Monday, June 6, 2016

Marriage Rx: Can Divorced & Remarried Receive Communion Now?

Question: I'm a Catholic who is divorced and remarried. I never got an annulment from my first marriage. But I really love the Mass and want to receive the Eucharist. So several years ago, I asked a priest, who said my marital status didn't matter and I could keep taking communion. Then a friend told me a priest didn't have authority to say that unless my new husband and I lived as brother and sister. My second marriage was rocky at that point, so I followed my friend's advice. My new husband and I wound up separating. When I read in the papers that Pope Francis is allowing the divorced and remarried to take communion, I got really confused and upset. I feel like my sacrifice was for nothing, and I'm pretty angry with my friend. Did the rules just change? I don't understand!

Answer: First of all, don't believe everything you read in the papers! Pope Francis did not just change the rules to allow all divorced and remarried to receive communion. The papers you read were probably reporting on the Pope's recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia (or The Joy of Love), and in particular on Chapter 8, "Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness."

In Chapter 8, Pope Francis stated that he is not providing "a new set of general rules ... applicable to all cases" (AL 300). Instead, he is offering "a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases" (id.). This discernment can happen through conversations with priests. But it does not mean "that any priest can quickly grant 'exceptions', or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours" (id.).

Pope Francis stressed that not all divorced and remarried are in a state of mortal sin, relying on the traditional definition of mortal sin as requiring three conditions: (1) grave matter, (2) full knowledge, and (3) deliberate consent (AL 301, CCC 1857). To remarry outside the Church without getting an annulment is definitely a grave matter. But whether a person had full knowledge and deliberate consent depends on the person.

According to the Catechism, a person's degree of responsibility for their actions can be lessened by "ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments” or by “affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors” (AL 302, CCC 1735, 2352).

In explaining what Pope Francis said in Amoris Laetitia, commentator Fr. Dwight Longenecker uses an analogy to drivers who break the law by speeding. If the speed limit is 60 miles per hour, anyone who drives over that limit has broken the law. But if one driver is drag racing on the highway and the other is rushing to get his injured daughter to the hospital, then the drag racer bears far more guilt for what he did. Fr. Longenecker continues:
Like the speeders, one divorced and remarried person may be far more guilty than another divorced and remarried person. Both have broken God’s law by being remarried after divorce, but the degree of their fault may vary. This doesn’t mean a divorced and remarried person who is only mildly guilty may automatically receive communion. That person still needs to have his or her irregular relationship sorted out.
So what does all of this mean for your specific situation? First of all, it's true that priests don't have the authority to grant quick exceptions. The process of pastoral discernment isn't a one-shot deal. It implies a relationship with a particular confessor who knows you and accepts the Church's teachings, and who is willing to help you understand the right path by meeting with you frequently, over and over, until you can see your way through.

Second of all, don't be angry with your friend. The advice to live as brother and sister comes straight out of Pope St. John Paul II's words in Familiaris Consortio (no. 84):

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those [divorced and remarried] who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples."

You did the right thing -- the heroic thing. And you did it for love of the Eucharist. But if you're troubled about it, the answer is to find a trustworthy confessor who can see you regularly, getting to know you and your specific situation, and helping you understand the great value of what you chose to do.

53 comments:

  1. "That person still needs to have his or her [adulterous] relationship sorted out."
    “She says for instance that marriage is indissoluble but now there is a marriage nullity process by which practically anyone who comes forward and asks to have a marriage declared null, will have it declared null." - Cardinal Raymond Burke

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    1. Hi, John! Good to hear from you on the blog. As we've discussed before, although annulment rates are quite high in many U.S. dioceses (particularly urban ones), annulment is not a foregone conclusion.

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  2. You are cherry-picking out-of-context Karee ... 304-305 makes no mention of Familiaris Consortio #84 ... but Pope Francis does make specific mention in note 329. The topic is the internal forum. You conveniently ignore Footnote 351.

    304 It is reductive simply to consider whether or
    not an individual’s actions correspond to a general
    law or rule, because that is not enough to discern
    and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life
    of a human being.

    305 For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that
    it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those
    living in “irregular” situations, as if they were
    stones to throw at people’s lives.

    37. We have long thought that simply by stressing
    doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without
    encouraging openness to grace, we were providing
    sufficient support to families, strengthening
    the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital
    life. We find it difficult to present marriage more
    as a dynamic path to personal development and
    fulfilment than as a lifelong burden. We also find
    it hard to make room for the consciences of the
    faithful, who very often respond as best they can
    to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable
    of carrying out their own discernment in
    complex situations. We have been called to form
    consciences, not to replace them.

    In the text preceding Footnote 351, Pope Francis observes that, while certain individuals may be objectively in sin, they may not be fully culpable. This is nothing new; the Church has long taught that mortal sin requires the presence of three criteria: grave matter, full knowledge and freedom of the will (CCC 1857). So the pope is saying that, though grave matter is always present in an irregular union, the other two criteria may not be.

    In such cases, the pope says, the Church can not merely state a rule as though it were “a stone to throw.” Rather, it must be a source of help for the couple to “grow in the life of grace.” And then he adds this footnote:

    In certain cases [divorse-remarriage], this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy.” … I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (Footnote 351)

    In “certain cases,” but which? If the text that precedes the note is of any help, the pope would seem to be referring to cases where there is grave matter but not the other two criteria for mortal sin. If there is no mortal sin, nothing bars one from the Eucharist.


    Still, it must be said that the language surrounding footnote 351 does not at all describe people who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin.” The pope speaks of those who are not fully culpable due to the presence of “mitigating factors.”

    Nor does the pope say that priests should allow couples to remain in sin once "they" are convicted of the grave matter. He speaks elsewhere (cf. §222) of the need for pastors to help couples develop a “fully formed conscience.” Once the conscience is formed, the grave matter must end.

    And here is where footnote 329 becomes of help ... pay attention Joe! In this section, the pope restates a point that St. John Paul II had made in Familiaris Consortio 84, which is that the good of children might mean that couples in an irregular union cannot separate (i.e., divorce or live apart). John Paul II is at pains to point out that celibacy is required of couples in this situation.

    However ... here's the change in pastoral care ... in note 329, Pope Francis adds:

    In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters,” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.”

    Closed loop reductionist neo-Thomistic reasoning is thrown out the door for lack of prudence.

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    1. I agree with much of what you say here, Stephen. If someone has not committed a mortal sin, of course they can receive the sacraments including Holy Communion. And once someone fully has a formed conscience "the grave matter must end," as you commented.

      Where I differ with you is in the notion that celibacy is impossible. I have heard of instances where a single mother, doing the best she can, has entered into another union (civilly married or not) in order to put food on the table and care and support for the children. And in many instances the man does not understand or care about what the Church has to say about the matter. But there are other circumstances where women (or men) are capable of caring for themselves and their children and they are not compelled by necessities of survival to enter into a second union. In these circumstances the only "need" is sexual satisfaction -- not a true need at all. And statistics show that female children are frequently in grave danger from their mothers' boyfriends or stepfathers. Second unions are not always beneficial or worth saving.

      I have also heard from couples who willingly lived as brother and sister until their situation was resolved and found great healing in it. I know other couples who have kept themselves from the Eucharist until their situation was resolved, only intensifying their love for the Sacrament and the Church. It can be done.

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  3. Karee ... the power to bind is attributed to Petrine authority in matters of morals and faith (Canon 330-361) ... not conscience (CCC Article 6 and 12 references to Aquinas in AL) ... not a power assumed by priests in the confessional .. even the Pope concedes, "Who am I to judge?" ... and says the confessional is not a torture chamber

    Priests have never had authority to decide conscience. Canon law allows priests to deny absolution if they believe that the penitent is not sorry ... that is not the same as deciding subjective sin. Not even in the external forum are "objective proofs" of validity (not sin) decided without three judges, a second judicial review and an appeal process. What you are proposing is a dangerous expansion of priestly authority that is nowhere condoned by the Catholic Church ... and most certianly not permitted in the internal forum. I know of some Bishops, like Culpich, who are paying careful attention to the formation of priests in the light of AL.

    Amoris Laetitia's ambiguity is intentional ... Francis left the internal forum decision to individual conscience (300, 303, 305), not to be arbitrated by a closed-loop reductionist legalism (300, 304) nor delegated to the arbitrary decision of a priest (37).

