If the Catholic Church is going to be consistent with her own teaching on marriage, pastoral care could be provided when a couple breaks up, rather than focusing so much on so-called second marriages.
On October 22, Vatican Radio’s website republished an article by the director of the CDF that was in Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, speaking about the issue of re-marriage and the reception of the sacraments. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, clearly stated that the Church is not going to change her teaching restricting people in so-called second marriages from receiving Holy Communion if they live like husband and wife in the second marriage.
Müller’s article has sections on scripture, tradition, present day Magisterium, moral theology, and pastoral care. Concerning the possibility that someone in a so-called second marriage might be free to have his new marriage blessed by the Church, Müller wrote about getting an annulment decree for the first marriage:
“Today’s mentality is largely opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage, with regard to its indissolubility and its openness to children. Because this influences many Christians, marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they were previously, because there is a lack of desire for marriage in accordance with Catholic teaching, and there is too little socialization within an environment of faith. Therefore assessment of the validity of marriage is important and can help to solve problems.”
If it really is so impossible for someone who lives in a divorce-culture to enter a valid marriage, shouldn’t the Church forbid priests to witness marriage ceremonies at all? For example, in the U.S.A., 50% of the marriages end in divorce, so the Church could conclude that all the people in the U.S. are raised in a divorce culture, influenced by this culture, and probably enter invalid marriages – so to protect from this, we should simply forbid Church marriages.
How many fathers of the bride are going to be comfortable walking their daughter down the aisle when the Church itself, according to the Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, says that many Christians probably enter invalid marriages because today’s mentality is opposed to the Christian understanding of marriage?
Canon Law does recognize that if someone lied on their wedding day when promising to be married for life, open to children and faithful – then that marriage is invalid (c. 1101, simulation). However, one has to answer the question: did the person lie when promising to be married for life, or did the person sincerely make the promise and simply break the promise later?
Canon Law recognizes that, if a person suffers from a grave psychic anomaly, or is mentally ill, that person might be incapable of entering a valid marriage (c. 1095). Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, in their annual addresses to the Roman Rota, cautioned against granting annulments based on psychological grounds too loosely: "One must avoid pseudo-pastoral claims that would situate questions on a purely horizontal plane, in which what matters is to satisfy subjective requests to arrive at a declaration of nullity at any cost, so that the parties may be able to overcome, among other things, obstacles to receiving the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist" (yr. 2010).
Archbishop Müller’s article clearly focused on the debate concerning the civilly remarried and the sacraments, which has been making headlines as news commentators speculated that the teaching might be changed during the upcoming extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops to be held in 2014 to discuss pastoral care for families.
Repeatedly in Müller’s article, he referred to people who “find themselves” in second marriages. People don't “find themselves” in second marriages. Someone abandoned the first marriage by a free will choice. When a Catholic makes that choice, the Church could be a better shepherd to those lost sheep that abandon marriage – when the abandonment occurs – not years later after a second “so-called” marriage happened.
During the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the pastoral care for families, they could study the situation of professed Catholics abandoning marriage while acting as if they are doing nothing wrong. In the US, marital abandoners feel justified because they think they deserve an annulment.
There is a whole section in canon law on the pastoral care for those in troubled marriages relative to separation and divorce. Marriages could be saved and scandal prevented if the Church started practicing the law as it was intended (c. 104, 1151-1153, and 1692). The Church can teach about the difference between morally legitimate reasons for separation of spouses compared to martial abandonment which is a grave offense against nature and immoral.
For more information see LINKS to Annotations and Commentary on the Code of Canon Law recommended by the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. See here.
Spero columnist Bai Macfarlane is the founder of Mary's Advocates.