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Francis’s marriage comments could be more significant than anything else he said on the plane

Now we need a canonical solution to the issue of second unions

By on Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Pope disembarks after returning from Rio (AP)

The Pope disembarks after returning from Rio (AP)

That press conference with journalists on the plane back from Rio contained the following words on the theme of sacraments for the divorced and remarried which may well be highly significant, and which have not attracted much comment.

The whole press conference is here in Italian and the words of particular interest are these: “I think this is the moment for mercy. The divorced may have access to the sacraments. The problem regards those who are in a second marriage … who cannot receive communion. But, in parenthesis, the Orthodox have a different praxis. They follow the theology of economy, and they give a second chance: they allow that.

“But I think that this problem – and here I close the parenthesis – should be studied within the framework of matrimonial pastoral care. One of the themes that the Council of Cardinals will consider in the meeting in … October is how to proceed in relation to matrimonial pastoral care. A few days ago I met with the secretary of the Synod of Bishops, for the theme of the next Synod and, speaking … we saw this anthropological theme: how faith helps in the planning of the person, in the family, and enters into the pastoral of matrimony. We are on the way towards a deeper matrimonial pastoral care. This is a problem for many people.”

This is far more revolutionary than anything the Holy Father had to say about the case of Mgr Ricca. It is interesting to note that something is already afoot with regard to those who are in second unions: the Pope has asked the Council of Cardinals to discuss it in October, and the Synod of Bishops is going to confront the issue as well, it seems.

A lot of people will be very pleased to hear this, but I would like to sound a note of caution. Here are a few points that come to mind at once.

Firstly, the mention of the Orthodox way. The Orthodox allow divorce and second marriages in church. This plainly contradicts what Our Blessed Lord has to say in the gospel, and is based on an at best doubtful reading of the “Matthean exception”, which is found at Matthew 5:31-32. The Catholic Church has never interpreted this verse of Matthew as a licence for divorce and remarriage, and to do so would represent the theological equivalent of a handbrake turn.

Secondly, it is important to emphasise, or so it seems to me, that those in second unions (please note the use of that term) are in a canonical difficulty, rather than a moral difficulty, for it may well be the case that the second union is the real union and the first one is invalid, though its nullity would have to be canonically determined. So this is a problem for the canonists, not the moralists. Yes, I know: I am a moralist, and this might look like a very convenient passing of the buck.

At present those who are in second unions are told they may not receive Holy Communion. But many people do regardless; as do many others who live in irregular unions. This second group – those who live together without being married to each other canonically, or even civilly – represent a significant group. I wonder if, in parts of Britain at least, the question has not moved on: the divorced and remarried may well be outnumbered nowadays by those who have never been married in the first place, or at least never been canonically married. In other words, the easy availability of divorce has in fact done what may once warned it would do – it has destroyed the institution of marriage. The real problem we face is in this: no one really wants to get married any more, or feels the need to get married. This is not the case everywhere, but in some places it is the case: cohabitation without the blessing of Church or State is the norm.

At present the current rules on marriage and second unions emphasise that the ‘first’ marriage is in fact the only marriage and that getting married is a very important indeed irrevocable step. We have held to this rule for many a year. I realise that it has caused much suffering to those in second unions, especially those who are ‘innocent’ parties. I would welcome a canonical solution to their situation. But not at any price.

  • PaulF

    Understood. May I recommend the Strunk & White principle: ‘Keep related expressions together.’
    ‘Baptized Christians outside the CC’ doesn’t mean ‘Marriages in non Catholic churches.’

  • PaulF

    Trust completely in the Lord and receive his power to do only what is right. Sometimes it is humanly impossible and only becomes possible in his power. It wasn’t easy for him either. Nor for his Mother. But once you decide to put him first, things fall into place in surprising ways.

  • Jon Brownridge

    Absolutely incredible that putatively intelligent people would take this stuff seriously.

  • Jon Brownridge

    The Church recognizes thirteen major impediments to marriage, each having several sub-divisions of differentiation. An annulment can be granted if any of these impediments are shown to have been in effect at the time of the marriage. The length of time ‘married’ is immaterial. A Can lawyer can usually find an impediment to almost any marriage and that is why annulments are so common.

