And so it begins… Instrumentum Laboris (working document) for October Synod of Bishops

niceaLast October we saw the disputes and problems that erupted during the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. There were behind scenes plots, thefts of books, attempts to repress the press, revolt on the floor, sudden changes in procedures… some were determined to ram into to the agenda certain items.

Now the Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming October Ordinary Synod is out. This is the working document for the members of the Synod.

I have been exploring the 2015 IL.

I found in the section on “La via penitenziale… the penitential path”, an proposal (to the Synod for discussion) that the divorced and remarried who are in “convivenza irreversibile… irreversible cohabitation” (perhaps for the sake of children) can be admitted to Holy Communion through a period of penance under the direction of the local bishop.

Camel’s nose comes to mind.

And, I have to ask, will diocesan bishops undertake this penitential spiritual direction of couples personally? Can you imagine how that might work in a whole diocese? How about someplace the size of, say, Chicago? Would Archbp. Cupich handle all these couples personally? Could Card. O’Malley handle this himself for the entire Archdiocese of Boston? Or would he delegate? Might he delegate to, say, pastors of parishes? Subsidiarity, right? And will pastors, who are busy, take this on himself? Or will he delegate? He just might. To whom? To former Sister Randi, who now heads up RE?

I’m just asking.

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  1. mysticalrose says:

    Ok, there was no link in that article at New Advent. Please delete the second comment and keep the first, if you are not sick of me yet.

  2. ofHippo says:

    Or if a Bishop does handle this himself and deems the couple unready to receive The Sweet Sacrament, and he draws the ire of that couple who goes after him in the media and ranks of let’s practice other than canon law and teachings etc…, then will he face a similar fate as Archbishop Nienstedt?

  3. Would it be specified that such an “irreversibly cohabiting” divorced and remarried person has to go to confession every time they receive Holy Communion in a state of sin, before they can next receive communion in the same state of sin? But then what would their firm purpose of amendment expressed in each such confession really mean? Is there any way to make sense of this?

  4. iPadre says:

    We all know how this works. Once the toe is in the door, the elephant enters the room and there is no turning back.

  5. MarkJ says:

    Perhaps this could work if the couple publicly vows to lifelong virginity. This would mean adopting a life of sacrifice and penance (which of course we should all do) as a prerequisite to being readmitted to Communion. This should also be preceded by a standard period of formation. If done right, this could be a beautiful public witness to the world on the holiness of Communion and the sacredness of marriage and marital relations, and a chance for people to “come clean” in public, thus avoiding scandal.

  6. MarkJ says:

    By “lifelong virginity” I obviously mean “lifelong abstinence starting now”… Aka, “living as brother and sister”.

  7. Gregg the Obscure says:

    I wouldn’t have bet on polygamy being the first mortal sin to be endorsed (if only in a qualified manner) by so many bishops. Could one persuade them that rage – in certain limited and irreversible circumstances of course – might deserve similar consideration?

  8. arga says:

    Even more worrisome than Sister Randi is the concept of “convivenza irreversibile.” Does this even make sense, morally? It implies that some ongoing sinful engagement, if sufficiently habitual, can be considered NOT sinful. This sounds like something an Episcopalian, or a Jesuit, might dream up.

  9. thomas tucker says:

    Yes, it is apparent how thiswould end up in practice. Essentially, things would be where they are now, in which divorced and remarried people simply continue to receive Communion as they like. Nobody stops them. The only difference is then they could say that the Church approves of it, and they would skip the whole penance part. These machinations are such as wate of time.

  10. dmwallace says:

    “And, I have to ask, will diocesan bishops undertake this penitential spiritual direction of couples personally?” How about the Missionaries of mercy?

  11. John V says:

    The spectre described by Fr. Hunwicke in the context of the liturgical changes under Blessed Paul VI continues to haunt: “If you blend together in one saucepan an exaggerated notion of papal authority . . . with the activities . . . of unscrupulous and dishonest and ruthlessly determined manipulative individuals who have the pope’s ear, you are gravely at risk of having a disaster the results of which it may well take generations to mitigate.”

  12. Auggie says:

    This news brings several S-words to mind.

