At last month’s special meeting of cardinals which debated the church’s stance towards divorcees and other controversial family issues the German theologian, Cardinal Walter Kasper stated that, "“The church has to find a way to let a remarried divorcee back into the Sacraments, after a period of penance. Every sin can be absolved. Indeed, it is not imaginable that a man can fall into a black hole from which God cannot rescue him."
Up until a year ago such a statement would have been seen as nothing more than a lone, progressive churchman spitting vainly into the wind. But things changed with the election of Pope Francis and the idea that the Roman Catholic Church might change some of its age old dogmas and do so dramatically is not so far fetched now. In fact, only last month the Pope said, “When love fails, and it fails many times, we have to feel the pain of that failure; support the people who have felt the failure of their love. Don’t condemn them! Walk with them.”
I think there is every chance that there will be, in the not so far future, a rescinding of the blanket denial of holy communion to the divorced and remarried. Of course, the "after a period of penance" proviso will be important in order to satisfy the "blood lust" of those in the Roman Catholic leadership who have the overwhelming desire to punish and exclude, but that is a small price to pay for the ending of the awful pain of permanent exclusion from the life enhancing sacrament.
Furthermore, if Pope Francis is intent on changing the mindset of his church from a tendency to promote punitive solutions to a tendency to embrace loving ones, I would suggest that only one thing needs to change. In stead of just tweaking the rules to allow some divorced and remarried Roman Catholics to receive the body and blood of Christ he should, in my opinion, simply hand the eucharist back to Jesus Christ. At the moment the Curia sees itself as gatekeepers (more like bouncers) with a duty to decide who is worthy of communion with God and who isn't. Of course, even a skim reading of the Gospels shows that this is a stance that completely contradicts the teaching of Jesus who definitely and vehemently insisted that such things should be left entirely up to God or, at the very least, those who are without sin which, let's face it, is just another way of saying that it should be left entirely up to God. Therefore, it would not be difficult for a charismatic and wise pope to put forward very good scriptural and theological reasons for removing the assumption of the role of gatekeeper from the church and allow the eucharist to become open to all without exception.
This one change of emphasis, which is based on an understanding of our relationship with God that is far from being novel or controversial, would provide the way into realising all the other apparent desires that Pope Francis has for his church and for its relationship with the other churches of the world. The banning of non-Roman Catholics from taking communion at a Catholic mass is a major insult to non-Catholics as it is an implicit accusation that they are in permanent sin so bad that they cannot be allowed anywhere near the central sacrament of the universal Church. Until the Roman Catholic Curia allows me to take communion alongside my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ and accepts that my priesthood is every bit as real as the priesthood of those ordained into their denomination of the Church I will continue to regard even the most charming of Catholic church leaders as arrogant legalists intent on keeping God for themselves. That is a mighty wall of bad feeling that I am certain many other Non-Catholics cannot get round. But Pope Francis has the power to knock it down in a matter of a few minutes of careful teaching if he really wants to emulate his people loving namesake.
A universal and inclusive eucharist is the key that will open the lock on the door to the kingdom of God. It is us who have locked that door, not God. Therefore, it is down to us to unlock the door. If Pope Francis was to unlock the door that excludes so many from communion with each other and with God then he would be the greatest of the only human shepherds of the people of God and a true disciple of the greatest shepherd of them all, Jesus Christ, who died so that all people might be forgiven and welcomed into the true communion of the marriage between the lamb and his bride.