African cardinal: does Amoris Laetitia open door to polygamists?

South African Cardinal WIlfrid Napier has questioned whether the logic of Amoris Laetitia suggests that polygamists should be allowed to receive Communion.

Reflecting on the papal document on his Twitter account, Cardinal Napier wrote:

If Westerners in irregular situations can receive Communion, are we to tell our polygamists & other “misfits” that they too are allowed?

Good questions. The Church needs to buckle down and stand principle. There’s too many people in sinful lifestyles out there who want to be consoled and approved.

His Eminence hits the nail on the head. The Holy Father, Cardinal Kasper, and others who support more flexible pastoral solutions for those in irregular sexual unions only seem to be thinking of Western society. Where’s the mercy for Africa? The whole world seems to constantly snub its nose at Africa…its tragic.

It is an impediment to conversion and a problem in my mind. If a man has two wives, the Church says he must stick with the first and divorce the 2nd. That’s apparently not an easy thing to do. It’s a problem that is unique to some African countries as their culture allows for polygamy. I don’t know if there is a solution, I doubt it though.

Polygamy existed at the time the Church began; if it didn’t see fit to approve of it then, there is no reason she would do so now.


Likewise divorce and remarriage…yet various pastoral solutions are proposed.

I think the answer to this is clearly no. Both synods did not address polygamy even though a lot of African bishops wanted it addressed.

The Synods didn’t have to specifically address the issue of polygamy. I think the point Cardinal Napier is making, if I’m not mistaken, is that the same or similar rationale argued regarding giving Communion to the divorced and remarried can also be made for giving Communion to the polygamous.

Cardinal Arinze, was asked about Communion and polygamy in an interview in 2015:

Some African bishops have said that if the Church makes a change on Communion for the divorced and remarried, some people living in polygamous relationships might ask why that can’t be done for them, too. Is that a concern you would share?
Yes. It’s not a bad argument, because the polygamous could say, “Look, my own situation is better than that of these other fellows who threw out their first wife and got another one. I didn’t throw out the first one, she remains, and I only took on a second one. God even tolerated polygamy in the Old Testament!”
We have to look for another way to ensure compassion for those who are in difficulty. You don’t solve a headache by cutting off the head!

Sheesh. Now’s I’ve heard everything. :rolleyes:

That’s my point. The African bishops wanted it addressed. But the Church seems more interested in the plight of wealthy Westerners in second marriages.

In my diocese it was the poor that suffered mostly. The rich could afford an annulment (which I feel was almost never denied) if they could pony up the $2500 cost.

For the middle-class and below, that’s a healthy chunk of cash, to pile upon the financial and spiritual devastation of a divorce.

Not that it really matters much, few people bother to get married in Quebec anymore, a much more pressing problem here is the issue co-habitating couples.

I think the exceptional cases in AL also include people with children that took on second marriages for reasons that were often economic or at least for material help, who aren’t always exactly the rich.

The issue of polygamy in Africa strikes me as rather different. The D&R issue is targeted mostly at lapsed Catholics who want to return; the polygamy issue is about evangelizing people who have never been in the Church and is more akin to the problem of non-Catholics in irregular situations wanting to come into the Church.

There is no “one size fits all” solution, and the D&R and African polygamy are two completely different issues. The latter should be addressed by the Church (if it hasn’t already), but the two issues shouldn’t be conflated.

This seems obvious to me. They convert after their polygamy, the children need stability, they need the grace to grow closer to Christ, their wives depend on them for economic stability, etc. Many of the women can make the same pleas. At least, the cases I laid out above are often the cases I hear people making for divorced/remarried.

Again, I think the conversation is different if the question in matter is how to determine validity. (Is there a way that someone can know with certainty that a marriage was invalid outside of a tribunal?) I’m not convinced that’s what many people are actually discussing though. It seems the two different questions get lost in translation, and people talk past each other, or try to take advantage of the ambiguity.

But it is also similar in many ways. In each case, you have a person who is married to one person, but also wants to have sexual relations with another person that they consider to be a spouse.

What is also similar is the need for evangelization. The lapsed Catholic and the paganpolygamist are bothin need of evangelization.

In both cases, they need to hear*(and accept) the truth of*the Church’s teaching on Marriage.

Thistype of situation has been a concern of the African bishopsever since the +Kasper proposal came out. Or even before that, as the link to Cardinal Arinze’s statement shows.

How should they answer the question on Why should an African not havesexual relations with someone heconsiders to be his second wife, when white Americans and Europeans can.

The bishop that I work within Tanzaniadeals with these situations often enough.What he has taughtto a man seeking conversion is that the man is married to his first wife. Any subsequentwife is to be treated as a sister. We used to teach this in the cases of D&R as well, for exactly the same reason. Why should Americans(or Canadians in your case) be allowed relations with their ‘second wife’ when Africans cannot.

But Pope Francis has allowed for annulments to be free:

I presume by now that is in place and people are no longer paying for annulments?

Because the westerners have normalised divorce and remarriage. Polygamy is still foreign.

It is obvious who calls the shots and that the church teaching is made to adapt to certain cultural contexts.

