Rorate Caeli

For the record: Portions of the Instrumentum Laboris of the October Synod on "remarried" divorced and communion

The Holy See made available today the guidemap (called "Instrumentum Laboris") of the October Extraordinary Synod on the Family; these are the main paragraphs on the matter of "remarried" and divorced persons -- based on the answers sent by the Episcopal Conferences.


Persons Separated, Divorced and Divorced and Remarried

86. The responses indicate that in Europe and across America, a very high number of persons are separated, divorced or divorced and remarried; the number is much lower in Africa and Asia. Given that this phenomenon is on the rise, many parents are concerned about the future of their children. In addition, the responses note that the increasing number of people simply living together makes the problem of divorce less important. Fewer of these people are divorcing, because fewer tend to marry. In some places the situation is different; divorce does not exist because civil marriage does not exist, e.g., in Arab countries and some Asian countries.

Children and Those Who Are Alone

87. The responses and observations also raise the issue of the children of separated or divorced persons, who notably lack the attention of society. They bear the burden of conflict within marriage and require the Church’s care. The Church also needs to provide care to the parents of divorced persons. They also suffer the consequences of a breakdown of a marriage and often have to compensate for the disadvantages created by the children’s situation. Separated or divorced persons who remain faithful to their marriage vows call for the Church’s attention in their situation, which is often lived in loneliness and poverty. Such persons are also among the “new poor.”

Teen Mothers

88. The responses give particular attention to mothers who have no husbands and who, alone, must care for their children, a situation which is often the result of much suffering and, very often, abandonment. Above all, they are to be esteemed for the love and courage with which they welcomed the life conceived in their womb and now provide for the upbringing and education of their children. They deserve from society a special support which takes into account the many sacrifices they are facing. The Christian community is also called to provides a care which permits these mothers to see the Church as truly a family of God’s children.

Situations of Canonical Irregularity

89. Generally speaking, the responses from various places in the world devote attention to divorced and remarried persons or those, at least, who have formed a different union. Those living in such canonically irregular situations display various attitudes ranging from their being entirely unaware of their irregular situation to their consciously enduring the difficulties created by their irregular situation. For the most part, divorced persons in new unions display similar attitudes in the various parts of the world, with the most prevalent in Europe and America and the fewest in Africa. In this regard, some responses attribute this situation to a lack of formation or religious practice. In North America, people often think that the Church is no longer a reliable moral guide, primarily in issues related to the family, which they see as a private matter to be decided independently.

90. A rather great number of people give no thought to their irregular situation. In these cases, no one requests access to Holy Communion nor the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance. These persons often become aware of their irregular situation when they request the Sacraments of Christian Initiation for their children or if they are asked to be a godfather or godmother at the celebration of the Sacraments of Baptism or Confirmation. At times, adults, who have a personal and conscious experience of the faith in the programme of catechesis or the catechumenate, become aware of the irregularity of their marital relationship. From a pastoral point of view, these situations are good opportunities to begin the process of regularization, especially in cases of cohabitation. The responses from Africa speak of a different situation, not so much focusing on divorced persons who form a new union as those engaged in practicing polygamy. In cases of a person’s conversion to the faith, difficulties arise in leaving a second or third wife who bore children and now wants to participate in the life of the Church.

91. Before treating the suffering associated with those who are unable to receive the sacraments due to their irregular union, the responses refer to a more basic suffering which the Church must take in hand, namely, the suffering of a breakdown in marriage and the difficulty of regularizing the situation. Someone experiencing this crisis expresses a desire to seek the Church’s assistance. Various episcopal conferences in Europe, Africa and America mention that distress in the situation often seems to depend on the degree of formation. Many times, people in these irregular situations do not grasp the intrinsic relationship between marriage and the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Penance. Consequently, they find it very difficult to understand why the Church does not allow those who are in an irregular situation to receive Holy Communion. The catechetical instruction on marriage does not sufficiently explain the connection. Some responses (America, Europe, Asia) relate how at times people wrongly think that divorced people as such, without entering a new union, are automatically excluded from receiving Holy Communion. Such people, however, are not prohibited from receiving the sacraments.

