Divorce & Remarriage Revisited

Oct 20th, 2014 | By David Anders | Category: Radio

A few weeks back I wrote an article titled: “Marriage, Divorce, & Communion: The Upcoming Synod on the Family.” In the article, I discussed the Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage and what it means for civilly divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. Based on the teaching of Christ, the Church’s longstanding practice has been to deny communion in these cases.  As to whether the Church could change her doctrine on marriage or her discipline based on that doctrine, I wrote this:

The Church has no power to change this teaching, because it is the teaching of Christ. (Matthew 19:11-12) This is something the non-Catholic media often misunderstand. The Church’s dogma on marriage is not a “policy” that can be changed, any more than the Nicene Creed is a “policy.”

In the weeks since I wrote that article, the Synod of Bishops generated a lot of media attention and, quite frankly, a lot of confusion. Did the Synod suggest a change to the Church’s doctrine or practice in this matter? Some media outlets would have you think so.  The main source of confusion was a “midterm report” supposedly summarizing the discussions at the Synod. The document suggested that “some synod fathers” were in favor of a change of “present regulations.” The report was neither seen nor approved by the Synod Fathers prior to its release. Instead, it provoked vehement protests among the bishops. (The most controversial statements of the report were not concerned with divorce and remarriage.)

Days after the release of the relatio, the synod Fathers insisted that their objections be made known.  Reports of each of the discussion groups (organized by language) were published on the Vatican’s Website Thursday, October 16.  The following selections are some of the remarks from synod Fathers on divorce, remarriage, and the sacraments.

Circulus Gallicus A (French language group) wrote:

On the connection between the divorced/remarried and the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist . . . it is important not to change the doctrine of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage and the non-admission of the divorced/remarried to the sacraments.

Circulus Angelicus A (English language group) wrote:

We did not recommend the admission to the sacraments of divorced and re-married people, but we included a very positive and much –needed appreciation of union with Christ through other means.

Circulus Angelicus B (English language group) wrote:

On the subject of the admission of the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist the group stressed two principles flowing directly from God’s Word: 1) the clear affirmation of the indissolubility of a valid sacramental union, while humbly admitting that we need a more credible way of presenting and witnessing to that teaching; 2) The strong desire to invite and embrace sincere Catholics who feel alienated from the family of the Church because of irregular situations.

Circulus Italicus A (Italian language group) directed attention on this issue to the teaching of St. John Paul II in his Familiaris Consortio, section 84. In that document, the Saint wrote:

The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.

It is true that the traditional doctrine and practice of the Church are were not universally acclaimed at the Synod.  The final version of the Relatio (released October 18) ackowledged this. Clearly, some of the Synod Fathers were searching for a way to “soften” the Church’s position.  In his final speech, Pope Francis also acknowledged division among some of the bishops. Strangely, he did not make his thoughts plain on the controversies in question. He did, however, conclude the Synod by beatifying Pope Paul VI. Of his predecessor, Pope Francis said:

Before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.

To what was Pope Francis referring when he spoke of Paul’s holding fast in the face of a secular and hostile culture? He didn’t say. But we we remember Blessed Paul today mostly for his courageous stand on behalf of the Church’s long-standing tradition on human sexuality and the necessity of openness to life.

Neither the the Synod nor the Pope issued any teaching documents, nor has there been any change to Church law. The final message of the Bishops, published on October 18, ended on a postive note of continuity:

Conjugal love, which is unique and indissoluble, endures despite many difficulties. It is one of the most beautiful of all miracles and the most common.This love spreads through fertility and generativity, which involves not only the procreation of children but also the gift of divine life in baptism, their catechesis, and their education.

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  1. “To what was Pope Francis referring when he spoke of Paul’s holding fast in the face of a secular and hostile culture? He didn’t say. ”

    Yes, he did. “Before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast…to the helm of the barque of Peter…”

  2. Darryl,

    (In reply to your comment #16 on Andrew’s “To Enter the Sanctuary by the Blood of Jesus.”)

    You wrote:

    Bryan, the bishops are divided and it’s not just some obscure point of church dogma or practice.

