Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

God's Loving Care Should Be Applied to Remarriage Cases

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

God's Loving Care Should Be Applied to Remarriage Cases

Article excerpt

A heated discussion and debate continues in Catholic circles since the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome last October and the publication of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love").

The synod's final report to Francis left open the case for the divorced and civilly remarried to be integrated into the life of the church, and the life of the church revolves around the sacraments. Though the reception of Communion was not specifically mentioned, the final report from the synod fathers used terms like "discernment" and "internal forum," and cited the circumstance of those not responsible for the divorce. It also avoided the mention of forbidding the reception of sacraments for those who are divorced and remarried without an annulment.

Francis seems to understand the struggles of those who find themselves in the situation of divorce and remarriage. He sympathizes with those who long to participate in the sacramental life of the church, but find themselves divorced. Many in this situation find remarriage the best remedy for the emotional brokenness and instability that resulted from the breakup of their previous marriage. For the good of the children, for emotional and financial stability and for many other reasons, they have in good conscience entered into another marriage.

The church has considered persons in this situation as sinful adulterers, cut off from the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist. Their only path back was the often complex, highly judicial, time-consuming and emotionally taxing process of an annulment.

In Amoris Laeiitia, pastors are admonished to counsel divorced and remarried individuals, using pastoral "discernment" and the "internal forum" to determine their sincerity and their subjective culpability for mortal sin.

In certain cases, where the person is determined to be an innocent victim of divorce and is not "subjectively" culpable of mortal sin because they sincerely did (and are doing) what they believe to be morally right in good conscience, pastors are advised to provide a reasonable path back to the sacraments, all of this on a case-by-case basis.

Many have been very vocal in their criticism of Amoris Laetitia and in their defense of the church's unbending stance on this issue. They remind us that a sacrament cannot be "undone." Like the other six sacraments, marriage is a gift from God. Matrimony is the sacrament by which God blesses the union of a man and woman, and calls them to lifelong fidelity and openness to children.

For this reason, they believe that the only recourse for the many divorced and remarried members of the faithful is the annulment process, which examines the disposition of both parties back at the time of the first marriage to try and discover a defect that has rendered the sacrament invalid. In other words, although this was indeed a valid civil marriage, a sacramental marriage did not happen.

The original marriage is then officially declared null, and the former spouses are free to remarry in the good graces of the church and receive Communion as well as the other sacraments.

On the other side of this discussion is the pastoral consideration of the circumstances of the divorce and civil remarriage. A case in point would be one where a spouse was unfaithful to their marriage vows and decided to end the marriage. Eventually, the abandoned spouse might see remarriage as a blessing to recover from the intense emotional pain of the divorce. A second marriage may also be seen, by some caught in this situation, as a means of providing for the children of the previous union.

It may well have been that the original marriage, in the case described above, was sacramentally valid in the beginning. All of the requirements for a valid sacrament were fulfilled. Both parties had the proper disposition at the time of the original marriage. …

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