The Roman Catholic discipline on marriage

So, what do you think the Catholic Church should do about ministering to divorced and remarried Catholics?

What do you think the new extraordinary synod on the family should address?

How can the Church address the indissoluble nature of marriage as a sacrament?   Should it come closer to the Orthodox in its recognition that due to the sinfulness of mankind, marriages do break down?

Or, as a canon lawyer who used to be on a diocesan marriage tribunal told me, most marriages these days are not sacramental because most people entering into marriage do not have a clue what they are doing.

Right now the Church starts from the standpoint that the marriage is sacramental and indissoluble.   Then the one seeking to have a second marriage in the Church or the validation of a second marriage elsewhere has the burden of proof to show the marriage was not in fact sacramental.

Meanwhile, divorced and remarried Catholics are:  taking communion anyway;  shunning the Church because they think the Church shuns them; or attending anyway and suffering not having communion.   Of course there is always the option of living as brother and sister.

A divorced and remarried Catholic cannot even avail himself of the sacrament of Reconciliation unless ready to live in brother and sister mode, because one of purposes of reconciliation is amendment of life, no?

But what about other besetting sins?   I may confess my gluttony but sure as tootin’ I’m going to fall down on that one again from time to time.

Also, should Pope Francis be able to find a way to overcome the split between Catholic and Orthodox, do you think the Orthodox should come under the Roman marriage discipline?

 

 

 

 

 

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13 Responses to The Roman Catholic discipline on marriage

  1. Thank God the EO or Orthodox do not use the juridical or Judaist system in their pastoral approach!

  2. Pingback: The Roman Catholic discipline on marriage | Catholic Canada

  3. Rev22:17 says:

    Deborah,

    You asked: So, what do you think the Catholic Church should do about ministering to divorced and remarried Catholics?

    The most urgent need is to get accurate information out there. There is a LOT of misunderstanding and confusion in the popular culture. People in this situation need to know (1) that the church cares deeply about them and (2) that they DO have options — specifically (a) the right to petition for a decree of nullity for their prior attempts at marriage, followed by a “convalidation” that would make their current relationships sacramental, or (b) the option to live “as brother and sister,” allowing an immediate return to the sacraments. Note, also, that a couple who are in an “irregular” marriage situation actually can combine these options, deciding to live “as brother and sister,” and thus returning to the sacraments, while pursuing a decree of nullity through the church’s tribunals. Also, those whose petitions for decrees of nullity have failed in the past need to know that they can petition again based on a different criterion or additional information, with a very real possibility of a different outcome.

    There is also widespread misunderstanding of the criteria for granting decrees of nullity. I have heard people ask how one can obtain a decree of nullity when a marriage has produced children, for example, yet the fact that there are children bears no relationship whatsoever to the real question of whether the couple actually intended to enter a true Christian marriage when they exchanged vows. This misunderstanding has two consequences.

    >> 1. There are many people who do not petition for decrees of nullity because they don’t realize that they would qualify. Rather, they just assume that the door is closed to them.

    >> 2. There are also many people who fail to obtain decrees of nullity because they recite irrelevant facts while withholding relevant details when they meet with the officials of the tribunal.

    Again, getting accurate information to the people is the key to solving these problems.

    There is a second issue that is quite relevant to this discussion. The process of obtaining a decree of nullity can take a couple years, at least here in the States and probably also in Canada, simply because many of the church’s tribunals have huge backlogs of pending cases. Many couples end up in “irregular” situations simply because they don’t want to wait that long for the process to run its course. There’s an urgent need to find more efficient ways to process the pending cases, without circumventing proper process, and perhaps to increase staffing of tribunals to clear out the backlog.

    You wrote: Or, as a canon lawyer who used to be on a diocesan marriage tribunal told me, most marriages these days are not sacramental because most people entering into marriage do not have a clue what they are doing.

    That is exactly the rub. As the guardian of the sacraments, the church should exercise the same vigilance over marriage that she now exercises over the sacrament of holy orders.

