Communion for the remarried: Swiss clergy and laity disobey, and head of German bishops calls for change in discipline

Kipa reports that 40 priests and pastoral ministers from the Diocese of St. Gall, Switzerland, have issued a statement that they will continue to offer communion to the divorced and remarried. They appeal to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that the Church is the entire People of God; the People of God are taking responsibility for the Church. Furthermore, the Catholic Church recognizes the decision in conscience of each individual person.

Their statement says:

Therefore, as a Church of disciples of Jesus, we cannot exclude from the sacraments, for example, those divorced and remarried. This would contradict the praxis of Jesus in his manner of dealing with people. Thus we will continue to offer Communion to those divorced and remarried.

The signatories, who are from the deaneries of Uznach and Sargans, have studied the statements of the Second Vatican Council as part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the council. They write that the Church opened itself to the world at that time, but many of the council’s decisions have not yet been put into practice.

In March Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur wrote in a pastoral letter that according to Church teachings, those divorced and remarried are not to be admitted to the sacraments. The clergy and pastoral ministers from St. Gall state in an accompanying letter that they intend to offer spiritual support to their colleagues in the diocese of Chur, so that the spirit of the Council live on and be “supported in solidarity” by them.

Meanwhile, the president of the German bishops’ conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, continues to work for the admission to Communion of those divorced and remarried, Kathweb reports. “We are working on this subject, and you may rest assured that I am in conversation on the subject at widely varying levels.” He acknowledges that the topic requires “patience and slow breathing.”

Last year, similar comments from Zollitsch met with a strong rebuke from Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, who stressed the indissolubility of marriage with reference to the words of Jesus. Zollitsch had called for reconsideration of the Church’s manner of dealing with people “whose lives have developed unfortunately in important matters.” He said that, “when nearly 40% of marriages in Germany end in divorce, then we must consider how to alter our pastoral practice for these people,” which he considers “a question of mercy.”


  1. Remarriage is considered a sin but so is murder, rape, theft and a long list of other behaviors. But Jesus said if we break one, we are guilty of breaking them all. He also allowed for the forgiveness of all sins when one repents.
    If the Church can forgive murder, rape (especially the “soul killing” type of clergy sex abuse rape) and all the other sins then the Church can forgive the sin of remarriage especially when the couple may be happily married.

    1. I’m certain that some would maintain that as long as the couple remains married without annulling the previous marriage, they are in a state of sin. I’ve often wondered if anyone has considered the consequences. What if there are children from the second marriage? Are we really expected to believe that the way out of sin is to break up a functioning family?
      I’ve heard too many sermons lauding people for staying married. The truth is that those of us happy in our first marriage are damned fortunate.

      1. In my opinion, a confession and repentence that a sin has been commited is enough to have it forgiven. “You are forgiven, go and sin no more”.
        Making a couple jump through hoops w/ costly annullments etc to rectify the situation as a prerequisite for forgiveness and to make the remarriage valid is in my opinion like saying the Church can’t absolve a murderer until he/she can rectify the situation by bringing the victim back to life.
        Just my opinion.

    2. There is a quote by BXVI somewhere, where he ponders what may have been a hasty decision of youth, and remarks that it’s almost as if the 2nd marriage is the sacramental one. Does anyone else remember anything like this? Surely — a decent theology of marriage and annulment lies therein. If I had been there, I would have said something like, “Yes, Holy Father; that is our experience in the States, and we are grateful for our marriage tribunals that make that possible.”

      1. I don’t think Popes said that. My recollection was
        (1) Pope Bl. John Paul II asked tribunals to bring about reconciliation and authentic marriage whenever possible in such situations.

        (2) Pope Benedict XVI wondered if many Christians marrying in Church are actually just going through the motions, but are essentially faithless, non-Christian, marriages. I tend to agree, especially with the support of gay “marriages”. Perhaps, what we have taken for granted as “natural marriage” no longer exists here and there.

  2. And it has been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, makes her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, commits adultery – Matthew 5:31-32

    Every one that puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery: and he that marries her that is put away from her husband commits adultery – Luke 16:18

    I’m honestly curious here: if you believe the divorced and remarried should be admitted to the sacraments without first receiving an annulment, how do you interpret the words of Christ on the subject?

    1. I am not a Bible scholar by any means, but look closely at those words. They seem to be directed at men who “put away” their wives. If a woman was “put away”, what was here standing in the community? Did she have any means of support? Did she have access to her children? in a time when marriage was often a contract between families, how many women were “put away” because a man had a chance to move up in the world by linking with a more powerful family?
      So the question is, was Jesus addressing divorce where a marriage as we understand it today had broken down, or was He addressing a situation in which faithful wives were tossed out on a scrap heap?

      1. You are correct in your interpretation, but there is much more at stake than just material and financial well being taken away from a woman who is forced to support herself and her children through illicit means. The remarriage of either entails adultery which is the same language that is used for Israel’s unfaithfulness to one true God in which there was an implicit matrimonial/spousal legal commitment/covenant.

      2. There were also passages in which women “put away” their husbands too. I guess there were plenty of vile and political scheming women too. Glad to know women were the same then as now.

        But the debate of marriage in the time of Jesus does not support such a premise as Brigid has imaginatively imputed to patriarchy and political considerations. The question put before Jesus was whether a man (or woman, in Mark’s Gospel) could divorce his wife (or husband) for any reason. One school of Jewish thought was more liberal – if the wife displeased the husband (whatever that meant); another was less permissive and only permitted (even mandated it) on grounds of adultery.

