Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Spiritual Dilemma of Divorce and Remarriage

This will be a pure stream of consciousness post for me because I really can't come to a personal conclusion on the subject of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion.   The easy answer is that those in such a situation cannot receive the sacraments because they are living in adultery.  They are responsible for the situation they're in - no one forced them to remarry - so they can do what's right or face the consequences, which is separate from their current spouse or deal with separation from Holy Mother Church and her life-giving sacraments.  It's time for the rest of us to move on.  I have to admit that has been pretty much my gut reaction to this issue.

But then I remember Jesus' parable about leaving the 99 and going after that one lost sheep. Matthew 18:12-14:
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.  In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
And when it comes to divorce and remarriage, we are not talking about one sheep that has gone astray. This situation involves millions of souls who no longer have access to the Holy Eucharist which, as Our Lord told us, is so essential for eternal life: "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (John 6:53)

Cardinal Walter Kasper has become the de facto spokesman on behalf of those who want to see some arrangement made for divorced and remarried Catholics to come back into communion with the Church. Others, such as Cardinal Raymond Burke, have said this is impossible, that this goes against the very words of Jesus Christ.  Confessing the sin of divorce and remarriage is not enough to be absolved.  The Church requires that you legally dissolve the second marriage and live apart from your second spouse whether there are children or not.  This, of course, imposes an extreme hardship and emotional trauma on all involved, including and most especially the children.

There is an interview with Cardinal Kasper on the Vatican Insider which you can read HERE, which gives us Cardinal Kasper's reason for wanting to explore this situation. The article starts out with this quote from Cardinal Kasper:
There are those who believe the church is for the pure. They forget that the church is also a church of sinners.
There is certainly no denying the truth of that statement. If Charlie Manson were suddenly to come to a revelation and repent of the evil in his life, the Church would willingly take him into her embrace. The people he killed and the lives he destroyed would not be made whole in any way, but nonetheless he would be completely forgiven of his sin and enter into a state of grace. And that is how it should be. Isaiah 1:18 says:
"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."
And yet, unless someone is willing to tear apart his family because it is not a true marriage as the Church defines it, he cannot be absolved of his sin. Please understand, I am certainly not arguing with the Church's stance on marriage at all. Marriage is a covenant made by two people before and with God, and it cannot be broken. Marriage is indissoluble, and those who have divorced and remarried have committed a grave sin which cannot be overlooked. But as Cardinal Kasper says in the interview:
“I cannot think of a situation in which a human being has fallen into a gap and there is no way out. Often he cannot return to the first marriage. If this is possible, there should be a reconciliation, but often that’s not possible.”
Just as Charlie Manson could never make things right for his victims, a person in a second marriage most times has no way of turning back the clock and making things right in his or her first marriage.  Yet Charlie Mason can be forgiven, but the divorced and remarried person cannot receive the same forgiveness.  Is the answer to just leave them hanging?

Cardinal Kasper asks some important questions which really do need to be considered:
“In the Creed,” the cardinal said, “we say we believe in the forgiveness of sin. If there was this shortcoming, and it has been repented for—is absolution not possible? My question goes through the sacrament of penance, through which we have access to Holy Communion. But penance is the most important thing—repentance of what went wrong, and a new orientation. The new quasi-family or the new partnership must be solid, lived in a Christian way. A time of new orientation—metanoia—would be necessary. Not punishing people but a new orientation because divorce is always a tragedy.”

Kasper then went on to ask a rhetorical question: “My question—not a solution, but a question—is this: Is absolution not possible in this case? And if absolution, then also Holy Communion? There are many themes, many arguments in our Catholic tradition that could allow this way forward.”
In past ages, most cultures were on the side on the Church in that divorce and remarriage were considered social stigmas. It was very rare for people to leave their marriages and remarry. But we live in a post-Christian world where marriage is no longer considered sacred. The only really important issue is that we be "happy." If your marriage doesn't make you "happy", then get out and find someone else who will make you "happy." Sadly, many Catholics have been taken in by this evil philosophy and the result is that millions are now unable to receive Holy Eucharist.

