My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Four: Cohabitation and Remarriage

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Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

Aaaaaand I’m back. My commitment to NaBloPoMo seemed like the perfect way to continue this series without feeling bad for the (many) days between posts.

In the meantime, I have finally done some reading about the Synod. I have enough to say for an entirely separate post! I’m so glad I waited until it was over before I read anything, though. I maintain that in the Catholic Church, we do nothing quickly, so we generally get it right the first time.

On to the next section!

Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations

(This one explains itself.)

Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

[The “ad experimentum” part means “as an experiment,” i.e. couples who are living together because they’re “trying out” being married, not couples that live together because they are married.]

Yes. I used to assist with marriage preparation in the pseudo-parish where I worked. Cohabiting couples accounted for 9 out of the 10 I prepared. The tenth couple lived in separate cities, three hours apart. It happens, even among Catholics, and it is not addressed consistently.

Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?

This question confuses me. The kind of union described would cover most cohabitors. Whenever I discuss cohabitation, someone inevitably brings up common-law marriage. That’s a joke. Most states don’t recognize any kind of common-law marriage. The few that do require you to have decided to present yourselves as married beginning from a specific date. Essentially, everyone would think you are married, but you’d never have had a ceremony or gotten a license.

That’s not the situation most people envision when they think “common-law marriage,” and it’s not cohabitation. Cohabitors might be a little uncomfortable about not being married, but they don’t tell people that they are married. Most of them seem to be totally up-front about it. They seem to have just decided that things once reserved for marriage (like sharing a home and having a sexual relationship) shouldn’t be reserved for marriage anymore.

Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programs?

Yes. Divorce and remarriage is particularly common and complicated. CatholicMatch has a post that does a great job of describing both sides of the coin without making anyone sound like a fool. In general, it’s hard to talk about this without stoking anger, raising emotions, and sounding heartless, but I’ll try.

Sometimes marriages end. Both partners have to want to stay in order to make it work, so when one doesn’t, the other gets left out in the cold. However, unless it can be determined (in exhaustive detail, over a significant period of time, by multiple witnesses and multiple diocesan tribunals) that there was something missing on the wedding day, they made their decision. We have to hold them to it. The integrity of the institution and Sacrament of Marriage depends on it.

People who are remarried outside the Church have already shown their willingness to flout a sacrament. They demonstrate that they no longer care about going to the Church for marriage. If they wanted to respect that sacrament, they would have petitioned for annulment. Many people do that every single year (which is horrifying in and of itself). Thus, why should we expect them to respect the Sacrament of Holy Communion? That would be like telling a lie in confession so that you could get absolution, knowing that the absolution makes you properly disposed to receive the Eucharist. You can’t flout one sacrament and still get another.

Annulments are difficult. So is divorce. So is a second marriage, if marriage in general is hard. Being a Christian is hard. Getting out of hell is impossible.

In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are [they] aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?

I think many baptized people who are cohabitors or divorced and remarried just don’t care, even those who attend Mass weekly. They know they aren’t following the Church’s teachings, but it seems as though no one is. Why be good when sinning is so easy and so much fun?

Many such people (especially the cohabitors) don’t “suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments” because they still receive (particularly the Eucharist). Keeping up appearances by receiving the Eucharist is more important that respecting the sacrament and avoiding further sin. If the cohabitors keep a second address, then it must not be that bad. The divorced and remarried person is so much happier in the new marriage and has such beautiful children who love Jesus, so it can’t be all bad. Wrong.

Regularizing these situations (by getting a marriage or an annulment) is seen as expensive, difficult, and really not necessary. Even cohabitors can be married by the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. When we don’t even talk about these problems, we do everyone a disservice.

What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?

I don’t have personal experience here, but I think many such people would rather pretend as though nothing is wrong. As a general rule, far more people receive the Eucharist every week than seek Reconciliation even every month. The cohabitors just fail to mention that they live together, and the divorced and remarried just stay quiet about their exes. There’s no asking for sacraments; there’s just assuming they’re for everyone. We don’t card, after all (and we shouldn’t).

Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

It might. I don’t think enough people (in any situation) know much about the actual process of petitioning for a declaration of nullity. They only know the rumors: it’s complicated, it takes a long time, it’s expensive. Those are all true of divorce.

I know an unusual amount about annulment for a never-married layperson. Short of not requiring the court of second instance, I don’t know what could be simplified. A shorter petition would shortchange the tribunal in getting a full picture of the marriage. Reducing the number of witnesses required would lessen corroboration of the story of the marriage. Consolidating grounds could confuse the former spouse’s true state on the day of the wedding.

The people I know who have actually received annulments before remarrying all speak about the freedom and peace they found. Why would we want to give them less of that?

Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry. Do such programs exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried, and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?

Declaring the nullity of marriages is more commonly discussed, and ministries are growing. I am not a recognized field advocate anymore, but I do what I can to squash the rumors.

In Austin, the diocese has hosted workshops to assist with the writing of the petition. People who attend these workshops can see they that are not alone, receive assistance in a difficult task, and find spiritual support for the emotions and grief often involved in unpacking a failed marriage. That’s the best ministry for the divorced I’ve ever heard of.


What about you? Do you think divorced and remarried people should be able to receive the Eucharist? Should cohabitors be able to receive? What kind of support can we provide for people that encourages them to grow in holiness and seek the mercy of God? Pope Francis asked for your opinion, too!



7 Comments

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As someone who has never been married or divorced, I must say the annulment industry strikes me as strange (to put it kindly).

Isn’t it true that a very high percentage of petitions for annulment are granted? Were all those marriages somehow invalid, in a canon-law sense? And if they were, shouldn’t we also conclude that a high percentage of marriages of still-married couples are also invalid, canon-law wise? Been married 50 years? Well, maybe you were metaphysically never married because there was some glitch 50 years ago. That’s ridiculous, but if you take the annulment rhetoric at its face it seems plausible.

And if sacraments can be annulled, why don’t we hear about other sacraments being annulled? How many teenage kids go through confirmation not fully prepared or in understanding of that sacrament? (A lot). Ten years later many of those kids are no longer practicing Catholics. They have broken up with the Church in an analogy to divorce. Yet we never hear of confirmations being annulled or holy orders being annulled.

    Calling it the annulment “industry” isn’t accurate or kind. It’s not about profit.

    Many annulment petitions are granted; that’s true, especially in the United States. That’s a problem in and of itself. Getting an annulment means that, on the day of the wedding, something was present in one or both spouses that made their consent impossible. There are specific defect in consent (called “grounds”). The tribunal determines, from a large pool of evidence, that one of those grounds was present or that none of them were (if none, there is no annulment). It’s going too far, though, to say that a high percentage of current marriages are invalid. The Church always presumes in favor of the marriage, i.e. you’re married until proven otherwise. Even if the defect is obvious (like a Catholic married outside of the Church or exchanging vows with the wrong person), if you can make your marriage last until death, the Church is behind you 100%.

    Marriage is a unique sacrament. It begins only with the consent of both spouses on their wedding day and ends only with death. (Confirmation and Holy Orders are, in fact, permanent and unrepeatable. You can never be “unconfirmed” or “re-confirmed,” and even laicized priests are only removed from ministry. They’re technically still priests.) If only one spouse doesn’t (or can’t) consent, however, there is no marriage. The annulment process is a detailed examination of whether that consent was ever exchanged, and thus, whether there was ever a marriage.

    I hope that helps. This is complicated, which is why I spent a day and a half in training and still don’t know everything.

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