        Jesus’ answer effectively removed the possibility of “any reason”. Divorce was contrary to God’s plan and no one may separate what God has joined for any reason. If he permitted divorce (and remarriage) on grounds of adultery, then he would be in full agreement with the less permissive Jewish thought and would have hardly been cause for the subsequent reply of the disciples that “if this were so between a man and woman, it is better not to marry”.

        Much ink has been spilled on the “exceptive clause” in Matthew. In this case, the KJV-NRSV tradition of translation may not be the best there is.

    2. Kevin, I interpret what Christ said based on everything He said wholly.
      In other words Christ did not approve of divorce/remarriage but He also didn’t approve of murder, rape, etc. But, He didn’t place demands or conditions to receive forgiveness. To the woman caught in adultery He simply stated, “You are forgiven, go and sin no more”. He didn’t say well, you need to reconcile w/ your husband, then apologize to the family of the “other man” then you need to …….. To the prodigal son He didn’t require that the son repay the father as a condition of rehabilitation.
      No external conditions, just true repentence and forgiveness of the part of the sinner. In my opinion that is all that is needed. No need to place constraints on reconciliation in order to rehabilitate the remarriage unless we do the same for all other sins.

      1. Dale, you’ve revealed the crux of the issue. Contrition for our sins must necessarily include a firm resolution to not commit those particular sins again. If a divorced and civilly remarried man confesses adultery to his priest, but still fully intends to have sex with his new wife while his sacramental marriage is presumed valid, then where is the repentance? When our Blessed Lord told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more, I don’t believe she went away willfully intending to continue her adulterous relationship.

      2. The adulterous woman’s relationship didn’t cease to be adulterous once Jesus had forgiven her.

        And Zacchaeus refunded the money he had extorted, four-fold I think. That seems like “true repentance” to me. Does not one need to “bear fruit fitting of repentance”?

      3. Dale, I agree with what you said. Wouldn’t contrition/forgiveness be for the broken marriage, divorce and remarriage and not for living with his new legal (civil) wife Once forgiven for that mess they could have their civil marriage blessed and they could receive communion.
        Otherwise, he would need to divorce his new wife, leave her and their children (if any) in order to receive communion. The trauma and damage sounds very pharisaical to me. I cannot imagine Christ condoning such pain.
        I know of a Catholic woman who was beaten by her abusive husband. She and her two adopted children eventually left him and she divorced him. She could not afford the annulment. She met a wonderful man who treated her and her children lovingly and married him. She was immediately banned from communion whereas her abusive husband continued to receive despite the fact he was an abuser and possibly continued to do so.
        She eventually left the church and became an Episcopalian.
        Christ said that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around. I think he would support the pastoral response of the Swiss and German clerics rather than the pharisaical response of some of our present leaders.

      4. Jeff, isn’t that repentence, done by the forgiven and not a requirement from Christ who forgives. Jesus doesn’t attach strings to receive forgiveness, He doesn’t extract a good work as payment for forgiveness. As far as Zacchaeus, he stood up and voluntarily did this but Christ never asked him to do it as a prerequisite for forgiveness.

        The question remains, if one can be forgiven for a divorce and remarriage then if that sin is forgiven and wiped away why cannot someone have their new marriage blessed and move on?
        In my opinion (without being to Universalist) Christ is much bigger than any legalistic framework that we try to box him into.

      5. If I steal a million dollars, and use it to buy a house, cars, etc., and then repent of my theft, and then return just the remaining hundred thousand I haven’t spent yet, is that repentance?

        Or, if I steal a million dollars and put it in an interest bearing account and then return the million dollars I stole (having made several thousand in interest which I keep), is that repentance?

        If I go on reaping the benefits of a sin I have repented of, where is the justice?

        As to the marriage/divorce issue: I would be willing to accept that a good number of marriages that end in divorce — even “no fault” divorces — probably never were valid marriages to begin with. A violent man preying on a weak woman, a gold-digger waiting for her sugar-daddy to kick the bucket, two friends with benefits looking to take advantage of economic incentives… these do not seem to me to be what makes a marriage.

        But if a man and a woman honestly and sincerely pledge fidelity to one another, then when one gets bored and seeks sexual fulfillment elsewhere, I think we have to call sin “sin” and urge the reparation of the wrong, not its condoning.

      6. JP – skip down and read the comments posted on May 17th at 8:28AM and the next few.

        Your just posted comment makes assumptions (“sexual fulfillment elsewhere” or “gets bored” – geez, you sound like some crusading neo-con who reduces everything to sexual antics) and categorizes divorce/remarriage as all being the same. This is a simplistic and hurtful comment that doesn’t reflect human experience or even basic human dignity. It is predicated upon stereotypes. Please – this post is about real people and many of those commenting have experienced the hurt and pain of lost marriages (possible through no fault of their own?)

      7. Jeff, show me where Jesus quoted this as a condition for forgiveness.
        Forgiveness is a corner stone of Christianity and is very important.
        No more mealy mouthed platitudes but quotes by Jesus.

      8. Bill, I did not try to categorize all divorces and remarriages as the same. In fact, I presented two very different pictures. I am sorry that my one particular example involving sexual infidelity did not exhaust all possible scenarios that lead to a divorce.

        Please, Bill, stop your name-calling and lumping the people you disagree with into categories that you can dismiss out-of-hand. It gets in the way of what could be a well-reasoned point in a well-mannered discussion. You could have made your point just as well without the “crusading neo-con” remark.

        (And I had read the earlier comments… the bimbo remark is what inspired me to mention the gold-digger stereotype.)

