Before and now during the much heralded Synod on the Family, I have heard and continue to hear a great hullabaloo about whether or not to allow communion for divorcees who remarry without first having their previous marriages annulled. I find this fixation odd because I think it represents misplaced focus, reeking of hypocrisy.
At the risk of expressing myself in an inefficient manner, allow me to share some recent inter-personal exchanges with you.
Last week I was in Africa for a large diocesan event. Consequently I found myself in the company of many African priests. Our conversations often turned to the Synod. While in the company of four African priests I mentioned that some American media outlets reported that the African bishops were trying to block certain discussions. One of the four replied that he thought he knew which topics African bishops would try to block and then proceeded to speculate they were LGBT issues and communion for "'separated' and remarried Catholics...because there is no such thing as 'divorce' in the eyes of God."
We had a spirited dialogue following his comment that went something like this:
Me: Why are you focusing on lay Catholics rather than the priests who break the same commandment?
Him: (deer in headlights look....)
Me: I've seen statistics that about 50% of Catholic priests are sexually active. There are 4 priests here now. Statistically speaking, that means 2 of you are probably sexually active. According to moral theology, you two break the same commandment as divorced and remarried people. However, not only do you get to receive communion, you get toconsecrate the hosts!
Him: But such priests do this in secret!!!!
Me: Which is more reprehensible! Secrecy gave us the abuse scandal, didn't it? Besides, it's not a secret. People tend to know.
Him: (a more frightened deer in headlights look...)
Me: Tell me truthfully, do you know multiple priests who are currently sexually active?
Him: (stunned look)
Me: So, you'd be lying if you told me "no" wouldn't you? And, thus, it's not a secret is it?
Him: (chuckling in a very sheepish rather than shepherd-ish way) Welllllllll......
Me: Well nothing. They're sexually active... they break the same commandment as divorcees. Commandment number 6 covers all sex-related sins. Same commandment. Same sin. But nobody is talking about refusing communion to all these sexually active priests.
Him: But married people take a vow; their marriage is a sacrament - a sacramental promise. Or don't you consider marriage sacramental? Do you just want to dismiss it as something trivial?
Me: (With look of disbelief at his seeming disconnect from his own priestly sacramental situation...) And......wasn't your ordination a sacrament? Didn't your sacramental promises include celibacy with implied chastity? Or don't you consider your ordination as a sacrament? Was it just something trivial? By the way, you know what my bishop calls sexually active priests? He says they have "celibacy lapses"... Lapses! Like it's as insignificant as forgetting to take out the trash. Maybe that's all divorced and remarried people are having too..."lapses."
Me: But, don't you think we should hold church leaders to a higher standard than the laity?
Me: Isn't this a special category of hypocrisy where the clerics fuss and sputter about the splinter in others' eyes rather than worrying about the big, huge, honking log in their own eyes?
Me: Yes, "um." We will be attending a diocesan Mass this weekend and there will be at least 100 clergy present; so likely 50 of them will be sexually active, breaking their sacramental promises, violating the 6th commandment. But they will all get to receive communion without question and even con-celebrate consecrating the hosts.
Him: But should the church not have any laws or rules?
Me: Well, I think we should stop using communion as a doggie treat to reward good behavior and instead use it as a balm to heal the wounded. Did or did not Jesus give communion to Judas?
Him: Um, yeah he did.
Me: I'm o.k. with laws but I think they should hold leaders to higher standards. So, how about this law? No communion for sexually active priests. And definitely no consecrating the Eucharist for them.
Me: Why not? Same commandment; same infraction; you guys should be up for at least the same consequences... If you were credible leaders, you'd want more severe punishments for yourselves than for the laity.
Different priest: But, I'm a man 24x7 and I have the feelings of a man all day every day. I have needs and urges.
Me: (Thinking to myself, "Methinks before me is one of those sexually active priests...") And divorced laypeople do not have these same needs and urges? And did you or did you not get ordained with full awareness of the celibate state and its....
Same different priest: (finishing my sentence and sounding a bit dejected that the light-bulb in his brain turned on) Its implied chastity...
But I am utterly disgusted that the hierarchy continues to reward people who operate in secrecy, delusionally thinking no one sees their shortcomings...while punishing people who live their lives honestly in the open. You are not credible guardians of truth if you cannot tell it or live it.
So, my dear church hierarchy, I don't want to hear any more about trying to justify withholding communion from divorced and remarried Catholics until after sexually active clergy are wholesale banned from receiving and consecrating the Eucharist. Plain and simple: until you are willing to treat sexually active clergy the same as divorced and remarried laypeople, this is a non-issue. Communion for everyone! Full stop.
How about you concentrate on substantive issues like including women as voting members of your gathering, empowering women since they are 70% of people in poverty, or re-instating married clergy and the ordination of women as deacons?