    You’re still conflating the distinction between that which must at least be adhered to with religious submission of will and intellect, and that about which we are free to disagree. The Synod has no authority to change Church doctrine, and was convened to deliberate concerning pastoral practice. So the questions put up to the bishops for vote do not even rise to the level of that which must at least be adhered to with religious submission of will and intellect. (Again, see the document at footnote #11 in “The “Catholics are Divided Too” Objection.”) Even if some bishops disagreed with what must at least be adhered to with religious submission of will and intellect, we would still be obliged to adhere to it with religious submission of will and intellect. Deviation from magisterial teaching by some bishops does not ‘break’ the unity of the Magisterium. By simply stating that the bishops “are divided,” you conflate their differing opinions at the Synod as though this is equivalent to, or entails, Magisterial disagreement. But that conclusion does not follow from that premise. The teaching of the Magisterium is not divided, even when bishops in synod disagree, because the authentic Magisterium of the Church is not constituted by anything at the synodal level, even the majority opinion.

    Not looking good for your choice of Rome. But once you go in on high papalism, you find out what’s wrong with monarchy — arbitrary rule. You might get Pius X, you might get Francis.

    It is easy to prognosticate some future downfall of the Church. Naysayers have been doing it for two thousand years. They now lie in their graves, but the Church faithfully marches on, century after century after century. If Christ is the Son of God, then His Mystical Body, the Church, will remain faithful until He returns in glory. Christ and His Body are One. Hence faith in Christ requires and calls forth faith in His Church.

    So when do you become disillusioned? (When does CTC admit disillusion even exists?)

    That question would only begin to be pertinent when there was some good reason to become disillusioned. Your question presupposes that there is such a reason, but you have provided no such reason.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Bryan,

    And what happens when the bishops adapt pastoral practice in ways that encourages sin?

  4. […] wonder if Jason and the Callers were aware of statistics like these when they aligned with a communion they thought to be the arbiter of […]

  5. History provides an important analogy for statistics like these.
    What percent of Christians between 325 and 381 affirmed the Nicene definition? What percent of Christian bishops affirmed the Nicene definition?

    The Council of Sirmium (357), which rejected the homoousion, received the approbation of a number of bishops. Defenders of Orthodoxy – like Athanasius – were driven from their sees. Pope Liberius, under duress, was complicit in the persecution of Athanasius and likely signed an equivocal confession.

    Did we know this when we became Catholic?


  6. …and Jesus asked them….”Who do the people say that I am”?

    – shall we derive from the opinions of the people an article of faith that Jesus is not God? If not then, why do opinions now imply something different?

    Such surveys are always frustratingly amusing on some level. It would be interesting to have them also be asked…what do you understand that the church TEACHES on ? It would be interesting to know if those with contrary personal opinions or practices know that the Church has a well-stated and understood position on and what that position is, and then further why their own personal opinion or practice differs.

    In Him,

  7. As I mentioned in another comment, when one makes the act of faith in the Catholic Church, one is not thinking there will be no storms, but one is professing that the Church will come out the other side.

    The chapter “The Five Deaths of the Faith” from Chesterton’s Everlasting Man would be fitting here, and I think all would agree that the past 70 years probably qualifies as a “sixth”:


  8. I, for one, upon reading the history of the Church, was very aware that the unity and holiness of the Catholic Church was not predicate on a perfect history. In fact, quite the opposite. Instead, what emerges is an improbable history. We see dissension like it that has caused in a Protestant context schism too numerous to mention. We have seen entire denominations permanently led into error. For the Catholic Church, instead, the Holy Spirit has preserved her. For some, that might be less important, they might long for a pure group for which they can share their purity with and remain pure. I argue that Christ did not leave us with such a group. He left us with a very big Church, full of people as ugly as we are. The people in the Church are just as apt to err as we are. In fact, the Catholic argument against Protestantism isn’t that only Protestants err, but rather, that people unaided by the power of the Holy Spirit err – and err often. As a very large Church, we are full of sinners who err. And, yes, priests and bishops are people too.

    What is miraculous is such a large Church has been preserved in her integrity, despite the murderers, fornicators, and the like running about us. Not even to mention the great saints she has produced. So, yes, I was aware of the “statistics,” and sadly I have often been a part of a statistic for which I am deeply sorry: sinner. If the Catholic Church were not having this debate, if at least some men shaped by our times were not swayed by the convincing appeals to emotion in the debate, I would be concerned that the Church were made up of robots, angels disguised as men, or had devolved into a sect. This is not a matter of being on the right side of history, it is a matter of being on the side of the Holy Spirit.