      9. Kim: show me where Jesus quoted this as a condition for forgiveness … [just] quotes by Jesus

        Well, I can’t quite do that, since others here will quickly point out that the New Testament doesn’t necessarily contain quotes of what Jesus said. That, and I don’t know where Jesus comes right out and says what I’ve been saying.

        John the Baptist scolded the Pharisees and Sadducees who came for baptism and told them to “bear fruit that befits repentance.”

        Jesus tells of two sons; their father asked them to work in the vineyard. The son who said “I will not” repented and did what his father asked of him.

        Judas, when he saw what was happening to Jesus, repented of what he did and tried to return the blood money he received.

        Some early believers who had been involved in some sort of “magic” burned their books of incantations (Acts 19:19).

        Paul summarized his preaching as telling people “repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance” (Acts 26:20).

        That is the best I can do right now.

        If it’s not too much to ask, could you answer my “platitudes” concerning the question of justice as it pertains to forgiveness? “If I go on reaping the benefits of a sin I have repented of, where is the justice?”

        (P.S. The Catechism, paragraph 2412, refers to the scene with Zacchaeus when it speaks of “commutative justice”, making “reparation for injustice”, and “restitution”.)

      10. Dale, Kim,
        Forgiveness presupposes contrition. Contrition includes a commitment/desire not to fall into the sin again. That commitment/desire is necessary for forgiveness – even God will not forgive if I am not contrite, if I intend to carry on sinning and then to seek God’s forgiveness subsequently. This will compound the sin of presumption on top of sacrilege.

        I won’t give you quotes either, partly because texts can always be twisted out of context (as some posters do here very well), partly because as Catholics, we also subscribe to Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church.

        Interestingly, the woman caught in adultery was never explicitly forgiven by the Lord. He merely said, “Neither do I condemn you [i.e. to stoning]. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” In other places where he forgave sins, he was quite explicit. Perhaps she wasn’t forgiven of her sins at that stage yet, because she never achieved contrition in the story.

      11. Kim, in case you missed my most reply, I answered your request for quotes from Jesus. When you get a chance, would you mind answering my question?

        I can frame it differently (and perhaps more relevantly)…

        Let’s say that a group of clergy drew up a clunky English translation of the Mass, a translation that drew criticism from many people, that even fails to live up to the standards it was written under. And let’s say that this translation has caused people to lose their love for the liturgy or even to question their attachment to the Catholic Church.

        If these clergy caught wind of this great displeasure and even pain at the new translation, do you think the people would be satisfied with a heart-felt and sincere apology from the clergy? Would forgiving the clergy for a poor translation suffice, or would the people have a reasonable expectation that something be done about the quality of the translation?

      12. Jeff, nothing you listed from scripture requires a person to do works as a prerequisite for forgiveness.
        Oftentimes you cannot undo the damage. W/ divorce and remarriage the previous marriage/divorce should be forgiven and wiped away allowing for the new marriage.
        Similar to murder, cannot undo the sin and the church doesn’t require to undo anything as a prerequisite for forgiveness. Can’t bring the dead back.
        As far as Zaccheus you are confusing reparation for injustice for reparation required for forgiveness. Reparation for injustice comes after forgiveness and isn’t a prerequisite, in the murder example above you cannot bring the dead back as reparation for forgiveness.
        ps I am sorry for the platitude comment, heat of the moment and all….
        Simon, I cannot speak for Dale but in my opinion if the previous marriage/divorce can be forgiven then the couple isn’t living in sin anymore because the previous marriage/divorce is forgiven. Similar to annulments where the annuled marriage doesn’t exist, living in sin in the new marriage doesn’t exist because the previous marriage/divorce is forgiven. They are no longer living in sin.

        Jeff, as to your other post about the translation fiasco:
        1. I have already forgiven them, no strings attached.
        2. I hope now that they are forgiven they will make the necessary changes but I have not made it a prerequisite for their forgiveness.

        Also, Jesus said to love our enemies. I assume He knew that when He made that statement our enemies wouldn’t give a hoot about reparation.

      13. Kim: nothing you listed from scripture requires a person to do works as a prerequisite for forgiveness

        You are absolutely right. At best, they address what should be the response of one forgiven, as far as he/she is able.

        The only real prerequisite I can find is that the one who seeks forgiveness must be willing to forgive as well. (Consider the parable of the “wicked servant”, who is forgiven a great debt, but then denies forgiveness of small debt to another. Despite being forgiven, the wicked servant is then punished even worse for his lack of forgiveness.)

    3. Christ was addressing those who wished to live in the reign of God. He was making marriage anew upon the basis of a covenant. We know that huge numbers of people marry willfully without anything save a formal tip of the hat to religious ceremonies. Couples often we’d because they are engaged in a carnal relationship to which they have become attached. Many have little or no faith in God at time they married. Shall we really insist that anyone who has wed has been joined by God? This does not correspond to what I have seen in my forty years of public ministry. Divorce and remarriage are not unforgivable sins against the Holy Spirit. The church must act to encourage those who are showing clear signs of faith and repentance.

  3. the remarriage of either entails adultery which is the same language that is used for Israel’s unfaithfulness to one true God in which there was an implicit matrimonial/spousal legal commitment/covenant.

    Again, I’m not a scholar but it seems to me that the Old Testament metaphors described an Israel that had gone whoring after other gods, an action more akin to actual adultery than to a divorce.

    If I may quote our Episcopal friends “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; ” When that mutual joy and comfort has been irretrievably lost, I think it is a sin to pressure two unhappy people to remain together in misery.

    1. Brigid,

      You said “When that mutual joy and comfort has been irretrievably lost, I think it is a sin to pressure two unhappy people to remain together in misery.”

