The synod of the family held a few years ago was a great opportunity for the Church to listen and better understand the situation of many Catholics.
Often the Church is accused of being insensitive with these issues. From one point of view, this is understandable. The number of Catholics who are divorced and remarried is large and what the Church asks of them is not easy.
Still, we must remember that the Church defends certain positions, not because She is retrograde, out of touch, or just plain stubborn. At the heart of it all is awareness of the “inseparable bond united the Eucharist and marriage”, which is based on divine revelation.
What follows are quotes from Cardinal Angelo Scola taken from an article he wrote in “Communio”. There he proposed serious solutions for the difficult situation of communion of the divorced and remarried.
What’s the biggest difficulty in this situation?
The biggest difficulty in this situation is not so much any single sin. All sins can be forgiven when a person repents. “What makes access to these sacraments impossible is, rather, the state (condition of life) in which those who have established a new bond find themselves: a state which in itself contradicts what is signified by the bond between the Eucharist and marriage.”
Is this some kind of punishment?
“…we need to explain much more clearly why the non-admission of those who have established a new bond to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist should not be considered a “punishment” for their condition, but rather a sign pointing the way to a possible path, with the help of God’s grace and continued membership in the ecclesial community. For this reason and for the good of all the faithful, every ecclesial community is called to implement all the appropriate programs for the effective participation of these persons in the life of the Church, while respecting their concrete situation.”
The 4 Proposals
Please keep in mind that every case is unique. It’s ALWAYS recommended that the people involved speak personally with a trusted priest and capable friends that can guide them in this process. There is no fix-all for every person in a second marriage who decides they now want to be a faithful Catholic.
1. Participate by making an act of Spiritual Communion of Desire
This is a way of expressing your desire to receive Christ in the Eucharist, although your current situation doesn’t allow you to do so sacramentally. To learn more, take a look at our post on Spiritual Communion.
2. Go to Confession without receiving absolution
In order to receive absolution for your sins (in this case, living with someone who the Church does not recognize to be your husband or wife) you must have the have the firm resolution to not sin again. This means that you would have to cease to live together with the person that you have remarried (or live out sexual continence).
Seeing that for many this is not an option, at least for the moment, Cardinal Scola suggests that you still seek the counsel of a priest. Admitting your sins and expressing your desire for repentance are two powerful steps on the way towards full reconciliation.
3. Sexual continence while remaining in the civil union
Put bluntly, this means that one cannot engage in sexual relations with one’s second spouse. Although there are variety of factors in play, this choice is often made so that the children can be raised by two parents.
4. Streamline the canonical procedure to make the annulment process quicker and more accessible.
The idea here is not to devise some sort of “Catholic Divorce”, rather to streamline the process. Instead of referring all cases to the Rome, Scola proposes that local bishops be able to preside and determine rulings. The process would thus be less complicated, more localized, and shorter.
Now the actual text of Cardenal Scola:
Spiritual Communion, or “of desire”
“The life of these faithful does not cease to be a life called to holiness. Extremely valuable in this regard are several gestures that traditional spirituality has recommended as a support for those in situations that do not permit them to approach the sacraments.
I am thinking, first of all, about the value of spiritual communion, i.e., the practice of communing with the eucharistic Christ in prayer, of offering to him one’s desire for his Body and Blood, together with one’s sorrow over the impediments to the fulfillment of that desire.
It is wrong to think that this practice is extraneous to the Church’s sacramental economy. In reality, so-called “spiritual communion” would make no sense apart from that sacramental economy. It is a form of participation in the Eucharist that is offered to all the faithful; and it is suited to the journey of someone who finds himself in a certain state or particular condition. If understood in this way, such a practice reinforces the sense of the sacramental life.
Recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation even without absolution
An [similar] practice for the sacrament of Reconciliation could be proposed more systematically. When it is not possible to receive sacramental absolution, it will be useful to promote those practices that are considered – also by sacred Scripture – particularly suited to expressing penitence and the request for forgiveness, and to fostering the virtue of repentance (cf. 1 Pt 4:7–9). I am thinking especially of works of charity, reading the Word of God, and pilgrimages. When appropriate, these could be accompanied by regular meetings with a priest to discuss one’s faith journey. These gestures can express the desire to change and to ask God for forgiveness while waiting for one’s personal situation to develop in such a way as to allow one to approach the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.