  9. Sir, The RC Church’s opinion on divorce is erroneous. The Bible allows post divorce, remarriage in the following instances:
    Paul states that if the believer is deserted by the unbelieving party, the innocent party has “no obligation” (to the marriage).
    If a spouse dies, there is no further obligation to the marriage.
    If adultery or some serious immorality (eg., adultery, homesexuality) is undertaken by a spouse, the innocent party may dissolve the marriage, in Christ’s own words.
    This shows, unfortunately, Rome’s missing simple and obvious scriptural passages.
    Many good christians have been mistreated by the RC Church due to its overlooking of these passages, in my opinion.

  10. Hi James,

    None of the texts you cite conflicts with with Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage. However, your statements about adultery or serious immorality are nowhere found in the teaching of Jesus. I know that some Protestant Christians infer this from Matthew 19:9. But Jesus does not say that divorce is lawful in cases of adultery or homosexuality. He says divorce is lawful in cases of “πορνείᾳ” There is a lengthy interpretive history of this phrase in early Christianity and the consensus of the fathers was that “porneia” in this texts refers to unlawful marriage, not to adultery.


  11. Thx for taking the time to reply, David. May God bless your interest in His Holy Word. I do disagree in your interpretation of I Cor 7: 10-16. God makes manifest in His word that divorce is acreation ordinance not to be broken unless there is a death in the relationship. Death happens spiritually as well as physically. In I Cor 7: 12,13 God speaks (through apostolic authority) to “the rest”. Who are these but those differentiated from those in verse 10, viz., “the married”. But they are also married (v 12,13 refering to “wife” and “husband” ! Now we know that the Holy Spirit carries no contradiction; thus, the qualifier in vs. 13, 14, “unbelieving husband/wife “. What is unbelief? Refusal to accept Christ into our life. V. 15 states plainly to allow the unbeliever to DEPART and that the believer is not under “bondage”. What is divorce? It entails desertion, unilateral departing, takin’ off. V. 16 gives the purpose of the unequally yoked union: to present salvation to the unbeliever; to save him/her from eternal DEATH. Recall the death thing in Christ,s exception in Matt., pornia, uncleaness, resulting in death. Would Christ tell us in Matt 19 “no divorce unless you are not married”.He’s speaking on marriage; as is Paul here, both a christian marriage (v 10) and non christian (v 12). Jesus said His wisdom comes to the simple, sometimes invisible to the scholars. Respectfully, jim

  12. I am a catechumen to the church coming from a long standing in the protestant faith. My family has not yet seen the fullness that I witness in the church. My eldest 18 year old daughter, who was baptized (trinitarian formula) in the protestant church is now showing interest in the church. She is going to be graduating high school this year and has already been accepted for a year long leadership position in a non-denominational (yet very protestant) Christian camp. This leadership program has impact in her acceptance to a full-ride military scholarship in a school she loves.

    Because they don’t NEED a priest, they typically have a pastor of a local church come (on a year round basis) to hold “service” on Sundays for the leaders to attend. RCIA is wrapping up as we approach Easter, and I will be at the cathedral for sure, but I am wondering how I should guide her in this process.

    She is old enough to attend RCIA, but there is not enough time before she leaves. She is not Catholic yet, and is concerned about missing this opportunity to serve God by serving people at this camp. I am also concerned about her missing mass if she decides this path.

    I am concerned that at this point, I may loose the opportunity for her to join because of these circumstances. She really will need the full RCIA class to answer/address and properly form her faith. Because I am a catechumen, I could not be a sponsor to train her yet (remotely).

    It just seems that these hoops are not timed correctly for her faith formation, which as a father, is very important.

  13. Is the camp in a remote location? Could she drive to a local parish to hear mass? Could a priest from a local parish come to say mass? These are all possibilities that she could raise with the administrators of the camp.

  14. James,

    The case of 1 Cor 7:10-16 is one case in which the Catholic Church does allow remarriage. This is called either “Petrine Privilege” or “Pauline Privilege” depending on the exact situation. You can google “Pauline Privilege” to find out more.


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