Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia issued guidelines this week to instruct clergy and other archdiocesan leaders about the implementation of Amoris Laetitia, a document on the teachings of the Catholic Church with regard to marriage and family life, which was released by Pope Francis in April.  Headlines publicizing the announcement emphasize that there is to be no Holy Communion for sexually active ‘remarried’ couples. 
The guidelines state, “Undertaking to live as brother and sister is necessary for the divorced and civilly-remarried to receive reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which could then open the way to the Eucharist.”   Excerpts from Amoris Laetitia are restated in the guidelines, showing how priests should help parties understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church: “The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how they have acted toward their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; if they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party.”
For those who “remarry” after abandoning a true spouse, especially in circumstances in which the true spouse has remained faithful and prays for the restoration of the family, how can anyone imagine that the one who 'remarried' could be free of objective grave sin? If only individuals living according to the Church’s teachings on human sexuality may receive the Sacraments, those that break apart a valid marriage by forcing a divorce, are not living according to the Church's teaching
What is not publicized in the United States is that when those united by Catholic marriage separate (with any civil divorce or civil separation), the Church (not the divorce court) has competence to determine a separation plan that is in accord with divine law (canon 1692 §2).  Even for those with an invalid marriage, the Church has competence to determine the obligations of the parties. A Catholic decree invalidating parties' marriage should include instructions of the parties’ obligations toward each other and their children (Motu Proprio canon 1691 §1).
If the Church in the United States were to more diligently make these determinations, an innocent woman who intended faithfulness could perhaps have a decree in which her abandoning "husband" would be expected to fulfill his financial obligations upon which she was depending, before conceiving children. Or, a man who intended faithfulness, could be protected from having to give half his property to a "wife" that was mentally incapable of consent because she suffered a grave lack of discretion of judgment (canon 1095 §2). He could be protected from having to pay her spousal support --since she was never his spouse-- and even be protected from having to support her in a home where he's not allowed to live where she and his children reside.
For decades in the U.S., the public perception has been that the Catholic Church simply does not recognize civil divorce, and was only interested in whether or not there was a valid marriage. An investigation about the validity of a marriage is only made at the request of either party.  Now, both Pope Francis and Archbishop Chaput have emphasized how important it is to consider a party’s obligation toward children during the break-up of a family and the obligation to reconcile. If the Church, and all the faithful, were to be more pro-active at the time of a break-up, perhaps many marriages would be saved. Both Church leaders clearly state that there could have been an abandoned party, implying that the other was an abandoner. 
This language is a step toward obtaining justice during separation and divorce, which has been absent for decades in the civil forum because of no-fault divorce in the United States.  Children in families with marital crisis will celebrate when divorce lawyers point Catholic clients to the Church to make the determinations that should always have been made by the Church in the first place: what separation plan is in accord with divine law and what are the moral and civil obligations of parties toward each other and their children.
If you are not familiar with my work, let me introduce myself.
With the non-profit educational organization, Mary’s Advocates, I uphold marriage against no-fault divorce. We support those who remain faithful to marriage after separation and divorce.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Catholic Register, and TheCatholicThing have publicized our work. I presented a paper in Rome as a guest of Human Life International Rome and the paper was distributed to delegates at the 2015 Bishops synod. My writings have appeared in LifeSiteNews.  I’ve been a guest on Relevant Radio and Ave Maria Radio.
Our hope is that Plaintiffs will work to improve their marriage rather than force no-fault divorce. Or if not, at least a just outcome could be obtained by the faithful spouse and children wherein the spouse that wants to keep the family together will have the upper hand in any negotiated separation plan.
Spero columnist Bai Macfarlane is the founder of Mary's Advocates.



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