Friday, October 3, 2014

Before the Extraordinary Synod begins

In the lead up to the Extraordinary Synod, which begins Sunday, 5 October, almost all of the discussion has focused on the possibility or impossibility of re-admitting divorced and civilly re-married Catholics to Holy Communion. Without a doubt this is a serious pastoral issue. But it is not the only pastoral issue arising from "Church" marriages that end in divorce. I am thinking particularly about those who, after being married in the Church, suffered through a painful divorce, and who believe their marriages, despite any apparent flaws, to be sacramentally valid, but whose former spouse petitioned for and received an annulment, and subsequently re-married. Of course, the annulment "cuts both ways," as it were, and applies to the aggrieved party as well as the one who petitioned, thus removing the canonical impediment for both them to be re-married and remain in Communion. But many people who have experienced this feel bound by conscience to their marriage and betrayed by the Church for finding it invalid. In most of these instances, the aggrieved person stops practicing his/her faith. For me this is no mere hypothetical. Over the past 10 years or so I have worked with a number of people who find themselves in just this situation.

Walter Cardinal Kasper

I have no idea the number of people who fall into either of these two categories, but when it comes to pastoral matters, it's not about quantity. Every person is significant, everyone matters. I believe the group of those who feel betrayed by the Church for granting an annulment is large enough to merit far more mention and consideration than they have received, especially as the Church ponders ways to make obtaining an annulment (in these matters we're dealing almost exclusively with formal cases, as opposed to Lack of Form or Pauline Privilege petitions) easier. In the United States one might even say, "especially as the Church ponders ways to make obtaining an annulment even easier."

Another category that merits some attention are those who were married in the Church, civilly divorced, and who are civilly re-married, but who have never bothered to submit a petition for an annulment. In my view, it is likely the case that this group is larger than that of those who married in the Church, divorced, civilly re-married, and have unsuccessfully petitioned for an annulment. This is the reason for recent pastoral initiatives, like the one taken by Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland, to do away with fees for submitting annulment petitions to Diocesan Tribunals.

There is yet another group of people, who comprise a subset of those who unsuccessfully petitioned for an annulment, who merit consideration: those who faithfully adhere to the Church's teaching. They assist at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day without receiving Holy Communion, participate in the life of their parish, as well as meet with and receive counsel from their pastor, without the benefit of absolution. How do you square the faithful and, frankly, inspiring witness of these wonderful sisters and brothers with a change in fundamental Church teaching on marriage?

In recent post on her blog at the Catholic Herald, "Saving Christian marriage is more pressing than the issue of Communion for the divorced and re-married," Francis Phillips sagely observed,
Surely the subject the media is obsessed with right now – the position of divorced and remarried Catholics with regard to the Sacraments – must be low on the scale of priorities facing the forthcoming Synod, when the institution of Christian marriage itself has been so disregarded and undermined that it is almost in need of life support?
In the end, I think everyone anticipating a showdown on the issue of communion for the divorced and civilly re-married is bound to be disappointed. I believe Pope Francis' formation of the commission of canonists to discuss and possibly present to him proposals for reforming the formal annulment process represents an effort on his part to prevent this Extraordinary Synod and next year's ordinary Synod, which will take up the work of the Extraordinary Synod and present the Holy Father propositions for his consideration, from being hijacked by the singular issue that has dominated the lead-up to it.

As the Instrumentum Laboris (i.e., the working document) clearly lays out, there are more important and fundamental matters that require attention and resolution. In my view, if the communion issue predominates the Extraordinary Synod, we're safe calling the gathering a failure.

Why so strident about all this? I believe we are in danger of losing sight of marriage as a sacrament, as a visible and tangible sign of Christ's presence in and for the world. We need to perhaps ask ourselves, "Are we really so concerned about our own personal happiness and contentment, seeking to save our lives rather than losing them for the sake of Gospel?" As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to cultivate, precisely through the concrete circumstances of our lives a selfless, self-giving attitude, which disposition is also key to remaining married for a lifetime.

Gerhard Cardinal Müller


At least for me, this is best expressed at the end of the fifth chapter of St Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, when, after citing Genesis 2:24, which is what I refer to as Scripture's "ur" verse on marriage, the same verse invoked by our Lord Himself when disputing with the Pharisees about marriage (see Matt 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9- if we're going sling about accusations of being Pharisaical, then keep in mind what the Pharisees are advocating here contra the Lord) we encounter- "This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband" (5:32-33).

I ran the previous two paragraphs by a close friend, who is a gifted priest and pastor. His comment was, "Not strident enough. To fail to do this is to fall into the trap of all Modernism, to change the Faith to fit us rather than allow the Faith to convert us to Christ."

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