This pontificate is rightly seen as a repudiation of the restorationist priorities of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than on the matter of long-neglected canon law. Discussions about it had intensified under those two previous pontificates. It appeared, for example, that the Church, after many years of laxity, was on the cusp of finally applying canon law to pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Pope Benedict XVI, who was on record favoring a denial of Communion to them, spoke of the “pseudo-pastoral” claims made by progressive churchmen that had rendered canon law impotent. In retrospect, those comments read like a warning about his successor’s pontificate, which has been defined by that pseudo-pastoralism.
In its name, Pope Francis has relaxed sacramental discipline for the divorced-and-remarried. He often casts canon law in contrast to “mercy,” a distortion his predecessors called false mercy and said misrepresented canon law’s purpose. Canon law is not contrary to true mercy but a safeguard of it, said Pope Benedict XVI. “It is necessary to note the widespread and deeply rooted, though not always evident, tendency to place justice and charity in opposition to one another, as if the two were mutually exclusive,” he said in 2011. In other words, canon law exists for the salvation of souls. Hence, the Church cannot fulfill her mission by setting it aside. The consequences of doing so, among others, are sacrilege and scandal.
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