I think most of you are missing Cardinal Napiers point.

If we permit the divorced and “remarried” to receive communion then the same must be granted to polygamists (something he doesn’t want). This is because a person who remarried has attempted to take a second wife. The only difference is the polgymasts first wife chooses to still be with him while he takes another wife. In both cases the second wife isn’t really his wife as the first bond of marriage is still intact until death. Hence the second marriages are adulterous in nature (as scripture explicitly teaches).

He is pointing out where the logic of Amoris Laetitia and the Kasperites leads to. If you allow communion for the divorced and remairried, you logically must allow it for the polygamist because spiritually they have both attempted to take another woman as their wife despite their first spouse still being alive.

Cardinal Napier is against the Kasper proposal because it’s is evidently illogical, unscriptural, untraditional, unapostilic and uncatholic.

The real reason for the Kasper proposal is money. The German churches rely heavily on the money they get from parishioners through some weird church tax. As the divorced and remarried aren’t recognized in the church, they leave and so does their money. Mercy is not the reason for the Kasper proposal despite how may times they claim it is.

Lastly mercy and charity begin with telling the truth.

The two situations are not even closely analogous, and the burden placed on the polygamist is not the same as that placed on the D&R. First of all, for a polygamist entering the Church and being told that he must make his subsequent wives equivalent to “sisters”, nothing prevents him from continuing conjugal relations with his first (legitimate) wife. Secondly, the subsequent wives, never having been in a valid marriage in the first place, are not bound either validly or sacramentally to their “husband” and are free to remarry if that’s culturally possible. It may not be, but that’s certainly not a Church requirement.

The D&R situation is very different, the Church has been obliging them to live as “brother and sister” in order to receive the sacraments. That some find this possible to bear doesn’t mean it is possible for everybody in that situation to bear. Quite frankly I think it is an unrealistic expectation to ask a loving couple of many years to forego that aspect of their relationship.

However I want to touch on another point that you brought up, that is giving “permission” to have conjugal relations and receive the sacraments in the case of the D&R.

I suggest that this is a profound misreading of AL, and a reductionist view of the Church, as a mere gatekeeper of “permissions” as if the Church was simply a bouncer trying to keep the riffraff out.

AL in no way talks about giving “permission” for the D&R to receive communion. It makes distinctions between levels of culpability, and suggest that in certain exceptional cases, within the framework of spiritual accompaniment and growth in faith, reception of the sacraments may be possible.

Divine law is something that we all must strive to conform our lives towards, but it is a lifelong process of inner conversion. AL is clearly written to ensure that even the remotest exception to the sacraments for the D&R is part of such a process of conversion and is not simply throwing the gates wide open by giving anyone “permission”. It is not a permission, it is the use of sacramental grace to support a conversion process in the limited cases (i.e. abandoned spouse, long-term loving second relationship with children involved, etc.).

“Man was not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for man” could easily be rewritten “Man was not made for the Law, the Law was made for man”. A simplistic analogy, we don’t hand out speeding tickets to ambulances on an emergency call. Any law that is so rigid that it does not allow for even very limited exceptions, is not a human nor even realistic law, and it ends up being reductionist and no longer in the service of mankind… or salvation. It becomes an obstacle to inner conversion. It discourages the earnest but weak (and we are all weak in some way or another).

I know in my own (thankfully resolved) irregular situation, that my pastor and spiritual director were very supportive and did not bar access to sacramental grace as long as I was on a conversion path towards resolving the situation. I was. I took rather more years than I had hoped, but eventually it was resolved. In the words of my spiritual director “you needed sacramental grace to reach the goal” (in my case it wasn’t a D&R situation but a return to the Church after a civil marriage). Without that grace, I would have either fallen out of the faith, discouraged, or if I had tried to follow the “rule”, my wife would have left me.

Any conversion process that focuses on following a “rule” or granting “permissions” and not the objective of growth in faith and towards God’s law, is reductive and turns people off and away. Any Benedictine monk will tell you that conversion is a life-long process.

That is the paradigm shift of the Holy Father: focus on the conversion process, and not mere observance of a “rule” without true conversion of the heart.

AL is very clearly written in that spirit. Moreover it is very clearly written in a way that it does not give “permission” to the D&R to receive the sacraments. Anyone who suggests this either hasn’t read it, or hasn’t read it carefully, or has missed its point altogether. AL doesn’t require any more “clarification” as some cardinals have suggested. It already clearly delineates the different circumstances and degrees of culpability that may be involved for the grave sin of adultery in the case of the D&R, and makes clear that these couples are to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with access to the sacraments available in limited circumstances.

$2500.? In our diocese, the fee for the petitioner is 1/10th of that, with a waiver for financial hardship. Is that really what your diocese currently asks?

This was in 2009, a good friend of mine inquired. He was insulted by the fee and chose to marry civilly (his first wife had left him many years ago), even though he could afford it.

I’m not sure what it is now. As you know I think the Holy Father asked that annulment fees be waived, so I’m not sure if this has been done at my diocese. Fortunately, I am not in a position to actually need this information for my own use!

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