    Some years ago, this subject came up when several members of one of my prayer groups were “shooting the bull” over pizza with the priest who served as our leader after one of our prayer meetings. One of the members of the group suggested that many couples, told that they could not marry in the church, would simply enter a civil marriage. The priest’s response: “That would make life a lot easier, as there would be no need for a decree of nullity when those marriages fail.”

    You wrote: A divorced and remarried Catholic cannot even avail himself of the sacrament of Reconciliation unless ready to live in brother and sister mode, because one of purposes of reconciliation is amendment of life, no?

    But what about other besetting sins? I may confess my gluttony but sure as tootin’ I’m going to fall down on that one again from time to time.

    Back up a step. The more general principle here is that repentance — which encompasses a sincere desire not to continue in the way of sin — is an absolute requirement for sacramental absolution. This is not negotiable, and it applies to every area of sin. In the case of sin that is a habitual element or consequence of one’s lifestyle, one must be willing to make the necessary changes to one’s lifestyle to remove that occasion of sin. For a person who derives his or her sustenance from prostitution, racketeering, or theft, for example, this might mean getting a legitimate job that provides a decent income to end the reliance on the sinful lifestyle for sustenance. And in the case of “irregular” marriage situations, this means that there needs to be a change in the relationship that puts an end to the habitual sin of adultery. There are only two avenues to this: (1) a decree of nullity for the prior marriage, followed by convalidation of the current relationship, or (2) living “as brother and sister” (that is, abstaining from sexual relations proper only to married couples). Your example of gluttony has a very different character to it: there is no intent to put yourself in situations that entail an expectation of gluttony on a habitual basis. An “irregular marriage,” by contrast, clearly does entail an expectation of sexual acts. Note, also, that the same norm of not celebrating the sacraments also applies to those who are in other lifestyles of habitual sexual sin — those who maintain a “mistress” or a “paramour,” those who are “shacking up” without marrying, those who “marry” outside the church, those who are in active homosexual relationships, etc.

    You wrote: How can the Church address the indissoluble nature of marriage as a sacrament? Should it come closer to the Orthodox in its recognition that due to the sinfulness of mankind, marriages do break down?

    And you subsequently wrote: Also, should Pope Francis be able to find a way to overcome the split between Catholic and Orthodox, do you think the Orthodox should come under the Roman marriage discipline?

    First, let’s be clear that the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage is writ clear in the gospel, in the words of Jesus himself (see, for example, Matthew 5:32, 19:3-9, Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18), and thus is “infallible” and thus not open to negotiation.

    Now, the polity of the Catholic Church is stated in canon law: celebrations of the sacraments are always presumed to be valid until proven otherwise. Thus, those who have married are barred from (1) marrying again, (2) entering the novitiate of a religious order, or (3) becoming candidates for holy orders (with some exceptions) so long as their putative spouses remain alive, unless a competent tribunal determines that the putative marriage was null and void, attested by granting a decree of nullity. In this regard, the sui juris ritual churches follow the same discipline as the Roman Rite.

    As you point out, the Orthodox Communion clearly has adopted a different practice with regard to marital failure — that of sacramental confession — and there clearly is validity to that practice as well. A marriage that fails is clearly a countersign that defiles the sacramental character of marriage, and there’s usually plenty of culpability that ought to be brought to sacramental confession on the part of both parties. The sin of taking vows before God and the community of faith that were poorly discerned and not really meant is sufficient to give rise to this. But somewhere along the way, there must also be a pastoral discernment that a valid marriage did not occur before another marriage becomes an option. The Orthodox practice effectively puts this discernment in the hands of the pastor alone. Will the Vatican, the present pope or a future pope, accept that practice as sufficient? I really don’t know, and I’m not aware of any documents coming out of our ecumenical dialog with the Orthodox Communion that begin to address this issue. Right now, it’s the role of the papal office that seems to be the center of attention in that ecumenical dialog so it probably will be a while before we have an answer.