  • James M

    “The Catholic Church has never interpreted this verse of Matthew as a licence for divorce and remarriage, and to do so would represent the theological equivalent of a handbrake turn.”

    And what is “handbrake turn” ? If it’s some kind of change – well, V2 changed a few things too; someone who accepts V2 should have no problems ditching further things.

    Can condoms ever be used ? No, say several Popes, loudly – then along comes BXVI, and muddies the waters. Should the Jews & the separated Greeks be evangelised ? According to traditional teaching, absolutely – then along comes JP2, and says no. Catholic teaching is so stable that the 1994 CCC, which JP2 called “a sure standard for doctrine”, had 101 alterations when re-published in 1997, just three years later. 101 changes is not secure. The only conclusion one can draw, is that Catholic doctrine, on marriage and on everything else, does not and cannot & will not change – until, that is, it does change. After that, it is of course noisily denied that any change has taken place.

    As for not getting married – marriage is a social convention, like wearing black at a funeral. Nothing about marriage requires it to be religious, unless those involved have a religion. And nothing requires it to exist, or to be unchanging. Only religions require such things from it. A lot of people are not religious, and many of them have given up that stuff: why should they care two hoots about marriage ? Take away the legal requirements, and not much remains – the really important stuff that keeps a marriage together can’t be legislated for – no law will make one person love, or live for, another. Instead of lamenting how terrible it is that we no longer live in a Christian society, ISTM that we need to see Christianity, and its contents, including marriage, as many non-Christians see it – as unnecessary, unimportant, unattractive, unconvincing, & so on; because a Church that hasn’t a clue why people prefer their social attitudes to those of Christians generally, or of Catholics in particular, will be superbly ill-prepared for any New Evangelisation lark.

  • James M

    “How do you think these men get this job ?”

    By knowing the right people – and sometimes in worse ways than that. Popes-to-be have bought their position before now. The contemporaries of Celestine V (5 months in 1294) and Boniface VIII (the man who succeeded him: 1294-1303) were a lot less starry-eyed about the Popes – Boniface VIII was accused of putting pressure on his predecessor so that he could replace him: the story was that the then Cardinal Gaetani had the equivalent of a tannoy installed in the Pope’s bedroom, and that the ambitious Cardinal, spoke through it, impersonating an angel, and told the Pope to resign.

    Which he did – & the former Pope was held in what was in effect (though not in name) “protective custody” for the little of his life that remained (he died in 1296), so that Boniface VIII would not have problems from those who though the new Pope’s behaviour left something to be desired. The story may or may not be true, but it’s amusing – and it snuffs out all ideas about Popes all being holy, and all being chosen by invariably holy cardinals who were of course uninfluenced by any ulterior motives, but instead elected the Pope at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. If Catholics then did not have illusions about the unloveliness of some Papal elections – why should we have to think the whole transaction is purely “of God” ?

    Another way of getting the job: not being vetoed by the great powers of Europe for annoying them earlier on. In one of the conclaves of 1605, Cardinal Baronio was vetoed by Spain, which did not like the position he had taken on its rights over Sicily. The veto was only abolished in 1904 – Cardinal Rampolla was vetoed by Austria in the 1903 conclave, so Cardinal Sarto, Patriarch of Venice, was elected – who is AKA St. Pius X.

    The history of the Papacy is at times a lot less decorous than one might like – they’ve been elected in all sorts of circumstances; some of them less than attractive. None of these facts are any big surprise – except to those who don’t know them.

  • Julian Lord

    Apparently, they become easier to do after the first one or two!

    Everything becomes “easy” after you abandon the Faith, as you well know.

  • Julian Lord

    If you ever wanted to marry, please seek an annulment.

    Wanting to have things both ways is unreasonable.

    Marrying without that annulment would be a mortal sin, aggravated by your clear understanding of the doctrine.

  • James M

    Catholics have said stronger things than the remarks complained of. On one occasion, St. Peter was called “Satan” for his efforts – that’s a little harsher than anything most Popes have been called.

  • Julian Lord

    Can condoms ever be used ? No, say several Popes, loudly – then along comes BXVI, and muddies the waters.

