Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.
By this author
Those who are opposed to Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal that some divorced and remarried Catholics be allowed to receive the Eucharist might want to reconsider whether the Church has been wise in allowing the widowed to remarry.
In their critique of Kasper's proposal, a group of American Dominicans points out that there was much disagreement in the early Church about whether widows and widowers should be allowed to remarry. Even many of those who believed they should be allowed to do so thought remarriage should at least be discouraged. But the case for not allowing an abandoned spouse to remarry is very similar to the case for not allowing the widow or widower to remarry—namely, that marriage is indissoluble, a sacramental figuration of Christ's covenant with his Church, a covenant not even death can dissolve. Can one think of another sacrament whose effects are supposed to be nullified by death? [For an obvious answer to this, see Fritz Bauerschmidt's comment below.]
Defenders of the Church's current practice demand that the abandoned spouse persevere in chastity. Why should the Church not demand the same of the widowed? Both are victims of a circumstance beyond their control. One possible response is that the dead never come back to life (or never come back to this life), whereas it is never impossible that someone who abandons his or her wife or husband may repent of it and seek reconciliation. This sort of thing has been known to happen, after all, and when it does, it's can be a profound evidence of grace. It's also exceedingly rare, especially when the unfaithful spouse goes on to have children with another partner.
Practically, then, the abandoned spouse is in the same position as the widow or widower: in both cases, chastity would seem to require heroic virtue. From very early in its history, the church decided not to demand such virtue of widows and widowers, despite its original preference that they not remarry. The question now is why it should demand such virtue of those whose first spouse is "dead to them," often through no fault of their own.
Libertarians and libertarianism have been receiving a lot of attention lately. In the current issue of Commonweal, Eduardo Peñalver asks whether Catholics can be libertarians. His answer: It depends—not on what kind of Catholic they are but on what kind of libertarian:
Benjamin Kunkel on Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century: "Paupers and Richlings"
Yesterday I participated in a conference titled "Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism." The following is a lightly edited version of my remarks.
At the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters makes the "Catholic Case against Libertarianism." Along the way, he remarks on the condescension of those who have attributed Pope Francis's bracing language about inequality to his South American ignorance of how we Americans do capitalism.
At Dissent, Michael Walzer sketches a foreign policy for the left: "no more shortcuts, no more pretending."