through his speeches on Theology of the Body, which he would give every Wednesday. He had the catechism updated to further clarify Church teaching on homosexuality.
The pope taught that the bodies of men and women are unique and made in the image of God—they are inherently good and complementary, and they communicate God’s love to one another. Because of this, he taught that sex only makes sense in the context of marriage and procreation.
“Marriage… is the sacrament in which man and woman, called to become ‘one flesh,’ participate in God’s own creative love,” he said. “They participate in it both by the fact that, created in the image of God, they are called by reason of this image to a particular union… and because this same union has from the beginning been blessed with the blessing of fruitfulness.”
In addition to developing the Theology of the Body, the pope also oversaw an update to the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992, which added sections about same-sex attraction.
“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,’” the updated Catechism stated.
The Catechism notes that every same-sex attracted individual must be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” while emphasizing that “homosexual persons are called to chastity.”
Pope St. John Paul II also approved a 2003 document from the CDF on same-sex attraction, which said that “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”
“The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society,” the CDF said. “Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.”
“The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself.”
Dubia: Divorced and Remarried Catholics
Several cardinals recently asked Pope Francis to clarify his teaching on the reception of the Eucharist by divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received a declaration of nullity from the Church. While Pope Francis’ teaching remains ambiguous, Pope St. John Paul II only permitted those living in such “irregular” situations to receive communion if they went to confession and resolved to abstain from sexual intercourse.
In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paul II said “the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.”
“They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist,” the pope wrote. “Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”
Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka asked Pope Francis to clarify this issue. Some say the response Duka received from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) took Pope St. John Paul II’s unequivocal teachings on divorced and remarried Catholics out of context.
Duka specifically asked for clarification on the “Buenos Aires Guidelines,” a 2016 interpretation of Pope Francis’ encyclical Amoris Laetitia. The guidelines from the bishops of Buenos Aires allow, in some circumstances, divorced and civilly remarried couples to receive communion even if they have no intention of changing their lifestyles.
“Whenever feasible depending on the specific circumstances of a couple, especially when both partners are Christians walking the path of faith, a proposal may be made to resolve to live in continence,” the bishops wrote. “In more complex cases, and when a declaration of nullity has not been obtained, the above mentioned option may not, in fact, be feasible [emphasis added].”
In 2016, Pope Francis wrote to the Buenos Aires bishops, praising their guidance and saying that it “thoroughly specifies the meaning” of Amoris Laetitia.
Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, the prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in response to Duka’s dubia that the Buenos Aires guidelines are “authentic magisterium.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the CDF (now the DDF), criticized Fernandez’s answer in a letter to Duka on October 13. According to Müller, the Buenos Aires guidelines are “theologically ambiguous” and deviate from the teachings of Christ, Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, which are also classified as “authentic magisterium.”
Fernández clarified the section in his response to Duka by saying that “Francis maintains the proposal of total continence for the divorced and [civilly] remarried in a new union, but recognizes that difficulties may arise in its practice, and therefore allows, in certain cases and after due discernment, the administration of the sacrament of Reconciliation even when one does not succeed in being faithful to the continence proposed by the Church.”
Pope St. John Paul II in Context
Fernández asserted that Pope St. John Paul II had already admitted some of these divorced persons to communion and that Francis was therefore only taking a step in the same direction.
“This reasoning, however, is not sound,” Müller said, saying that St. John Paul II allowed divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion only under serious circumstances and when the couple remained chaste, not in other circumstances, as the Buenos Aires guidelines seem to suggest.
Müller also noted that Fernández quoted St. John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia as though the reception of communion in a state of mortal sin is purely a personal decision. Fernández quoted the Saint as saying that, concerning the reception of the Eucharist, “the judgement of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience.”
But Fernández ignored the following sentences, Müller noted, which add that the Church must be directly involved in identifying immoral behavior.
“In cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia de Eucharistia. “The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who ‘obstinately persist in manifest grave sin’ are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion.”
Müller said that “As can be seen, the DDF has selected a small part of the text of St. John Paul II, while omitting the main argument, which is contrary to the argument made by the DDF.”
“If the DDF wants to present a teaching contrary to that of St. John Paul II, the least it can do is not try to use the name and authority of the Holy Pontiff,” he added.
In Familiaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paul II said that the Church’s response to divorced Catholics is to lovingly “make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church.”
“Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope,” he wrote.