Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Larger fears fuel cardinals' divorce beef

  • 23 November 2016


In the years after the Second Vatican Council many theologians gave public lectures to Melbourne audiences on renewal. Jesuit moral theologian Arnie Hogan encouraged the move from a command and control approach to Christian living, to an approach based on personal responsibility.

Many of his hearers thought he was not renewing but selling out faith. They flocked to his lectures to grill him. One evening someone asked him whether it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays. (Mortal sins were a ticket to hell, and in church teaching to miss Mass on Sunday was a mortal sin.)

In response he began to explain the importance of free consent, grave matter and mature decision etc. His questioner interrupted him, demanding a yes or no answer. Arnie again took the conversation to a broader level, only to be told, 'You are evading the question, Father. Is it, or is it not, a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday?'

Arnie paused for a moment and said, 'Well, for you, it would be!'

I was reminded of this story when reading that four cardinals had sent a letter to the Pope demanding yes or no answers as to whether his reflection Amoris Laetitia was faithful to Catholic tradition in its treatment of the reception by divorced Catholics of communion. On not receiving a reply they published their letter, and one cardinal followed it up with murmurs about impeachment.

The incident prompts reflection on the propriety of cardinals questioning a pope in this way and on the reasons why discussion of communion for the divorced should raise such passion.

I am in two minds about the cardinals' action. Those who consider it inappropriate argue that cardinals are chosen to act as a pope's consultants. They cannot exercise this role effectively if they are involved in public disagreement with him.

They also argue that it is vital for any community organisation to focus on what matters: the cause it represents and the people it serves. The cardinals' action switches the focus to politics as politics — the disagreements and power relationships between its leaders — to the detriment of the Catholic Church.


"In moral decision making, Francis may resonate with St Augustine's aphorism: 'love, and do what you will'."


The four cardinals argued that they were merely accepting the Pope's invitation to open discussion of the issues raised in Amoris Laetitia. Certainly, an open exchange of views can allow the truth to