Thursday, February 20, 2014
THE CLARIFICATION OF THE PASTORAL CARE OF THE DIVORCED AND REMARRIED IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
American Catholics have to understand one thing and that is that American Catholicism is way ahead of the rest of the Church in terms of pastoral care for the divorced and remarried. When I was in Italy visiting my relatives in Livorno, I got into a discussion with two of the wives of my first cousins (and in Italian that really impressed me that I could actually do it, but I digress) about how the Diocese of Savannah handles Catholics who are divorced and married again outside the Church.
I explained the annulment procedure, made clear that simply being divorced (without remarriage) is not in impediment to Holy Communion and that I have blessed the second marriages of many Catholics who sought an annulment.
Many dioceses around the world do not handle annulments and pastoral care of the divorced as the American Church does.
What many Catholics don't understand also is what is called the "internal solution" when the "external solution" fails. Often times the annulment procedure cannot go forward, as it is a court case requiring witnesses and testimony, because witnesses are uncooperative or have died or simply don't recall or remember the facts. The person applying for the annulment feels that in fact their is evidence for nullity, but they simply can't prove it because of these circumstances.
In these cases, and only after the external forum is exhausted, the Catholic would make an appointment with a priest for the Sacrament of Penance. If the person believes in good conscious that their previous marriage was not sacramental, although it can't be proven in a Catholic tribunal because of lack of testimony from witness, and that the current unrecognized marriage is good, responsibilities toward spouses and children are being met and there is no scandal in the parish or wider community concerning this "illicit" marriage, then within the Sacrament of Penance, thus extraordinary and under its seal, the priest can give a solution of conscience for that person, offer absolution and allow the person to return to the sacraments. However, the marriage itself cannot be blessed or "con-validated" by the priest--he tells the penitent to put it in the hands of God and be prepared to explain it to him at the appropriate time of judgement. The onus in on the penitent not the priest.
So, after making the above case, read what the Associated Press has said about the Cardinal's deliberations on Marriage and Family life:
Cardinals from around the world delved head-on Thursday into one of the most vexing issues facing the church, how to find ways to provide better pastoral care for divorced and remarried Catholics who are forbidden from receiving Communion and other church sacraments.
German Cardinal Walter Kasper, a pre-eminent theologian who has called for "openings and changes" in dealing with these Catholics, delivered a two-hour keynote speech to the two-day meeting, which is serving as preparation for an October summit of bishops on family issues.
Church teaching holds that unless the first marriage is annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, Catholics who remarry cannot receive Communion or other sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned from their church.
Pope Francis has called for a more merciful approach to the problem while remaining loyal to church doctrine. He called Thursday for pastoral care for families that is "intelligent, courageous and full of love" but also doesn't delve into case-by-case options to get around doctrine.
Kasper frequently cited the Bible as a source of inspiration in a signal, almost Protestant in nature, that the answer to the problem lay in scripture. He told reporters that Francis had asked him to pose questions to the 150 cardinals to begin a debate on the issue.
"We cannot change the doctrine," Kasper said. "It's a question of applying the doctrine to concrete situations." He cited a case he was involved with regarding a remarried Catholic mother whose daughter was preparing for her First Communion, but she herself couldn't receive Communion because her first marriage was never annulled.
"The mother wants to live the faith. She educated her daughter in the faith. She went to confession because her marriage had failed. But is not a remission of sin possible in this case?" he asked.
There is an active debate over whether the ancient Christian church allowed divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion after a period of penitence, which Kasper cited.