Saturday, April 6, 2013


John Allen of the NCR sees Pope Francis' missionary zeal in this way:

"There seems universal agreement that the heart of Francis’ pastoral vision is a desire for a missionary church, a church that moves out into the streets to meet people where they are and to respond to their real needs, both human and spiritual. Over and over again, people who’ve lived and worked with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio cite some version of two of his favorite sayings:

"A church that stays in the sacristy too long gets sick” -- the idea being that remaining in an enclosed space, constantly breathing the same recycled stale air, is bad for the church’s health. The church needs to get out into the wider world in order to stay vital and alive.

“Teachers of the faith need to get out of their cave” -- meaning that preaching to the choir is not the heart of the missionary enterprise, but rather making the faith relevant to people on the outside."


The greatest stumbling block we have with receiving new members into the Church or into full communion with the Church is previous marriages that they may have had or their current spouse has. We are overwhelmed with trying to convince those who have an earnest desire to become Catholic that they must go through the formal Catholic annulment procedure or their spouse has to. Sometimes the Protestant who wants to become Catholic is married to a Protestant who has no interest in the Catholic Church and is the one who has the previous marriage that needs to be annulled. That creates quite a pastoral problem asking a Protestant who has no intentions to become Catholic to go through a full blown annulment procedure so their spouse can become Catholic after having their marriage convalidated in the Church.


1. Declare that for a marriage to be a Sacrament rather than simply a "holy bond" that it can only be between two Catholics or other Christians who belong to a denomination which understands marriage as a Sacrament in the Catholic understanding of that term. Let me explain, because we have a similar model for this already in the Catholic Church. When a Catholic marries a person who is not baptized, the Catholic ceremony does not allow for the use of the term "sacrament" for that "Holy Bond." It is not a sacrament, although the holy bond is valid in the eyes of the Church, for a sacrament in current theology must be between to baptized persons (male and female) obviously. If their marriage ends in divorce, the Catholic need not go through a full blown Catholic annulment but rather a simpler procedure to have the marriage bond which is not a sacrament "dissolved."

Except for the Orthodox Churches, I don't know of other Christian denominations that have the same teachings on marriage as a Sacrament that is like our teachings in all ways. Most Protestant denominations, if not all, allow for remarriage after divorce.

2. One of the grounds for an annulment is that the couple did not understand the Catholic meaning of marriage. I think that it is perfectly legitimate to require Catholics, two Catholics, married in the Catholic Church to undergo the complete formal annulment procedure, but for those who are not Catholic a streamlined procedure similar to the "Lack of Form" cases that the Church has for Catholics who did not marry in the Catholic Church when they were obligated to do so would be a very good solution.

3. I would recommend to Pope Francis that a marriage that is considered a Sacrament MUST be blessed by a validly ordained Bishop, priest or deacon. We need to move away from the theology that the married couple performs the sacrament rather than the clergy.

4. Thus we would say, as we do for Protestant Holy Communion, that their sacrament of marriage is invalid because the minister performing the marriage did not have valid Holy Orders required to the validity of the other sacraments except for Holy Baptism.

5. What this then does is to open up the possibility that a Protestant who wants to become a Catholic but has a previous marriage could simply apply for an annulment or dissolution of the bond based upon the fact that the Sacrament of Marriage is only recognized for two Catholics fully initiated into the Church by Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. All other marriages are considered holy bonds not sacraments. Once we prove that the person was not a Catholic when they married then the Church simply issues a document stating the Protestant is free be received into the full communion of the Church with a simple blessing of their current union.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a canon lawyer but I have studied canon law and play the part of a canon lawyer in my parish. I know the legalists would be opposed to this as well as some in the ecumenical movement. But I think it is a wonderful pastoral solution. Let's leave the full blown annulment cases for two Catholics fully initiated into the Church whose marriages have ended in divorce. They should be held to a higher level of proof.


Pater Ignotus said...

To adopt your solution, the Catholic Church would have to enter into a complete RUPTURE of CONTINUITY in the area of our theological understanding on the Sacrament of Marriage. I had come to think that such ruptures were anathema to your way of thinking.

Encountering a person, married civilly to an uninterested Protestant, is not a "pastoral problem" anymore than encountering a "living together" heterosexual couple is a pastoral problem. In the latter case, do you propose rupturing the Church's teaching on fornication in order to erase the so-called pastoral problem? No.

As to the Orthodox: "Despite the fact that the [Orthodox] Church condemns sin, she also desires to be an aid to those who suffer and for whom she may allow a second marriage. This is certainly the case when the marriage has ceased to be a reality. A possible second marriage is therefore only permitted because of “human weakness”. As the apostle Paul says concerning the unmarried and widows: “If they can not control themselves, they should marry” (1 Cor. 7, 9). It is permitted as a pastoral concession in the context of “economia,” to the human weakness and the corrupt world in which we live."