Sexual continence while remaining in the civil union
Finally, drawing on my experience as a pastor, I would like to recall that it is not impossible to propose to these faithful, on certain conditions and with suitable follow-up, “the commitment to live in complete continence,” as St. John Paul II declared, “that is, to abstain from those acts proper to spouses.” I can say, after many years of episcopal ministry, that this is a path – involving sacrifice together with joy – that God’s grace does in fact make feasible. I have had the opportunity to readmit to sacramental communion divorced and remarried Catholics who had arrived at such a decision after mature reflection.
Pastoral experience also teaches us that these forms of participation in the sacramental economy are not palliative. Rather, from the perspective of conversion that is proper to Christian life, they are a constant source of peace.
Cases of matrimonial nullity
In conclusion, we must consider the situation of those who believe in conscience that their marriage was invalid. What we have said thus far about sexual difference and the intrinsic relation between marriage and the Eucharist calls for careful reflection on the problems connected with declarations of marital nullity. When the need presents itself and the spouses request an annulment, it becomes essential to verify rigorously whether the marriage was valid and therefore is indissoluble.
This is not the occasion to repeat the fair recommendations that emerged in the responses to the questionnaire presented in “Instrumentum laboris” concerning the necessarily pastoral approach to this whole set of problems. We know very well how difficult it is for the persons involved to turn to their own past, which is marked by profound suffering. At this level too we see the importance of conceiving of doctrine and canon law as a unity.
Faith and the sacrament of matrimony
Among the questions requiring further examination we should mention the relation between faith and the sacrament of matrimony, which Benedict XVI addressed several times, including at the end of his pontificate.
Indeed, the relevance of faith to the validity of the sacrament is one of the topics that the current cultural situation, especially in the West, compels us to weigh very carefully. Today, at least in certain contexts, it cannot be taken for granted that spouses who celebrate a wedding intend “to do what the Church intends to do.” A lack of faith could lead nowadays to the exclusion of the very goods of marriage. Although it is impossible to pass final judgment on a person’s faith, we cannot deny the necessity of a minimum of faith, without which the sacrament of matrimony is invalid.
The Streamlined Process to see if the Marriage is valid or not
In the second place, as “Instrumentum laboris” also makes clear, it is to be hoped that some way might be found to expedite cases of nullity – fully respecting all the necessary procedures – and to make the intimately pastoral nature of these processes more evident.
Along these lines, the upcoming extraordinary assembly could suggest that the pope give a broader endorsement to the ministry of the bishop. Specifically, it could suggest that he examine the feasibility of the proposal, which is no doubt complex, to create a non-judicial canonical procedure which would have as its final arbiter not a judge or a panel of judges, but rather the bishop or his delegate.
I mean a procedure regulated by the law of the Church, with formal methods of gathering and evaluating evidence. Examples of administrative procedures currently provided for by canon law are the procedures for the dissolution of a non-consummated marriage (canons 1697-1706), or for reasons of faith (canons 1143-50), or also the penal administrative procedures (canon 1720).
Hypothetically, one could explore recourse to the following options: the presence in every diocese or in a group of small dioceses of a counseling service for Catholics who have doubts about the validity of their marriage. From there one could start a canonical process for evaluating the validity of the bond, conducted by a suitable appointee (with the help of qualified personnel like notaries as required by canon law); this process would be rigorous in gathering evidence, which would be forwarded to the bishop, together with the opinion of the appointee himself, of the defender of the bond, and of a person who is assisting the petitioner. The bishop (who may also entrust this responsibility to another person with delegated faculties) would be called on to decide whether or not the marriage is null (he may consult several experts before giving his own opinion). It would always be possible for either of the spouses to appeal that decision to the Holy See.
This proposal is not meant as a gimmick to resolve the delicate situation of divorced and remarried persons, but rather intends to make clearer the connection between doctrine, pastoral care, and canon law. […]”
Sandro Magister, Scola: Four Solutions for the Divorced and Remarried
Cardinal Angelo Scola: Marriage and the Family between Anthropology and the Eucharist: Comments in View of the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family