Vatican whodunit: What happened to marriage books?

VATICAN CITY — A whodunit is making the rounds at the Vatican.

The publisher of a book on traditional Catholic marriage is crying foul, saying someone apparently swiped upward of 100 copies of the book from the Vatican mailboxes of bishops who attended a meeting on family issues last October.

The publisher sent the books to attendees to counter progressive proposals by one of Pope Francis’ favorite theologians to let divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion. The book, penned by five high-ranking, conservative cardinals, argues that the suggestion is essentially moot since it is contrary to Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

The Vatican spokesman insists the books were delivered without impediment.

But the mystery remains: What happened to the books?

“Only a few reached synod fathers at their mailboxes in the Vatican,” said the Rev. Joseph Fessio of publisher Ignatius Press.

Fessio thinks someone must have taken them out of the mailboxes after they were delivered and once the contents of the packages were known. He said he and the book’s editor had sent the books to the Vatican, addressed to the 120 or so bishops attending the meeting.

“We thought it was important that the synod participants be as well-informed as possible about the contentious issue of admitting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Communion,” Fessio said in an email with The Associated Press.

The books were mailed on the eve of the October synod on the family, a major meeting called by Pope Francis to discuss how the church can better minister to Catholics, including gays and divorced people. The meeting laid bare divisions between progressive prelates seeking a more welcoming, pastoral approach, and conservatives seeking to uphold church doctrine.

Francis had asked Cardinal Walter Kasper to get the debate a year ago, and Kasper posed some provocative questions about how the church could apply a more pastoral approach to Catholics who remarry without getting a church annulment — a decree that their first marriage was null.

Without such a decree, the church considers such remarried Catholics to be committing adultery and ineligible to receive the sacraments.

Kasper has agreed there can be no change to church doctrine and no sweeping, across-the-board allowances. But he has said the matter must be looked at on a case-by-case basis, since mercy is God’s greatest attribute.

To counter Kasper, the five cardinals asserted in the book there really is no better solution and no grounds to argue for one since Catholic doctrine is clear.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, denied there was any funny business with the book delivery.

“I can deny it,” he said. “I have inquired. The copies that arrived by mail were distributed in the mailboxes without impediment. One person told me he even received two copies!”

The mystery underscores the divisiveness of the debate and the conspiracy theories that ran rampant during the synod, with accusations that meeting organizers were angling to favor a more progressive outcome. Such tensions will likely only rise before the second round of discussions starting in October.

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