  13. lweisenthal says:

    The following isn’t a comment, but a question: For virtually all sins, it’s possible to have sincere regret, to confess, and to obtain absolution. This goes for everything from skipping mass for the purpose of playing golf to murdering one’s spouse. But what about the young woman who marries the man of her dreams, only to end up on the receiving end of marital cruelty (in any of its various guises). So she divorces, remarries, and 15 years later finds herself in a perfectly happy marriage with 2 or three children. And her husband is not at all amenable to living the rest of his life in sexual chastity. At a certain point, it would seem that the admonition against divorce and remarriage — which makes perfect moral sense in most cases — may not be the best thing for all concerned in a given, specific case.

    If Christ gifted the Magisterium with the authority to declare doctrine and to clarify doctrine lacking in Scriptural clarity, why would the Magisterium not have the authority to clarify doctrine to account for outlier situations such as the above? One doubts that Christ would counsel the woman in the above hypothetical situation to divorce her second husband or to demand that her non-Orthodox Catholic husband commit to a lifetime of chastity, with the likelihood that he’d divorce her to the great disadvantage of innocent children. At what point is it possible to introduce a little bit of common sense mercy into the process?

    Another issue that I’ve considered in the past, strictly as a thought experiment, is this. In times past, I wonder how many people murdered their spouses because it was socially advantageous to be a widow/widower and then to remarry, than to divorce and remarry and therefore be ostracized by the Church? People in desperate situations (extremely unhappy marriages do qualify) will find themselves motivated to do desperate things, unless more merciful avenues are open, I think.

    It’s the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, one thinks. What was Christ’s intention? I’m certainly not qualified to answer this question, but isn’t that in the job description of the Magisterium?

    – Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

  14. Paulo says:

    I agree with the comment made by arga above, adding that if the marriage (which was the sacramental marriage…) was “reversed” by civil proceedings (often to the distress of children), what would be the ground to even consider any future cohabitation “irreversible”? Sure, as Rocco Palmo reports, “the text cautions that the proposal is only envisioned “in some particular situations, and according to well-precise conditions.” “Still, it smells like a violation of law of non-contradiction.

  15. Woody79 says:

    In the words of the apostles, “Oy vey!”

  16. mattwcu says:

    “irreversibly cohabiting” is also known as Marriage…

  17. John Grammaticus says:

    This is a slap in the face to any orthodox Catholic who tries to live chastely God preserve us

  18. comedyeye says:

    How come “live like brother and sister”
    is never an option?

  19. Jethrah says:

    MarkJ: I agree with you and furthermore it seems to me that it must be obvious to anyone who has a basic adult understanding of right and wrong that contrition in such a situation would include the intent to remain continent. The problem is this is not what the cafeteria Catholics want and it will only make them angry.

    Maybe it’s not a bad idea, though. When I try to imagine myself in the unhappy situation of being the penitent parent of a second family after divorce and remarriage, “convivenza irreversibile” might describe how I would see it. Dad’s moving out would not be good for the children, and they need a father at home but it makes no difference to them whether their parents share or have separate bedrooms. Making the solution explicitly codified and public would help the faithful to understand how that family sitting in the pew in front of them can legitimately go up for communion.

    So maybe we have a good reason to be cynical but we also have a good reason to hope something good might come out of it.

  20. drohan says:

    Invoke “The Spirit of Vatican II”…

    I guess it’s time to get our popcorn ready. Also, I would suggest everyone who cares about the faith write to their local ordinary and implore him to uphold the teachings of Holy Mother Church. I think it can have an effect (especially since many of them are modernist liberals).

    I think the sodomite in charge of Catholic Relief Services’ international accounts was canned precisely because of faithful parishioners who wrote bishops and wrote CRS demanding action. For recalcitrant liberal bishops, I would say hit them where they hurt: their wallets.

  21. amenamen says:

    “It’s just impossible”

    This notion of “irreversible cohabitation” has a funny metaphysical ring to it. Something like irresistible grace and predestination.