Cardinal Kasper made a very controversial statement in this interview regarding the state of many marriages in the Catholic Church:
The cardinal dealt with the problem of the lack of faith when a religious marriage is celebrated. “That’s a real problem. I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid. Marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament presupposes faith. And if the couple only want a bourgeois ceremony in a church because it’s more beautiful, more romantic, than a civil ceremony, you have to ask whether there was faith, and whether they really accepted all the conditions of a valid sacramental marriage—that is, unity, exclusivity, and also indissolubility.”
Canonist Ed Peters jumped on this statement by Cardinal Kasper as being extremely irresponsible.  He feels that making such a statement will only add to this problem because it will cause people to doubt their own situations:
[B]y what right does the cardinal casually tell laity that 50% of their marriages are invalid—even if the pope did say it? Does turmoil among married persons in the wake of such a remark not matter to any except those who suffer it? As I said, I am stunned that such a remark was made, even if it was a mere repetition of another’s views.
I do not have the experience of working with married couples as Dr. Peters has, but I do live in the world and know many married couples, and it is my experience that a good majority of people have no idea what they are doing when they get married. They don't realize that marriage is a profound, life long commitment. Too many of us have been poisoned by Hollywood's version of marriage which is "happily ever after." When life gets real and people start realizing there is no "happily ever after", they decide this is not what they signed up for, and they want out.

Cardinal Kasper says we must deal with this problem BEFORE people get married:
“Many canon lawyers,” Kasper continued, “tell me that today in our pluralistic situation we cannot presuppose that couples really assent to what the church requires. Often it is also ignorance. Therefore you have to emphasize and to strengthen prematrimonial catechesis. It’s often done in a very bureaucratic way. No, we have to provide catechesis. I know some parishes in Rome where couples have to attend catechesis, and the pastor himself does it. We must do much more in prematrimonial catechesis and use pastoral work and so on because we cannot presuppose that everybody who is a formal Christian also has the faith. It wouldn’t be realistic.”
But what happens when people decide to walk away from a marriage?  How can the Church deal with this?  Do we just leave them to their own devices, to sink or swim on their own?  Is that how Our Lord dealt with the one sheep who went astray?

Cardinal Kasper:
Kasper then answered directly to the criticisms made by the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who put the following question to his German confrere: “What happens to the first marriage?”
“The first marriage,” Kasper answered, “is indissoluble because marriage is not only a promise between the two partners; it’s God’s promise too, and what God does is done for all time. Therefore the bond of marriage remains. Of course, Christians who leave their first marriage have failed. That’s clear. The problem is when there is no way out of such a situation. If we look to God’s activity in salvation history, we see that God gives his people a new chance. That’s mercy. God’s love does not end because a human being has failed—if he repents. God provides a new chance—not by cancelling the demands of justice: God does not justify the sin. But he justifies the sinner. Many of my critics do not understand that distinction. They think, well, we want to justify their sin. No, nobody wants that. But God justifies the sinner who converts. This distinction appears already in Augustine.”
Does anyone really believe we can force people back into a marriage they have walked away from? How do we put trust and commitment back into such a relationship? It is like trying to put shattered crystal back together.  Yet, it is imperative that the Church help these people to realize that they have committed serious sin and to lead them to repentance of that sin.  

