Now that the Synod has ended, we wait. If Pope Francis follows the usual process in a few months we will see a Post-Synodal Exhortation. Contrary to the histrionics we witnessed during the synod, it appears clear that the Pope is not going to make any change to the teaching of the Church regarding marriage or divorce. The one thing I would hope for is a clarification on the existing law.
Contrary to popular belief the law does not presently say that those who are divorced and remarried cannot receive communion, nor does it specifically address gay marriage. The canon is written in much broader language.
Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.
The words in bold are where the remarried fall. On one level it seems simple enough.
Is there sin?
Is it grave (as opposed to venial)?
Is it manifest (as opposed to occult/not publicly known)?
Are they preserving in the sin?
Those all seem clear enough and one can see how living in an irregular union of any kind would fulfill these conditions.
The word that is less clear is obstinately, "obstinate" for those who want the Latin. St. John Paul II did not accidentally include the word. If it is in the canon it must add to the meaning of the law.
Oxford defines as obstinate "refusing to change one’s opinion or chosen course of action, despite attempts to persuade one to do so."
Suppose you have a case of a couple who have been in their irregular marriage for 40 years, and all the would be witnesses are deceased. The one who was previously married has tried and been unable to prove the invalidity of the marriage.
Or even more common a Catholic man in his 20's away from the Church marries a non-Catholic woman who was previously married. They have several children. Now a father, he wishes to return to the practice of the faith. She ,not he, refuses to go through the process. She's not Catholic and thinks it is ridiculous.
In either of these cases is the person wishing to receive communion obstinately persisting?
Certainly there are those who obstinately persist. They know what the Church teaches and simply choose to ignore it or take the attitude that they know better. But there are many other cases in which you would be hard pressed to prove obstinacy.
Some like Lewis Carroll's Humpty-Dumpty argue that words have no fixed meaning, and so in this case obstinately doesn't really mean obstinately. It merely means on-going. But then what does persevering mean?
The current Code of Canon Law went through many drafts before St. John Paul II approved the final version. Words matter.
Perhaps one thing we can look forward to from Pope Francis is a clarification on this seemingly small but important detail in the law. Perhaps there was more wisdom in what St. John Paul II wrote than even those around him at the time knew.
As Pope Francis said in his closing address to the Synod the Church is for the poor in spirit and sinners seeking forgiveness not only the just and the saints.