The conservative Catholic writer John Zmirak says that Pope Francis and his allies in Rome are playing with fire in their attempts to liberalize Catholic practice on divorced Catholics receiving communion. What they could end up doing is inadvertently making the ecclesiological case for Orthodoxy. Excerpt:
If the pope permits divorced couples who now live in extramarital relationships to receive Holy Communion without repenting and promising celibacy, he will be sanctioning one of two things: adultery or polygamy. Marriage is, by Christ’s command, indissoluble. That was taught infallibly by the Council of Trent. If the pope denies that doctrine, if he re-shapes one of the seven sacraments so radically, he will be proving something that the Orthodox have been saying since 1870: That he is not infallible on matters of faith and morals.
That might not sound like such an enormous sacrifice; the Church got along quite well without that doctrine right up until Vatican I. But by flouting the Council of Trent, and proving that Vatican I was in fact mistaken, the pope would be doing much more. He would be demonstrating that such Councils themselves lacked divine authority — that they were not like Nicaea or Chalcedon, the early Councils that built up Christian doctrine. Instead Councils such as the Lateran, Trent, and Vaticans I and II, would be merely local Western synods, exactly as the Orthodox have been insisting since 1054. In other words, the pope would be proving that Roman Catholic assertions of papal authority are grossly exaggerated, and that the Eastern Orthodox have the better claim as the heirs of the twelve apostles.
There’s an irony here, since the Orthodox have permitted the quasi-polygamous “Kasper option” for more than 1,000 years. But the Orthodox make no pretense of wielding infallible authority. They accept the early Councils of the Church (which took place well before 1054) and argue among themselves over how to apply them. They could be wrong.
And on marriage, the Orthodox are wrong. But Rome has no such wiggle room. The claims of the papacy are brave, expansive — and empirically falsifiable. If Rome adopts the Orthodox practice of marriage, that will falsify them. The mouse will have died in the maze.
If this happens, it would not prove that Luther or Calvin were right. Instead it would show that papal claims are false, that God has not left the Church with a central authority for the interpretation of doctrine, and that the Orthodox model is the only viable choice for sacramental Christians.
Read the whole thing. I’m curious to know what theologically informed Catholic and Orthodox readers think of Zmirak’s claims. Note that he is not saying that Orthodox Christianity is right and Catholic Christianity is wrong. He is claiming that if the Pope changes pastoral practice on marriage and communion, he will be in effect denying previous authoritative teachings of the Roman church, and thus will put Rome on the same level as Orthodoxy.