Further: "Orthodox canon law can permit a second and even a third marriage “in economia”, but strictly forbids a fourth. In theory divorce is only recognized in the case of adultery, but in practise is also recognised in light of other reasons. There is a list of causes of divorce acceptable to the Orthodox Church. In practise the bishops sometimes apply “economia” in a liberal way. By the way, divorce and remarriage are only permitted in the context of “economia”, that is, out of pastoral care, out of understanding for weakness. A second or third marriage will always be a deviation from the “ideal and unique marriage”, but often a fresh opportunity[26] to correct a mistake”.[27]

These quotes are from The Orthodox Research Institute's website ( in an article written by Bishop Athenagoras (Peckstadt) of Sinope. Mgr Athenagoras Peckstadt is the assistant Bishop of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Belgium and Exarch of the Netherlands and Luxembourg (Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople) and studied theology at the Aristoteles University of Thessalonica and at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Geneva.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I like the Orthodox pastoral solution, but either way, mine or theirs, in terms of the Roman Church, there is a rupture. But also keep in mind in the Orthodox Church as well as the Eastern Rite of the Church, the bishop or priest must offer a blessing of some kind for the marriage to be valid, they do not have this silly theology of the married couple exercising their "priesthood" and thus marrying themselves of which the ordained only witness it.

Anonymous said...


When I got married a few years ago, my wife and I were both told exactly what you call "silly theology", i.e., that we were marrying ourselves and the priest was only there to witness it.

It didn't sound right to me at the time and I've never completely been comfortable with that idea. Is this something relatively new? Is it a post-Vatican II innovation? Or is this what the Church has always taught? If it is, indeed silly, and I suspect it is, I think we should know more about it.

Keyser Soze said...

Father, because of the way you began this post, I'm going to set your marriage annulment idea aside for a moment and reflect on the topic in a more generalized way: I'm not sure about all this "relevance" stuff, since we've practically trashed the liturgy trying to make it relevant. On one hand, Catholics should not be in a Church that merely "preaches to the choir", but it seems to me that the best thing the Catholic Church can do is recover its identity. I don't think most Catholics today remember what the Church was like before the Novus Ordo culture of rupture took over. When Catholics took their identity and their faith more seriously, there was a sort of dual-thing taking place. We may have been ultra focused on our "Catholic-ness", but that very focus was a point of witness. Questions from non-Catholics are more likely to be provoked and provoke substantial discussions when non-Catholics see a clear difference between how Catholics live and how everyone else lives. At very least, it provokes the question "why?"

Why is your Mass in another language?
Why do you abstain from meat on Friday?
Why are you wearing a scapular?
Why are you forbidden from entering my church without permission from your pastor?
Why are you making the sign of the cross when we drive by your church?
Why are do you go wait in line every couple of weeks to tell your sins to a man?
Why are you engaging in repetitious prayer with those beads?

Ultimately, they want to know why our life is so different than ours. Of course, this would mean that we would have to return to hardcore catechizing too, because we would have to be able to answer those questions. But my point is that REAL evangelization takes place when people of other beliefs, or with no beliefs look at us, see our lives and get a sense that we have something important that is missing from THEIR lives.

Anonymous 5 said...

I'm in complete agreement with Pater on this one (alert the media!). And in fact I must confess that this is one of the most radical things I recall reading on your blog.

I'm too much under the gun this morning to refresh myself on the sacramental theology of marriage, so I'm willing to be corrected, but my recollection is that the Church's pronouncements on the sacramentality of marriage between any two unimpeded baptized persons isn't just a matter of discipline but of doctrine. My brief perusal of Otto's Fundamentals, 461-69, seems to confirm this. It certainly appears doctrinal (sent. certa) that a) any marriage between two validly baptized persons that meets the other requirements is sacramental and that b) the contracting parties are the ministers as well as the recipients of the sacrament.

Additionally, consider that if you nevertheless go down this road, you may solve some pastoral issues, but you'll raise others. What about marriages between two baptized Protestants with no previous marriage/divorce issues, in which one of the parties then becomes Catholic, but the other party objects to having the marriage blessed? By your new rule, the couple would be living in sin, no? In fact you could easily run across a single case in which you face both problems: a divorced non-Catholic spouse who obstructs the annulment process _and_ a current non-Catholic spouse who refuses to have the second marriage blessed.

There's a much easier route, and you mention it: that the couple's, or even one partner's, understanding of marriage is so flawed that s/he or they, by getting married, don't intend to do what the Church does (cf. a Mormon baptism). In our current society this is likely both true and easy to prove a great deal of the time.