92. Some Church members who are cognizant that they are in an irregular situation clearly suffer from the fact that they are unable to receive the sacraments. Many feel frustrated and marginalized. Some wonder why other sins can be forgiven and not theirs. Others cannot see how religious and priests can receive a dispensation from their vows and priestly obligations so they can marry, while divorced and remarried persons are unable to receive Holy Communion. These questions highlight the necessity of providing suitable formation and information in the matter. In other cases, persons do not understand how their irregular situation can be a reason for their not being able to receive the sacraments. Instead, they believe that the Church is at fault in not permitting their irregular marriage situation. This way of thinking can lead to viewing withholding the sacraments as a punishment. Furthermore, another factor of concern is the lack of understanding of the discipline of the Church when access to the sacraments is denied in these cases, as if it were a punishment. A good number of episcopal conferences recommend assisting people in canonically irregular marriages not to consider themselves as “separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life” (FC, 84). Moreover, responses and observations from some episcopal conferences emphasize that the Church needs to equip herself with pastoral means which provide the possibility of her more widely exercising mercy, clemency and indulgence towards new unions.

Concerning the Reception of the Sacraments

93. In the matter of access to the sacraments, the responses describe various reactions among the faithful who are divorced and remarried. In Europe (and also in some countries in Latin America and Asia) the prevailing tendency among some of the clergy is to resolve the issue by simply complying with the request for access to the sacraments. Other members of the clergy, particularly in Europe and Latin America, respond to the matter in a variety of ways. At times, the faithful distance themselves from the Church or go to other Christian denominations. In some countries of Europe and some countries on the other continents, this solution is not sufficient for many people; they wish to be publically readmitted to the Church. The problem is not so much not being able to receive Communion but that the Church publically does not permit them to receive Communion. As a result, these believers then simply refuse to consider themselves in an irregular situation.

94. Some Church members in canonically irregular situations express a desire to be received and guided by the Church, especially when they attempt to understand the rationale of the Church’s teaching. These people recognize the possibility of living in their situation, while relying on God’s mercy through the Church. Still others, as indicated in the responses from some Euro-Atlantic episcopal conferences, accept the duty to live in continence (cf. FC, 84).

95. A good number of responses speak of the very many cases, especially in Europe, America and some countries in Africa, where persons clearly ask to receive the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. This happens primarily when their children receive the sacraments. At times, they express a desire to receive Communion to feel “legitimized” by the Church and to eliminate the sense of exclusion or marginalization. In this regard, some recommend considering the practice of some Orthodox Churches, which, in their opinion, opens the way for a second or third marriage of a penitential character. In light of this suggestion, countries having a major number of Orthodox Christians noted that, from their experience, this practice does not reduce the number of divorces. Others request clarification as to whether this solution is based on doctrine or is merely a matter of discipline.

Other Requests

96. Very many responses, especially in Europe and North America request streamlining the procedure for marriage annulments. In this regard, they see a need to investigate the question of the relationship between faith and the Sacrament of Matrimony, as suggested by Pope Benedict XVI, on several occasions. In some cases, Catholics in countries with a major number of Orthodox Christians remarry in the Orthodox Church following their customary ritual and then ask to receive Communion in the Catholic Church. Finally, other responses request clear indications on the procedure to follow in cases of a mixed marriage, in which the Orthodox spouse has already been married and has received permission for a second marriage in the Orthodox Church.

Concerning Separated and Divorced Persons

97. Various responses and observations want to see more attention given to separated and divorced persons who have not remarried but have remained faithful to their nuptial vows. Oftentimes, these people seem to have the added suffering of not being given proper care by the Church and thus overlooked. Such persons also have difficulties and a need for pastoral attention. Moreover, the responses emphasize the importance of a pastor’s due care in seeing whether a marriage annulment is possible so as not to introduce cases without proper discernment. In this process, many responses ask for a concerted effort towards reconciliation to see if the separated parties can be reunited. Some responses refer to the great Christian witness made by separated persons who, courageously accepting their situation of suffering and solitude, remain faithful to their marriage vows.

