Vatican trying to reset expectations at consistory on the family
posted at 2:44 pm on February 21, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
Maybe you’ve heard that the Vatican has called a consistory — a board meeting, essentially — of cardinals this week, one with a focus on issues of dealing with difficult family issues and evangelizing in a time of confusion on the home front. Pope Francis has been quoted as espousing a more welcoming attitude to those outside of communion because of divorce and remarriage, but the world press has gotten a little ahead of the narrative … again. They’ve set the bar high and apparently expect doctrinal change on divorce as a result.
The Vatican is now pushing back a bit on expectations, as John Allen reports for the Boston Globe:
Hopes are running so high that some of the pontiff’s closest advisors seem concerned he’s being set up for a fall. If the eventual decision is that such a shift on divorce is inconsistent with traditional Catholic teaching, they fret, exhilaration over the new pope could turn sour.
As a result, these prelates appear to be trying to dial down expectations, insisting that few Biblical teachings are clearer than Christ’s famous words “What God has joined, let no one separate,” and therefore allowing divorced Catholics to return to the sacraments en masse isn’t in the cards.
The latest senior Catholic official to make that case is Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, Canada, who spoke today in an interview with the Globe. Collins is currently in Rome for two days of meetings of most of the world’s cardinals with Francis on issues related to marriage and the family.
Those meetings are a prelude to a ceremony on Saturday, called a consistory, in which Francis will create 19 new cardinals, including the church’s first-ever cardinal from the impoverished nation of Haiti.
“Obviously there’s a concern for people who are divorced and remarried, because it’s a very painful situation for them and for their children,” Collins said.
“But there’s also a very clear teaching,” the 67-year-old Collins said. “The indissolubility of marriage doesn’t go back to a code of canon law, or a pope, or a council. If there’s anything that’s pretty clear in the teaching of Christ, it’s this.”
The “clear teaching” in this case would be best seen in Matthew 19:3-9 (Ignatius Bible):
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’? 6So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” 7They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.”
In the Catholic Church, marriages between two Catholics in church are presumed to be sacramental, and therefore indissoluble. Other formulations may carry less presumption (marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic or non-Christian), and there is such a thing as the “Pauline privilege,” where a marriage involving at least one unbaptized partner can be assumed to be non-sacramental. In order to overcome the presumption of a sacramental marriage, one has to demonstrate that there was a significant defect in the relationship at the time of marriage that prevented the union from being sacramental. Immaturity can be one of those defects, as well as material dishonesty (say, not sharing that one partner had no intent to have children, as just one example), and so on.
This requires an annulment, which always takes place after a civil divorce. They are not impossible to come by, either; my wife had her first marriage annulled before we met. In her case, it was easier to demonstrate the lack of sacrament because her first husband cooperated with the annulment process, and our diocese had a well-functioning system for dealing with it. It’s not automatic by any means, though, and many divorced Catholics find the process bruising and difficult, especially when the former spouse refuses to cooperate and dioceses don’t have the resources for efficient processing. Plus, former spouses fighting the annulment can appeal to the Vatican, which makes it even more difficult and time-consuming, and more than a few simply give up.
I’d expect this consistory to focus on making the annulment process less bruising and more efficient. They won’t change doctrine on divorce, remarriage, and the Eucharist, simply because the Scripture on this is clear and on point. They can, however, make it easier for the local dioceses to review and conclude annulment applications, and therefore reduce the pressure people feel to leave.