The Blog

Everything listed under: divorce

  • Cardinal Mueller's "manifesto"

    Saying church leaders have allowed the spread of “doctrinal confusion,” German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller has published a “manifesto of faith” that reasserts traditional church teaching on several issues, including a ban on Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.Although Mueller does not specifically mention Pope Francis, the text is clearly aimed at the more flexible stance taken by the pope and some progressive bishops. Two years ago, Mueller was let go by...  Read More...

  • Vatican official says pope's outreach to divorced Catholics well-received

    A leading Vatican official says opposition to Pope Francis’ outreach to divorced and remarried Catholics comes from a minority that is tied to a vision of the church that “never existed.”Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, made the comments in an interview published in the British magazine The Tablet Jan. 25.   Read More...

  • Communion for divorced Catholics returns as emblematic synod issue

    Bishops attending the Synod of Bishops on the Family are returning to the issue that has always been the lightning rod of this and last year’s assemblies: whether a new path can be found to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

    We’ve heard cautions (from bishops and Pope Francis) about over-focusing on this question, as if there aren't a hundred other important matters affecting modern families. Yet in many ways it encapsulates a key theme of this synod and the pontificate of Francis: reaching out in a spirit of mercy to those who are suffering, who have fallen or who feel alienated from the church’s doctrinal rules, and recognizing that the Eucharist is a healing sacrament and not a reward for the perfect.

    The essential problem, it should be noted, is that Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment of their first marriage are required by the church to live “as brother and sister” (no sexual relations) in their second marriage in order to receive absolution in Confession and Holy Communion. Many see that as an unrealistic requirement and an undue burden on a marriage.

    At today’s briefing, reporters were told that many of the short speeches over the last day or two have explored this issue from a variety of directions. Some have returned to Cardinal Walter Kasper’s suggestion last year of a “penitential path” for divorced Catholics, which would allow local pastors to guide a person or a couple through a process of reflection and examination of conscience, culminating in absolution for sins and reception of Communion.

    Some bishops have emphasized that such an approach should be personalized, and should not simply be made available on a general basis. Some believe any change in policy would cause confusion about the church’s teachings on marriage, while others said that if the church truly follows the teaching of Jesus it cannot permanently exclude a set of people from the sacraments.

    Clearly, many synod participants are still not on board with the entire idea of creating a new path to Communion. At today’s briefing, for example, Bishop Stanislaw Gadecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, said the bishops of Poland have excluded the idea of Communion for divorced Catholics. He said there were many other ways in which such Catholics can participate in the life of the church. That has been a common refrain in other synod speeches.

    On the other hand, Mexican Archbishop Carlos Aguilar Retes, who also spoke to journalists, seemed more open to the penitential proposal, saying it would lead those Catholics to recognize their past mistakes and “begin a new path.”

    Those in favor of the proposal often cite the painful spiritual side of the church’s current policy. One bishop took the floor and, in what was described as an emotionally charged moment, told how a child making his first Communion took the host and broke off a piece to give to his father who, because he was divorced, could not receive it directly.

    Archbishop Retes also made an important point when he said it was not up to the synod to make any decisions regarding divorced Catholics – that will be up to the pope.

    In fact, as this synodal assembly begins to wind down, one has the impression that it will be left to Pope Francis to provide closure on the important and most controversial questions. My impression is that this session may be advancing the discussion somewhat, but in large part it seems a replay of the different views on doctrine and pastoral mercy that were so evident at last year’s session.

  • Synod kicks off with a papal call for candor

              Pope Francis at the Synod of Bishops

    Pope Francis convened the working phase of the Synod of Bishops on the family with a strong call for frank discussion, saying bishops should not feel afraid to disagree openly but respectfully – even with the pope.

    His brief talk Monday was followed by the reading of a revised synod working document that downplayed a topic at the center of fierce debate in recent weeks: the possibility of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

    The pope sat at a dais in the Vatican’s synod hall before about 180 bishops and some 70 other participants at the start of the two-week-long assembly. He said “synodality” means talking clearly and listening with humility.

    Francis recalled that after last February’s meeting of cardinals on synod themes, one participant wrote to him and lamented that some cardinals were afraid to say what they thought, because they disagreed with the pope.

    “That’s no good. That’s not synodality. We need to say what we feel and at the same time listen and welcome with an open heart what our brothers are saying,” the pope told the assembly.

    But if Francis seemed to be calling for candor, the text of the revised working document or relatio, prepared by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary, went out of its way to defuse a growing and public disagreement over the situation of Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment.

    Cardinal Walter Kasper, invoking Pope Francis’ theme of pastoral mercy, has said the church needs to search for a way to give Communion to such Catholics. Other cardinals, including the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, have pounced on Kasper’s suggestion, saying it would be tantamount to disavowing the indissolubility of marriage.

    Cardinal Erdo’s relatio treated the situation of divorced Catholics at length, but without explicitly mentioning the issue of Communion. Indeed, he said, "it would be misleading to concentrate only on the reception of the sacraments" in discussing the issue.

