Sep 8, 2015

Reform of Church Annulments - A Church for God's people

Yesterday, in a somewhat "bombshell" announcement, the Vatican released new directives, approved by Pope Francis, on the controversial but often misunderstood, process by which the Catholic Church allows baptized persons, in particular Catholics, to enter a marriage in the Catholic Church a second time. It is also important to say that if a Catholic seeks to marry a previously married non-Catholic, that non-Catholic too must seek this process due to their previous bond of marriage before the marriage can take place. Obviously, in either case, if the former spouse is deceased, there is no previous bond remaining.  

If a Catholic is seeking to be married in the Catholic Church he/she must have no previous bond of a prior marriage.  Divorce is not a judgement by the Church that a marriage is ended. That is a statement by the secular government of the contractual agreement between two parties as to whether they enter that contract called marriage and if/when that contract no longer exists, i.e. divorce. All the legal rights and privileges granted with marriage of course are the business of the State. 

The judgement of the Church is a theological one based upon the criteria needed for a valid, sacramental marriage: freedom, intent, psychological disposition of the person, maturity, openness to life (children), understanding and agreement to live by the sacramental definition of Marriage as a permanent life-long bond, fidelity to one's spouse. The proper intentions and understanding of both spouses must be in place in order to declare that a marriage is a valid and a binding permanent bond, broken only by natural death. If any one or more of the conditions is somehow lacking in either spouse, then it is possible that the marriage is not a valid, sacramental marriage and therefore that person would be allowed to marry again in the Catholic Church.  That is what the process of a Church "annulment" examines.  

Annulment is actually, in my opinion, not the best word.  It is a legal word also used by the State.  What the Church process actually does, in order to preserve the integrity of Marriage, the dignity of both spouses, the rights of children, is make a "declaration of nullity" upon that marriage if the conditions indicate that such is what they have.  In other words, that marriage, in the Church's understanding, never really existed as a sacrament so it is declared "null" from the beginning. Though one spouse was committed and with all the proper intent and understanding, the other spouse may not have been on some level. The persons may have been legally married according to secular law but they may not be sacramentally married due to one or more of the conditions lacking according to the theological definition of marriage.  

What our Holy Father has done, out of mercy and compassion, is grant what many have been calling for: a more compassionate and streamlined process of the annulment procedure.  As Pastor, I say "Deo Gratias!"  

However, his statement is not a judgment on the theology of marriage.  The definition of Marriage, which the Church has been articulating quite well in light of so called "same-sex marriage" remains unchanged.  That of course, stays in place and it must. Pope Francis speaks to the process of the annulment procedures. This all after an examination by Canon Law experts of course.  But, it is significant and somewhat complicated.  

To the right, on the picture of the Pope, click for a fuller explanation.  It has already been in the news as this Pope of Mercy
places his pastoral and compassionate stamp upon the Church.  

We must never forget that the Church is for people, not people for the Church.  As Pope Francis essentially stated: The mission of the Church is the salvation of souls in service to God's people.