A Pastoral Path To Communion?

The Catholic Church needs to find a way to offer healing, strength and salvation to Catholics whose marriages have failed, who are committed to making a new union work and who long to do so within the church and with the grace of Communion, Cardinal Walter Kasper told the world’s cardinals. Pope Francis had asked Cardinal Walter Kasper, a well-known theologian and author of a book on mercy as a fundamental trait of God, to introduce a discussion on Feb. 20-21 by the College of Cardinals on family life. While insisting—for the good of individuals and of the church—on the need to affirm Jesus’ teaching that sacramental marriage is indissoluble, Cardinal Kasper allowed for the possibility that in very specific cases the church could tolerate a second union.

Because they are human and prone to sin, husbands and wives continually must follow a path of conversion, renewal and maturation, asking forgiveness and renewing their commitment to one another, Cardinal Kasper said. But the church also must be realistic and acknowledge “the complex and thorny problem” posed by Catholics whose marriages have failed but who find support, family stability and happiness in a new relationship, he continued.

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“One cannot propose a solution different from or contrary to the words of Jesus,” the cardinal said. “The indissolubility of a sacramental marriage,” he said, “is part of the binding tradition of the faith of the church and cannot be abandoned or dissolved by appealing to a superficial understanding of mercy at a discount price.” At the same time, Cardinal Kasper added, “There is no human situation absolutely without hope or solution.”

Cardinal Kasper said it would be up to members of the special assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family in October and the world Synod of Bishops in 2015 to discuss concrete proposals for helping divorced and civilly remarried Catholics participate more fully in the life of the church. A possible avenue for finding those proposals, he said, would be to develop “pastoral and spiritual procedures” for helping couples convinced in conscience that their first union was never a valid marriage. The decision cannot be left only to the couple, he said, because marriage has a public character, but that does not mean that a juridical solution—an annulment granted by a marriage tribunal—is the only way to handle the case.

As a diocesan bishop in Germany in 1993, Cardinal Kasper and two other bishops issued pastoral instructions to help priests minister to such couples. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, made the bishops drop the plan. A similar proposal made last year by the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, was criticized by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, current prefect of the doctrinal congregation.

Citing an article by then-Father Joseph Ratzinger in 1972, Cardinal Kasper said the church also might consider some form of “canonical penitential practice”—a “path beyond strictness and leniency”—that would adapt the gradual process for the reintegration of sinners into full communion with the church that was used in the first centuries of Christianity.

To avoid the greater evil of offering no help to the divorced and remarried, cutting them and most likely their children off from the sacraments, he said, the church could “tolerate that which is impossible to accept”—a second union. “A pastoral approach of tolerance, clemency and indulgence,” he said, would affirm that “the sacraments are not a prize for those who behave well or for an elite, excluding those who are most in need.”