    I think you are still dancing around what has changed Karee.

    What Traditions (not doctrine ... it has not changed) ... what ineffective disciplinarian methods ("absolutely does not work") of pastoral care have changed Karee ... and why?

    How are the pastoral care changes related to Pope Francis' overall theme ... the Gospel huermetic of mercy ... this Year of Mercy? Why did Pope Francis and Pope Benedict see an acute need to elaborate upon the theologies of mercy and conscience and sin?

    What is the internal forum process of discernment and reconciliation as Pope Francis defines it?


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    1. I am referring to the role of the confessor who through knowledge of the penitent and others who have come before him is capable of distinguishing between mortal and venial sin with far more clarity and lack of bias than someone in the thick of it. That role of the confessor does not negate the role of conscience.

      I think what has changed is in what constitutes invincible ignorance. It used to be that with the support of the culture it was clear that those who had divorced and remarried outside the Church had committed a wrong. Nowadays there is no widespread cultural awareness or assumption of that. So we have to look more closely at the individual. The individual may have heard "the rule" but have mental blocks against understanding it. Knowledge of the doctrine itself matters little in this post-Christian culture where anything goes.

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  4. n August 5, 2015 Pope Francis strongly called on Catholic communities to have a welcoming and merciful attitude to Christians who have remarried outside the church after a divorce, saying that such people “are not by any means excommunicated” and should be made to feel a part of their communities.

    “If then we look at these new bonds also with the eyes of small children ... with the eyes of children, we see again the urgency to grow in our communities a real welcoming towards people that live in such situations."

    “How can we recommend to these parents to do all [they can] to educate their children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a sure and practiced faith, if we put them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they might have been excommunicated?” the pope asked.

    “These persons are not by any means excommunicated,” the pontiff said, repeating: “They are not excommunicated.”

    “It absolutely does not work to treat them as such,” he said.

    “No closed doors,” he told the audience, repeating: “No closed doors!”

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    1. I have written elsewhere on what Pope Francis meant by "not excommunicated." Excommunication is a well-defined, strictly circumscribed formal penalty that indeed is not imposed upon the divorced and remarried.

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  5. One last thought Karee ... your statement that annulments are quite high in some places is highly misleading.

    THERE IS THE ELEPHANT SITTING IN THE ROOM:

    It appears to me that those arguing for the status quo fail to understand properly the reality of pastoral care ... what we would call "denial" in recovery programs.

    Twenty Eight percent of U.S. Catholic marriages end in divorce ... more than 20.4 million individuals ... let's put this into clear perspective About one in three Catholic adults have experienced divorce in their lifetimes. Where did they go?

    According to CARA, the average USA parish has about 3800 people. The mean average per USA parish is:

    = 1,208 people have experienced a divorce

    = 3.3 marriages have been annulled

    = 1.5 marriages were annulled through the ordinary (trial) process with 96% approval

    = 1.8 marriages were annulled through the documentary (administrative) process
    with 98% approval

    = 218 divorced people have remarried and remain on your parish register but may no longer attend

    = 386 divorced people are cohabitating and remain on your parish register but may no longer attend

    = 362 divorced people have left your parish to remarry and joined a Protestant congregation because they do not feel welcome

    = 114 gay Catholics remain on your parish register but may no longer attend

    = 1,216 young Catholics (80%) registered with your parish leave the Church before age 23

    = 950 people, less than 25 percent of registered parishioners, attend Mass each week.

    Coerced celibacy (live life without hope for committed union with another) or face condemnation and lifetime exclusion from communion and the sacraments and employment ... and your children too! ... is a dismal failure. And I have not begun to comment upon what harm such disciplinary solutions do to the poor.

    A large majority of Synod Bishops agreed: " Harsh language and disciplinarian solutions do not lead people to Christ."

    Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well living water. He did not reject her for being of another faith or condemn her for having divorced five times and co-habitating with a sixth man.


    "Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” ~ Pope Francis

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    1. "Coerced celibacy" theoretically applies to single people who have not yet or cannot find a mate and priests and religious who struggle with their desires as well as homosexuals and those who have divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment. As I said in one of my previous replies, sexual satisfaction is a great good but not a true need.

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  6. John ... Cardinal Burke simply denies that AL has any authority ... without any reference to the Pope's teaching.

    Boiled down, Cardinal Burke’s point is essentially this: stop saying the apostolic exhortation is a revolution in Church teaching, because it can’t be a revolution in Church teaching, because the exhortation is non-magisterial and by definition does not have the authority to change church teaching or practice, and to say it has done so causes scandal.

    To boil it down even further: the exhortation can’t change church teaching, and therefore it didn’t. Full stop.

    At first glance, the argument strikes the reader as a bit…well…beside the point. “What about all those controversial bits!” we want say. “What did you think of those?” And on that matter, the cardinal simply has nothing to say – at least, not yet. In fact, the most striking thing about His Eminence’s response is that he barely references the text of the exhortation, at all. For the purposes of the cardinal’s argument, the document could have claimed that the moon is made of blue cheese.

    And this makes perfect sense when you realize that the Cardinal is approaching the issue from the viewpoint of a Catholic canon law jurist. He’s not interested (yet) in joining the host of those writers struggling to interpret the sometimes-tortured text. For now he’s interested in stemming the confusion by answering one, very specific question: exactly what authority the exhortation might have to propose novel doctrinal or pastoral practices.

    His conclusion is: none.

    It sort of begs the question ... does that mean St. Pope John Paul II's exhortation Familiaris Consortio #84 is meaningless? Perhaps there is a distinction to be made. Pope John Paul II ignored the 1980s papal commission recommendation to allow the divorced-remarried to enter into the process of reconciliation. In contrast, Pope Francis listened to the advice of two-thirds of Family Synod Bishops in approving the internal forum in certain cases where the external forum is not available. Brilliant!

    What we do know is the doctrine has not changed ... Traditions (ineffective disciplinarian solutions that do not lead people to Christ) are not doctrine ... they can and have changed.

    I strongly suspect that Cardinal Burke had in mind the likes of Chicago Archbishop Cupich, who hailed the exhortation as a “game changer,” or the Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin, who consoled a man in a gay “marriage” who had lamented that the Church says he is “living in sin.” “That language is out,” Fr. Martin gleefully told the man in a Facebook post.

    Keep in mind, following a threat of schism at the first Family Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Burke was stripped of all Curial governing authority, passed over for the Chicago Archdiocese, not invited to the second Family Synod and was assigned to a ceremonial position on a beautiful tiny medieval island far far away in the middle of an ocean.

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    1. My understanding of the hierarahy of authority of Church documents is that AL cannot contradict or overturn more authoritative documents such as the Catechism. It is a principle of civil law that if possible different laws must be interpreted not to contradict one another. Due to the ambiguous nature of AL, it is quite possible to read it together with prior and more authoritative Church documents without finding any direct contradiction.

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    2. Your understanding is quite mistaken Karee ... the catechism is a living document ... that has undergone many changes throughout history ... the Family Synod is a recognized process of doctrinal development. There are no contradictions here Karee ... reductionist reasoning has been discarded for lack of prudence. The internal forum is permitted. You keep making imaginative arguments without any grounding in AL.

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  7. Well ... let's break that down Karee.

    First, the catechism is not considered more authoritative than a papal exhortation. In fact, many recent changes in the catechism were written by Cardinal Ratzinger while CDF prefect. But make no mistake ... an exhortation is a magisterial document.

    Second ... it good to see you correcting yourself on a priest's authority. Yes, the priest is to help form conscience ... not to decide conscience ... glad you got that right.

    You are still missing an important aspect of Pope Francis teaching Karee ... the term he uses is "discernment and integration " ... it's both / and ... not either / or. It is a specious argument to authority to claim that doctrine has not changed ... what has changed are Traditions ... it was ruled that the internal forum is permissible, reductionist logic is not sufficient, conscience must be respected, people are capable of carrying out their own discernment (clericalism is frowned upon), the goal is discernment and integration and we must trust in the grace of God working in people's lives.

    In fact, the Pope goes to great length the spell out that the Church, " ... should not burden people with unrealistic expectations." What does that mean Karee?

