FORMAZZJONI U INFORMAZZJONI
MILL-KUMMISSJONI TEOLOĠIKA (1)
13 ta’ Frar 2012
- Familiaris Consortio (John Paul II, 1981) distinguishes between:
(a) separated or divorced persons who have not remarried (FC 83), and
(b) divorced persons who have remarried (FC 84).
In the case of the first category, the ecclesial community “must give them much respect, solidarity, understanding and practical help, so that they can preserve their fidelity even in their difficult situation; and it must help them to cultivate the need to forgive which is inherent in Christian love, and to be ready perhaps to return to their former married life”.
In the same paragraph (83), John Paul II also refers to that spouse who despite being divorced, remains “well aware that the valid marriage bond is indissoluble, andħ refrainsħ from becoming involved in a new union”, and dedicates him/herself to continue carrying out family duties and live a responsible Christian life.
The second category mentioned in FC 84 is the focus of this dossier: divorced persons who have remarried. These are the chief highlights of the paragraph:
- The Church – called by Christ to lead humanity to salvation, especially the baptized – “cannot abandon … those who have been previously bound by sacramental marriage and who have attempted a second marriage. The Church will therefore make untiring efforts to put at their disposal her means of salvation”.
- Bishops and priests are called to remain faithful to the truth, and are “obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations”. One is to remain aware of the distinction between those who have done their utmost to save their sacramental marriage and “have been unjustly abandoned”, and those who intentionally undermined and “destroyed a canonically valid marriage”. FC 84 also mentions, in this context, “those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid”.
- Shepherds of souls and the whole Christian community is exhorted “to help the divorced”, doing its utmost so that the divorced “do not consider themselves as separated from the Church”. They are invited “to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favour of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace”. The Church is called to be “a merciful mother” to these individuals.
- FC 84 reiterates its centuries-long practice, based on Scripture, of “not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried… 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”. FC, here, also mentions a “special pastoral reason” which centres on the great responsibility of bearing true Christian witness to all the members of the community: if the remarried divorcees “were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage”.
- With regard to the administration of the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to remarried divorcees – a celebration which opens one’s path to receiving the Eucharist – FC affirms that sacramental confession “can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage”. FC mentions the situation of those remarried divorcees who for serious reasons cannot separate (e.g. because of the upbringing of young children): these individuals are called to embrace responsibly a life “lived in complete continence”.
- FC 84 also warns and forbids priests from performing any ceremonies for remarried divorcees “for whatever reason or pretext, even of a pastoral nature”. These could give the impression to those present that the Church is blessing such a civil union, thus confusing the minds of the faithful regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage.
- Mario F. Pompedda, on “Status of the divorced and remarried”, in L’Osservatore Romano, English ed., 16.9.1992 = Bullettin tal-Arcidjocesi 77 (Summer 1993), pp.242-7. This topic is treated by Pompedda “from the specific standpoint of its relationship to and reflection of canonical norms” regarding the Church’s procedure for declaring the nullity of marriage.
- The starting point of Pompedda’s contribution is that he is studying the situation of those remarried divorcees “who are motivated, or so it is believed, by a conviction of conscience that their marriage is null, but who cannot introduce a case of nullity because they lack the proofs required by procedural law”.
- Pompedda clarifies the concept of power of governance, or jurisdiction. He reminds us that “in the Church there is no power – ordinary or delegated, proper or vicarious – which does not derive from a person who can legitimately bestow it…”. Pompedda explains that “in no case can the judgement of an expert, however well-informed and prudent, substitute for the exercise of that jurisdiction” (p.242c). The author supplies us with an important and practical example: “We must consequently assert that the judgement of one’s confessor as to whether or not a marriage is valid must still be considered a private opinion because, since marriage is an external, juridical, social and ecclesial act, he has no competence in regard to it, nor has he received from anyone jurisdiction to judge it, since his office must be limited to the judgement and exercise of sacramental jurisdiction” (p.242c).
- The author reflects (p.242-3) on the question of conscience, ecclesial society and one’s juridical standing. Pompedda insists that “when we are faced with a conflict between a conviction of conscience and an external judgement (…) regarding the evaluation of a marriage, the judgement of the person exercising legitimate jurisdiction must necessarily prevail” (p.243b). With regard to conscience, Pompedda explains the difference between a judgement of ethical behaviour (in this case, conscience is undoubtedly supreme), and a judgement of “an objective situation which is autonomous per se and therefore cannot be confused with the ethical nature of the act itself” (p.243c).
