Catholics face a choice. Will they uphold the Church's teaching that the divorced and remarried cannot be admitted to communion, or will they reject it? Pope Francis has brought this question before the Church, though he refuses to formulate it so starkly. He believes that an exception can be made in every case, so that the principle will be preserved even as it loses all force—as if faith need not shape practice, and practice would not remake faith.
In the face of his campaign, many who value Catholic truth have fallen silent. It seems that only an outright denial of the Church's teaching could arouse their indignation. Anything short of that will be explained as a wise pastoral accommodation that is being misinterpreted by a few simple-minded fundamentalists. Such views make me want to quote Kierkegaard's The Present Age, which describes how subtle revolutions proceed (and which I recently quoted elsewhere). Here is how Kierkegaard describes the kind of transformation Francis seeks in Catholic life:
Dialectical complications are difficult to root out. … No one, for example, wishes to do away with the power of the king, but if little by little it could be transformed into something purely fictitious every one would be quite prepared to cheer him. … In the same way people are quite prepared to leave the Christian terminology untouched, but they can surreptitiously interpolate that it involves no decisive thought. And so they remain unrepentant, for after all they have destroyed nothing. They no more desire a powerful king than an heroic liberator or religious authority. In all innocence they want the established order to continue, but they have the more or less certain reflective knowledge that it no longer exists.
Perhaps you don’t believe that marriage really is indissoluble, that communion must be made in a state of grace, or that humans are eternally answerable for their actions. If so, you will find nothing objectionable in the course that Francis has taken. But if you believe otherwise, then the only possible response to Francis's effort is opposition. Because Christian teaching on marriage is true, it cannot change; because it is beautiful, it must not be obscured.
Matthew Schmitz is literary editor of First Things.