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Josephine DiCalogero
3 years 7 months ago
Many times what appears to be a sacramental marriage when entered into results into a very unhealthy union. As the saying goes, "One does not know what goes on in someone else's marriage" and who are we to judge except the very administrators of the sacrament-the couple. I know a marriage that has lasted over 40 years with two children that should have been dissolved a very long time ago. After 40 years of marriage and working with a couple's therapist who is part of the annulment processes for her diocese, for almost 4 years, the wife was told that the husband was an abuser and if she was well and did not need the assets for her medical care, the therapist would have recommended a divorce. What would Jesus do? This was never a marriage as defined by this very therapist. An annulment would not work if this woman did seek to dissolve the marriage. Should she really continue to be abused, though now being able to recognize it and temper its impact? I have no answer for this woman. What do you say to an abused woman-that her "sacramental" marriage condones this abuse? I think that Jesus is merciful and that the Church's stance is not.
Paul Ferris
3 years 7 months ago
Josephine, The sad story you relate is believable but not usual. I know a person who had seven children, married 31 years and was granted an annulment about 20 years ago. For a time annulments were fairly common in the US but I think things tightened up in the past decade or so. Whatever one thinks of the marriage tribunals and I see no reason to doubt their sincerity, it is a human process and obviously subject to flaws. The last statistics I read is that 85% of divorced Catholics do not apply for an annulment. Of the 15% who do, 7% are approved. I know there are married people on the tribunals but it is still run by men who have no experience of marriage. To me that says something. Grace builds on nature so experience is an important factor. Another issue to me is that if a person who is really a bad spouse and granted an annulment because the case against him or her, then the guilty party is also free to marry again in the Catholic Church and do damage to another innocent victim in marriage.
Paul Ferris
3 years 7 months ago
Maybe what the Catholic Church should do is tell people that one can only marry once in the Catholic Church because we believe it is a sacrament and indissoluble. If for any reason this marriage fails then there cannot be another "church" wedding. Nevertheless all should be welcomed to the Eucharist because as we say in the liturgy, "I am not worthy that You should come under my roof but only say the word and my soul will be healed. " Eucharistic attendance should be separated from marriage indissolubility. To invite people to come to liturgy but refrain from receiving communion is like asking someone to come to ones home for Thanksgiving but not allowing them to partake of the meal. Whatever those who divorce do in terms of a second marriage is their responsibility. The advantage to this policy is to reinforce Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Catholics would be put on notice that marriage should be entered into with serious intentions. On the other hand this policy would open up the Eucharist to all. I do not think the marriage tribunals which investigate marriages really work.. They are not respected by the majority of divorced Catholics who don't even apply for an annulment. The truth about many divorces is that it take two. Even this failure can be forgiven and may be an opportunity for growth in a second marriage. It would also show couples that they too need to forgive each other for the failure of their marriage. This is also necessary for the sake of the children. Couples who go through divorce suffer a lot and know the frustrating feelings and negative realities of divorce. Life is a journey and the Eucharist is medicinal food for the Journey. I for one was skeptical about the recent survey because I felt it was too little too late. Haven't there been enough polls and feedback over the decades on this and other controversial issues in the Church ? But Pope Francis may have the better idea. Armed with statistics the bishops themselves solicited, he may be able to persuade the conservatives in the church that this is the season for mercy, a season to forgive all debts as in the Old Testament requirement once in every seven years. I know this policy will not be popular and people who feel justified in obtaining an annulment will be unhappy to hear of this change. There are undoubtedly some people who are innocent victims of a spouse whom they never should have married. Maybe there could be a blessing of their second marriage without calling it a sacrament.
Sseprn S
3 years 7 months ago
Divorce is not the only problem keeping some Catholics away from the sacraments. I know a couple married over 30 years who live a life of out ward Christian example. Born and raised Catholic they fell away from the Church and married in a civil ceremony. Now one of these folks wants to return to the Church. Unfortunately the other spouse does not and is not interested in convalidating the marriage, as offered by the parish priest. The spouse interested in returning to the Church has been told that without con validation there can be no sacraments, no confession, and certainly no Eucharist. Is there any hope for “a pastoral approach of tolerance, clemency and indulgence,” for people in this situation?
Rosemary McHugh
3 years 7 months ago
"While insisting...on the need to affirm Jesus’ teaching that sacramental marriage is indissoluble, Cardinal Kasper allowed for the possibility that in very specific cases the church could tolerate a second union." As I read this, all I can think about is the hypocrisy of the leaders of the church to insist on the need to affirm Jesus' teaching on sacramental marriage as indissoluble, when these same church leaders have ignored the command of Jesus to protect the innocence of children for centuries. What makes these men think they have any moral authority anymore, when Pope Francis at present is protecting his Archbishop Wesolowski from facing charges of sexually abusing young boys in Poland and in the Dominican Republic, and ignoring the children who have been sexually abused by his archbishop? What arrogance to think that they have moral authority. Let them get their own house in order, for the greater glory of God first! Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D., M.Spir., Chicago
