The Catholic Church divided against itself

First you convert, which means you accept the church’s fundamental teachings on morals and doctrine. If you fall short of them and sin — which you inevitably will — you must follow the rules and procedures that restore you to communion with the church. If you fail to do this — fail to make an effort to put an end to the sinful act and take part in the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) — then you are barred from receiving the sacrament of communion (the Eucharist). If you receive the Eucharist without having first put an end to your sinful act and confessed it to your priest, then your sin deepens. And so on, with one path leading to salvation and sanctification, and the other to perdition.

When reformers hear these arguments, they don’t respond by rejecting the conclusion. Instead, they reject the premises that lead to that conclusion. Doctrine isn’t the most important thing, or even close to it. The church isn’t primarily an intellectual system. It isn’t primarily a set of rules and procedures about how to live and rightly worship God. No one is or should be policing the communion line. No one is without sin — and certainly not the clerics who empower themselves to decide who is in and who is out, who may partake of the sacraments and who may not. And besides, reforms would merely encourage a touch of pastoral sensitivity on the issue, not officially alter church teaching.

The two camps talk right past each other. What is the church? How did Christ want his followers to live and worship in his name? How much change, and what kind of change, is acceptable? The question of annulment, divorce, and communion has raised these deeper and potentially far more divisive questions.