From Cardinal Kasper:
I do not deny that the bond of marriage remains,” the German cardinal explained. “But the fathers of the church had a wonderful image: If there is a shipwreck, you don’t get a new ship to save you, but you get a plank so that you can survive. That’s the mercy of God—to give us a plank so we can survive. That’s my approach to the problem. I respect those who have a different position, but on the other hand, they must see what the concrete situation is today. How can we help the people who struggle in these situations? I know such people—often women. They are very engaged in parish life; they do all they can for their children. I know a woman who prepared her daughter for First Communion. The parish priest said the girl can go to Holy Communion, but not mama. I told the pope about this, and he said, “No, that’s impossible.”
Cardinal Kasper then deals with those who have entered into an invalid second marriage:
As far as the second marriage celebrated in a civil ceremony is concerned, Kasper says: “The second marriage, of course, is not a marriage in our Christian sense. And I would be against celebrating it in church. But there are elements of a marriage. I would compare this to the way the Catholic Church views other churches. The Catholic Church is the true church of Christ, but there are other churches that have elements of the true church, and we recognize those elements. In a similar way, we can say, the true marriage is the sacramental marriage. And the second is not a marriage in the same sense, but there are elements of it—the partners take care of one another, they are exclusively bound to one another, there is an intention of permanence, they care of children, they lead a life of prayer, and so on. It’s not the best situation. It’s the best possible situation. Realistically, we should respect such situations, as we do with Protestants. We recognize them as Christians. We pray with them.”
In other words, Cardinal Kasper says we have to deal with the reality of families who are involved in invalid marriages.  As His Excellency said, "The second marriage, of course, is not a marriage in our Christian sense," but "there are elements of it—the partners take care of one another, they are exclusively bound to one another, there is an intention of permanence, they care of children, they lead a life of prayer, and so on."  My problem with this is, we now have the problem of "same sex" marriage, which is also not real marriage in any sense of the word.  Yet, many of these couples also have elements of marriage such as commitment, children, etc.  If we give any kind of recognition to second marriages, will that open the doors to somehow recognizing same sex marriages?  What happens if the Church decides to walk down that road?   Wouldn't this weaken the whole concept of marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman?  Would this end up doing much more harm than good?

Cardinal Kasper ends this interview with this statement:
“In no way,” Kasper clearly stressed during the interview, “do I deny the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage. That would be stupid. We must enforce it, and help people to understand it and to live it out. That’s a task for the church. But we must recognize that Christians can fail, and then we have to help them. To those who say, “Well, they are in a sinful situation,” I would say: Pope Benedict XVI has already said that such Catholics can receive spiritual communion. Spiritual communion is to be one with Christ. But if I am one with Christ, I cannot be in a situation of grave sin. So if they can receive spiritual communion, why not also sacramental Communion? I think there are also problems in the traditional position, and Pope Benedict reflected a lot about this, and he said that they must have means of salvation and spiritual communion. But spiritual communion goes very far: it’s being one with Christ. Why should these people be excluded from the other Communion? Being in spiritual communion with Christ means God has forgiven this person. So the church, though the sacrament of forgiveness, should also be able to forgive if God does it. Otherwise there is an opposition between God and church—and that would be a great problem.”
I think this argument, saying that because such people can receive spiritual communion so why shouldn't they be allowed to receive sacramental Communion, has great and dangerous potential for become a slippery slope. Yes, spiritual communion does allow us to become one with Christ, but to equate it with sacramental Communion is just wrong. Sacramental Communion is the actual Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The Church has rightly said that one must be in a state of grace to receive this great Sacrament. If we open the doors to those who, as Cardinal Kasper admits, have engaged in serious sin because of divorce and remarriage, how can we ensure that it will stop there? Will we then allow anyone and everyone to receive the Sacrament of Communion just because they receive spiritual communion?

Is divorce and remarriage the "unpardonable" sin?  Can there be no mercy or forgiveness shown to those who are in this situation?  Is there really no way to bring them back into the sacramental life of the Church?  I honestly don't have any answers to these questions, but I think it is important that these issues be raised.  

We don't need to be sitting in judgment of people like Cardinal Kasper who wish to show mercy to those separated from the Church. We need to be praying for him and for all Church authority that they will be open and submissive to the Holy Spirit as He guides and leads the Church. Every soul is important to Jesus Christ, and so every soul should be important to us.

I truly appreciate that Cardinal Kasper is showing such great concern for those separated from the Church because of divorce and remarriage, and I think he does so in sincere concern for their souls. Further, I think it is vital that this issue be explored at the upcoming Synod. The Church cannot just turn her back on all those millions of souls who are spiritually separated because of their marital status. We must minister to them in some way. We must do everything we can to bring them back into the Church. 