    I am not sure I buy your diminutive argument ... that the reason peoples marriage is invalid is because people are stupid. That's a rather juvenile simplistic comment. The Pope contradicts that notion in AL 37. What is the internal forum discernment process as defined by Pope Francis ... you have not answered the question Karee?

    Third, sexual intimacy in marriage may no longer be a need for you and your husband ... given your age and six children that would not be surprising ... but Pope Francis contradicts your understanding of human nature in AL footnote 329. Just as the reasons for divorce are complex ... so too the reasons for remarriage. Many who have divorced and remarried want and have children .... and they do not want to live their life alone .... and there are economic reasons ... and on and on. Just as it is reductive and childish to reduce all marital relationship to sex ... it is reductive and immature to trivialize intimate relationship. Do you speak for all Catholics Karee?

    You are still dancing around what has changed Karee ... what the Family Synod Bishops characterized as, "Harsh language and disciplinarian solutions do not lead people to Christ."

    Amoris Laetitia's ambiguity is intentional ... Francis left the question of validity in the internal forum to individual conscience (300, 303, 305), not to be arbitrated by a closed-loop reductionist legalism (300, 304) nor delegated to the arbitrary decision of a priest (37).

    The Pope was not interested in making more reductionist legalisms. Traditions do evolve in real life. And this problem of divorce-remarriage can not be separated from a context ... this discussion has been in on-going discussion among Bishops for over 100 years ... and yes, the culture has changed ... traditions evolve ... and reality is greater than ideology. What we are seeing here is the Pope calling people to an adult spirituality.

    I think you are still dancing around what has changed Karee.

    What Traditions (not doctrine ... it has not changed) ... what ineffective disciplinarian methods ("absolutely does not work") of pastoral care have changed Karee ... and why?

    You are still stuck on forgiving people who have objectively violated procedural rules if a priest judges them to be stupid. Get real.

    How are the pastoral care changes related to Pope Francis' overall theme ... the Gospel huermetic of mercy ... this Year of Mercy? Why did Pope Francis and Pope Benedict see an acute need to elaborate upon the theologies of mercy and conscience and sin?

    What is the internal forum process of discernment and reconciliation as Pope Francis defines it?

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    1. I disagree with your statement that the Catechism is not more authoritative than a papal exhortation. It does in fact have more authority (see, e.g., http://www.adoremus.org/0902AuthorityChurchDoc.html).

      The AL specifies the internal forum as conversation with a priest (in confession or spiritual direction, for example) that leads to "formation of a correct judgment" and which "can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church" (300). In other words a greater understanding of why the Church teaches what she teaches and why it's correct.

      When the Pope says we should not burden people with unrealistic expectations, I think he refers again to their subjective understanding and level of moral culpability.

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    2. Not so fast Karee ... the Catechism is a living document that has undergne many changes (some made by the Curia) ... a Synod is a recognized process for doctrinal development enshrineed i Canon Law ... reductionist reasoning is out for lack of prudence ... the internal forum is permitted ... priests have never had authority to decide conscience ... and you do not have a theological grounding in the internal forum ... try again ... describe the internal forum process as defined by Pope Francis in AL ...

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  8. And that's another discussion Karee ... though the word of God is eternal, the culture has changed ... you speak of it as if that is a bad thing. A reason for Vatican II was to bring the Church into the modern world. Culture changes for many complex reasons, to include scientific knowledge, communication technologies, reconciliation of philosophical abstractions with lived experience, etc., ect., ect.. At a deeper level, the world dances to the will of God. Discernment of God's will is to pay attention to the signs of the times. This leads to a discussion of the role of the Sensus Fidei. Can't practice your faith with your head in the sand.

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  9. Last, I do not believe you can remove this discussion from a historical context Karee. It is not sufficient to make the expansive claim that the Catechism is unchanging or supersedes a Synod process of doctrinal development and a resulting papal exhortation. The Catechism has undergone many revisions by popes and cruia throughout the centuries. And, the Catechism is but a summary of deeper theological reasoning that can offer more nuance to understanding. I do agree with you that most Catholics do not have a deeper theological and historical conscience. But they do have a sense of God's presence.

    Following the 1980s Family Synod and a recommendation from his papal commission to permit the internal forum, then CDF prefect Cardinal Ratzinger overruled the Synod of Bishops and papal commission in advising St. John Paul II to stipulate in his exhortation Familiaris Consortio 84 that the good of children might mean that couples in an irregular union cannot separate (i.e., divorce or live apart) .... but stipulated celibacy is required of couples in this situation.

    By Contrast, following forty years of failed pastoral care and mass exodus of the divorsed-remarried, Pope Francis listened to his papal commission and Synod of Bishops. Here's the change in pastoral care Karee ... in note 329, Pope Francis adds:

    In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters,” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.”

    Amoris Laetitia's ambiguity is intentional ... Francis left the internal forum decision to individual conscience (300, 303, 305), not to be arbitrated by a closed-loop reductionist legalism (300, 304) nor delegated to the arbitrary decision of a priest (37).

    Twentieth century innovations in closed-loop reductionist neo-Thomistic reasoning are thrown out the door for lack of prudence.

    A vast number of U.S. Catholics who stay away from the sacraments (and hardly ever go to Mass) do so because they think they are in "a bad marriage." That is, they were divorced and, without getting a declaration of nullity from the Church, they married again. The good news is that they may very well be in a good marriage, annulment or no. The bad news is that no one has bothered to give them the good news.

    The mainstream in American Catholicism feel it is time for us to bother -- to report the news that people who are remarried without an annulment need not stay away from Mass and the sacraments. We feel we have a duty to bring our informed understanding to this issue, an issue that has, up to now, been the subject of much misunderstanding, a misunderstanding leading to needless alienation from the Church, and a ruinous decimation of Church membership. This need not be.

    Some priests have been doing a very good job by helping couples regularize their so-called irregular marriages through the external forum annulment process (less than 2% of the 23% of divorced Catholics) and outside that process, as well, in something called "the internal forum." But many pastors had been doing this in a quiet manner. But we not longer need remain quite. In the spirit of Vatican II, we have a duty to make the Church work, for everyone, even and especially for those who are wounded or wandering.

    The Fathers of Vatican II described our Church as a pilgrim Church. By that, they meant that we have all had to make our way through history, sometimes proudly, sometimes painfully, sometimes striding, sometimes limping, in a not always successful effort to follow the Gospel. The war-making popes of the late medieval era and the early renaissance limped very badly indeed. Some led lives of luxury and licentiousness, building palaces for their mistresses and handing on the overflow from Crusade treasuries to their illegitimate sons and daughters. Let those of us who never limp cast the first stone.

    continued ...

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    1. It is true that in some situations a marriage will fall apart without expressions of physical intimacy. However, that's not always true. The Holy Family is the clearest example of this.

      People who are remarried without annulment need not stay away from Mass, true. But they need not receive the Eucharist either. in Pope Francis' book The Name of God Is Mercy, he gave the example of his own niece, civilly married to a divorced man who hasn't obtained an annulment of his first marriage yet. His niece's husband went to confession every Sunday before Mass, telling the priest, "I know you can't absolve me but I have sinned … please give me a blessing." Pope Francis praised his niece's husband as "a religiously mature man." This is what "adult spirituality" looks like.

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  10. Many of us limp in many ways. Some of our limping behavior has to do with our marriages. Many of us are children of divorce ourselves. Some of us grew up with only one, struggling parent, and, though we don't really know how to make a good marriage (because we've never seen one, up close), we get married. Sometimes, these marriages do not last. Sometimes, some of us find ourselves abandoned, or locked in a marriage with a partner whom we find "intolerably incompatible."

    There are relationships which become destructive for all involved and where it is not possible to talk of such marriages as symbolizing the union between Christ and the Church. And so we get a divorce. Then, many of us (three out of four women, five out of six men) marry again within three years -- for companionship, for sexual intimacy and for the economic and social and psychological support that marriage provides. Sometimes we do so in order to make a better home for our children. Are we a living contradiction to the Catholic ideal -- that marriage is supposed to be for life?

    Not necessarily. As pilgrims in a pilgrim church, we pick ourselves up, we ask ourselves what we've done wrong, and we try again. We don't want to live alone. We'd like to have children. We'd like to be good Catholics. And we'd still like to believe that marriage is for life. The remarried are not people who promote divorce. Almost unanimously, they profess a high regard for lifelong marriage, and insist they would never wish a divorce on anyone. To come close to divorced people is to look through a painful window at the dark underside of American life and at the many forces that make lasting marriage difficult. For most, remarriage is a second chance to live and love again, another chance to salvage a broken life.