We have the problem you mention because of the Protestant Revolution. That revolution was a tragedy because it had (and continues to have) consequences. One of the most keenly felt practical consequences regards the only sacrament that involves a contract between parties, thereby touching mutual legal rights and duties between the two recipients of the sacrament. The solution is for all of the Protestant heretics to come back to Holy Mother the Church, not to pretend that the wound and the marriage don't exist.

On the other hand, if we're going to be ecumenical in the spirit of VII, then it's disingenuous to conveniently say that Protestants don't have sacramental marriages. You can't have it both ways, with Protestants enjoying all of the rights of being sorta-kinda in communion with the Church but having none of the responsibilities.

Pater Ignotus said...

So now, Good Father, you assert that what the Church teaches traditionally is "Silly theology?" My, my, my . . .

The VOW/COVENANT of two baptized people makes the marriage. It reflects or echoes the VOW/COVENANT that God made with his people.

This is not "silly." It is solid, historical, sacramental theology.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

No kidding PI, really? How about them Orthodox and Catholics in union with Rome of the East who require the ratification of the marriage through some sort of pronouncement or blessing rather than a mere witnessing of the vows for validity no less, please comment on that.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

To A who was taught that they exercised their priesthood when they got married, yes this is the current model of the Latin Rite or Western rite of the Church. It is for this reason that the bishop can delegate a non-ordained person to witness the vows or to dispense from the Catholic form of marriage where a Protestant minister becomes the actual witness. But not so in the Eastern Rites in union with Rome. They will allow a wedding to take place outside of a Catholic Church but a priest or deacon must be present to offer a blessing or the marriage is considered invalid. Whereas in the Latin Rite, an ordained Catholic priest or deacon does not have to be present once the dispensation from form of the Catholic marriage is granted.
This is a novelty since Vatican II to allow for the dispensation of form of a marriage where a Protestant minister or someone unordained in the Catholic Church could be delegated to officially witness the marriage vows.

Marc said...

Correction - The Orthodox allow for divorce and remarriage. And there is no annulment process.

Aside from that, Fr. Kavanaugh and Anonymous 5 are correct. Changing doctrine to conform to a pastoral problem is unacceptable and impossible. Pastoral problems demand education, love, and support to fix, not caving on doctrine.

Furthermore, can you demonstrate that Vatican II somehow changed the understanding of the Sacrament of Matrimony? I've never heard anyone assert that before.

Pater Ignotus said...

Sure, I'll comment on it. That is THEIR theological tradition, not ours. I don't judge our tradition by what others may do, and neither do you, except when it seems convenient to back up some absurd and rupturous suggestion you want to make.

The Byzantine Catholics use crowns in their rite - should we then ape their practice?

They "tie" the hands of bride and groom with the end of the stole, then perform the Dance of Isaiah around the altar? Shall that become our norm as well?

While the marriage ritual is conducted outside the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine tradition, the Catholic Copts and Maronites celebrate with within the Divine Liturgy. Which shall we choose to follow?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I love tiaras on popes and crowns on spouses, it doesn't get any better than that!

John Nolan said...

I think that in the Church of England the minister marries the couple, rather than simply acting as a witness, although strictly speaking matrimony is not a sacrament.

I read somewhere that in the last years of Paul VI's reign it was easier to get an annulment in the USA than to get a "quickie" civil divorce. JP II tightened the rules.

rcg said...

PI, I assume you are reflecting the argument against some of the imported Liturgical practices from history or other cultures that has been criticized in this blog. I agree that modifying Liturgy for fashion is not a good idea, although a sincere desire to increase the reverence should be a daily goal.

John, Divorce and annulment was a very easy thing in many US diocese, the most famous one was Boston where the Kennedy clan was famous for their trophy wives.

My wife does not need a crown, she wears the pants.

Pater Ignotus said...

Pointing to the "Kennedy Clan" and asserting that their circumstances prove annulments are/were easy to obtain, without knowing diddly-squat about the facts in the cases, is foolish.

I have personally assisted dozens and dozens of people in the annulment process and have actually read their testimony. I, like Good Father McDonald, am not a canon lawyer and don't make final decisions on any case. But I would say that in the cases with which I am familiar, the requirements for the process by which the Church grants or does not grant a decree of nullity are followed to the letter.

When a diocesan tribunal decides that a decree of nullity is warranted by the circumstances, the case is automatically appealed to the tribunal of a different diocese and thoroughly reviewed. The tribunal of appeal has the authority to veto the decision by the tribunal of first instance, or to concur, in which case the decree is granted.

rcg said...

Now, really.

It is a good thing you followed the letter of the law in processing annulments. The issues that I am familiar with in Boston are the relative speed the annulments were processed as well as the amount of effort put into the cases on behalf of people who were connected or wealthy enough to afford it.

That this happened while abusive priests were being moved and protected may be a coincidence, but points to a general lack of moral certitude.