In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish


  1. Being myself a divorced and remarried Catholic I have a lot of passion on this subject. On the one hand I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Catholics that are not in Communion with the Church and thusly denied the Sacraments. However, I also have probably less patience than I should with their complaint, because this is in many ways the just fruits that themselves have sown.
    To explain my personal predicament, I was raised and baptized in a protestant faith. I left that faith as a young teenager. I got married as a young adult, divorced 5 years later. Something like 35 years later I converted and was confirmed in the true Faith and was later married a woman who is also Catholic. For immigration reasons, my wife and I had to get married before my Annulment came through. My Annulment took 2 years and a day. My wife and I spent a year and a week without the Sacraments. My wife and I accepted this period of being out of Communion with the Church with contrition as mortification. It was a painful, yet purifying experience. Also, in many ways by accepting that we were bound to refrain from Communion, we showed, I believe, a greater fidelity to Christ and to His Church.
    I think the main reason I believe that I might be less than generous with other divorced and remarried Catholics, even though I am one of their number, is that I was protestant and came from a family where my mother, my aunt, and uncles all were divorced and remarried. Therefore, I did not know better. However, I do not believe this sort of latitude should be accorded the average cradle Catholic. I believe that it is rather well known that the Catholic Church has always maintained that marriage is for life.
    That being said, there are a multitude of valid reasons that a Catholic marriage could and should be annulled. All it takes is a lot of red tape and a few years.
    This morning at Lauds, the canticle from the Psalter was Azariah’s prayer from the furnace from the Book of Daniel:

    Blessed are you, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and glorious forever is your name.

    For you are just in all you have done; all your deeds are faultless, all your ways right, and all your judgments proper.

    For we have sinned and transgressed by departing from you, and we have done every kind of evil.

    For your name's sake, do not deliver us up forever, or make void your covenant.

    Do not take away your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved, Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,

    To whom you promised to multiply their offspring like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea.

    For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day
    because of our sins.

    We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no holocaust, sacrifice, oblation, or incense,
    no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.

    But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; as though it were holocausts of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.

    And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you and we pray to you.

    I believe that here Azariah is speaking to us with the same wisdom that our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was speaking when while still Pope when he said that divorced and remarried Catholics could receive spiritual communion.
    In closing, I would like to say that I am a little bothered that the focus only seems to be on being denied the Sacrament of Eucharist and not on being denied the Sacrament of Reconciliation. While I am not saying that Eucharist is not the most important. It is most important because the Eucharist is the apex of our Faith. It is where we are going, to be physically united with Christ, but to get there we must work out our salvation and Reconciliation is the prime tool for that. This focus that I mentioned early seems to be backwards.

    1. Thank you so much for your perspective on this. I think this is one of the most difficult issues in the church today. In some ways it seems so cut and dried. Marriage is for life, and if you walk away from your marriage, then you must remain celibate for the rest of your life or until the death of your spouse. The problem is, we now have millions of Catholics who have remarried and are now in invalid marriages that can never be recognized. You, Mr. Clark, were able to get an annulment, but what about those whose first marriage is valid, and therefore cannot get an annulment? Confessing this sin is not enough. They must leave their current spouses, which will create great emotional trauma on all involved, especially children.

      But how does the Church say, yes you are living in sin, but somehow we are going to overlook it? That just doesn't seem possible. Truly this will take Holy Spirit to give us the answer.

      I don't know if you have read Cardinal Kasper's book on mercy. I just got it and have only just begun reading it. But I think the position he has taken on divorce and remarriage, and probably on most other issues, comes from his understanding of Divine Mercy. At one one point, Cardinal Kasper talks about Pope St. John Paul II's encyclical on mercy, "Dives in Misericordia"' and the Cardinal writes, "the pope reminded us that justice alone is not sufficient, for summa iustitia can also be summa iniustitia." My understanding of this is basically "justice can also be the most extreme injustice." I think it is this understanding which is driving Cardinal Kasper. We need to determine if the Cardinal is being inspired by the Holy Spirit, or does he have a wrong understanding of mercy.