    Knowing all this, mainstream Catholics (over 80%) look with some skepticism at Pope John Paul II's call to divorced and remarried Catholics to "come home" in the year 2000. The appeal strikes us as unrealistic, perhaps even thoughtless. In the pope's view, many Catholics who are divorced and remarried cannot get annulments, and, therefore, according to Church discipline, they are unworthy to receive the Eucharist. So the pope's invitation -- "Come home" -- has an unwritten postscript: "But don't expect to stay for supper."

    A majority of Bishops and Pope Francis believe that many of the divorced and remarried can come home, and stay for the Lord's supper, without getting a Church external forum annulment.

    How so? In the first place, the divorced and remarried are still in the Church. It is true that, for 93 years, those in this country who remarried after divorce were excommunicated -- in accordance with a policy set in place by the U.S. bishops meeting at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884. In June 1977, however, the American bishops lifted that excommunication after they pondered a huge falling off in Church attendance, a falling off that was also keeping the children of these couples away from the Church. Pope Paul VI confirmed that action later in 1977.

    Then, the official Church position, as set forth by Pope John Paul II in his 1981 apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, n. 83, was that men and women who are divorced and remarried (without a Church annulment) are "in the Church," but not "in full communion with it." We believe the pope takes this position because he wishes to avoid scandal, a notion predicated perhaps on the opinion that any change in the Church's evolved teaching will make us stumble in the faith. No. Quite the opposite. We believe it is the Church's inability to make some disciplinary changes that has driven a substantial number of otherwise good Catholics to stumble -- into institutional indifference or alienation. The real scandal may be the unnecessary rigidity of some pastors who are still leaning on lessons they learned in the seminary 40 years ago.

    Continued ...

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    1. I don't know what you mean when you say that in the view of Pope John Paul II, "many Catholics who are divorced and remarried cannot get annulments." That is certainly belied by statistics showing that in the majority of dioceses in the United States rates of annulments granted are close to 100%.

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  11. In fact, during the 2014-2015 Family Synod, over two-thirds of reputable Bishops, theologians and canonists challenged the doctrinal soundness and pastoral utility of barring from the sacraments many who have remarried without an annulment. This sacramental ban, they say, is based on a partial reading (or perhaps no reading at all) of the history of marriage (and remarriage) in the Church, employs imprudent twentieth century innovations in reductive reasoning and lacks in the mercy that is Jesus Christ.

    As many commentators on Vatican II have pointed out, the Fathers of Vatican II gave us a new view of the Church-in-history. They saw the Church as ever-growing, ever-changing, and, in doing so, they helped humanize the Church in remarkable new ways. This move was not a concession to human weakness. It was based on the theology of the Incarnation. God chose to enter human history, and, in so doing, told us that it was more than okay to be human. Those who would like to see the Church bless the human, and take a human approach to the remarriage issue like to cite the changes that have occurred in the Church's teaching-and-practice concerning marriage over the centuries. They say that knowing some of this history may help us see things in a better perspective.

    During the first three centuries of Christianity, churchmen had no legal say in the matter of marriages, divorces, and remarriages. Furthermore, there was no liturgical ceremony for marriage as there was for baptism and the Eucharist. It wasn't until the year 400 or so, that Christians were bidden to seek an ecclesiastical blessing on their marriages. (It is interesting to note that the only ones obliged to do that were married bishops, married priests and married deacons.) As far as we know, the idea of marriage as a sacrament was first proposed by St. Augustine, the first and only patristic author to write extensively about sex and marriage. Even after Augustine, through the seventh century, Christians could still get married in a purely secular ceremony. Marriage was declared a sacrament for the first time by the Synod of Verona in 1184. The Church didn't deem marriage definitely indissoluble until the Council of Florence in 1439.

    As for indissolubility, Christians have always been aware of what Jesus was remembered to have said about divorce, but we haven't been quite sure what those words meant. Theologians believe there are eight versions of Jesus' teaching on divorce, and there is no easy way of identifying which one reflects that teaching in its pristine form.

    Perhaps this is a good thing. At their core, Jesus' teachings were mostly about freedom. When he spoke of law, he usually did so to insist that we live according to its spirit and not its letter. The one group he most inveighed against were those Pharisees who insisted that everyone, including Jesus himself, follow the letter of the law. When those Pharisees challenged Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath, he responded with great common sense, asking "Is man for the Sabbath, or the Sabbath for man?"

    Over the centuries, a good many Christians have been inclined to slip into a pattern of over-interpreting "a word of the Lord," using his words in ways that deadened his own declaration, that he had come that we may have life and have it more abundantly. Were Jesus' words about divorce prescriptive? According to many Catholic scholars, they were probably not. St. Paul himself made one exception. As time passed, other Church elders (including some of the Fathers of the Church) chewed over Jesus' words. Interpretations grew apace. Inevitably, the interpretations were conditioned by the times


    Continued ...

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    1. The Catholic Encyclopedia contradicts your view of Church history on the sacrament of marriage, stating that it was always considered a sacrament: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09707a.htm

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    2. Selective memory ... not even close Karee ... need to do a little more historical research ... not declared a sacrament until 1184 ... not indissoluable until 1439 ... marriage did not require Church approval until 1546 ... and Bishops have been discussing the problem of divorce remarriage for over 100 years

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  12. The words of Jesus in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 were thought by early exegetes to condone divorce in the case of adultery. Those verses led to freedom for the innocent party to remarry. But early Church leaders made unfair use of that interpretation. The local council of Elvira in Spain in the early 300s prohibited a woman from remarrying if she left an unfaithful spouse, but said nothing to prohibit a man from doing so. In the East, Basil of Caesarea wrote in 375 that a woman who was unjustly deserted by her husband would be regarded as an adulteress if she remarried, but a man who was unjustly deserted by his wife could be forgiven if he remarried. On the other hand, there are some feminist scholars today who say that Jesus' prohibition against divorce was itself culturally-conditioned; his condemnation of divorce was an effort to counteract an abuse he observed among Jewish men of his time, who would divorce their wives, making them automatically unfit for another, because, we are told, no self-respecting Jew would marry a divorced woman.

    It is interesting to note how the Eastern Orthodox churches, where married men can become priests (but not bishops), developed their own traditions. They have a long tradition affirming that a validly contracted marriage is dissolved only by physical death. Nevertheless, these churches recognize divorce in the face of unbearable marital discord, which they say is a kind of death. The Orthodox Churches do not dissolve a dead marriage. Rather, the churches formally acknowledge that the legitimate marriage is without foundation and has been dissolved ipso facto. The Eastern Orthodox see divorce and remarriage as the exception, not the rule, but when they do, they do so in imitation of the mercy and understanding exercised so profusely by our Lord during His life.

    The Western Church has taken a different tack, particularly since the Council of Trent (1545-1563) which laid down rules for Church witness and regulations along lines that would have been unrecognizable to members of the early Church, East or West. Since Trent, the Church has publicly proclaimed the indissolubility of marriage, a large body of law on marriage, and a correspondingly large legal apparatus to deal with it. All the while, popes were granting divorces to everyone but Catholics. Trent was a reaction the the Protestant Reformation and a challenge to the divine right of kings. You will find that almost all of the 416+ precepts of the Council of Trent have been confined to the dustbin of history.

    More than 400 years after Trent, some of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), took issue with many of Trent's legalisms, and the Council itself produced sixteen documents that set the Church in a new pastoral direction. Anomalously, the Church's legal apparatus surrounding marriage remained in place, possibly because of an unwillingness to challenge the settlements of the last 400 years. That situation, however, is changing. Bishops from around the world (for example, the bishops of Japan) have been calling for less strict norms than those enunciated by Pope John Paul II in his support of the revised 1983 Code of Canon Law. In 1994, three of the ranking bishops in Germany issued a joint letter to their people which said they were taking a new look at the remarriage question. They did not argue with official Church teaching about the forever aspect of sacramental marriage. They did say there ought to be "room for pastoral flexibility in complex, individual cases." The effort led to the 2014-2015 Family Synod process of doctrinal development.