    Pope Benedict XVI made a few quite ill-considered off-the-cuff remarks in the first few months of his Papacy. They have no doctrinal value.

    Should the Jews & the separated Greeks be evangelised ? According to
    traditional teaching, absolutely – then along comes JP2, and says no.


    Catholic teaching is so stable that the 1994 CCC, which JP2 called “a
    sure standard for doctrine”, had 101 alterations when re-published in
    1997, just three years later.

    The correction of editorial errors in second editions is in fact perfectly normal in publishing.

    The only conclusion one can draw, is that Catholic doctrine, on marriage
    and on everything else, does not and cannot & will not change –
    until, that is, it does change.

    Your mistake is that you falsely imagine that every single iota of Catholic doctrine must be immutable and infallible, which is simply untrue.

    NOT every doctrine is infallible. NOT every doctrine is so set in stone that the expression of it can never be adapted to advances in scientific knowledge and linguistic shift. Deal with it.

  • James M

    To italicise – see this link:

  • Julian Lord

    You cannot justify an ill-considered position of rebellion or contradiction against a Pope simply by reference to Popes in History who have been more imperfect than others.

  • Julian Lord

    You can italicise using html code.

    Do it like this, but remove the blanks in the html code

  • James M

    Then the Church is a a lot more unreliable than a stopped watch, because it has identified the Church as the Catholic Church, in order to exclude all the folk it’s now so chummy with. If the word “Catholic” is not part of the doctrine, then the Church is denying its own mark of Catholicity – and is not only wrong, but heretical, and possibly apostate. The word is certainly part of the meaning, and has taken to be part of the meaning for centuries. This meaning has not only not been dormant, or merely tolerated – it has been endlessly enforced as dogma.

    If your interpretation is correct, the Church is either:
    demented – or
    lying – or
    satanic – or
    self-deceived – or
    a combo of the above

    - in no case is it any more valid as a Church than the Moonies, the Jedi cult, the separated Greeks, or the Humanist Society .

    But the Church is Catholic, therefore Unique, therefore it is impossible for any of the competition to have any validity as Churches. Which is not to not to say that God does not give grace to non-Catholics – but it does not follow from His doing so, that those non-Catholic bodies are part of the Church. The people in the bodies may well be – the bodies are not.

  • James M

    If you set your “conscience” above the Church, then just do what you want and to hell with it.

    ## This implies that the Church is never moronic or scandalous – it is frequently either or both, and there are many circumstances in which it would be a denial of Christ to do what the Church says. Such as agreeing with the Assisi Abominations paytronised by Wojtyla.

    If the Church is always to be followed, there can be no such thing as disobeying conscience – because it will have been bashed in until it has been forced to approve what is evil. So much for Acts 5.29. So why bother with conscience, when Big Brother the Church is enough ?

  • Tridentinus


  • Julian Lord

    If the word “Catholic” is not part of the doctrine, then the Church is denying its own mark of Catholicity

    false — this doctrine was first formulated in the Fourth Century, several hundred years before there was any other Church that the Catholic Church could possibly be “opposed” to.

    More importantly, the doctrine concerns the Church’s mystical body, not her natural body. The mystical body of the Church exists both in this world and in the Kingdom. This mystical body subsists in the Catholic Church.

    and is not only wrong, but heretical, and possibly apostate

    This is gravely Erroneous.

    The word is certainly part of the meaning, and has taken to be part of the meaning for centuries. This meaning has not only not been dormant, or merely tolerated – it has been endlessly enforced as dogma.

    The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. What in this statement do you find hard to understand ? Did you think that it were possible that the Church of Christ could also be subsisting elsewhere in this world ? Did you not understand the exclusive nature of this doctrine ?

    If your interpretation is correct, the Church is either:

    - in no case is it any more valid than the Moonies, the Jedi cult, or the Rotarians.

    This is just straightforward RUBBISH.

    But the Church is Catholic, therefore Unique

    Catholic actually means Universal — and the Unicity of the Church is a consequence not so much of her Universality, but of the “One-ness” of God, of Christ and His One Church.

    The Universality of the Church is an Attribute of Her God-given Truth, which is Universal in esse. It is also coherent with the fact that no salvation can occur outside the Church.

    it does not follow from His doing so, that those non-Catholic bodies are part of the Church

    Nor have I ever claimed them to be so (though the status of the Eastern Orthodox is clearly debatable).