      I hope to do a post on the Cardinal's book when I finish it. Maybe his book will shed some light on all of this. Pope Francis has said that he has been influenced by this book, so I think it is even more important for us to read it.

  2. It is a monumental issue, no doubt about it.
    However, I am not trying to be hard hearted about our brother and sister in this sad circumstance. Most on what I basing my position on is certain facts of Canon Law.
    First, let me quantify I am not a Canonist in any sense of the word.
    That being said, one of the conditions for a Catholic marriage to be valid is that it is recognized to be a lifelong union at the time of the wedding by both spouses. Therefore, under this circumstance, these Catholics knew the error they where committing at the time of their divorce and remarriage. However, this goes both ways. If one or both spouse did not recognized marriage to a lifelong union at the time of the wedding and they are are willing to swear to that fact, then Bob's your uncle.
    Additionally, there are tons of valid reasons that a marriage could be found to be invalid. Abuse, adultery, deceit, even a football widow could make a case for annulment.
    The biggest point I am making is about that focus on Eucharist and not on Reconciliation and I think an even bigger issue is being overlooked. Salvation. I do not believe any reasonable person could say that God does not have a plan for the Salvation for our divorced and remarried Catholic brother and sisters, not more than He does not have a plan for the Salvation for our protestant brethren who are in schism from Holy Mother Church.
    Divorced and remarried Catholics have certainly placed themselves in a very emotional and spiritual painful situation. However, in this pain, they can find atonement, and in many ways it would be better to atone for something like this in life rather than in the hereafter.
    Or at least, that would be my preference.
    Nonetheless, we pray for wisdom of the Holy Spirit for the upcoming Bishop’s Synod of Family this October and put our faith in the Magisterium of our Church to correctly lead the faithful unto Heaven. Lord hear our prayer.

    1. Yes, my feelings exactly. I personally don't see how any change can be made to Canon law to somehow accommodate invalid second marriages. But I also think that it is still important for the church to look closely at this issue because so many millions are involved.

      I believe also that many of these people knew they were going against Church teaching when they remarried. I can think of one situation of a Catholic couple in which both were entering into their second marriage. The woman's first marriage was almost definitely invalid in that her husband turned out to be very abusive and controlling and didn't even want her to see her own family. Yet, the couple had no desire to go through any kind of annulment process. They moved in together before marriage, she got pregnant, and they had a civil ceremony. No surprise, they never go to Church. Their souls are most definitely in danger, and I believe they are among the lost sheep which the Church needs to seek out.

      Cardinal Kasper has an interesting statement in his book defining "pseduomercy":

      "The failure of theological reflection concerning the message of mercy, which is central to the Bible, has allowed this concept often to be downgraded, degenerating into a "soft" spirituality or a vapid pastoral concern, lacking clear definition and forced somehow to suit each individual. Such a soft praxis may be understandable to a certain degree as a reaction against a ruthlessly rigid, legalistic praxis. But mercy become pseudomercy when it no longer has a trace of trembling before God, who is holy, and trembling before his justice and his judgment. It becomes pseudomercy when "yes" is no longer a "yes" and "no" is no longer a "no"; when it does not exceed, but rather undercuts the demand for justice. The gospel teaches the justification of the sinner, but not the justification of the sin. For this reason, we should love the sinner, but hate the sin."

      That statement gives me a lot of hope for the upcoming Synod. I believe this will be the guiding force at the Synod so that whatever results, we can be sure it is the result of the working of the Holy Spirit.

      Whether others in the Church will feel that way, that will be another story.

    2. Just a FYI,

      A marriage is not invalidated by an abusive and controlling husband. I think you should correct such misunderstandings you might personally have and then approach such complicated topics.