    Continued ...

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    1. By Eastern Orthodox, I assume you do not mean the Eastern Catholic churches who use the Byzantine rather than Roman rite, for example. The practice of the Eastern Orthodox is interesting but not authoritative.

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    2. Ah ,,, but Pope Francis specifically asked the family Synod of Bishops to study the Eastern Orthodox practice ... and his solution to permit the internal forum was brilliant.

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  13. That view is shared by a significant number of American Catholic theologians and canonists, according to Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, in her "Divorce, Remarriage and Pastoral Practice," in Moral Theology, Challenges for the Future. There, she writes:

    ". . . the polarization between opinions of many theologians and canonists on the one hand and traditional positions taken by some Vatican curial officials on the other, now seems extreme. The perception of a need for change is fueled by western culture's massive contemporary experience of the breakdown of marital relationships and by the gradual recognition of legitimate differences in cross-cultural interpretations of marriage and family."

    In her essay, Farley cites a number of theologians and a variety of pastoral practices that "lean strongly in the direction of allowing first efforts at marital union (first marriages) to end and second efforts (in new marriages) to be sustained by full participation in the sacramental life of the church.

    What should Catholics do? First, Pope Francis says in AL, we should grow up. Many of us have been too ready to accept the prohibitions enunciated in Church law, and we have been so other-directed in matters of Church discipline that we have had a hard time making our own decisions. And we should remember that Church laws on marriage are a matter of discipline, not dogma. One way to grow up is to use that distinction between discipline (which is reformable) and dogma (which isn't reformable) to assert what we believe are our rights.

    What are our rights? On the remarriage issue, we have the right to seek an annulment. When we have problems with the annulment process, we also have a right (and a duty to ourselves and our families) to explore other alternatives.

    The Annulment Process was somewhat more lengthy than it was, thanks to some conditions introduced in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Since then, decisions in one tribunal are subject to automatic review by another, appellate, tribunal -- which leads of course to more delays. In some other respects, the 1983 Code makes the annulment process easier. Tribunals can more readily accept the word of the individual seeking an annulment, sometimes even without the testimony of the other spouse. Tribunals are making greater and greater use of one annulling impediment, which they term "lack of due discretion" at the time of marriage. Many marriages that have gone awry can come under this rubric. Under it, and 13 other causes of nullity, U.S. diocesan tribunals are now petitioning from Rome, and receiving, some 58,000 annulments every year ... less than 2% of the 23% of parishioners who experience divorce. Pope Francis has recently reformed to process to further streamline the process and reduce costs.

    Some Roman officials have reportedly said that 58,000 annulments is "too high a number." We're not quite sure what "too high a number" means. Historically, Church annulments were rare. As late as the mid-1960s, for example, only a few hundred annulments were given throughout the world. In 1996, however, the Church granted some 72,000 annulments, worldwide (80 percent of them to U.S. Catholics). Too many? In human terms, as evidence of something profoundly wrong with love-and-marriage patterns in U.S. society, we say that, yes, that many annulments is troubling. We find ourselves even more troubled when we hear that only an estimated two percent of U.S. Catholics who are eligible to apply for annulments ever do so .... with 98% approval.

    Continued ...

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    1. You say "when we have problems with the annulment process, we also have a right (and a duty to ourselves and our families) to explore other alternatives." You also note that annulments in the U.S. are granted at a rate of 98%. In the U.S., the biggest "problem with the annulment process" seems to be people's refusal to attempt it.

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    2. I agree that most people do not try the external forum Karee ... about 1% if 23% who are divorsed. I did go over some of the reasons for the failure. However ... please don't be confused. We are talking about the divorced-remarried.

      In such cases, the pope says, the Church can not merely state a rule as though it were “a stone to throw.” Rather, it must be a source of help for the couple to “grow in the life of grace.” And then he adds this footnote:

      In certain cases [divorse-remarriage], this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy.” … I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (Footnote 351)

      In “certain cases,” but which? If the text that precedes the note is of any help, the pope would seem to be referring to cases where there is grave matter but not the other two criteria for mortal sin. If there is no mortal sin, nothing bars one from the Eucharist.

      Still, it must be said that the language surrounding footnote 351 does not at all describe people who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin.” The pope speaks of those who are not fully culpable due to the presence of “mitigating factors.”

      Nor does the pope say that priests should allow couples to remain in sin once "they" are convicted of the grave matter. He speaks elsewhere (cf. §222) of the need for pastors to help couples develop a “fully formed conscience.” Once the conscience is formed, the grave matter must end.

      And here is where footnote 329 becomes of help ... pay attention Joe! In this section, the pope restates a point that St. John Paul II had made in Familiaris Consortio 84, which is that the good of children might mean that couples in an irregular union cannot separate (i.e., divorce or live apart). John Paul II is at pains to point out that celibacy is required of couples in this situation.

      However ... here's the change in pastoral care ... in note 329, Pope Francis adds:

      In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters,” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.”

      Closed loop reductionist neo-Thomistic reasoning is thrown out the door for lack of prudence.

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  14. What about the other 98 percent? Do we simply wring our hands over all those apparent failures and falls -- and the consequent alienation from the Church that often follows? No. We can also do something for the 98 percent now that the papacy is ready to confront this issue with a measure of realism, we dare to speak for the wider Church. We presume to advocate a number of things that can help otherwise faithful Catholics find a way to full membership in our community.

    Most Bishops, theologians, religious laity and clergy alike, are ambivalent about the annulment process (80% confirmed by recent CARA and PEW surveys). For one thing, the kind of loop-hole theology that marks the intricacies of the external forum process can make the Church a laughing stock. We wondered how the Church could dare say children of a second marriage are illegitimate. For all the legal niceties of canon law -- they have nothing to do with a child's legitimacy in civil law. Still and all, we think the ambiguity generated by the annulment process raises questions about the Church's honesty.

    Furthermore, insisting on the external forum annulment process in every case may well be immoral. Why immoral? Because it's a process that can only work for a tiny percentage of the world's Catholics. Dioceses in many nations do not even have marriage tribunals. Some U.S. dioceses do not have competent tribunals, and good, competent tribunals can process only a fraction of the potential marriage cases in their area. This is because either they do not have the time and the staff to handle the work, or because many who qualify for annulments do not speak English or do not have the sophistication to fill out the forms, find documents, or stay on top of a process that can take months, and often years. There are now at least 9 million U.S. Catholics in second marriages, and the numbers are increasing every year. We wonder how the Church can make mandatory a process that is so impossible for many. No one, according to a long-standing moral principle, is obliged to do the impossible.

    When the external forum annulment process is done properly, however, it can help those who have the wits to understand it (and the strength to undergo it). The process does force those who have been through it to think more seriously about who they are and where they have come from and where they are going. And it may help them get on with their lives more wisely. They might even feel more secure; they will have a written declaration that assures them and their family and friends and the larger Catholic community that they've done the right thing. Today's Catholics might also be pleasantly surprised (depending on where they live) to find that the people in the marriage tribunals of their dioceses have found ways to make the annulment process kinder and gentler and a little easier than it once was.

    Continued ...

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  15. Trouble is, even in places where everything is up to date, declarations of nullity still take too long. Maybe this is by design: making the process difficult may deter many from bothering at all. But is this the proper stance for the Church to take? We would like to feel we are members of a Church that still tries to model itself after our Lord, who insisted there was more joy in heaven over one returned sinner than the ninety-nine who never wandered away. The Prodigal Son wasn't left waiting at the gate; his father came running up the road to meet him. We do not believe that we should put a limit (or a waiting period) on our love and acceptance of our own prodigals, our own fellow pilgrims, who, if they still believe, should try to go on living as Catholics, as best as they can, even and especially in a second marriage. The annulment process used to take years, sometimes even decades. Some must still wait 18 months, or more, for a decision. And most catholics throughout the world cound not afford the cost.Still, we do not think any Catholics in good faith should have to wait 18 months and have the money before they can receive the Eucharist in good faith.

    Now AL provides a pastoral solution available for those waiting for an annulment, a solution that can also apply to those who are divorced and remarried but who cannot (or will not) seek one. We can help Catholics with so-called irregular marriages work out their moral dilemmas, either alone, or, better, with the assistance of their pastors or counselors who can guide them as they try to discern their status in the Body of Christ.

