Those who fear that the Church is about to allow divorced Catholics to remarry can take heart by something Pope Francis said on his way back to Rome from the United States.
The Pope’s words might also reassure those worried that his recent motu proprioMitis Iudex reforming the annulment process will weaken the sanctity of the marriage bond.
“Marriage is indissoluble when it is a sacrament. And this the Church cannot change. It’s doctrine. It’s an indissoluble sacrament,” the Pope told reporters during an in-flight press conference over the Atlantic.
The Pope was asked, in light of the upcoming Synod on the Family in Rome, whether he really wants a solution to the “remarried divorcee issue” and whether his recent motu proprio on streamlining the annulment process has closed this debate. “How do you respond to those who fear that with this reform, there is a de facto creation of a so-called ‘Catholic divorce?’” the reporter asked.
Before Francis embarked on his trip to Cuba and the US, Bishop Bernard Fellay, leader of the Society of St. Pius X, issued an open letter urging the Pope to be clear in expressing Catholic doctrine on marriage as the Synod on the Family approaches.
“We pray that the gospel truth concerning marriage, which the Synod ought to proclaim, may not be skirted in practice by numerous ‘pastoral exceptions’ that would distort its true meaning, or by legislation that would almost unfailingly abolish its real import,” Bishop Fellay wrote. “On this point we feel obliged to say that, despite reminders concerning the indissolubility of marriage, the canonical changes required by the Moto Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus facilitating declarations of nullity will de facto open the door to legal proceedings authorizing ‘Catholic divorce,’ even if goes by another name. These modifications acknowledge contemporary morals without attempting to put them in accord with the divine law. Are we then not to be heart stricken by the fate of children born to these marriages annulled in haste and who cannot but be victims of the ‘culture of waste.'”
Francis responded to the reporter’s question on his flight to Rome:
With the reform of the marriage annulment procedure, I closed the door to the administrative path, which was the path through which divorce could have made its way in. Those who think this is equivalent with “Catholic divorce” are mistaken because this last document has closed the door to divorce by which it could have entered. It would have been easier with the administrative path. There will always be the judicial path. The majority of the Synod fathers in last year’s Synod called for the process to be streamlined because there are cases that have dragged on for 10 or so years. There’s a sentence, then another sentence, and after that there’s an appeal and then another appeal. It never ends. The double sentence was introduced by Pope Lambertini, Benedict XIV because in central Europe there were some abuses, and so he introduced this in order to stop these abuses, but it’s not something essential to the process. The procedure changes, jurisprudence changes, it gets better. The motu proprio facilitates the processes and the timing, but it is not divorce because marriage is indissoluble when it is a sacrament. And this the Church cannot change. It’s doctrine. It’s an indissoluble sacrament. The legal trial is to prove that what seemed to be a sacrament wasn’t a sacrament, for lack of freedom, for example, or for lack of maturity, or for mental illness, or, there are so many reasons that bring about (an annulment), after a study, an investigation. That there was no sacrament. For example, that the person wasn’t free. Another example – though now it’s not so common – is that in some sectors of common society, at least in Buenos Aires, there were weddings when the woman got pregnant: “you have to get married.” I strongly advised my priests – almost prohibiting them – not to celebrate weddings in these conditions. We called them “speedy weddings.” They were to keep up appearances. Then babies are born and some work out but there’s no freedom. Others go wrong little by little; they separate and say: “I was forced to get married because we had to cover up this situation” and this is a reason for nullity. In as far as the issue of second marriages – divorcees, who enter into a new union – is concerned, read the Instrumentum laboris, the Synod’s working document. To me it seems a bit simplistic to say that the solution for these people is the possibility of accessing communion. But remarried divorcees is not the only issue, there is also the problem of new unions and of young people who don’t want to get married. Another problem is emotional maturity for marriage, faith: do I believe this is forever? To become a priest there is an eight-year preparation period, but to make a lifelong commitment to someone through marriage, all it takes is four premarital preparation sessions! Thinking about how to prepare for marriage is a difficult thing. But “Catholic divorce” does not exist. Nullity is granted if the union never existed. But if it did, it is indissoluble.
One prominent American canon lawyer, however, was perplexed by some of the Pope’s reported words.
“I do not know what ‘administrative path’ to divorce there was to close,” Edward Peters wrote on his blog In the Light of the Law. Peters holds the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. “The Church does not ‘do’ divorces, administratively or otherwise, and annulments (even documentary cases) are judicial procedures. Also, civil divorce per se is not forbidden to Catholics. CCC 2383. Divorce followed by remarriage is what raises issues.”