Tomorrow (today, depending on where you are when this is published), March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, it is widely anticipated that the Holy Father will sign his post-synodal exhortation. It is also widely anticipated that the Holy Father will issue it, if not tomorrow, then in very short order thereafter. It is extraordinary to see how quickly the Catholic blogosphere cycles through things; the Ordinary General Assembly and its Relatio have sort of faded from view, despite regular reports about the likely contents of the post-synodal exhortation. And Laudato si’ passed out of the conscience of Catholic bloggers pretty quickly, too, for that matter. Curious why that’s so.
We would be hugely happy to eat these words, but: whether it is the forum internum compromise brokered by Cardinal Marx in the Germanicus small group, which was ultimately where the final Relatio landed (after, it is alleged, another revolt on the floor by the orthodox bishops), or whether it is the stronger version long championed by Cardinal Kasper, it seems fairly likely that some form of a penitential path to communion for bigamists is in the cards. (Though St. Joseph is a powerful intercessor, it must be noted, and this alone gives us some cause for hope.) This will undoubtedly cause a reaction.
What is significant about a document from Rome is what it changes, not what it says. This is an exegetical principle of the late Michael Davies: when reading a new document, ask What does it allow which was not previously allowed? What does it forbid which was not previously forbidden? The rest is padding. The truth of this principle becomes clear with the assistance of hindsight. What is significant about Paul VI’s Memoriale Domini is that it allowed Communion in the Hand: it is irrelevant that nine tenths of the thing is hymn of praise for Communion on the Tongue, and that it actually says that the existing rules aren’t being changed. That 90% of the document is inert, like the polystyrene padding in a parcel. In exactly the same way, what is significant about Summorum Pontificum is that the Traditional Mass is allowed without permission from bishops. The rhetorical concessions to liberals unhappy about this, slipped in here and there, are of no significance. Getting worked up about them is a complete waste of time.
This is the most important lesson of all. When the document comes out, there will be something for everyone. Neo-conservative bloggers will fill pages with quotations from it about the importance and indissolubility of marriage: guaranteed. Liberal journalists will fill pages of the dead-wood media with quotations from it about the importance of mercy: no question about it. Neither makes any difference. It will all be forgotten within the year. This kind of material can be read in line with any number of different views about what, in practise, should happen to the divorced and remarried. The only thing which is important in the document is what it changes, the bits where the Pope uses his legislative authority to make a concrete difference. There are currently clear rules in Canon Law about the rights and obligations of Catholics living in a public state of sin, and of priests ministering to them. These rules can be changed in a number of different ways. Again, rules and principles of confessional practise can be changed, and rules about who can be a godparent – what it means to be a public sinner – and so on.
(Emphasis in red supplied.) We encourage you to read the whole thing there.