      Just saying... Because at the end of the day, articles like yours can make Catholics think that they are legitimate in holding on to a desire that the Church change her stance.

    3. Oh and you would do well to observe that many Cardinals have already made it clear why Cardinal Kasper is WRONG. So instead of trying to make him out to be a hero, perhaps you should give him the rightful honor of being the villain. But hey, I am sure you have a "Divine Mercy" passage for that from the diary of St. Faustina ;)

    4. If you read my post a little more closely, you will see that I am not taking a stance, but merely sharing what I called a "stream of consciousness." I know there are millions of Catholics who right now do not have access to the sacraments, and it is important to minister to them in some way. Is the answer to tell them that they have to break up their families and leave their spouses? I don't know. It's possible that is the only answer. But I think it is very important that this issue be explored in some way.

      If it is possible for Cardinal Kasper to be wrong, then it is possible that other cardinals who are criticizing him are wrong. That is why I say we need to take this matter up in prayer and ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I am sorry that makes you so angry.

    5. Eufrosnia
      I beg to differ with on that. However, I do qualify myself as that I am not a Canon Lawyer or in any way an expert in Annulments.
      If a spouse is abusive and controlling to the detriment of the other spouse, that is not why God gave us Marriage for. He gave it to us for the mutual support and dignity of both husband and wife.
      So, an abusive and controlling spouse can invalidated a marriage. I emphasize the word "can" as I am not qualified to sit on a Marriage Tribunal; I am assuming that you are not either. If you are a Canon Lawyer, please excuse my assumption.
      I would also like to say that while I do not think that Cardinal Kasper is not wrong in this matter, however I do not wholeheartedly agree with the seemingly blanket application of mercy and forgiveness he is advocating or at least I do not see how it could applied in the way his Eminence is advocating without changing Church teaching.
      Nonetheless, I have confidence in Holy Mother Church and the Magisterium and most of all the protection of the Holy Spirit in this matter.

  3. I look to the Orthodox Churches for some guidance here. Divorce and remarriage are permitted in the East, but the second marriages are quiet. Everyone realizes that the situation is less than ideal, and they ask forgiveness.

    This may be an issue, because forgiveness in a lot of contexts isn't a Catholic thing.

  4. >[B]y what right does the cardinal casually tell laity that 50% of their marriages are invalid—even if the pope did say it?? Does turmoil among married persons in the wake of such a remark not matter to any except those who suffer it?

    This guy is a canon lawyer? Yeh if you marry in the Church, stay together and intend to stay together we pretty much presume your marriage was valid. A lack of validity is only an issue if two people separate. Geez I’m not a canon lawyer & I can figure this out!

    Obviously the statement is meant to reflect the poor religious instruction we get on marriage these and how easy it might be for half the people who get married to plead defective intent as grounds for an annulment.

    This isn't hard.

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  6. >I personally don't see how any change can be made to Canon law to somehow accommodate invalid second marriages.

    I remember reading somewhere(I believe it was THIS ROCK magazine) The Church could make annulments very easy if she changed the presumption and burden of proof in a marriage tribunal.

    When the validity of a marriage is disputed the Church assumes the marriage in question is valid till proven invalid. There is no dogmatic reason why She could not presume them invalid when formally disputed to be proven valid. In these cases it would be much easier to obtain annulments. Of course the down side is on the practical level even thought the Church would still formally be holding to the dogma of the indissolubility of marriage she would practically act like any Protestant denomination that allows divorce as few marriages would be proven valid and few annulments denied.

    I personally think it would be a very bad idea. But it wouldn't be technically heretical. Much like if the Pope did away with mandatory clerical celibacy for Latin Rite Priests or in the case where Pope St John Paul II allowed altar girls. It can be done but it is likely a bad idea.

    Note even thought I am more sympathetic to Traditionalism these days & believe with them the Church is not infallible in Her pastoral policies I don't pretend to believe my solutions or preferences are better in any degree of certainty beyond my mere prudent judgement.


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