      I think it is important to emphasize that the civil divorce is not the problem — someone who is sacramentally married and civilly divorced but still living chastely can receive Communion. There are perfectly just reasons why a couple who is (validly) married may find it preferable to live apart temporarily or permanently.

      The issue at hand is one of civil divorce and remarriage while one or both of the partners remains sacramentally married to someone else. Unless and until a deficiency in the presumed marriage is demonstrated (thus rendering it null), the partners objectively live in the sin of adultery.

      I remain unconvinced by explanations such as the one Bill describes in his post below.
      – in Kasper’s explanation, I think condition b) is a noteworthy consideration, as is c) (which is particularly important in cases where the second ‘marriage’ involves children, even if only from the spouses’ previous marriage(s). However, condition a) is very vague — Sacramental reconciliation hinges on the firm intent of the penitent to amend his/her life, yet for a person committing adultery through a second ‘marriage’, the intention to carry out normal conjugal relations and the intention to amend one’s life are mutually exclusive. It seems to me that Kasper’s condition a) can be met IF AND ONLY IF the couple agrees to permanently live as brother and sister – that is the only way to preserve the “morally binding union” while still intending to “sin no more”
      – Lehmann’s addition to a) does not change the above.
      – since the references to Augustine, Basil, Origen and the medieval synods weren’t cited, they may or may not be helpful; the text neglects to mention that the Eastern Catholic Churches DO NOT permit ‘second marriage’ – only their Orthodox counterparts do.

      1. Your knowledge and obvious “drinking the hierarchy line” or is it living in a “seminary bubble being taught by professors who have little to no pastoral experience” is truly sad.

        You dismiss brothers (in the curial hierarchy) who have been on the front lines of ministry their whole lives; have experienced the pain of divorce and folks not able to receive eucharist and have tried (within the various traditions, Eastern Church, and the church fathers) to seek a pastoral solution.

        Your dismissal of Kaspar’s (a) only indicates a juridical mindset and lack of human experience. You obviously have never been married; had kids; or been in a relationship that was headed for marriage. Do you have any experience with divorced couples who are faithful catholics? The “old mantra” of living as brother and sister is a diminshment of human nature and dignity; indicates a fear of sexuality; and places way too much emphasis upon one aspect of marriage. There are serious issues with the current annulment process; its relationship to a sacramental theology, and its disconnects from lived, christian experience. Any long time priest with lots of marriage/divorce experience could tell you that.

        You dismiss Lehman – you try to dismiss references to the fathers because it was not footnoted (that’s okay; I don’t trust anything you say either); and you obviously did not read the book or you would know that your point about Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic is cited. (You might want to read about the life of Lehmann, his contributions and achievements for the people of God. If your potential priesthood amounts to 10% of Lehmann’s, you will thank God)

        If your current seminary education is so biased to the jurdical, you have missed the essence of the sacraments; that grace builds on nature; that God created nature “good” – not sinful and that your theological anthropology is outdated and stuck in Trent if not before.

        If you read the book and reference the page number you will find the Jesuit’s footnotes including the works of Augustine, Origen, and Basil.

        Not sure about others but appreciate the time and effort of our blog sponsors who post interesting and at times fascinating liturgical questions, research, music, etc. But, grow tired of those who sidetrack the discussion almost from the get go with references to the EF (so what?); or knee jerk to some to Trent or a mindset that is so juridical it all but closes down any type of open discussion.

      2. Bill,

        I am critiquing the issue and the responses in the part of the text you pointed to at 343ff. That I find the curial Cardinals’ opinions unconvincing does not mean that they are wrong (or unimportant) — only that their explanation leaves problems unaddressed.

        I don’t deny that there are multiple pastoral issues here: among them the function (or dysfunction) of tribunals, issues of marriage prep, and the genuinely difficult situation of someone who has remarried outside of the Church and then returned.

        However, even the pastoral experience you cite leaves some other pastoral problems:
        1) Objectively, those who are civilly divorced then remarried live in a state of adultery. Lying to a couple to say that it’s ok is neither merciful nor just; in good conscience I could not do it.
        2) If a couple (even if committed to living as brother and sister – an “old mantra” but a legitimate solution) is known by others to be divorced and remarried but still receiving Communion, it could create scandal in a parish.

        Some minor points:
        – a footnote in an online book to an article I can’t access in a language I don’t read isn’t a helpful footnote. (That’s not about you – it’s about the text)
        – I read the section starting at 343; I overlooked the section on EO/Easten Catholic – that is my error.
        – Pastoral experience is well represented at PTB, the “hierarchy line” often is not; were this a forum where pastoral sensitivity and experience were being neglected, I would gladly defend it. (Also, if the “hierarchy line” is unimportant, why mention the curial credentials of Lehmann and Kasper?)

        I find it particularly troubling that your first action was not to respond to any ideas I put forward, but rather to launch an ad hominem attack against me. It speaks poorly to your confidence in your own positions and betrays a lack of tolerance on your part of legitimate positions that are acceptable under the umbrella of Catholicism.

      3. Mr. Goodwright – thanks for the response.

        First, we will have to disagree on the ad hominem attack since I felt your “wording” to Brigid not only named me but suggested that I was “misleading” folks…you have now corrected that. Thanks

        Second, mention hierarchy because, as you say, PTB doesn’t often cite the hierarchy. I responded in the manner I did because the “hierarchy” approaches and positiions are NOT monolithic and Kasper/Lehmann are recognized and respected members of the hierarchy and in their national conferences.

        Third, you again cite that remarriage when a sacramental marriage has not been annulled is adultery. That is a juridical and literal reading of a situation that faces tens of thousands of catholics. Would not agree that “adultery” is even the right word to describe their situation (yes, legally and technically you may be right but it doesn’t help the discussion).