    Two popular old songs come to mind:

    Perry Como, singing “It’s impossible”, implies an actual impossibility of reversal. (Although he, personally, may have been thinking of marriage rather than cohabitation, as he was married to the same woman for 65 years):

    But Paul Simon suggests that it is really not so very difficult to reverse the situation, in “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”:

    You just slip out the back, Jack
    Make a new plan, Stan

  22. Michael_Thoma says:

    Does this extend to laicized priests as well? Unlike married men ordained to the diaconate and priesthood – can men who were celibately vowed or promised, who subsequently broke that vow and married (sometimes even to parishioners [including some ex-priests responsible for parishioners’ marriage breakups]) – can these be restored to the priesthood after making children with their long-term adulteree? Mercy after all?! To everyone but the wronged innocent spouse and abandoned children.

  23. DavidJ says:

    How would two parents, living as brother and sister, be able to provide a healthy example of what a married man and woman should act like insofar as being physically affectionate with each other, to their growing children? Surely, parents have a duty to raise their children, but don’t they also have the duty to provide a positive example of, not just parenthood, but the married life? Children need to see that husbands and wives should be close, touching, kissing, (appropriately) affectionate in the house.

    Probably, this is a situation where the need of the children for parents being present is the overarching concern–want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.– but still, I wonder at the impact this would have on them. Certainly don’t

  24. Nordic Breed says:

    I do not see how it is so all-fired difficult to believe that God will give the co-habiting couple with children the grace to live as brother and sister. Or do we Catholics no longer believe in the Bible where St. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 12:9: “And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. ”

    There are myriad ways to show affection and caring without the kind of kissing married couples can show. And at some time, the children will have to be told the whole story behind the relationship. Making the commitment to live as brother and sister and living it faithfully is a huge example of love for Christ and the kind of sacrifice where we crucify our flesh with its passions and desires. What better example could a couple show their children than repentant sinners living in joy. I call this penitential option pure nonsense and an example of the clergy not wanting to do their jobs of calling the faithful to holiness according to the teachings of Christ, which were never meant to be easy.

  25. SaintJude6 says:

    “former Sister Randi”
    I am going to be laughing about that one all night. I’ve run into a lot of former sisters and wanted-to-be-a-sister-but-got-married-instead DREs. Parish life was better before it was taken over by DREs and paid “Youth Ministry Leaders.”

  26. jacobi says:


    There really is no need to go into this matter again at the second session of the Synod. It has been dealt with many times before in the teaching of the Church.

    Adulterers who for whatever reason find themselves in a difficult situation because of children etc., have a choice. They can continue to live a life of mortal sin, which of course excludes them from reception of Holy Communion on the pain of further mortal sin, or they can choose to go to Confession with the intention never to commit adultery again, say their penance, and get on with their new Catholic life-style. (whether they sleep in separate rooms is really none of our business),

    What they cannot do is Confess, without intent to stop committing adultery, and just carry on.

    That would mean further mortal sin and I suspect if persisted in, sacrilege, and what is more, any bishop or priest who advised and supported this would be party to this further mortal sin and sacrilege.

    Such clergy, advising and supporting mortal sin behaviour, would be advocating a heretical practise and would be in heretical schism from the Catholic Church. They would no longer be Catholics

    Its really quite simple and there’s no need to discuss it.

  27. anilwang says:

    lweisenthal says: “What was Christ’s intention? I’m certainly not qualified to answer this question, but isn’t that in the job description of the Magisterium?”

    Both Christ himself in scripture and Magisterium from the beginning of the Church until recently are quite clear…marriage binds you to someone else for life. Your objection is precisely the objection the apostles themselves had (i.e. “if this is the case, it’s better not to marry”), but Christ doesn’t back down.

    You asked “If Christ gifted the Magisterium with the authority to declare doctrine”…this isn’t the case. The Magisterium preserves and clarifies the faith but it can neither revoke an existing doctrine nor invent a new one out of thin air. All doctrines, even the most recent Marian doctrines have deep roots in Tradition.

    You mention “In times past, I wonder how many people murdered their spouses because …”. That’s irrelevant. The same can be said of abortion. The fault doesn’t lie in the law. The fault lies in the person and that’s where judgment must rest.

    I understand your struggle. An unbaptised Christian can get married young into an abusive marriage, then convert and be able to marry again. A baptised uncatechized Catholic in the same circumstances would not be able to. As Catholics we aren’t called to the easy life. We’re called to the cross.

