Skip to comments.The Church Cannot Change Her Doctrine on Marriage and Divorce. Concerns for the Upcoming Synod
Posted on 05/05/2014 1:30:25 AM PDT by markomalley
Over the last months there has been a lot of speculation of if and how the Church should change her teaching on Marriage and Divorce. Ross Douthat recently wrote a thoughtful column that sums up recent debates and concerns (Here: More Catholic than the Pope?)
But for those who seriously think the Church can execute a fundamental change regarding our stance on divorce and remarriage, they will get a simple answer from me: Impossible. To the inevitable followup question I can be equally brief: Divine Law.
The Churchs teaching and concerns about divorce and remarriage do not have their origin in some sort of uptight Church with a bunch of uptight rules, (to use an unfair characterization). The forbiddance of divorce and remarriage is divine law; that is, it comes from the very lips of Jesus.
Despite the widespread allowance of divorce in his own culture, and even some allowance of it in the Mosaic Law, Jesus when asked if divorce and remarriage were permissible, simply says, No. (Mat 5:32; Mat 19:9; Mark 10:11; Lk 16:18;). He goes even further and says those who do so commit on-going adultery in their second marriage. This teaching is repeated several times in Jesus ministry.
This is Divine Law, sovereignly stated by Jesus. No pope, no Council, no Synod, and no priest in any confessional has any right or capacity to set aside Divine Law. Those who argue that the Church should change her teaching on this matter are asking the Church to do something she cannot do. Theyre asking her to overrule Jesus. No amount of appeals to culture, what certain Protestant denominations do or dont do, or even the practice of the Orthodox churches can or should overrule the stance of the Roman Catholic Church. We have properly held that Jesus teaching on the matter cannot simply be set aside by formulas, human rituals, human judges, clerics or any amount of euphemisms.
Jesus is clear: to be validly married then to divorce and marry someone else, is to be an ongoing state of adultery. If this does not seem nice or pastoral, let the complainant talk to the chief Shepherd Jesus, because he is the one who said it. Whatever Pastoral stance the Church adopts, whatever language she employs, she cannot adopt any sort of stance which overrules the clear teaching of Jesus.
But of course this brings forth the next question: What about annulments? Are they not a breaking of Jesus teaching? No at least not according to the very words of Jesus himself. Lets consider the matter a little further.
The Biblical Root of Annulments. The Lord says this in regard to marriage: What God has joined together, let no one divide (Mat 19:6). On the face of it, divorce or any sort of annulment would seem forbidden by this. But actually the text serves as a basis for the Churchs allowance of annulment under certain circumstances.
The text says What GOD has joined together cannot be divided. Now just because two people stand before a Justice of the Peace, or a minister or even a priest and swear vows, does not mean that what they do is a work of God. There have to be some standards that the Church insists on for us to acknowledge that what they do is of God.
There are a number of impediments that can render what they do ipso facto invalid. Things such as prior bond (married before), consanguinity (related by blood too closely), minor status (under legal age), incapacity for the marriage act (i.e. cannot have sexual intercourse), and crime or deceit to obtain consent. Further, it is widely held that when one or both parties are compelled to enter the marriage (e.g. by social or financial pressure) or that they display a grave lack of due discretion on account of immaturity or poor formation, that such marriages are null on these grounds.
All these are ways that the Church, based on evidence, comes to a determination that what appeared to be a marriage externally was not in fact so. Put more biblically, the putative marriage was not what God has joined together.
One may ask, Who is the Church to make such a determination? She is in fact the one to whom the Lord entrusted, through the ministry of Peter and the Bishops, the power to bind and loose (Mt 18:18) and to speak in His name (Lk 10:16).
Thus, Annulments are not Divorces- A decree of nullity from the Church is a recognition, based on the evidence given, that a marriage in the Catholic and Biblical sense of the word never existed. Hence, since a person has not in fact been joined by God, they are free to marry in the future. In such a case a person does not violate our Lords declaration that one who divorces their spouse and marries another commits adultery (cf Matt 19:9).
Hence the Church does not set aside the Lords teaching by her teaching on annulment. Rather she has reflected on his teaching and seeks to apply the Lords premise for a valid marriage, namely, that it is What God has joined together.
But here then comes the great debate: Are we giving too many annulments? While it is clear that the Church has some pretty preceise canonical norms regarding marriage, like any norms they have to be interpreted and applied. Certain American practices and norms have evolved over the last thirty years that many question as being too permissive and thus no longer respectful of the binding nature of marital vows.
Many troubling statistics could be advanced to show that there has been a true explosion in the number of annulment granted. There were about 300 annulments in the US granted per year in the early 1960s. Today that number is over 60,000 per year.
When it comes to annulments I, as a Catholic pastor am somewhat divided. Permit me two thoughts on both sides of the question.