    Erdo emphasized that the synod was not in any sense challenging the permanence of marriage. He mentioned, as a matter needing further study, the practice of some Orthodox Churches in recognizing second marriages, but said this study needs to avoid “any questionable interpretations and conclusions.”

    In another section of his text, Erdo said that pastoral mercy cannot go against the remands of the marriage bond, and that “a second marriage recognized by the church is impossible, while the first spouse is still alive.”

    It remains to be seen whether Cardinal Kasper’s proposal receives more attention from this synod. But judging by today’s opening summary text, which is supposed to set directions for the discussion, the synod planners clearly do not want this very controversial issue to take over the assembly. I think they also wanted to reassure the doctrinal conservatives who have spoken out against Kasper’s ideas that what’s up for discussion are pastoral policies, and not established church teaching.

    What was striking about Cardinal Erdo’s text was that it took almost for granted that streamlining the annulment process would go forward. He said there was a “broad consensus” for simplifying annulment procedures, and even suggested the church might institute an administrative, “extra-judicial” process in which a local bishop could annul a marriage. That in itself would be a remarkable change, and the pope has already named a commission to study these possibilities.

    What Erdo had to say about cohabitation was also interesting, and unusually positive by Vatican standards. Some couples, he said, choose to live together without marriage in relationships that are marked by stability, deep affection and parental responsibility. He said the church should see these relationship as an opportunity and “a seed to be nurtured” toward the sacrament of marriage.

    The opening relatio made two points about homosexuality. It said gay men and women should not be discriminated against. But it said most Catholics still reject the idea of gay marriage. What most Catholics appear to want, it said, was a change in culturally conditioned traditional roles and discrimination against women, but without denying the differences between the sexes and their “complementarity.”

    In general, the relatio tried to strike a balance between alarm at the erosion of marriage and traditional family values, and confidence that the family “is not an outdated model.”

    “The family is fast becoming the last welcoming human reality in a world determined almost exclusively by finance and technology. A new culture of the family can be the starting point for a renewed human civilization,” it said.


  • Curia rumblings about a pope who won't be filtered

    There’s been a lot of media attention to Pope Francis’ now-famous phone call to an Argentine woman who is civilly married to a divorced man, reportedly telling her she could receive Communion.

    While in Rome this week, I’ve made some soundings inside the Roman Curia, and found concern among Vatican officials in two areas. First, they’re worried about the doctrinal and pastoral implications of the pope’s supposed remarks, and the risk of raising expectations for a change in church policy that may never occur.

    Second, and more broadly, they’re concerned that the Vatican is losing control over papal communication. In that sense, the phone call was a tipping point: an institution that has spoken for centuries in a formal, calibrated hierarchy of expression is now headed by a man who chats on the phone, delivers soundbites to reporters and improvises daily sermons.

    That explains the unusual statement from Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who announced to journalists a few days ago that the pope’s phone call – indeed, any papal phone call – did not form part of the Magisterium, the official teaching of the church. “Consequences relating to the teaching of the church are not to be inferred from these occurrences,” was the way he put it.

    Father Lombardi’s statement was probably drafted by the Secretary of State’s office, which used to be the communications gatekeeper at the Vatican, but which today finds itself increasingly on the sidelines. Quite often, Pope Francis does not go through the usual filters anymore.

    The Old Guard at the Vatican tends to view many of the pope’s interviews, Tweets and off-the-cuff remarks as expressions of lesser consequence. His morning Mass homilies make headlines almost every day, but – reportedly at the pope’s request – are not being collected for publication in the permanent Vatican record, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (they are extemporaneous talks, so there’s no complete text.)

    None of this less formal output is considered part of the “capital M” Magisterium. But for most Catholics, that’s a distinction without a difference. They don’t care whether comments like “Who am I to judge?” find their way into the Vatican’s official archives. All they care is that the pope said it.

    In the case of the Argentine woman, the fact that Pope Francis would even make such a call bothers some officials at the Vatican. On one level, they say, it creates confusion, because no one is sure exactly what the pope said. The pope should know by now that any private conversation like this will eventually come out in some unsanctioned manner (in this instance, on the Facebook page of the woman’s husband.)

    And as one Vatican monsignor put it, why should the pope be talking to her at all? Shouldn’t he be referring her to her spiritual advisor, or asking the local bishop to follow up?

    If the gist of the pope’s call was accurately relayed – that the woman could receive Communion – that’s seen by some Vatican conservatives as crossing the Rubicon.

    In this case, the woman had been told by her pastor that she could not receive Communion unless her husband received an annulment and the two were married in the church. Didn’t the pope undercut the authority of priests everywhere with his phone call? How are priests to respond when divorced Catholics come to them and declare: “But Father, the pope said it’s OK?”

    It’s clear that Pope Francis wants the church to find a better pastoral solution to the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics, and all indications are that this fall’s Synod of Bishops will propose some changes – perhaps, as outlined by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a penitential practice that would allow divorced Catholics to receive Communion, with the understanding the church could tolerate, though not accept, second unions.