    Norm.

    • To my mind at least, no matter how you slice it Roman Catholicism practices a Judaical legalist system as to Marriage and divorce. Note, that Vatican II did little to change this, so on this subject Catholicism is hardly “modern”!

      • William Tighe says:

        “so on this subject Catholicism is hardly “modern”!”

        But precisely following the commandment on that subject of Jesus Chrisrt, who wasn’t “modern,” on this matter, either.

      • The point here is presenting mercy, forgiveness and wholeness… and Catholicism is stuck in a legal mindset here! As you say, still following but the literal commandment! Humanity simply cannot keep the Commandments, without God’s help of mercy, forgiveness and faith! (Matt. 23: 1-2-3 ; 23)

  4. EPMS says:

    Most people “these days” don’t know what they are doing? What about the people who were married 30+ years ago, got divorced, and now wish to regularise their current marriage? I am sure this represents the situation for anyone in the current Ordinariate demographic. And to suggest that a sexually active couple get separate bedrooms and try living as brother and sister seems naive, to put it charitably, to me. The current annulment mill is just a stopgap measure. Eventually the Church will have to think about how her power to bind and loose can be pastorally employed, which has been the Orthodox approach.

    • Wow, EPMS.. we sort of agree here! ;) I see my share of former RC’s who have been grounded-down here because of divorce! May God give them the light of His mercy and grace to move on in forgiveness, and even renewed wholeness!

  5. EPMS says:

    Let’s envision two 50-somethings, Lois and Joe, who meet at a conference. They have been “married” to others for 25 years and have three kids apiece. But Lois’ spouse is a former Catholic, married in the Church and subsequently divorced, who then married Lois. Joe’s spouse is a lapsed Catholic who married Joe at City Hall. In the eyes of the Church, Lois has never been married. Joe’s marriage could be readily declared null on the basis of defect of form. So if they decide to dump their current spouses, become Catholics, and get married in the Church, they are home and dry. Is this what Our Lord was talking about?

    • Foolishness says:

      Unfortunately, this is not that far-fetched. It is strange that civil marriages even between atheists are treated as indissoluble and assumed to be sacramental, in the sense that the married partners confer the sacrament on each other, but for Catholics (or Orthodox) who should know what a sacramental marriage is there is the easier way out through defect of form. I do think there needs to be reform in this area and it might require a reversal in the automatic presumption of validity. As one bishop said to me years ago, perhaps a marriage breakdown is a sign the marriage was not sacramental to begin with, i.e. something was missing in the intent or capacity of one or both members of the couple.

      Some dioceses are trying to meet this problem by a whole new approach to marriage preparation that not only deals with things like finances, communication, etc, but deep teaching on the sacramental nature of marriage, including a focus on bringing people to a deep personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

      • Rev22:17 says:

        Deborah,

        You wrote: I do think there needs to be reform in this area and it might require a reversal in the automatic presumption of validity.

        The presumption of validity applies to all of the sacraments, and is not negotiable. If you don’t think that not presuming marriage to be valid would create a mess, imagine what would happen if we cease to presume that ordination is valid or that sacramental absolution of sin is valid! For better or worse, it is the same demonic stew that would completely undermine the church.

        You wrote: As one bishop said to me years ago, perhaps a marriage breakdown is a sign the marriage was not sacramental to begin with, i.e. something was missing in the intent or capacity of one or both members of the couple.

        Yes, that is often the case — and it usually is not that difficult to trace the issues in the breakdown back to their roots at the time of the supposed marriage, if the parties cooperate with the process.

        Norm.

      • Just always “black and white” eh Norm…”supposed marriage”? Indeed the “annulment industry” says it all!

  6. EPMS says:

    I would say that your statement “marriage breakdown is a sign the marriage was not sacramental to begin with” sums up the thinking behind the current annulment industry. Those who stayed in dead end, unhappy relationships for decades because “Catholics don’t believe in divorce” must be really kicking themselves.

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