Issue # 1 Somewhere we have lost our way. As a Church that forbids divorce and remarriage we have historically insisted on the fact that Marriage is an unbreakable bond. Our straightforward insistence on this actually led to Henry VIII founding his own church when the Pope refused to allow him to divorce and remarry.
In recent decades I fear we have become an uncertain trumpet on this topic. We still say no divorce and remarriage but we dont really seem to mean it, at least in most peoples minds who do not have command of the finder points of canon law. If one does go the route of divorce and remarriage we routinely work it all out for them.
That so few annulment requests are refused makes it seem a bit of a charade to say that we teach against divorce. Now I said it makes it SEEM this way I did not say that we in fact DO teach that divorce and remarriage is OK. But our teaching forbidding it surely seems an abstraction to many, for in the end and there are no real consequences for one who divorces, other than going through a tedious and legalistic process that almost always goes their way.
Hence our pastoral practice does not seem to vigorously reflect our faith and doctrine. This is pastorally troubling and it has grave effects on Marriage in the Church and how people regard it. Are we really serious about upholding the Lords strict doctrine on marriage? Though doctrinally I think we are, pastorally I think most Catholics dont think we are all that serious about it in the end. What we do speaks more loudly than what we say. This is a big problem.
Issue # 2- And yet many pastors struggle with Annulment not as an abstract debate about policy but rather as a problem that affects real people who come to them with needs. Often it isnt as crass as somebody coming in and saying, Well I got rid of my first wife and have got me another I want to marry, lets get the paperwork going Father. It is usually far more poignant than that. Perhaps someone married early, before they were really very serious about the faith and they married someone who abused them. Now, years later after the divorce they have found someone who is able to support them in their faith. Perhaps they met them right in the parish. Should a marriage that was in young and foolish years and lasted all of six months preclude them from entering a supportive union that looks very promising? Maybe so, some still say.
Another more common scenario is often the case where in a person shows up at RCIA who has recently found the Catholic faith and wants to enter it. However, they were married 15 years ago in a Protestant Church to their current spouse who had been married before. Now, mind you, their current marriage is strong and they have both been drawn to the Catholic Faith. They have four kids as well. What is a priest to do? Well I can tell you that this priest will help the one who needs an annulment to get it.
I can tell you a lot of cases come to the Church this way. Its hard and perhaps even unjust to say to someone like this that there is nothing the Church can do for them, they will never qualify for sacraments. No, we just dont do that, we take them through the process for annulment.
Perhaps too another person shows up at the door, A long lost Catholic who has been away 30 years. During that time he or she did some pretty stupid stuff, including getting married and divorced, sometimes more than once. Now they show up at my door in a current marriage that seems strong and helpful and which includes children. The person is in desperate need of confession and Holy Communion. What is a pastor to do? He takes them through the process of annulment to get them access to those sacraments.
So there it is. There are very grave pastoral issues on both sides. On the one side, we lack coherence for many when we say we are against Divorce and remarriage but then grant so many annulments. On the other side are tens of thousands of people whom we seek to reintegrate into the life of the Church and her Sacraments.
Frankly, some of the reports (and they are only reports) of the upcoming synod have been a bit discouraging. Many influential leaders, Bishops among them, have suggested a further watering down (my assessment) of the teaching of Jesus (who himself refused to water it down when pressured to do so) on divorce and remarriage. My own prayer is that we would move more in direction of internal clarity regarding valid grounds for annulment. Right now the lack of clarity over what is meant by grave lack of due discretion (a.k.a. immaturity) sows confusion and even cynicism among the faithful.
It will be granted that some degree of maturity is required to enter into sacramental marriage. We dont let 10-year-olds marry for good reasons. And just because someone has turned 18 does not mean they magically reach the maturity required to enter into a valid Catholic marriage. However, when does one reach maturity? What are the signs or criteria for such maturity? How much maturity exactly is required for one to enter into a valid marriage? On what grounds can a priest refuse to marry a couple he deems to be immature? As you can see, nailing down the concept maturity may seem easy, but it is not.
This is significant, because many, if not most annulments are rendered on the grounds of grave lack of due discretion (a.k.a. lack of full maturity).
If there could any reform that might be helpful coming from the Synod, it would be of great help to order further clarity and reflection over what we mean by due discretion and proper maturity. Sadly I do not see such a proposal on the table. If reports are true, it sounds like many are looking for (hoping for) a solution that, to my mind, makes things far more murky and my even set aside or compromise what Jesus taught without compromise.
Thanks be to God for the Holy Spirit whom I am sure will prevent the Synod from teaching outright error. But protection from error is a negative protection in that it only prevents error. And thanks be to God for that! But is it too much for me to pray for greater clarity; for me to pray that the Spirit will lead us to become clearer and more prophetic in our teaching? Veni Sancte Spiritus!