    That idea has generated much debate among bishops and cardinals, and enthusiasm among many Catholics. But it is not playing so well inside the Vatican. “If that happens, we’ve crossed the line into heresy,” one official told me.

    I think Francis has some prep work to do in his own backyard.  Read More...

  • Pope says church must accompany those in failed marriages, not condemn them

    Here’s Pope Francis today on what the church should do when a marital relationship falls apart:

    “When this love fails – because many times it does fail – we need to feel the pain of this failure and accompany those who have experienced this failure in their love. Not condemn them! Walk with them! And not treat their situation with casuistry.”

    I think the pope is using the term “casuistry” here to refer to a legalistic, rule-based approach. In any case, his message was clear: the church’s approach should be merciful and understanding.

    The comment is especially interesting as an internal debate heats up among Vatican officials and others in the hierarchy over the correct pastoral response to Catholics who have divorced and remarried civilly without an annulment.

    Earlier this week, German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reiterated his view that pastoral policies must be in line with doctrine, specifically the doctrine on the permanence of marriage.

    The Synod of Bishops on the Family is expected to take up the issue in October.

    The pope made the remarks at his morning Mass. Vatican Radio now has its English version up here.

    Related: In his address to cardinals a week ago, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that while the church cannot change its teaching on the permanence of marriage, it could "tolerate that which is impossible to accept," i.e., a second union. He suggested a penitential path that would accompany divorced Catholics back into full communion with the church -- in effect, he said, "a pastoral approach of tolerance, clemency and indulgence." The Catholic News Service report on his talk is here.

  • Déjà vu on divorced and remarried Catholics?

                    Archbishop Gerhard Müller
    Today’s Osservatore Romano featured a lengthy article reaffirming the church’s ban on sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics.

    Written by Archbishop Gerhard Muller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the article reads like a pre-emptive strike on new efforts to promote pastoral flexibility on the issue.

    Given that Pope Francis has himself spoken of the need to take a new look at the situation of divorced and remarried, and has convened a Synod of Bishops for 2014 to discuss this and other issues, it’s legitimate to wonder where the church is really headed: substantial change or another dead-end debate.

    The archbishop makes several important points:

    -- He underlines that, in his view, this is not simply a pastoral question but a doctrinal issue that involves the church’s theological understanding of the sacrament of marriage. He states categorically that the Orthodox practice of allowing second or third marriages under certain circumstances “cannot be reconciled with God’s will” – which is interesting, considering that Pope Francis himself has referred to the Orthodox practice without explicitly repudiating or endorsing it.

    -- Muller pointedly rejects the argument that the individual conscience can be the final arbiter on whether a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic can receive Communion. Again, there seems to be a contrast in tone with Pope Francis’ own recent remarks on the duty to follow one’s conscience.

    -- In what appears to be a remarkably direct response to Pope Francis’ call for “mercy” as the framework for dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics, Archbishop Muller says that “an objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive.”

    Here is the more complete passage of the article:

    A further case for the admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments is argued in terms of mercy. Given that Jesus himself showed solidarity with the suffering and poured out his merciful love upon them, mercy is said to be a distinctive quality of true discipleship. This is correct, but it misses the mark when adopted as an argument in the field of sacramental theology. The entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy and it cannot simply be swept aside by an appeal to the same. An objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive. The mystery of God includes not only his mercy but also his holiness and his justice. If one were to suppress these characteristics of God and refuse to take sin seriously, ultimately it would not even be possible to bring God’s mercy to man. Jesus encountered the adulteress with great compassion, but he said to her “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). God’s mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of the Church. Rather it supplies us with the grace and strength needed to fulfill them, to pick ourselves up after a fall, and to live life in its fullness according to the image of our heavenly Father.

    In short, Archbishop Muller leaves little or no room for pastoral flexibility on re-admitting divorced Catholics to the sacraments of confession and Communion. He backs up his arguments with teachings of recent popes and with the doctrinal congregation’s own instruction on this question in 1994.

    The one area where Muller offers an opening is in suggesting that “marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they were previously” because Catholic couples don't really understand the sacrament or the indissoluble nature of marriage. In other words, get an annulment.

    “If remarried divorcees are subjectively convinced in their conscience that a previous marriage was invalid, this must be proven objectively by the competent marriage tribunals,” he writes.

    Pope Francis spoke about the same issue in July, saying that many people marry without realizing that it’s a life-long commitment. Francis, however, added that the legal problem of matrimonial nullity needs to be reviewed, because “ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this.”

    All of this may sound like déjà vu to anyone who’s been around the Vatican in recent decades.

    I remember that in the 1990s, bishops attending Vatican-sponsored synods suggested more flexibility on reception of sacraments by Catholics in irregular unions. They were supported by some theologians, who argued for a review of scriptural and traditional reasons for the ban on sacramental participation.

    In 1999, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the doctrinal congregation, responded in a lengthy essay, strongly defending the church’s rules. His arguments were similar to those put forward today by Archbishop Muller. The essential content of the marriage norms, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “cannot be watered down for supposed pastoral reasons, because they transmit revealed truth.”