Saturday, April 6, 2013
DIOVORCE AND FULL BLOWN ANNULMENTS: REMOVING ROADBLOCKS IN THE WAY OF EVANGELIZATION AND RECEIVING NEW MEMBERS INTO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
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."
MY COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS:
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.
SO THESE ARE MY PASTORAL SOLUTION SUGGESTIONS FOR POPE FRANCIS TO CONSIDER IMPLEMENTING:
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.