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The culture war finally comes to the Catholic Church

by Damon Linker  |  published on October 29, 2014


New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is no one’s idea of a radical. In the five and a half years since joining the op-ed page of the paper, he’s proved himself to be a thoughtful, measured, and nuanced social-conservative commentator on political and cultural events.

That’s why I was surprised when six months ago Douthat responded rashly to reports that Pope Francis had told an Argentine woman that she could receive the sacrament of communion even though she was married to a divorced man. Roman Catholic Church doctrine holds that the woman’s marriage is adulterous unless the man’s original marriage is annulled — and that someone living in a state of persistent (adulterous) sin should not present herself for communion. The possibility that Francis may have indicated otherwise — that he might have given her a green light to receive the sacrament — led Douthat to warn that any fundamental shift in church teaching on such matters “wouldn’t just provoke conservative grumbling; it would threaten outright schism.”

That’s right: Ross Douthat indicated that any move to reform doctrine on marriage and divorce could well spark the first institutional rupture in the church in nearly 600 years. (The last schism ended in 1417.)

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