- Pompedda admits that it is still ambiguous “to oppose the right to another marriage, in reference to a previous marriage and its certain nullity, to the procedural norms which would not allow such a certainty to be reached (p.243c). The jurist then moves on to distinguish between objective nullity and subjective nullity (p.244a). He then affirms, after some clarifications, that “it is very difficult to understand how anyone could give priority to a subjective conviction and neglect the judgement made in the external forum by experienced judges, a judgement which is well-considered, competent and enlightened by proofs offered by experts” (p.244c).
- No one can be a judge in his own case! Pompedda explains that the interested party can never judge his/her own case ‘in conscience’. Several factors enter the scene: one’s degree of freedom, one’s obvious personal interest in the case and thus, one’s bias, and one’s psychological state. Pompedda concludes that “it is not clear, or at least easy to ascertain, how a subjective conscience, even one which the person has acquired in good faith, can be in agreement with objective reality” (p.245a).
- Pompedda, consequently, warns against the dangers posed by the subversion of the very concept of moral certitude, as well as by philosophical and moral relativism (p.245c).
- The renowned jurist proceeds to remind the reader about the essential nature of marriage – its public nature which “as a natural institution, concerns the community, and even more so as a sacrament of the Church”. With reference to those who attempt to exercise some kind of personal judgement when in fact they are not competent to do so, Pompedda immediately retorts that “to attribute, or rather to claim, competence, that is the power to judge in its regard without having a specific mandate, is an infraction against the very order of the Church” (p.245d).
- Nonetheless, Pompedda affirms that “there can be, and indeed truly are, cases in which the person is morally certain about the nullity of his own marriage, but this nullity cannot be proved in the ordinary manner by the canonical process” (p.246a). He expresses the difficult situation in the case regarding “nullity based on the unexpressed intention of one or both partners, which would seem indemonstrable … ‘in the external forum’ … and in the case ofħ only one witness capable of testifying” (p.246b). Yet, he affirms, canonical norms do address such situations: after saying that they “are rich in equity and have a whole range of evaluative criteria” (p.246b), he gives some concrete examples of procedural norms. He later talks about the “full recognition … given to the probative value of a sworn confession by both spouses … to prove the nullity of marriage even in the external forum; also, the confession of only one of the spouses in the matter with the occurrence of valid reasons for his being credible, could avail for the other spouse…” (p.246d)
- In the conclusion, Pompedda dwells upon the case of remarried divorcees. He calls the latter’s situation an anomalous one, while giving reasons from a canonical point of view: the new union, he explains, “is not valid at least for lack of canonical form; in other words, if it were true that the first marriage were objectively invalid and the party could therefore contract a new marriage, since the latter would not have been celebrated with the proper form, it would not be marriage but mere concubinage. Therefore, as long as this situation persists it is not clear how someone could be allowed to receive the sacraments licitly” (p.247b).
- Pompedda mentions the situation of two remarried divorcees, where we are confronted with “a situation in which perhaps one of the two could be aware of the nullity of his/her previous marriage, but this would not be the case for the other. Therefore, if one of them is objectively free because his/her previous marriage was null, the same would not be true for the other, and hence a new union between the two would not be possible. In such cases how could one justify allowing one or both of them to receive the sacraments?” (p.247c)
- Emphasis is also made by Pompedda of those who have sought to obtain from an ecclesiastical tribunal a declaration of nullity regarding their marriage, and who have received a negative decision. Here, Pompedda reiterates that these individuals “cannot prudently allow their personal, private judgement to prevail, even if it is the judgement of qualified persons, over the formal, public judgement of the tribunal legitimately established by ecclesiastical authority; this is particularly true when these qualified persons base themselves only on the statements of the parties involved, but ignore the whole series of acts which comprise the instruction of the case and the sentences delivered” (p.247c). The renowned jurist affirms that if the individuals concerned still “maintain that a proof could be considered valid in the forum of their conscience” (p.247d), it remains always possible for them to appeal to the Holy See.
- The conclusion of the article affirms that “if, however, a basis for nullity is substantially lacking, obedience and a spirit of faith should suggest that the person should submit to the Church’s judgement, which can never be opposed with a dangerous subjectivism that departs from the very idea of ecclesial society” (p.247d).
N.B. Għanda numru ta’ sussidji teoloġiċi oħra lesti li se jintbagħtu, ftit ftit, fil- ġimgħat li ġejjin. Se jkollkom f’idejkom aktar materjal mill-Maġisteru reċenti, flimkien ma’ riflessjonijiet u opinjonijiet ta’ teoloġi differenti. Dan kollu jgħinna f’sitwazzjonijiet pastorali differenti li niltaqgħu magħhom.
Dun Hector Scerri