    I really want nothing to do with any of this Protestant rubbish that you are reading into my statements.

    The Church of Christ resides nowhere else in this world but in His Catholic Church. The Truth of the Revelation as it has been provided to mankind is found in its fullness ONLY in the Catholic Church, and whatever there may be of Truth that can be found elsewhere can only have been taken from the Revelation as it has been entrusted to the Catholic Church or from the partial Revelation to the Hebrews that was given prior to the Incarnation.

  • Ignas Narbutas

    Explanation of Orthodox theologians slightly differs from view of Pope: “The fundamental position of Christianity in relation to marriage – its indissolubility: Mk.10 :2-12. The only reason for divorce is infidelity (adultery) of one of the spouses is 19:9. In
    this case, the ex-spouses get a different status, one of the spouses –
    the status of “innocent of sin”, the second – “committed a grave sin of

    Church considers marriage indissoluble, but allows the termination of
    marital cohabitation only because of the betrayal of a spouse. Not
    so long ago, [when?], “Given the widespread impoverishment of people in
    love, as well as making concessions to human weakness” in the Basic
    Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church to the sin of adultery in
    the issue of termination of the marriage have been added to the
    following reasons:

    the falling away of one of the spouses from orthodoxy;
    malicious abandonment of the family;
    Abortion is disagreement with a spouse [16];
    mental illness of a spouse;
    Finally, one of the spouses in prison because bringing someone serious harm or murder;
    alcoholism or drug addiction;
    unnatural vices;
    impotence, which came before the marriage, or which was the result of deliberate self-harm;
    disease or syphilis, leprosy;
    disease of HIV / AIDS;
    prolonged disappearance without a trace;
    attempts to harm the health of children or spouse, or a threat to their lives.

    it is understood that there is no rank of divorce does not exist, the
    procedure is extremely bureaucratic and it is not divorce per se, but to
    permit the bishop to re-religious marriage, when remarriage is already
    registered in the registry office.

    does not encourage second marriage. [17] However, after legal
    ecclesiastical divorce, according to canon law, the second marriage is
    allowed to innocent spouse. Persons
    whose first marriage broke up and was terminated because of their
    fault, entering into a second marriage is allowed only on condition of
    repentance and performing penance imposed to them in accordance with the canons
    [17]. In
    those exceptional cases where the third marriage is allowed, the period
    of penance, according to the rules of St. Basil the Great, increases.”

  • Rick

    Who am I to judge?

  • Stephen

    My ‘grave’ reason was a annual trip abroad every winter.
    Is that OK?

    My wife really didn’t like kids anyway and has great
    consolation with her cat and Lexus.
    Thank God for NPF!?

  • Julian Lord

    Possibly a document including the teachings of both Mortalium Animos and Unitatis Redintegratio in a unified manner would be best.

    As for Dignitatis Humanae and Unitatis Redintegratio, they are simple declarations of the Council, and (except for any earlier doctrinal teachings that they contain) any Catholic is perfectly free to disagree with any of their specific contents ; and should any of their contents be actually contrary to the Tradition, or otherwise inaccurate and incompatible with Revelation, then they should be denounced and rejected.

  • jtherrick1

    and therefore, at that junction of that Christian’s life, is a choice to choose the suffering path or the comfortable one…always a test for Christians. The Church should always encourage us.. to choose the right path (which can be one of suffering) because that path (the narrow one) is the one leading to heaven. Heaven is not gained by going through life seeking fun and happiness.

  • jtherrick1

    Exactly…”These individuals should not even consider dating…” This is the kind of “pastoral” teaching that should happen …not the Silent Apostasy stance taken so commonly by priests and bishops. When is the last time we were reminded of the sins of the flesh in a homily?? Most Catholics have become comfortable in those sins because culture has and so haven’t the leaders of the Church. Some of these “accept me as I am” catholics have become Eucharistic ministers and CCD teachers. How scandalous and misleading for all…especially for the young who may have never heard about mortal sin.

