Catholic journalist Phil Lawler recently excoriated Pope Francis over allegedly sympathizing with fathers who abandon their families. In a speech delivered to the Roman Rota, Pope Francis noted that sometimes children find it difficult when they see that their mother can receive Holy Communion whereas their father, awaiting a declaration of nullity, cannot. While these comments do raise an eyebrow or two, Lawler quickly jumps to the worst possible conclusion: the Pope’s comments favor the sinful father over the spouse he abandoned. Lawler even concludes that the Pope makes the aggrieved mother a kind of villain in his own ideological narrative.
Undoubtedly, Pope Francis does not always speak with precise canonical clarity, which may leave room for confusion. But in his speech to the Rota, the Holy Father never indicated that a father who abandons his spouse and has yet to receive a marriage annulment should be praised, or should even receive Holy Communion. The Pope did focus on the children, who are invariably affected by divorce, illicit re-marriage, and any future declaration of nullity. The Pope never argued that canonical praxis should change, or that those in an objective state of sin should receive Holy Communion. While one can read into the Pope’s words any number of things, it’s wiser to read what he did, in fact, say, and not misinterpret what he might have meant.