    The Internal Forum Solution is a pastoral solution that is compassionate, reasonable, and theologically sound. Never heard of it? We're not surprised. It has been one of the better-kept secrets in the Catholic Church. Parish priests use it all the time, in a confidential setting, including, sometimes, the confessional. That's why it's called "the internal forum."

    The internal forum is something private, something we work out in prayer and reflection on the state of our own consciences. Sometimes, in order to do that, we may need to seek the help of a priest, in or out of the sacrament of reconciliation. Sometimes, we may seek the advice of a therapist, or another Catholic couple, or members of our own families.

    The internal forum solution comes under Canon 1116 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. If a person has a right to get married before God but cannot get access to proper authority within one month, they can use any authority, even just two witnesses. This is sometimes called "the desert island" canon. It is often used when two Roman Catholics find themselves in an area without priests because of political persecution or remoteness. Some canon lawyers also apply this canon to the case where a couple live next door to the rectory and has a right to get married before God but the priest refuses to care for them.

    Pope Francis cites the moral principle of epikeia in AL, a kind of common-sense virtue which tells us when the law applies and when it doesn't. American Catholics are, by and large, unfamiliar with this concept. We are accustomed to seeing everything spelled out for us. Epikeia says we shouldn't expect to see everything spelled out. Epikeia is the Church's official way of saying, "This is the law; now use your common sense."

    Continued ...

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    1. Why is 18 months "too long" to wait for an annulment or to wait to receive communion? Civil divorce pursuant to a separation agreement takes 12 months. Many couples are in court for even longer. In centuries past, Holy Communion was not even offered to the people every week -- only a few times a year. Most RCIA programs take 2 years -- why can't catechumens receive Holy Communion as soon as they feel they're ready. For that matter, why do children have to wait until second grade? We don't have the right to receive anything immediately as soon as we want it. Moreover, what some people call "conscience" other people call "cafeteria Catholicism" where each person gets to decide which doctrine they want to follow. This is also sometimes known as Protestantism.

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    2. Karee ... I did review some of the reasons why 1% of 23% divorsed do not use the external forum. But let's not be confused. We are talking about the divorsed-remarried.

      In such cases, the pope says, the Church can not merely state a rule as though it were “a stone to throw.” Rather, it must be a source of help for the couple to “grow in the life of grace.” And then he adds this footnote:

      In certain cases [divorse-remarriage], this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy.” … I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (Footnote 351)

      In “certain cases,” but which? If the text that precedes the note is of any help, the pope would seem to be referring to cases where there is grave matter but not the other two criteria for mortal sin. If there is no mortal sin, nothing bars one from the Eucharist.


      Still, it must be said that the language surrounding footnote 351 does not at all describe people who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin.” The pope speaks of those who are not fully culpable due to the presence of “mitigating factors.”

      Nor does the pope say that priests should allow couples to remain in sin once "they" are convicted of the grave matter. He speaks elsewhere (cf. §222) of the need for pastors to help couples develop a “fully formed conscience.” Once the conscience is formed, the grave matter must end.

      And here is where footnote 329 becomes of help ... pay attention Joe! In this section, the pope restates a point that St. John Paul II had made in Familiaris Consortio 84, which is that the good of children might mean that couples in an irregular union cannot separate (i.e., divorce or live apart). John Paul II is at pains to point out that celibacy is required of couples in this situation.

      However ... here's the change in pastoral care ... in note 329, Pope Francis adds:

      In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters,” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.”

      Closed loop reductionist neo-Thomistic reasoning is thrown out the door for lack of prudence.

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  16. Those who read the Catholic press in this country surely know there's a split between priests and bishops who follow the letter of the law and those who sometimes opt for common sense instead. Some do not know that there have been many behind-the-scenes clashes on the internal forum question among our priests and bishops, with the follow-the-law clergy on one side and the common-sense clergy on the other. I can, however, cite some of the recent, open clashes.

    Items:

    In June 1972, Bishop Robert Tracy of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, encouraged couples in his diocese to come back to the sacraments if they were convinced that they were truly married and that their prior marriages were either not valid or simply dead -- even without a decision from Tracy's marriage tribunal. We understand that at that time other bishops around the country (in Boise, Idaho, and Portland, Oregon, to name two) were also admitting couples to a full Eucharistic life who were exercising the internal forum solution suggested by Bishop Tracy.

    That was too much for Cardinal John J. Krol of Philadelphia, then president of the U.S. bishops. He announced that a study on this question was under way by the newly-formed National Conference of Catholic Bishops and by the Holy See. He referred to a letter from Rome saying that, until the matter was decided in Rome, "dioceses are not to introduce procedures that are contrary to current discipline." In September 1972, the NCCB's administrative board sent the results of its study on the question to Rome.

    On April 11, 1973, Cardinal Franjo Seper, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome, wrote back to the president of the NCCB. He spoke about the danger of any new moves (he did not mention Bishop Tracy by name) that would undermine Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. In other words, he said Rome did not approve of any changes in "the external forum." But then he went on to urge that pastors bring divorced and re-married Catholics back to the sacraments by "applying the approved practice of the Church in the internal forum." What did Cardinal Seper mean by this "approved practice?" He may have been thinking of what came to be Canon 1116. Or he may have simply been aware that moral theologians had been advocating the internal forum solution for centuries, according to the principle of epikeia.

    The leadership of this country's National Conference of Catholic Bishops wanted something clearer. What did Cardinal Seper mean by "the approved practice of the Church?" On March 21, 1975, Archbishop Jerome Hamer, OP, secretary of the CDF, delivered this response to Cardinal Krol's successor in that elective office, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin: " . . . [T]his phrase must be understood in the context of traditional moral theology. These couples may be allowed to receive the sacraments on two conditions, that they try to live according to the demands of Christian moral principles and that they receive the sacraments in churches in which they are not known so that they will not create any scandal."

    Continued ...

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  17. In other words, following their own informed consciences, according to Archbishop Hamer, those in second marriages could return to full Eucharist life. (He didn't say, and couldn't have meant, "only those who are living as brother-and-sister may go to communion." If a couple wasn't having sex, why would anyone think it scandalous that they were going to Communion?) But, said Hamer, these couples in irregular marriages should not trouble the consciences of others by making a big show of it. To receive the Eucharist, they might well have to associate themselves with another parish .

    But there was a faction among the U.S. bishops that tried to get Vatican approval of even more explicit guidelines. In 1977, an NCCB committee wrote up some uniform procedures regarding the internal forum, proposing that all such matters be approved by the bishop or his delegate, who would have to arrive at a moral certitude that the couples in question were really challenging the validity of their first marriages before they could be admitted to the sacraments. The Vatican balked at that, pointing out that marriage tribunals were already providing this moral certitude "in the external forum." Asking a bishop to approve particular applications of the internal forum was really an attempt to make the internal forum into some kind of external forum. In attempting to keep the two forums separate, the Vatican was giving U.S. Catholics more freedom than the NCCB committee was willing to grant.

    I applaud this Vatican move to preserve the internal forum. We could have been content to see Catholics follow "the long approved practice of the Church in the internal forum," as cited by Cardinal Seper and Archbishop Hamer in their responses for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). But we had problems with the added admonition that couples who use the internal forum solution should receive the sacraments in churches where they are not known, "so that they will not create any scandal." We argue with that strategy. What would create the scandal? The spectacle of seeing an apparently-happily-married couple going to Communion? Or the notion that those who see them going to Communion would conclude that the Church has changed its teaching on permanence and fidelity in marriage?

    We deny the implication: even many Catholics who have undergone the torment of divorce do not want the Church to change its teaching on permanence and fidelity in marriage. What they seek is understanding and support for themselves and others when their lived reality falls short of the beauty and truth of the teaching. In the CDF response... no evidence is cited to gauge the risk of scandal that will result from permitting the remarried to receive the Eucharist. Therefore, it is at least equally plausible that an across-the-board denial of the sacraments to divorced people who have remarried gives scandal by weakening the witness of the Church to the compassion and forgiveness of Christ.

    Furthermore, it is psychologically damaging for the couple in question, acting in good conscience, to receive the Eucharist surreptitiously. The Eucharist is part of a celebration of the community. The couple needs the acceptance and approval of the community, that is, of the people of God. If the couple does not experience that approval -- a testament to an expanding faith in God's all-embracing love, a faith that looks to the power of God to recreate everyone -- then the couple may have a hard time remaining faithful to each other, and to the Church.

