Communal Responsibility and Matters of Conscience in a Small World


Communication and transportation technology are making the world much smaller, which creates challenges for churches that make different pastoral decisions in distant regions.  George Weigel writes of a woman whose bishop in England has advised a different approach to divorce and Holy Communion than the bishop in Malta, where she has a vacation home.  In Malta, the hierarchy is, let’s say, reinterpreting tradition in the way that some have suggested Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia allows.

Weigel goes on:

And as the Church is universal, so is the crisis. Cardinal Wilfred Napier of South Africa is one of Catholicism’s more robust practitioners of the tweet. After the Malta bishops’ directive, Napier tweeted, “If Westerners in irregular situations can receive Communion, are we to tell our polygamists….that they, too, are allowed?” The archbishop of Durban was not being glib or snarky; Cardinal Napier was describing a real pastoral problem in Africa that has now been made worse.

The key point, in my view, is one that I made frequently back when same-sex marriage was the raging debate in the United States: boundaries are imposed on those who could handle more flexibility — because spiritual or material advantages — for the benefit of others.

We all must follow cultural and spiritual rules to prove that they are not arbitrary or merely impositions upon the disadvantaged.  For our privilege, we must establish those restrictions that can help others to overcome challenges, like a young man who quits drinking in order to help his troubled friend do the same.

Can matters of conscience be loosened on an individual basis?  Yes… maybe.  But especially in our high-tech society, when it comes to public acts, there is no purely individual action.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Is monogamy necessary for a “christian”? I suppose the marriage ritual does include “forsaking all others”. Aren’t priests in parts of Africa permitted to marry?