The confusion begins to be evident in Part II, “The discernment of values present in wounded families and in irregular situations” when the question is asked, “what possibilities are given to married couples who experience the failure of their marriage, or rather how is it possible to offer them Christ’s help through the ministry of the Church?” Is this a veiled plea to allow for reception of the Eucharist? That’s one reading, but not the only one.
Confusion also arises from suggesting that one might apply the “doctrine of levels of communion, formulated by Vatican Council II” – which recognizes that “elements of sanctification and truth” are found in denominations and faiths outside the structure of the Catholic Church – to the situations of “cohabitation, civil marriages, divorced and remarried persons” by “appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.” To what end exactly?
We appreciate the good we find in other faith communities, but we do not admit them to Holy Communion. Are we meant to show our appreciation for the positive values of those who are cohabiting, living in civil marriages, etc. by not condemning or insulting them? That’s Christian Charity 101 so why would that point have to be made?
Under the “Truth and beauty of the family and mercy,” we are told that “a new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences.” The key phrase, of course, is “accepting the reality.” What could possibly be meant by “accepting”? Sure, everyone has to acknowledge that these realities exist, but if accepting means condoning, ratifying, acknowledging them as worthy of some action on the part of the Church – other than her willingness to engage the individuals with respect and to explain Catholic teaching with charity and encouragement – don’t think so. And where’s the concern for the children of cohabiting parents (or, often, the children of one parent who’s cohabiting with an adult unrelated to the child)? The physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual harm these children suffer should take precedence over the desires of the adults to feel accepted.
Under Part III’s “Positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation,” the report states that irregular situations “have to be dealt with in a constructive manner, seeking to transform them into opportunities to walk toward the fullness of marriage and family. … They need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy.”
No one would quibble over this statement. It’s just sound pastoral practice. But the discussion that follows on “Caring for wounded families (the separated, the divorced who have not remarried, the divorced who have remarried)" quotes a passage of Evangelii Gaudium (no. 169) in which Pope Francis calls for all to be initiated “into this ‘art of accompaniment,’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” Again, good pastoral practice to gently lead adults whose marriages have failed closer to the fullness of faith, but it’s novel, to say the least, to refer to the situation of adults who are divorced and remarried as living on “sacred ground.”
We’re told that “various Fathers underlined the necessity to make the recognition of cases of nullity more accessible and flexible.” If they did so, their views did not take into account justice due to the innocent abandoned spouse and children, but only the views of those who want to get on with their lives with a new spouse. As Dr. Fitzgibbons has documented in his two recent articles (and here), marriages can be saved and far more attention needs to be given to strengthening marriage than streamlining the annulment process.