Streamlining the Processing of Marriage Cases

98. A great many responses request streamlining the canonical processing of marriage cases. The reasons underlying this request vary. Some argue that reducing the steps in the process would not be effective, while others, in favor of a reduction, want to see a clearer explanation of the nature of the process of annulling a marriage, so that the faithful will better understand it.

99. Some responses urge caution and point out the following risks in streamlining, simplifying or reducing the process: injustices and errors could result; the impression might be given that the indissolubility of the Sacrament is not respected; the change might lead to abuses and create in young people’s minds the idea that marriage is not a life-long commitment; and the action might bolster the mistaken idea that an annulment is simply “Catholic divorce.” Instead, they propose preparing an adequate number of qualified people to deal with marriage cases. Responses from Latin America, Africa and Asia, advance the idea of increasing the number of tribunals — non-existent in many regions — of giving more authority to local bodies and of providing better formation for the clergy. Other responses wish to add another qualification in the possibility of streamlining the processing: some of the faithful, accepting the validity of their marriage and recognizing it’s failure, might feel that to request such an annulment would be dishonest. Nevertheless, many believers consider their first marriage valid because they have no idea of the factors which might make it invalid. Sometimes, those who have been divorced, encounter difficulty in returning to the past, which could reopen painful wounds, personally and for one’s spouse.

100. On the subject of simplifying the canonical process, many responses make the following requests: a simpler and faster canonical process; the granting of more authority to the local bishop; a greater number of laity as judges; and the reduction of financial fees attached to the process. In particular, some question whether two confirming sentences are necessary, at least when no appeal is made, and, in some case, to leave the obligation to make an appeal to the discretion of the defender of the bond. Others also propose decentralizing the third instance. Responses from the world over call for a more pastoral approach in ecclesiastical courts which gives greater attention to the spiritual needs of the persons involved.

101. Both responses and observations recognize the extensiveness of the pastoral problem of a breakdown in marriages and raise the question whether it is possible to deal with this matter through a judicial process only. Some advance the idea of working through administrative channels. In certain cases, some suggest ascertaining a person’s conscience in assessing the invalidity of the marriage bond. The question is whether other pastoral means are available to the clergy involved in the process of verifying the validity of the marriage. Generally speaking, the responses call for a better formation of pastoral workers in this field so that the faithful may be duly assisted.

102. In the annulment process, a more appropriate formation of the faithful would be helpful, in some cases, to eliminate difficulties, e.g, the mistaken idea of parents who fear that an annulment of marriage would make their children illegitimate, as mentioned in some episcopal conferences of Africa. Many responses insist on the fact that streamlining the canonical process might be useful, only if the pastoral care of the family takes into consideration the entire family. A number of bishops’ conferences from Asia cite the case of marriages with non-Christians who do not want to cooperate in the canonical process.

Pastoral Care in Difficult Situations

103. Pastoral charity impels the Church to assist people who have suffered the breakdown of their marriage and are living with their situation relying on the grace of Christ. A more painful wound results when these people remarry and enter a state of life which does not allow them to receive Holy Communion. Clearly, in these cases, the Church must not assume an attitude of a judge who condemns (cf. Pope Francis, Homily, 28 February 2014), but that of a mother who always receives her children and nurses their wounds so they may heal (cf. GE, 139-141). With great mercy, the Church is called to find forms of “accompaniment” which can support her children on the path of reconciliation. With patience and understanding, she must explain to these people that their not being able to celebrate the sacraments does not mean that they are excluded from the Christian life and a relationship with God.

104. In referring to these complex situations, many responses highlight the lack of a specific pastoral ministry for these people in some dioceses. Many bishops’ conferences mention the importance of offering these members of the faithful a means to participate actively in the life of the Church through prayer groups, liturgical functions and charitable activities. They also refer to some pastoral initiatives, such as giving an individual blessing to those who cannot receive the Holy Eucharist or encouraging their children’s participation in parish life. In this regard, the role of movements on conjugal spirituality by religious orders and parish commissions for the family cannot be undervalued. A particularly meaningful recommendation is to include a prayer for people in difficult situations in the Prayer of the Faithful at parish and diocesan liturgies.