Friday, November 7, 2014

Costing Out Annulment Analogies

One of the hot button issues during the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in 2014 was how the Catholic Church dealt with the sad cases of civilly divorced Catholics who wish to remarry and receive the sacraments.  Cardinal Walter Kasper, a theologian whom Pope Francis complimented early in his papacy, has long sought to remedy the stark consequences of this broken marital situation.

 In the midterm relatio, paragraphs 53 and 55 sought to "study" the situation of divorced and remarried persons or those living together as well as to find a pastoral provision with a penitential process (established by a bishop) for receiving the sacrament.  Such interventions in the relatio were not well received.  Thus they were opposed by the likes of Cardinal George Pell, pointing to scripture, such as in Matthew 5:32, which makes dissolution of the marital covenant difficult, except in limited circumstances.

As the Synod Fathers voted on the final report for the 2014 Synod, conciliatory language dealing with the treatment of divorced and remarried Catholics narrowly failed to pass.  But in the run up to the month-long Synod on the Family in October, 2015, the faithful are  ruminating over the issues which challenge family life.

Pope Francis gave an audience in the Vatican in which he bemoaned the high costs and long adjudication of some marriage tribunals.

Pope Francis recalled an unspecified instance when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in which a member of the marriage tribunal had to be expelled because the corrupt church official offered to take at $10,000 bribe to make sure that everything ran smoothly.  Although that anecdote may be authentic, is sounds suspiciously similar to sales pitches to pass Obamacare so that doctors do not make more money for unnecessary surgeries.

In North America, cost is not the issue in discouraging annulments.  Per the Archdiocese of Baltimore, costs for annulments to petitioners run between $100 to $500 (and that is only half of the actual costs).  If Rome Reports is accurate, the adjudicator may be entitled to $1,000.  However, the Baltimore Archdiocese stresses that no one is turned away for their inability to pay.  Here it does not seem like cost is a factor.

There may be some frustration with the faithful about the time to adjudicate. There is the persistent perception that it takes three to five years to gain a declaration of nullity (annulment), when it can depending upon the case take as little as eight months.

 A friend who was civilly divorced against his volition has chosen not to get an annulment because of not dating and being to busy being a parent.  When we spoke of the hot button issues at the Synod of the Family, he wondered why it takes so long for the Church to reach an answer on the validity of marriage.  This echoes the Holy Father.  However, his construct for regaining access to the sacrament was concerning.

He perceives Penance as being a case where a penitent acts as the defendant and prosecutor looking for adjudication from the priest acting in the stead of the Divine Judge.  Therefore, a simplified penitential process for divorced and remarried Catholics could be something similar to "Je me accuse". One confesses one's sins and then is given absolution.

For me, calling the Sacrament of Reconciliation "Penance" is the wrong way to look at that sacrament. Scripture tries to explain the Divine with different metaphors.  If a person gets stuck on the Judge and Trial schema, it is easy to think of the Lord sitting on His throne being a Divine Scorekeeper and we pay for our sins.  A better way to understand Reconciliation may be through the lens of the "Prodigal Father", who runs to greet his prodigal son who approaches with humility and seeks to restore relationship.

That being said, if one uses a penitential perspective towards remarried Catholics, of what are they accusing themselves.  The dissolution of the marriage is not the reason for excommunication, the subsequent conjugal marriage is.  So what would they be confessing?  Thinking of a spouse who was divorced against his or her will, how did they do wrong?   As for the latter intimate relationship, how can a penitent vow to sin no more if the prior marriage was sacramental in nature?

Canon law is concerned about five elements of a sacramental marriage:

  • The spouses were free to marry; 
  • they freely exchanged their consent; 
  •  they intended to marry for life, be faithful and be open to children; 
  •  they intended “good of each other"
  •  and their consent was given in the presence of witnesses before an authorized church official.
The current process may take time to discern intentions.  If the process is streamlined and rushed, will this devalue the scriptural exhortation on the covenant of marriage which is presumed to be indissoluble?

As Catholics discern the challenges of the family in modern life, we ought not to discount essential doctrine on the sacramental nature of marriage to satisfy secular trends. 

For close to a century, Anglicans have been wrestling with the wrath of modernism.  Many see 1930 the Council of Lambeth opening up a door to dissent and doctrinal indifference.  During the Council of Lambeth, Resolution 15 passed, which was a narrow exception to allow contraception for married couples.  That seems to have established a precedent for accommodating the ways of the world, despite what scripture, tradition and Anglican's understanding of a Magisterium.  So much so, Anglo-Catholics have been willing to swim the Tiber to keep the faith, encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI's moto propio Anglicanorum Coetibus, which established a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans within the Catholic Church.

May our impetus to better convey the new Evangelization continue to preach the Good News of the Gospel.

h/t: RomeReports

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