        You also state – would create “scandal” – sorry, this is also an “old and tired mantra”……all kinds of things can create scandal but usually only for those who are looking to be scandalized. That really is a weak reason not to try a different approach.

        Realize you question my tone but, on the other hand, find your tone and approach technically “legitimate” but, is that the point or does it even have anything to do with the post and the issue. Legitimate – the choice of that word alone separates us in terms of how we see the church, sacraments, and relationships. But, your final paragraph is also a nice “ad hominem” which, of course, you would never do or intend. Give me a break. It isn’t lack of confidence; it is rather frustration with a legalism and fundamentalism in areas where there is no certitude.

      4. Bill,

        Thank you for your response as well. I think we’re finally getting somewhere.

        I’m taking an approach that is “juridicial and literal” in part because of the way I think, and in part because I think any widely acceptable solution has to take in the canonical aspects of the situation as well as the practical and pastoral ones. There are no “quick fixes”.

        For example, taking the canonical hammer to the clergy in the OP (as one poster here has suggested) would “fix” the immediate problem; I won’t advocate that because it really doesn’t address the issue.

        I think that you are correct that “adultery” isn’t an adequate word to describe the situation of these divorced and remarried Catholics. The tension lies in the details – who is or isn’t at fault, marriages outside the Church, spouses who had been abused or “put away” and now have found loving relationships. I’m sure that infidelity to the “legitimate” spouse isn’t something most of these people are thinking of, let alone intending. Yet the objective aspect remains the elephant in the room – I think that is the question at the heart of Lehmann and Kasper’s proposals: Under what circumstances is this second marriage not adultery?

        Tired as it may be, I maintain that “living as brother and sister” remains an option. To most people it’s unpalatable, and can have the problems you mention; However, it is a solution that objectively “works” in the sense that 1) the couple is no longer sinning 2) it does not force the breaking apart of a household 3) it allows the couple to lean on each other instead of facing the situation alone.

        P.S. I won’t always agree with you (based on our discussions so far, I suspect I’ll often disagree with you), but I’ll try my best to assume good will on your part and on the part of the other posters here. I apologize for times here and before where my words have not made that clear.

    2. Brigid, I agree with you.
      There are two places that have made me reflect on sacramental marriages, and neither of them is the discourse on divorce, which — as has been pointed out — was a very different reality in first century Palestine.
      In one of the apocalyptic discourses, there is a reference to a “desecrating sacrilege set up where it does not belong” — to me, that is what a bad marriage is. The contract theory of marriage has it backwards: the contract is valid, THEREFORE it is a sacrament, go and live it your entire life. IF a marriage produces life in all kinds of way, it matures into a healthy, sacramental reality — and if it doesn’t, then it is a sacrilege, and ought not to be allowed.
      The Johannine literature has an interesting reflection on a kind of breakup in a community previously thought of as holy: The way that we know they were never one with us, is that they separated from us. ISTM that the breakup of a bad marriage is a prima facie case that it was never sacramental to begin with.

      1. So those who profess heretical teachings subsequently were never validly baptised?

        The Sacraments do not remove our free-will to cooperate or not with God’s grace. By your line of reasoning, we would never know if anything is sacramental (divorce of couples who have been married for 30/40 years are on the rise in my country) which would contradict the very nature of a Sacrament. It would also detract from human dignity and free-will.

    3. Brigid, is marriage just for “mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity”? Unless “mutual joy “ is used here as a euphemism, don’t friends do all of that?

      Marriage is also for the bringing up of children through a life-open and life-giving relationship. Marriage is about two bodies being united in one flesh. Marriage is also about a commitment to love and cherish each other in a special way, to the exclusion of others, through all the challenges of life. In so doing, it is a Sacrament of Christ’s love for his Bride, the Church.

      It would be a sin to tell people that their words are cheap and that they can easily renege on their promise and commitment.

      Again, my earlier comment was deleted. This is just a simplified version of what I have previously written.

  4. Brigid – thought you might enjoy this sacramental theology work:

    From “Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives”

    Scroll down to page 343 on pastoral-practical issues:

    He outlines three approaches to this question by Walter Kaspar; Karl Lehmann, and Joseph Ratzinger.

    These approaches highlight “overlooked” practices in the tradition of the church concerning second marriages. All three approaches are based upon a more lenient practice found in the first millenium of the church. Thus, Augustine, Origen and Basil dealt with marriage ended by adultery and then remarried to receive eucharist. The Eastern Church permitted second marriages even when both partners were still living.

    Kaspar states three pastoral conditions to allow this approach; a) sorrow and amends as best they can; b) when everything humanly possible as been done to reconcile the first marriage; c) and when the second marriage as become a legally and morally binding union that cannot be dissolved without causing fresh
    injustices. (this approach seeks to balance the Trentan matrimonial sacrament definition while balanced by pastoral practice.)

    Lehmann expands part (a) – marriages can fail for reasons beyond someone’s responsiblities and this needs to be taken into account. He adds that this does not change belief in the indissolubility of marriage.

    Make these suggestions to lay some groundwork beyond “guesses” on the meaning of scripture or putting legalities (illicit or a juridical definition) above and at the center of the sacrament. That really isn’t what a sacrament is at the core – it is a relational symbol.

  5. These are disgusting behaviors and should be swiftly addressed in the strongest canonical terms.

  6. I find it hard to see a difference between getting a divorce and getting an annulment – this just seems like a church money-making end run around the prohibition against divorce.

