Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The validity of marriage and presence or absence of faith

In an interview I did with Karee Santos for her article on the Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, “Synod on the Family: A Preview of Coming Attractions,” I mentioned the possibility of gauging a couple’s faith in the manner it is supposed to be gauged when parents request to have an infant or small child baptized, that is, seek to establish that there is a well-founded hope that the couple will practice the Catholic religion prior marrying in the Church. While I agree with the concern expressed by canon lawyer Aldean Hendrickson concerning my suggestion, that “personal faith is a very difficult thing to measure,” I would simply note that we are already asked to measure, not perhaps so much personal faith, as the personal practice of and commitment to the faith, in the case of parents requesting the baptism of infants and small children under normal circumstances (i.e., in cases it is not an emergency- in an emergency, a case of life-and-death, we baptize).

It bears noting that in most situations this canonical requirement is considered to be met by the mere fact that one or both of the parents request baptism for their child, even if there is no discernible evidence, or expressed intention, of raising their child in the practice of the faith. Of course, baptism is not to be denied, but it may prudently be delayed in an effort to help the parents fulfill the promises they make when having their child baptized. It seems to me that often no effort is made to press them on points such as having completed their own Christian initiation, the frequency of Mass attendance, or reception of the Sacrament of Penance, or even being married in the Church.

Gerhard Cardinal Müller, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a recent book-length interview, to be published in English by Ignatius Press with the title The Hope of the Family: A Dialogue with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, addressed this issue. Before considering Cardinal Müller’s words, I think it is important to note that this concern was brought to the fore by Pope Benedict in a January 2013 speech he delivered the Roman Rota. In that speech, the then-Pontiff said
The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does. However, if it is important not to confuse the problem of the intention with that of the personal faith of those contracting marriage, it is nonetheless impossible to separate them completely. As the International Theological Commission observed in a Document of 1977: “Where there is no trace of faith (in the sense of the term ‘belief’ — being disposed to believe), and no desire for grace or salvation is found, then a real doubt arises as to whether there is the above-mentioned and truly sacramental intention and whether in fact the contracted marriage is validly contracted or not” (La dottrina cattolica sul sacramento del matrimonio [Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage] [1977], 2.3: Documenti 1969-2004, Vol. 13, Bologna 2006, p. 145)
In a lengthy excerpt from Cardinal Müller’s interview provided by Sandro Magister on Chiesa, His Eminence, after he strongly re-asserted the dogmatic (i.e., unchangeable) nature of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, which is nothing other than the teaching of Jesus Christ (Matt 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12), he began to speak in an authentically pastoral manner. The assertion of the dogmatic nature concerning the indissolubility of marriage “does not,” he insists
prevent one from speaking of the problem of the validity of many marriages in the current secularized context. We have all witnessed marriages in which it was not very clear if the contracting parties really intended to “do what the Church does” in the rite of marriage. Benedict XVI made insistent appeals to reflect on the great challenge represented by no believing baptized persons. As a result, the congregation for the doctrine of the faith took note of the pope's concern and put a good number of theologians and other collaborators to work in order to resolve the problem of the relationship between explicit and implicit faith.

What happens when even implicit faith is absent from a marriage? When this is lacking, of course, even if the marriage has been celebrated “libere et recte," it could be invalid. This leads us to maintain that, in addition to the classical criteria for declaring the invalidity of marriage, there must be further reflection on the case in which the spouses exclude the sacramental nature of marriage. Currently we are in a phase of study, of serene but tenacious reflection on this point. I do not think it is appropriate to jump to conclusions, since we have not yet found the solution, but this does not prevent me from pointing out that in our congregation we are dedicating a great deal of energy to providing a correct response to the problem posed by the implicit faith of the contracting parties
It will be interesting to follow the upcoming Synod, which, as I also noted in my interview responses, did not deal in an inordinate way with the problem of Communion for the civilly divorced and remarried. It will also be interesting to read the conclusions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on this matter.

Gehard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The preface to Cardinal Müller’s book was written by Fernando Sebastián Cardinal Aguilar, Archbishop Emeritus of Pamplona and Tudela in Spain. In this preface, I believe His Eminence hits the nail on the head and, in true pastoral fashion, points the way ahead:
The main problem present in the Church with regard to the family is not the small number of the divorced and remarried who would like to receive Eucharistic communion. Our most serious problem is the great number of baptized who marry civilly and of sacramentally married spouses who do not live marriage or the marital life in harmony with Christian life and the teachings of the Church, which would have them be living icons of Christ's love for his Church present and working in the world

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