Pope Francis’ Intercommunion Reversal
National Catholic Register, 8 June 2018
Three weeks after he instructed the German bishops to find a ‘possible unanimous’ solution on their own, the Holy Father told them to abandon their proposal instead.
In the aftermath of the papal visit to Chile and subsequent events in the sex-abuse crisis, the idea of Pope Francis doing a complete U-turn can be expected. The Holy Father also had done so on his principal financial reforms, reversing them and then leaving the project to languish.
Nevertheless, his recent reversal on the German “intercommunion” proposal was unusually swift. Three weeks after he instructed the German bishops to find a “possible unanimous” solution on their own, Pope Francis told them to abandon their proposal instead.
Is it possible that there is a link between the Chile reversal and the German reversal? Namely, that public criticism from senior cardinals prompted the Holy Father to reverse course?
At first glance, it would seem to be implausible. On the most disputed initiative of the pontificate — Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) and its (ambiguous) admission to Holy Communion of those living in a conjugal union outside of a valid marriage — Pope Francis has been steadfast in not changing course. Indeed, he elected not to answer the dubia posed by four cardinals who asked for clarification on the teaching of Amoris Laetitia.
So do Chile and Germany indicate a change in practice?
In Chile, Pope Francis went on his visit knowing full well that the major sectors of Chilean society — including the leadership of the Chilean bishops — vigorously opposed his appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to the Diocese of Osorno, due to accusations that he had witnessed sexual abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious abuser, who was disciplined by the Vatican in 2011.
During the papal visit, Pope Francis did not budge on his position, even lashing out at those who criticized him, accusing them of the grave sin of calumny.
Then Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, the chairman of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, publicly criticized the Holy Father for his remarks — and by implication, his handling of the Bishop Barros matter.
Pope Francis initially accepted the reprimand, but stood by his decision. But soon after, he reversed course and reopened the whole matter, eventually leading to the entire Chilean episcopate offering their resignations.
The turning point, after three years of intense and heated controversy, was Cardinal O’Malley’s criticism.
In the case of the German proposal, the reversal took exactly three weeks.
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