    Keith Ward, former Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, had a lecture which addressed what Jesus said/meant about divorce. He basically says that he believes Jesus meant that divorce was regrettable, especially when it disadvantaged women, but that sometimes allowing divorce is closer to the rule of loving your neighbor than not allowing it.

    1. Except the Church surely isn’t making money from annulments – it costs a lot of precious funds and resources to run the Church’s court system.

      1. Let’s not get sidetracked by finances or Goodwright’s policy directive below. Would ask – how well has the court system really done with the sacrament of marriage?; on another note, how well has the church’s court system done with sexual abuse?

        The issues are real and pastoral and theological solutions are needed = not quick answers that shut down the dialogue.

      2. Bill –

        How do you square “not [getting] sidetracked” with bringing up the sex abuse scandals in a discussion about annulments?

      3. Reference to the “court system”. My poorly worded point – does a court system really address the post? Will concede that the issue seems to be divorced and remarried catholics who want to participate in the eucharist…..was assuming that most of these cases either can not or do not reach the annulment process. Yet, they remain difficult pastoral issues. So, why bring up the court system?

    2. In my own diocese, the about 2/3 of the cost of the tribunal are subsidized by the diocese and a fee is charged to cover the rest. However, a person’s inability to pay neither prevents a case from being examined nor affects the tribunal’s decision. I would imagine the tribunals of other dioceses work in a similar way.

      Also, it is not an “end run around the prohibition against divorce”. The declaration of nullity does not state that a marriage that existed has ended; it states that a marriage never existed. However, one must remember that:
      1) a marriage is presumed valid until demonstrated otherwise
      2) a request for tribunal to look at a case does not guarantee that a declaration of nullity will be granted.

      1. Clarence, what you’re saying is technically correct. In practice however, the Church in the United States has been handing out annulments like candy for decades. It’s understandable that non-Catholics and even the lay faithful have come to think of them as a “Catholic divorce,” although, I hasten to add, they are not.

      2. Kevin,

        I agree with you. The “easy annulment” hinders legitimate annulments and leads to confusion among the faithful about marriage and about annulments.

        However, part of the problem is that there really are more invalid marriages being contracted. It speaks both to poor formation of young people and poor marriage preparation – the blame lies on the Church for this as well, and in my opinion is the more urgent issue to address.

      3. “a request for tribunal to look at a case does not guarantee that a declaration of nullity will be granted.”

        No, the money transfer occurs under the table long before it ever gets to the tribunal. I know this from personal experience and from canon lawyers who’ve told me it does.
        Marriages may be made in heaven, but they surely can be broken long before they ever get to Rome or the bishop’s tribunal.

  7. I’m divorced. When I was in the RCIA program there was a constant nagging for me to get an annulment. I did look into it at my parish’s tribunal webiste – it was like $1000 dollars! And I have to say that the statment that no marriage existed so then an annulment isn’t a divorce is sophistry at its best.

  8. I have often wondered if all annulment cases should be heard before a diocesan tribunal. Although I am not a canonist or psychologist, I strongly suspect that not all annulment cases require the scrutiny of tribunal prosecution. I have known Catholics who were wed in the Church soon after legal majority, only to find that the marriage collapsed soon afterwards due to affective immaturity. I would think that such unions could be more quickly annulled given the age at matrimony and (for some) the absence of children from that marriage.

    Perhaps a future pontiff might devolve to bishops some of the powers reserved in theory to the Rota and in practice to diocesan tribunals. Perhaps bishops could grant certain annulments according to pastoral judgment. This process of annulment would be more akin to the lifting of excommunication than a tribunal’s formal declaration of nullity. Both processes would provide the same canonical nullity.

    The devolution of some annulment powers to bishops would permit some couples and their families a less invasive and costly path to reconciliation with the Church. More divorced and remarried Catholics who have personally rejected annulment in the past might be better served by a less formal process.

    1. Jordan, I don’t really see how it would be all that different. On what is the bishop supposed to base his judgement? It would seem that there would have to be some sort of investigative process anyway. Also, I may be mistaken but don’t the people in tribunals act in the name of the bishop?

      1. re: Joshua Vas on May 16, 2012 – 6:56 pm

        A pastoral declaration of nullity similar to what I propose would still require the advice of canonists and mental health professionals. The persons seeking an annulment would meet confidentially with a canonist, a mental health professional such as a clinical psychologist, and with a bishop of the diocese (either an auxiliary or the diocesan ordinary, though more than one bishop could be involved). The bishop(s) would subsequently consult with their “team” in camera to assess the complexity of the case and the possibility of a declaration of nullity. If the case for nullity is clear simply from the confidential interviews, the ordinary could directly issue a declaration of nullity without the commencement of a trial by tribunal. If the ordinary discovers a canonical complication which requires the advancement of the case to tribunal, the persons seeking an annulment could opt to appear before the diocesan tribunal or cease the investigation.

        Some might say that this is akin to a plea bargain. I consider annulment by direct episcopal decision to be a more compassionate way to draw many divorced and remarried Catholics back into the sacramental fold without a burden of cost and the possible trauma of testimony. Each annulment case is different in complexity. If the canonical requirements for nullity are ascertained with a high degree of certitude outside of the “courtroom”, why then bring the annulment to “court”?

        Some Catholics claim that annulment is already lenient. Perhaps my proposal merely represents a further dilution of the marriage sacrament. How many questions did our Father ask of the prodigal son? Reforming annulment to include a more pastoral option merely offers those who wish to be rejoined to the Church faster transportation into God’s embrace.

    2. Well spoken and articulated, Jordan. Wish someone in power would read your thoughts and act on them. Your comments are both sacramental and pastoral.