Msgr Pope ping
It’s peculiar that Msgr. Pope is so scrupulous about the divorced-and-remarrieds’ “access to the sacraments,” when Cardinal Wuerl has already pioneered a simple solution.
When pro-abortion Catholics want to receive Communion, Cardinal Wuerl says: Go ahead.
When a public lesbian wants to receive Communion, Cardinal Wuerl says: Go ahead.
Therefore, there is absolutely no reason that the divorced-and-remarried should bother with an annulment in the Archdiocese of Washington. Cardinal Wuerl has already decreed that Canon 915 is not to be obeyed. So they should just go ahead and receive Communion.
If it is impossible then why is it even considered? If this is a slam dunk, then why even open any discussions? Why is the Church even considering heresy?
bmp for later
Answer: Cardinal Wuerl can simply “pick and chose”.
Would you give them communion?
**The Church Cannot Change Her Doctrine on Marriage and Divorce.**
Good to hear this.
Not the Church, only some of her "wicked and slothful servants". The misuse of free will began in the Garden of Eden.
Despite the widespread allowance of divorce in his own culture, and even some allowance of it in the Mosaic Law, Jesus when asked if divorce and remarriage were permissible, simply says, “No.” (Mat 5:32; Mat 19:9; Mark 10:11; Lk 16:18;). He goes even further and says those who do so commit on-going adultery in their second marriage. This teaching is repeated several times in Jesus ministry.
Thank God the Protestant churches do not reject the rest of the scriptures which teach that we are not under the Law but under Grace...
1Co 7:15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
There is no sin in divorce...Your entire divorce/annullment thing is designed to keep Catholics in bondage...Bondage to your religion...
Gal_4:9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
Gal_5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
You have freedom with your marital bondage??? Of course not...
The “Church” is not considering this. What you’re hearing is a bit of free-association by Cdl Kasper based on some casual statements by our way too casual, arrogant and naïve pope.
I honestly don’t think he means to change doctrine, he’s just wanting to get out there and be popular, so he usurps the power of bishops and priests by making phone calls to confused ladies in Latin America...and the press and the left then just take this and run with it.
The Church considers all things... as much as they deserve consideration. It may be a simple question with a simple answer or it may be more complex and require a lot of prayer and discussion to reaffirm old truths. In either regard, the Church isn't a closed society. It weighs and considers all things.
I think there is a fundamentally different view here with respect to marriage. In the context of the passage you cite, if a Catholic marries a non-believer, that sacramentally constitutes no marriage. If a Catholic marries a Proestant, that would be seen differently than non-believer, but could potentially be grounds for an annulment if the Protestant is hostile to his/her spouses Catholic faith [and that can be documented], then the Catholic could be free to remarry. Now, if the unbeliever departs [using St. Paul’s term and how the Catholic Theological tradition understands it, at least my understanding of that understanding], then the Catholic, after an annulment which declares no Sacrament of Holy Marriage happened, could re-marry. Notice, the context is Catholic [or Christian believer] and atheist or unbeliever.
To say there is no sin in divorce and remarriage, if the first marriage was truly a Christian Marriage is incorrect, at least from the Catholic Theological Tradition. The image of Marriage in the NT is CHrist and his Bride the Church, and in that context, Christ will always be faithful to her. Marriage between two Catholics is by God’s Grace, supposed to reflect Christ’s Love for his Church. Now Divorce, if one does not re-marry is in and of itself not a sin, that is correct, but notice, what the Catholic understanding is Divorce and No-remarriage. So a Catholic that truly entered into a Marriage with another Catholic freely with no impediments is not free to remarry if there is a divorce. Lets put it this way, for me, there is no Divorce and remarriage [there is no divorce either, have a great Catholic wife]. For me it is death till us part end of story.
Any bishop, like Wuerl or Dolan, that ignores Canon Law and gives pro-aborts Holy Communion. They are just as bad as the pro-aborts if they give anyone communion that they know are pro-aborts or homosexuals living in sin, or any other type of sin that they are aware of. Would you withhold communion on these bishops. Would you refuse Holy Communion for the Cuomos, Kennedys, Polosi, Biden, and the rest of the hypocrite pro-abortion politicians that openly mock the teachings of the church by being pro-abortion and sponsoring every piece of pro-abortion legislation that comes down the pike?
Congrats to ya...Getting more and more rare these days...
Absolutely. I would not give Communion to any pro-abortion politician or anyone who gives them Communion.
Of course, no one gives Communion to bishops. Like all priests, they give themselves Communion when they celebrate Mass.
They really have no right to be celebrating Mass, because they are living chronically in the state of mortal sin.
Well I sure wish there was repercusions for those bishops that ignore canon law.