    Continued ...

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    1. All these events occurred prior to Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, which superseded them and rendered them irrelevant. As for scandal, it does happen in a small, close community where (for example) a man abandons his wife and children from his first marriage, neglects to seek an annulment, and then continues to show up in the same parish church with his second wife and present himself for Holy Communion -- and everyone in the parish knows exactly what's going on.

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    2. Well ... that's a fallacy that we hear often ... that teaching that is not "ex cathedra" infallible is not subject to historical evaluation and development. We are talking about the divorced-remarried.

      In such cases, the pope says, the Church can not merely state a rule as though it were “a stone to throw.” Rather, it must be a source of help for the couple to “grow in the life of grace.” And then he adds this footnote:

      In certain cases [divorse-remarriage], this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy.” … I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (Footnote 351)

      In “certain cases,” but which? If the text that precedes the note is of any help, the pope would seem to be referring to cases where there is grave matter but not the other two criteria for mortal sin. If there is no mortal sin, nothing bars one from the Eucharist.

      Still, it must be said that the language surrounding footnote 351 does not at all describe people who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin.” The pope speaks of those who are not fully culpable due to the presence of “mitigating factors.”

      Nor does the pope say that priests should allow couples to remain in sin once "they" are convicted of the grave matter. He speaks elsewhere (cf. §222) of the need for pastors to help couples develop a “fully formed conscience.” Once the conscience is formed, the grave matter must end.

      And here is where footnote 329 becomes of help ... pay attention Joe! In this section, the pope restates a point that St. John Paul II had made in Familiaris Consortio 84, which is that the good of children might mean that couples in an irregular union cannot separate (i.e., divorce or live apart). John Paul II is at pains to point out that celibacy is required of couples in this situation.

      However ... here's the change in pastoral care ... in note 329, Pope Francis adds:

      In such situations, many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living “as brothers and sisters,” which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, “it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers.”

      Closed loop reductionist neo-Thomistic reasoning is thrown out the door for lack of prudence.

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  18. The late Msgr. Stephen Kelleher, once the head of the marriage tribunal for the Archdiocese of New York, seemed to agree with this position when he wrote about the internal forum. (He called it the Welcome Home solution.)

    "It is my conviction that once a marriage becomes irrevocably intolerable and existentially dead, each party to the marriage, regardless of his religion, has a clear right to divorce, to marry a second time and to be accepted in the religious community of his choice. For the Catholic, this means principally that he will be fully welcomed at the Eucharistic celebration, that he may receive Holy Communion on an equal basis with other Catholics.... The Welcome Home solution is the only human and Christian solution for our time in history."

    The point is that Pope Francis decision was preceded by a Family Synod process of doctrinal development -- with most Bishops, theologians and canon lawyers urging a more realistic, more pastoral approach on the marriage-and-remarriage issue, while a minority of those of a more legal bent hold fast to a decree of the Council of Florence in 1439.

    We have a sense here of déjà vu. Much the same thing happened during the birth control debates of the 1960s, when the pope's own commission met over a four-year period to reconsider the Church's traditional ban on contraception. The papal teaching wasn't that old at all; it went back to 1930. The commission recommended a change in the view that contraception was sinful in every instance. But Pope Paul VI responded in his 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae by re-affirming the teaching of three previous popes. By then, four years into what had become a heated worldwide debate, many Catholics had already decided for themselves. If contraception was immoral, then the pope couldn't give couples permission to employ it. If it wasn't immoral, then they didn't need his permission. They made this confident decision by following a long-standing tradition in the Church called probabilism. If Catholics found differing opinions in the Church on any moral issue, with reputable authorities on opposite sides, they didn't have to follow the stricter view -- because the law was truly "in doubt." And doubtful laws do not oblige.

    Karee ... you keep insisting on your rigorous opinion regarding Catholics in second marriages. You is quite mistaken to think that the 1997 decision by Pope John Paul II and his chief theological adviser, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger that those living in an irregular union could come to the sacraments only if they lived "as brother and sister" is settled Catholic doctrine. It's not even doctrine ... it's a flawed Tradition based upon reductive reasoning that lacks in the virtue of prudence (no evidence of pastoral efficacy and much evidence of harm to the unity of the Church). In this matter, I think, along with a good many Catholic moralists, that the pope and his adviser were perhaps forgetting the psychological and theological insights on marriage that were worked out at the Council. The Fathers of Vatican II put lovemaking at the heart of marriage, when they wrote, "Such love, merging the human and divine, leads the spouses to a free and mutual gift of themselves . . .. Such love pervades the whole of their lives. Indeed, by its generous activity, it grows better and grows greater."

    Continued ...

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    1. You argue in one breath that AL is authoritative because it is an apostolic exhortation but then insist that the exhortations Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio can be disregarded. This is inconsistent.

      Specifically with regard to the history of the Church's ban on contraception, it never needed to be codified until modern times since before the Lambeth conference of the Episcopal Church in the 1930s, every branch of Christianity condemned contraception.

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    2. Karee ... that's fallacy we hear often ... that teaching that is not "ex cathedra infallible" is not subject to historical evaluation and doctrinal development. You may not like the decision, but the decision was made by a canonical process for doctrinal development.

      Cardinal Wuerl calls Amoris Laetitia a "consensus exhortation" and recapitulates the process that brought it about, from the consistory in February 2014, through the first synod the following year, and finally to last year's synod.

      Pope Benedict did not contrast a hermeneutic of continuity with one of discontinuity as many of our neo-con friends incorrectly repeat. He proposed a hermeneutic of "reform and renewal" which contains elements of both continuity and discontinuity.

      I had to chuckle ... Pope Francis addressed Familiaris Consortio in footnote 351 ... see the above discussion. And be sure to read what Pope Francis actually had to say about contraceptives and conscience.

      Francis didn't describe any methods of contraception as "unlawful," as previous Catholic encyclicals have.

      Instead of characterizing contraception as a sin, Francis says the church must emphasize to young couples the joy of having children — while respecting the need for each couple to decide their family size on their own.

      He cites the Relatio Finalis, written by bishops last year:

      "In accord with the personal and fully human character of conjugal love, family planning fittingly takes place as the result a consensual dialogue between the spouses, respect for times and consideration of the dignity of the partner. ... Decisions involving responsible parenthood presupposes the formation of conscience."

      As well as the Second Vatican Council:

      "Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. ... They should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God."
      "Francis made a single reference to the church-sanctioned family planning method of abstaining from sex during a woman's fertile time," the AP writes. "He said only that such practices are to be 'promoted' — not that other methods are forbidden — and he insisted on the need for children to receive sex education, albeit without focusing on 'safe sex.' "

      You may not like the changes Karee ... but it would help if you were intellectually honest and admit that you are presenting a dissenting argument. You have yet to ground your reasoning in anything the Pope teaches in AL.

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  19. This was part of a chapter on marriage in the Council's crowning document, Gaudium et spes, a passage that vetoed the notion that looked upon marriage as primarily a legal contract, stressing property and inheritance. As a sacrament in Christ, marriage is a matter of a complete mutual exchange, body and soul. The Fathers of Vatican II emphasized the deeply human character of married love, which has "affective overtones enriching the expressions of body and mind with a unique dignity and ennobling these expressions as special ingredients and signs of the friendship distinctive of marriage. This love is uniquely expressed and perfected through the marriage act." The word "uniquely" is a rendering of the Latin word singulariter, a word which does not mean conjugal love is expressed and completed only through the marital act. It means that the act does this beyond all other acts and in a way most typical of the love it expresses and completes. Furthermore, the Council Fathers warned couples not to break off love and intimacy when "they find themselves in circumstances where at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased."

    In other words, said the Council Fathers, there is something right about sex if you are married. In fact, as St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians, there's something wrong if you're married and don't have sex. Married people know this. Married priests in the Eastern rites know this. Protestant clergy know this. If some priests and bishops do not know this, those who are married have a duty to help them understand.