  9. Bill deHaas :

    Let’s not get sidetracked by finances or Goodwright’s policy directive below. Would ask – how well has the court system really done with the sacrament of marriage?; on another note, how well has the church’s court system done with sexual abuse?
    The issues are real and pastoral and theological solutions are needed = not quick answers that shut down the dialogue.

    Only comments with a full name will be approved.
    I have been through the annulment process, and there are two attributes about it that strike me as very effective:
    1: The questions asked require the kind of processing and examination of conscience that provide a healthy transition out of a bad situation and help make possible the kind of insight needed to make a truly sacramental union.
    2. Unlike a civil court, which deals only in information conveyed, the marriage tribunal considers not just the individual answers to the questions, but the overall impression of the maturity and gravitas (for want of a better word) of the person answering them.

    1. Ann – agree with your comments and feelings. Have had family members go through annulment process and greatly benefit from it.

      Unfortunately, the situations highlighted in this post and confronted by the German and Austrian clergy involve folks who either have tried the process and failed; can’t enter the process for whatever reason; or find the annulment process (as some have wisely stated above from personal experience) to be a “waste of time”.

      Also, the annulment process works only if the folks involved make it work. Let’s focus on a couple of Jordan’s suggestions in terms of local, pastoral decisions for situations that occur across tens of thousands of civil or sacramental marriages – why can’t we have pastoral decisions that allow pariticpation in the eucharist without that necessarily saying anything about the sacrament of marriage.

  10. Still, the Eucharist is a medicine. The medicine no doubt is meant for those who are not whole or complete in anyway. Perhaps those who are mystics and claim a deeply intimate relation with the Trinity do not need the Eucharist, the consecrated bread and wine.

    Would then the doctor be the Holy Spirit; she who calls each of us to the Eucharist table to receive nourishment and healing?

  11. Kim Rodgers :
    In my opinion, a confession and repentence that a sin has been commited is enough to have it forgiven. “You are forgiven, go and sin no more”.

    To repent means that you understand that what you have done is wrong, you are sorry for it, and you have a firm purpose of amendment to sin no more.

    It is not possible to have repentance while staying in an adulterous “second marriage”, because you are refusing to amend your life to stop sinning.

  12. If marriage is indissoluble, wouldn’t the dissolution of a relationship be proof that it is not a marriage? Why is it presumed valid when divorce makes it clear that the relationship dissolved, something that cannot happen in a marriage?

    If the second marriage, undissolved and thriving, is a true marriage, aren’t the Lord’s words on indissolubility applicable? Aren’t they violated by those who presume adultery?

    The underlying issue is the Church’s faith in us. The Church has accepted the couple’s testimony that they are committed to one another; why can we not accept it when they acknowledge the error in their original testimony? Are we unwilling to admit that we can make mistakes?

    1. Since the marriage relationship (“bond”) is dissolved by death, surely on a human level when a relationship has died, the bond cannot be said to be current?

      Consider a long-separated-from-spouse Catholic saying to a friend, “I’m sorry, but I can’t go on seeing you. I’m married and I’m a Catholic so I wouldn’t look for a divorce.” The (non-Catholic) thus addressed will reply incredulously, “You’re married? WHERE is your marriage? Show me.” But of course the Catholic cannot – the marriage is dead.

      To reassure such persons that they are free to marry is a pastoral task within the competence of a priest (or counsellor or friend). But a Bishop would do. . .

      Post script: I’ve just had time to read the long article posted (below) by Crystal. viz.

      A link … “Remarriage in the Church: Pastoral Solutions”

      This appears very close to my own suggestion – that a relationship can die.

  13. Crystal, this is a magnificent document – thanks for the link. I didn’t have time to read it before I posted this morning.May 17, 2012 – 12:40 am. I’ve added a PS to my original post.


  14. Thanks, Crystal – a ray of sunshine.

    Let me add from a new book, Tracey Rowland’s “Ratzinger’s Faith”:

    “According to Raztinger, von Balthasar, and others in the Communio school, the practice of the faith in the pre-conciliar era was hampered by moralism. They take the view that the problems which arose in the post-conciliar era were not simply the result of a spreading infection of the 1960s secular liberal virus but were more fundamentally the logical outgrowth of a centuries-long process separating the true and the beautiful from the good….The point which Ratzinger and von Balthasar made was that there could not have been such an implosion of Catholic moral practices within such a short frame of time unless there was something deeply flawed about the motivations behind the pre-conciliar practices. They concluded that people in the pre-conciliar era had a tendency to live prescriptively, not because they believed that the moral injunctions were life-giving, not because they could see truth, goodness, and beauty in the practices themselves, but because of a fear of eternal damnation.”

    Or – “Ratzinger discerns two pathologies, bourgeois pelagianism and the pelagianism of the pious. He describes the first thus: “If God really does exist and if He does in fact bother about people He cannot be so fearfully demanding as He is described by the faith of the Church. Moreover, I am no worse than others: I do my duty, and the minor human weaknesses cannot really be as dangerous as all that.” Ratzinger thinks this kind of thinking is not so much wrong because it presumes on God’s mercy, as because it entails a calculation about our relationship to God. What will He permit? What can I get away with? This bargaining with God is an unseemly thing, and completely misunderstands the gratuitousness of God’s grace. This is the parable of the Talents gone wrong.