Michael Barberi
3 years 7 months ago
I am reading a good book "Catholic Divorce: The Deception of Annulments" by Pierre Hegy and Joseph Martos (New York, Continuum International Publishing, 2000). First a few statistics and interesting facts: 1. The number of annulments granted to divorced Catholics rose from 368 per year in 1968 to 40,000 in recent years. 70% of all annulments granted in the world take place in the U.S. 2. 80% to 90% of all petitions for annulments are granted, so 40,000 annulments per year seems like annulment-on-demand. 3. Marriage became recognized as a sacrament in both East and West only in the 13th century; hence it is the church, not the Lord, hat raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. 4. Many people quote the Pauline texts to justify opposing divorce. However, in the very early Christian communities there were likely no divorced Christians, and hence, Paul had no advice for them. It is likely that he would have applied his principle "it is better to marry than to burn" to the divorced. Is it better to burn than to remarry? The Catholic Church refuses to address this question. 5. Equally perplexing and controversial is Matthew's exception clause (Matt 5:32 and 19:9). The word porneia is unresolved and disputed, not only within the Catholic theological community, but within the Judeo-Christian Church. Based on biblical theologians, there are 3 possible meanings: (1) extra-marital sexual intercourse, normally associated with adultery, (2) pre-marital intercourse (e.g., before the female spouse is betrothed, hence she would not have been a virgin, grounds that the marriage was a fraud and invalid in ancient times) and (3) incestuous relations (an endogamous marriage , that is, a marriage within the extended family; also an invalid marriage). If we rule out #s 2 and 3, we are left with #1. Yet the Catholic Church offers no convincing argument about this definition, but emphasizes the lack of the exception clause in Luke and Mark, earlier written texts. 6. In 401, Jerome wrote the funeral eulogy of Fabiola, who had dismissed her husband for immorality and remarried. Jerome justifies her deed in reference to Paul's principle: "it is better to marry than to burn". Few talk about such things. 7. The new guidelines for annulment were introduced by Paul VI and later institutionalized in the 1983 Code of Cannon Law and added the inability of assuming the essential obligations of matrimony due to causes of psychological nature. In an important decision, the Rota called this emotional immaturity; it consists of gross and sustained impairment in social relationships. With the vague terms as 'emotional immaturity' or 'lack of empathy', few marriages are safe anymore. 8. The saddest statistic is the fact that only about 13% of Catholic divorces in the U.S. in 1992 applied for an annulment. In France only 4% applied. I could go on, but I applaud Cardinal Kasper for his determination and enlightened pastoral response.
Paul Ferris
3 years 7 months ago
Michael, Good points. I would add that another reason so few Catholics apply for annulments is that an annulment means the marriage never really happened. In recent years I have heard a qualification on this which says that legally it happened but sacramentally it did not happen. In other words the Catholic Church will not call a spade a spade...a divorce a divorce. Actually people would rather admit that a marriage has failed than admit they were never really married. After all if you go back to the very wedding day of a marriage, 99.99% believe they reallly married and intended the marriage for life. Looked at this way, the fact that so few Catholics apply for an annulment could be considered a sign of maturity on their part. Many people also realize that marriage failure can be the fault of both parties. The annulment process is a juridical process about who struck John. Also historically the Catholic Church is concerned with the institution of marriage rather than the actually couple in a marriage. This is an important distinction that has both good and bad aspects. I am reminded of a remark by Karl Barth who once said, Catholics do not have a theology of marriage, only a theology of the marriage ceremony. I hate to sound like I am beating a dead horse but not having a married clergy with practical experience of marriage may be a reason why Catholicism seems so out of touch on this issue. The greatest work in theology over the centuries has to do with subjects like liturgy, scripture, Eucharist, etc., Few if any theologians I know of have spent a lifetime studying marriage. I have never been bothered by the statement that if a couple were never married then their children are bastards. But I have heard this so often there must be something to it.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 7 months ago
http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/06/21/vatican_reverses_kennedy_ruling/?page=full Sometimes one of the divorced does not want the Church to grant the annulment, so then the remarried Catholic is barred from Communion.
Paul Ferris
3 years 7 months ago
Or in the past, a catholic has been granted a divorce without the cooperation of one party. In one case I know, the catholic who wanted and was granted a divorce was cheating on his spouse. The divorce was granted and the cheating spouse was free to marry again in the Church. The victim in this case never married again and is a devoted, practicing Catholic.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 7 months ago
There is also a financial cost to getting an annulment that makes the church look bad. I think we need to realize that marriage in the Catholic Church was the only game in town at one point in European history, so it would be natural that the Church would have an annulment process. However, since the Church does seem to recognize marriages and divorces that take place outside the Church as a potential impediment to marriage in the Church, it seems redundant to make the divorced go through the annulment process.

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