    Some Practical Advice. Let's say that faithful Catholics are mature enough to think about employing the internal forum solution. Here's how it works. Let's say Tom was married before. But he was divorced, and then he remarried. Let's say he married another Catholic. Call her Matilda. Or maybe he and Matilda haven't gotten married yet, but would like to. Tom and Matilda still believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate and so on. In other words, they're still Catholics. They have this need to be right with the Lord, and they want to share in their Catholic community's Eucharistic celebration.

    But they have this divorce-and-second-marriage thing, and they want the Church's blessing, but, for any number of reasons, they cannot go through the external forum annulment process, or do not want to. (Some, for instance, feel the process demeaning or an invasion of privacy, and some cannot afford the legal fees). The bottom line is that their conscience is clear about this second marriage.

    We may be going too fast here. How do Tom and Matilda know their conscience is clear? Because they know Tom's first marriage is dead, and that there's no possibility of going back to it. Tom is sorry for his inability to do better the first time, Tom is fulfilling his legal obligations to the children of his first marriage, and they both firmly believe that they will live a better Christian life in this marriage, and Tom wouldn't dream of leaving Matilda any more than Matilda would dream of leaving Tom. They believe this marriage is good, and, so far as they can tell, something God wants for them, now

    Continued ...

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    1. Sex is good, yes, but not necessary for a happy marriage. Citing again the example of Mary and Joseph.

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    2. Karee ... please make a distinction between your private belief and what the Pope actually teaches in AL. I suggest you pay particular attention to Chapter 8.

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  20. Pope Francis, in AL, makes a good deal out of the distinction between two kinds of previous marriage: 1) a marriage that was "invalid" but whose invalidity is difficult to prove before a diocesan marriage tribunal, and 2) one that was valid but is now dead, and as non-functional as a blind man's binoculars. People know there was a [first, valid] marriage. There just wasn't enough Christ in it to make it for life. In practice, the distinctions make little difference to those who have to make a decision in good conscience. Tom and Matilda still have to make up their own minds that they are doing the right thing. They may not have the legal acumen to figure out which one of the Church's 14 causes of nullity might apply in Tom's case. But they do know when marriage number one has died. Almost from the beginning, Eastern Orthodox churches have continued to embrace their sons and daughters who have experienced various forms of marriage death.

    At a point when Tom and Matilda feel secure in the judgment that Tom's first marriage is truly dead, they have several different ways to go.

    If they are already re-married:

    1) They can simply celebrate Mass, and say, with everyone else in the congregation, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Only say the word and I will be healed." And then they march up to communion, and find the comfort in Christ's sacramental presence that he has always wanted them to have, ever since he presided over the Last Supper and said to the Apostles, "Do this in memory of me." These days, priests and Eucharistic ministers will rarely refuse communion to anyone. Canon 915 says that only those who "obstinately persist in manifest, grave sin" should be banned from the Eucharist. Pope Francis in AL says is unwise for any ministers of the Eucharist to make that judgment. They should know that Catholics have a right to the Eucharist, which is so much at the heart of our faith.

    Two reputable U.S. canon lawyers, the late Msgr. Stephen J. Kelleher and Father Lawrence G. Wrenn, who once headed up the marriage tribunals in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Hartford, Connecticut, respectively, have maintained that every Catholic (even one whose first marriage has died) retains the right to marry and a right to receive the Eucharist, even if an annulment has not been granted. They cite canon law. Canons 213, 843.1 and 912 state the right of the faithful to the sacraments, and to the Eucharist in particular.

    Furthermore, as Pope Francis points out in AL footnote 351, the people who are the Church need the sacraments not only because they are holy but because they are sinful. Sacraments are not rewards for a life well lived but a means to deepen one's love of God and desire for conversion. Restricting the sacraments to those who are completely integrated into the life of the Church overlooks the example of Jesus who seems to have been generous in sharing his table with all who approached him, even public sinners.

    Continued ...

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    1. Sacraments have no power or efficacy when a person is not in a state of grace. So someone in a state of mortal sin who has not sought for or received absolution cannot benefit from receiving the Eucharist. He "heaps condemnation upon himself," as St. Paul says.

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    2. Reductionist reasoning Karee ... the decision was made to permit the internal forum ... you may not like that decision ... but I have discussed here what the Pope actually teaches in AL.

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  21. There is a growing theological opinion in the Church which holds that the Lord's Supper is for the hungry, not for those who are full. We are followers of Jesus, who told us his Father wanted mercy, not sacrifice. And of a Jesus who ate and drank on a regular basis with sinners. Is the Church being unfaithful to his memory if the sinners who belong to it partake of his body and blood in the Eucharistic banquet that he bid us repeat in his memory?

    2) Catholics in distress over their marital situation find any of a number of good, compassionate and, above all, knowledgeable priests or ministers and they tell them their situation. They tell them where they're coming from. They tell them they want to pursue the internal forum solution. The counselors or confessors will probably ask them some key questions, and the couple in distress will give some honest answers. The counselors will not wave a magic wand and say, "Okay. You're free to do whatever you want to do." They will say, "Okay, it is your conscience. You can't play hide and seek with God. But if you're convinced you're doing the right thing, then come back to the Lord's Table."

    This second way (going to a priest, or someone in the Catholic community whose opinion is respected) has one advantage: it may give an uncertain couple an important sense that they are not deceiving themselves, willing as they are to submit their judgment to the (presumably more objective) validation of another.

    If they want to enter into a second marriage:

    Let's say Tom and Matilda are not married yet, but headed that way. Can they employ the internal forum solution and ask the priest to bless them in their prospective marriage? There's nothing wrong with their asking. There's nothing wrong with his giving. He is accustomed to blessing homes, cars, boats, planes, even dogs. He can bless a couple in their loving commitment to each other. What he cannot do is bless them in a public rite that gives the impression that he is witnessing to a new, sacramental marriage. Some suggest that a couple can get married before a justice of the peace, and then have the immediate family come over to the church for a quiet blessing there. They point out that first getting married civilly and then going to church for the priest's blessing is close to standard practice in about 70 percent of the Catholic world (in Mexico, for example, and in many Latin American countries).

    But, because priests in the Western Church are ministers in a Church that has no tradition of blessing marriages while the first spouse is still living (if no annulment has been granted), we can't expect them to challenge the official Church in a public way. They will not be able to do that until some of the Church's best theologians prevail on a future pope and his advisers to come up with some policies that move the Church in a more loving, more compassionate direction. We hope the Church can find a way to hold on to its belief that marriage should be permanent and, at the same time, recognize that some marriages die.

    Continue ...

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    1. The practice of civil marriage before church marriage is followed in countries where the government does not recognize a church marriage as validly conferring legal rights. It has nothing to do with sacramental theology, divorce, or annulments.

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  22. I do not believe this hope is unrealistic. For more than 20 years’ organizations like the Catholic Theological Society of America and the Canon Law Society of America have been pushing for reforms in marriage legislation. Some theologians urge the complete abolition of the annulment system; in the meantime, Pope Francis suggests that pastors make more use of the internal forum solution.

    I do not say that all those Catholics in second marriages should or should not do anything on our say-so alone. They should think for themselves and exercise their own consciences as members of the Church, and as the Fathers of Vatican II bid them do in another matter, in the Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty. We have no automatic solutions here, we wave no magic wands. We do offer some encouraging words, words that should give heart to many who have lost heart. We meet these people at work, we party with them, we break bread with them at family reunions. If we talk seriously with them about their situations, we shortly learn that they live in pain (sometimes deeply repressed pain) because they have been made to feel they are no longer good Catholics. "I used to be a Catholic," they will say, sadly. But, often enough, after we get to talk to them, we find they are better Catholics than those who would exclude them. On their face, their second marriages seem to be more real, more loving, more fruitful than their first marriages. Furthermore, we salute them for having the faith and the hope and the love -- and the courage -- to try again after their first marriage foundered. For this reason, we dare to speak out on behalf of these people of God, and we hope to welcome them to the Eucharistic banquet.

    You keep dancing around what has changed in pastoral care for the divorced-remarried Karee ... you have bounded rationality that lacks in historical context, a clear understanding of what Pope Francis is teaching is AL and a deeper sense of mercy.

    May God's peace be with you always,

    Stephen

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  23. Karee ... you have a very poor understanding of the history, the Synod process of doctrinal development as defined in Canon Law, make claims for priestsly authority that have never existed, and ignore the Pope's teaching on conscience, sin and the internal forum process. Try making your arguments with reference to AL?

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