    The pelagianism of the pious he writes, “They [pious pelagians] want security, not hope. By means of a rough and rigorous system of religious practices, by means of prayer and actions, they want to create for themselves a right to blessedness. What they lack is the humility essential to any love – the humility to be able to receive what we are given over and above what we have deserved and achieved.” Both varieties of pelagianism, the bourgeois and the pious, fail primarily because they obstruct faith, or at least they obstruct the Christian faith. Both seek, above all, to avoid acknowledging the need for forgiveness and, therefore, close themselves to the possibility of receiving God’s mercy. A Christianity that is not founded on the hope in God’s mercy is no Christianity at all.”

    1. Both rely on a form of certitude. And certitude is not faith. Certitude is mechanistic rather than genuinely trusting. For fallen humanity with free will, trust cannot long abide where there is certitude, because there is no need for trust where there is certitude. And faith is trust. And the lack of certitude that is a necessary part of faith is the gap necessary to beget human love. Human love arises in that gap, not in the perfect fit of certitude.

      That why God does not interact with us in ways that invite certitude rather than trust.

  15. The part of the annulment process that examines the failed marriage to discover what went wrong could be a useful pastoral process if – and I emphasize if – the goal is not to assign blame but rather to prevent a repeat of the process.

    As for scandal – I have seen four scandals associated with divorce and remarriage –

    the first is the scandal of the general assumption that anyone with enough money can get an annulment. Perhaps this hasn’t been true in the US in recent years, but the scandal remains.
    the second is the scandal of the ongoing punishment of those involved in a failed marriage. It doesn’t matter whether the people remain in the marriage, divorce, remarry, or whatever. Forcing people to live in misery over one mistake is not what Jesus taught.
    the third was the very specific occasion in which the priest decided to spring a bless for married couples upon the congregation. His words praising those of us who were still married or who had been widowed were presented in a manner that lacerated the divorced sitting among us. I found myself standing to tell him to stop, and was chided for interrupting a sacred service. I never knew how many women in our parish were divorced until they came to thank me afterward.
    The fourth scandal comes from priests who view marriage as something to be endured rather than the blessing it is. Their attitude seems to be that you got trapped into marriage so you could have sex, so deal with the consequences.

  16. It occurs to me that some here need to step back from the theology texts and take a look at reality. “Living in adultery” conjures images of a lascivious playboy sporting with a bimbo. The reality is very often two middle aged people who were desperately lonely until they found one another.

    1. Loneliness is not an excuse for sin.

      Was it St Augustine or Radcliffe that said people usually drag themselves into sin? That’s why St Paul says, and I agree, “I end up doing the things I don’t want to do”.

  17. Kim,

    You state that annulments are costly. They are not. The fees are very cheap (only covering processing costs) and no one is required to pay the annulment fee if they cannot afford it. The church will always wave any fees if requested.

    You also state that the church requires an annulment for forgiveness. It does not. The declaration of nullity is only required before one may marry anyone else, as marriage is a sacrament and cannot be undone. The declaration of nullity is simply a finding that a sacramental marriage never occurred and, therefore, the persons are free to marry within the church.

    If someone marries again without a declaration of nullity, the church must assume they are sacramentally married to their first spouse and are therefore committing adultery. This is why they are barred from receiving the Eucharist.

    To allow those who are divorced and remarried without a declaration of nullity to receive the Eucharist is to deny at a practical level the sacramental nature of marriage.

    1. In a sacramental union, the bride and groom are the ministers. Is no faith required of such ministers? What if they almost never worship God? What if they weren’t going to Mass before and after the wedding? Can individuals not seeking to live as disciples be joined by God if they entered the union willfully?
      Some marriages must be ended so that the path to repentance can be opened. That path often leads to a new relationship which requires the grace of God that it may be fruitful. Sometimes the annulment process is required for this blessing to take place. But sometimes thats not a viable option. The good of souls must guide pastors in their ministry to all who are seeking the merciful love of God.

      1. Your opening questions seem to me to be reduceable to the question of intent (i.e. the form, matter, minister, and intent required for a “valid sacrament”). If two people celebrate the sacrament of matrimony in the Church without actually intending to “do what the Church does” in that sacrament, has the sacrament been celebrated at all?

  18. Brigid,
    Amen! I have been struggling with much of what has been written here and you summed up exactly what I was thinking. Thank you for myself and the many divorced and remarried.

    1. Ah yes. If we truly mourn for our sins, and realise the immense pain we cause the Lord for each of our ingratitude, we would be more willing and able to make use of the grace of God to live the challenging lives that God is inviting us to, and not settle for the comforts Satan continually lures us towards.

  19. I don’t have documentation but only what an eastern rite priest told me, but I believe in the Eastern Orthodox Church there is a concept that a “sacramental marriage” can die and that all that really needs to be done is for it to be declared as dead by the Church (this is a simplification on my part). I presume the theology behind this is that the marriage becomes so corrupt in practice that it dies. Thus in the Orthodox Church there can be a second marriage (but I think that is the limit, but don’t know for sure why). I think this is very humane and pastoral. And I think we have a precedence in the Latin Rite to explore this possibility for us in terms of the Sacrament of Marriage. We believe, after all, that if the Sacred Species of Holy Communion becomes corrupted in any way, through mold or major contamination, that it ceases to be the Most Holy Eucharist once it ceases to appear to be bread and wine. Can’t we declare the same for the Sacrament of Marriage, that when it becomes so corrupted by the loss of commitment and love that it ceases to be a sacrament; it has died as a sacrament. As well, this acknowledges that the entire marriage didn’t exist as a sacrament, but instead the sacrament died at a certain point. Thus the partners in this marriage can have some consolation that the entire marriage wasn’t a disaster (although in some cases it might have been) but that time and circumstances killed it. So there might be some consolation that the marriage shouldn’t be seen as ill advised from the very beginning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.