Cdl Erdő: Sex or the Sacraments?

by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  October 6, 2015   

Necessary conversion includes continence for communicants

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ROME, October 6, 2015 ( - The Relator General of the Synod on the Family, Hungarian cardinal Peter Erdő, is clearing up much confusion left over from last year's Synod.

He followed Pope Francis in addressing the Synod of Bishops Monday morning, leaving few heretical stones unturned. He defended Church teaching on contraception, Her ban on Holy Communion to the unchaste, be they divorced or homosexual, and clarified the concept of gradualism.

Regarding the Church's perpetual ban on giving Communion to divorced adulterers, Cdl. Erdő said it was not an "arbitrary prohibition" but was "intrinsic" to the nature of marriage and "demands conversion" on the part of the couple.

Cardinal Erdő spoke as pointedly as he did likely because of sources of confusion which had been carried over from last year, including the words of German cardinal Walter Kasper. Kasper has been a focal point of confusion ever since he addressed a consistory of cardinals in February 2014, where he proffered the notion that remarried divorcees should receive Communion — what's come to be known as the "Kasper Proposal."

Kasper proposed a "period of penance" after which the divorced and civilly remarried should be re-admitted to Holy Communion. The heterodox idea that adulterers must repent but could still go on living a life of adultery had many faithful Catholics scratching their heads.

As Erdő explained in his Monday address to the Synod Fathers, the Catholic Church teaches that true repentance involves conversion. This, in turn, entails a purpose of amendment, which for those living in adulterous unions requires ceasing physical intimacy and leading a life of chastity.

In a 2014 interview, Kasper made plain his seemingly contradictory statements, arguing that the penance was for the original divorce itself but not for the ensuing life of adultery. His words were unclear on whether one needs to repent of an adulterous lifestyle in an invalid marriage.

In his words,

The failure of a first marriage ... can come from a failure to realize what was promised before God and before the other partner and the Church. Therefore, it failed; there were shortcomings. This has to be confessed. ... If there was this shortcoming, and it has been repented for — is absolution not possible? My question goes through the sacrament of penance, through which we have access to Holy Communion. But penance is the most important thing — repentance of what went wrong, and a new orientation.

Cardinal Erdő pointed out, though, that the reason remarried divorcees cannot receive the Eucharist is not because of the "failure of their first marriage" but because of "the cohabitation in their second relationship." In other words, it's not the initial divorce but rather a life of adultery for which one needs to repent. And this repentance entails a change of heart, which requires a change of lifestyle.

Cardinal Erdő continued:

God's mercy offers forgiveness to sinners but requires conversion. In this case, a couple's sin does not lie first and foremost in whatever behavior may have led to the break-up of the first marriage. The two parties may not have been equally guilty, although both parties are often responsible to a certain extent. So the reason remarried divorcees cannot partake in the Eucharist is not because of the failure of their first marriage but because of the cohabitation in their second relationship.

Kasper has failed to insist that those in adulterous unions need to live chastely as brother and sister in order to be absolved and receive Communion, referring to such efforts as "heroic," and therefore an ideal rather than a reality.

Worse yet, Kasper's Proposal found its way into the final document which summed up last year's Synod proceedings. Paragraph 52 of this document, called the Relatio Synodi, stated:

The Synod Father[s] also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried access to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. ... Others proposed a more individualized approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions. ... Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop.

Erdő addressed this "individualized approach" by referencing the directives of Pope St. John Paul II in his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio:

Reconciliation in the sacrament of penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples. (84)

This clear and Catholic teaching can be seen as the heart of Cdl. Erdő's speech. As for the issue of gay unions, he quoted from paragraph 55 from last year’s Relatio Synodi, reiterating, "There is no basis for comparing or making analogies, even remotely, between homosexual unions and God's plan for matrimony and the family."

Cardinal Erdő further clarified the right use of the term "gradualism," found in paragraph 13 of the 2014 Relatio Synodi — a term used by some prelates in a heterodox manner to mean a toleration of sin rather than a process of conversion. Speaking in his capacity as Relator General, Erdő declared he would not accept the calls for "gradualism" in pastoral practice — the suggestions that Catholic pastors could accept couples living in irregular unions while hoping to guide them into a fuller acceptance of Church teaching. "Between truth and falsehood, between good and bad, there is no law of gradualism," he said.

During the press briefing afterward, Cdl. Erdő in reference to his address clarified, "I was trying to bring together all the elements of the Church's voice," adding that "most of the responses reflected a wish" for the Magisterium's documents on such issues to be "taken into consideration."


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