  • Bernie

    I was in am very unhappy marriage and it became a distrucive one also. My husband didn’t take an interest in the famiy, rarely talking to me or the children unless if it was something to do for himself. He had an affair that was the finally straw. I became more and more resentful and depressed, so much so I was worried for my one life.

    So, upon my divorce I could not remarry if I wanted to receive the sacraments. Therefore because I was the only particiipant in the marriage, I felt I was being punished by the church in denying me the possibiity of a chance to have a marriage that could be loving, wholesome and a spiritual one and be welcomed by my church.

  • Skypilot

    There is an intriguing absurdity in this: the Church from the Pope down – rightly- engaging all comers in a fight to the death on the sanctity of marriage in relation to same-sex marriage; then in varying degrees from the Pope down denying the sanctity of marriage when a marriage cannot be annulled but is civilly dissolved in divorce, by allowing an un-annulled Catholic who remarries a right to Holy Communion. It’s called Relativism! And a complete lack of understanding of the theology of unity, and one suspects, an acceptance subconsciously at least with the universal obsession with the social importance of sexual activity as a pleasant pastime.
    It does help slow the increasing Sunday vacation of the the pews – for all the wrong reasons.

  • Julian Lord

    I truly sympathise with your plight — though it is clearly your ex-husband who has violated the sanctity of your marriage vows by adultery, not yourself.

    You should not bear any guilt over this — neither before the altar, nor in your soul.

    I cannot see how the Church is “punishing” you.

    Seek an annulment for reason of adultery and your ex-husband’s breaking of his marriage vows made before God and before the Church and before both his and your eternal souls.

    Your ex-husband has broken his Sacramental Vows by adultery and clearly in an even more profound manner of worldly denial of his marital and religious duty towards the marriage. But you should not think that you should have an automatic right to violate the Sacrament of your own accord simply because your ex-husband has already done so. That is why the Sacrament needs to be religiously annulled prior to any marriage project on your part.

    Seek the help of your priest, and your Bishop.

  • Julian Lord

    This is a grossly caricatural black & white depiction of the actual situations that can arise when one spouse decides to utterly violate every single distinguishing feature of what Holy Matrimony actually is, whilst the other does nothing of the kind, but suffers instead the consequences of the other’s gross irreligiosity.

  • Gwynn Ap Nudd

    Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge”? Answer, The Vicar of Christ. Who are you not to judge? If you’re not up to it, step down.

  • Julian Lord

    Extract from the Pontifical FAQ :

    Q : “Who am I ?”

    A : Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram ædificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portæ inferi non prævalebunt adversus eam.

    Et tibi dabo claves regni cælorum. Et quodcumque ligaveris super terram, erit ligatum et in cælis: et quodcumque solveris super terram, erit solutum et in cælis.

  • ZB

    That “30,000+ Protestant denominations” mantra has no foundation in reality; I challenge anyone to prove it. It’s not that Rome has any uniformity, either. Look at the great disparity of beliefs—in matters of faith and morals—, among many, many, many people who assert that the Pope is the one Vicar of Christ.

  • Violet writes

    The Pope is willing to move on this issue of including those in “second unions” (the divorced and remarried) just because as you say there are a huge number of such people. The real question in my mind is whether those welcomed back will want to come back to the Vatican Church where women are officially second class.

  • Julian Lord

    the Vatican Church where women are officially second class


  • Violet writes

    Does that mean that you are going to place me on a pedestal and feed me strawberries, sugar, and cream, all the while patronizing me and telling me that women are far too revered and saintly to be priests?

  • rodlarocque1931

    The Holy Father will not change Church teaching on any subject, because Our Lord would remove him from office before he can contradict already defined teachings.
    The truths of the faith cannot change and no amount of wishful thinking on behalf of the world will make it happen.
    However, they can start their own church, or join the Anglicans.

  • Raju srivastawa
  • Stanley Jacobs

    So you say!

  • Stanley Jacobs

    I have all due respect for a Pope but none for a usurper.

  • Dassew

    I truly believe God is merciful and understanding, and it is a matter of personal faith and conscience that I reject the rules of men that I cannot have communion with Christ. I remained in an unbearable situation for 8 of 40 years of marriage, before I said “enough.”. I believe God sent my second husband to me to save both our souls.