Marriage, Divorce, & Communion: The Upcoming Synod of BishopsSep 25th, 2014 | By David Anders | Category: Radio
Listeners to CTC Radio often ask about the Catholic teaching on marriage, divorce, and communion in the Catholic Church. With them in mind, I have attached a brief article I wrote for One Voice, the newspaper for the diocese of Birmingham.
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Here is the Article:
There will be an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops in October to discuss “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” No doubt the synod will discuss many issues, but none has garnered more media attention than the status of civilly divorced and remarried Catholics. In particular, the media have focused on the question of their eligibility to receive communion. Cardinal Walter Kasper encouraged speculation about a change in the Church’s discipline by asking a consistory of cardinals in February whether or not the Church should continue to refuse communion to civilly divorced and remarried Catholics. As the synod approaches, it seems appropriate to reflect on what the Church can and cannot change about her doctrine and discipline.
What is the rationale for barring the civilly divorced and remarried from Holy Communion? The answer to this requires an understanding of Christian marriage. According to the teaching of Christ and the Catholic faith, Christian marriage is by definition a lifelong union, effected by a promise of fidelity and the intent to raise a family, elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. It is always indissoluble under any and all circumstances.
To understand the current discussion, the key point to emphasize is the indissolubility of a valid Christian marriage. The Catechism states:
Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom. (CCC 1640)
The Church has no power to change this teaching, because it is the teaching of Christ. (Matthew 19:11-12) This is something the non-Catholic media often misunderstand. The Church’s dogma on marriage is not a “policy” that can be changed, any more than the Nicene Creed is a “policy.” In this regard, the Church’s Magisterium is a servant of the truth, not its master. The Catechism says, “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.” (CCC 86)
Because marriage is indissoluble, a validly married Catholic who obtains a civil divorce from a judge and then contracts another civil marriage is objectively in the state of ongoing adultery. Jesus said, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12) Again, following the teaching of Christ and the words of Sacred Scripture, the Church has no choice but to withhold communion from those deemed to be in grave sin. (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 11:27-29; Matthew 18: 17)
Some have asked whether or not a person could “repent” for a failed first marriage, receive the sacraments of reconciliation, and then be admitted to communion while remaining in an invalid second marriage (i.e., a relationship the Church deems adulterous). This proposal fails to take into account the doctrine on Christian marriage and the doctrine on reconciliation and penance. By definition, there is no forgiveness of sins and no reconciliation as long as one intends to persist in grave sin. St. John Paul II explains, “Without a sincere and firm purpose of amendment, sins remain ‘unforgiven,’ in the words of Jesus, and with him in the Tradition of the Old and New Covenants.” (Dominum et Vivificantem) If a valid marriage exists, all subsequent unions are adulterous by definition. “Repentance,” in this context, must mean repentance for the subsequent union, whatever else may be involved.
The Church does recognize some situations in which reconciliation with a spouse is impossible and in which subsequent civil unions have resulted in children being born. In these cases, the Church sometimes permits the parents in these unions to remain together for the sake of the children, provided they agree to live as brother and sister. This is not a tacit recognition of the subsequent marriage, but rather an unusual and, quite frankly, difficult concession that Catholics must make for the sake of children.
What then could the Church change? Theoretically, some change is possible to the process by which Catholics obtain annulments. It is highly unlikely, however, that such changes could dispense with canonical expertise or judicial process, since the declaration of nullity is a finding of juridical fact and requires moral certainty on the part of the judge. The most likely outcome to the Synod is a deepening pastoral emphasis on the means and the virtue of chastity, and a renewed catechesis on the meaning of Christian marriage. A good deal of ink has been spilled on this topic and I fear that many people may have unfulfilled expectations for what the Church can and will do. Let us remember the Bishops and the Holy Father in our prayers, and ask that they have wisdom and grace to communicate the Church’s teaching with compassion and clarity.