    Like it or not, in the second case, if the uncatechized Catholic attempted a “second” marriage, it would not be a marriage and any relations would be adulterous. If the “husband” doesn’t consent to chastity, the attempted marriage is a farce anyway, since all spouses must accept this possibility in their vows to love for better or worse. All of us are a single cancer, illness, or injury away from being unable to have relations. If we cannot trust our spouses to be with us, or trust ourselves to remain with our spouses, or trust that adultery is never an option even if there’s a big fight, the “marriage” is already on shaky ground and the law of Christ does nothing to change that. The indissolubility of marriage allows Catholic spouses the ability to trust in their marriage and accept all the challenges that come our way. The law of Christ is a mercy, not a torment.

  28. thomas tucker says:

    @lweisenthal: that is an excellent question with a not uncommon scenario that you have proposed. I think the most obvious, and traditional, answer would be that she should seek an annulment for her first marriage, but if that is not possible, then she could remain in this marriage, and may engage in relations IF her husband refuses to live as brother and sister, but she may not present herself for Communion. She may commune spiritually at Mass, but not receive the Host. That would, btw, serve the same purpose as a penitential path, it seems to me, without profaning the Body and Blood. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

  29. Papabile says:

    The amazing thing is there was an intervention on this DURING the Council that was shut down definitively by the Holy Father.

    I never thought I would say this, but the moment that my parish Priest starts explaining how this is possible is the moment I start taking my family to the SSPX Mass at the funeral home. We’ll likely receive confession at the local parish (as there is no real excuse not to), but this is crazy, just crazy.

  30. arga says:

    Jacobi: I guess the pope didn’t get that memo.

  31. Luvadoxi says:

    I think lweisenthal has made some thoughtful comments. When Jesus said, “it shall not be so among you” I’ve always thought His anger was directed at men who at that time could just easily divorce their wives, leaving them with no option for survival other than to remarry. I’m glad I’m not a decision maker in the Church. The situations lweisenthal mentions are not really outliers–it’s quite common. Should doctrine not be developed just because many sinners will take advantage? Just some thoughts–please don’t throw tomatoes! ;)

  32. Luvadoxi says:

    Just so you know, I’m in my first and only marriage–41 years!

  33. ChrisRawlings says:

    Have no fear, brothers and sisters, the circuli minori are here. Card. Baldisseri is apparently trying to make room for “more and more” of the small group discussions that were so important last year in correcting the wildness of the midterm relatio. That may again be where the most vigorous defenses of orthodoxy are staged.

  34. monknoah says:

    Unbelievable. Why are we continuing to debate settled doctrines? Catechism 1610:

    The biblical loci classici for the three goods of marriage are:
    1. Gen 1, when God says to Adam/ Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.”
    2. Gen 2, when God says: “It is not good that the man should be alone.”
    3. Mt 19, when Christ says: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

    The goods of marriage are openness to children, faithfulness, and indissolubility. This is just natural law, folks. Even Adam and Eve managed it. The Church wastes its time and damages its moral authority by pretending that any of these goods are debatable. The worst case scenario is that the Synod actually takes a position contrary to the natural law, which would almost necessarily induce a schism. The worst case scenario is decades of dissent on the grounds that the Synod debated these matters, which implies that they are in fact debatable. How depressing.

  35. newportson says:

    is it more charitable and loving to lead the poor sinner hand in hand on the road to perdition, or to explain charitably and clearly why the current circumstance cannot persist? the Blessed Sacrament is not some “prize” to be doled out because one has lived a life of sin for so long that it is clearly not going to change, as if they are to be rewarded for their persistence; but rather it is the source and summit of our Christian life, received by us as a sign of our commitment to live according to the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus Christ. If these poor souls actually believed what they seemingly so desperately desire, they would amend their lives, conform their lives, and commit their lives to Him and His Church. We must beg the Holy Spirit to remain in the Church and steer the barque of Peter through these crashing waves.

  36. chantgirl says:

    lweisenthal- The woman would not actually be married to the second man. She would be living in a state of perpetual adultery unless and until she got an annulment and then married her current beau.

    Luvadoxi- I don’t think that this would be a development of doctrine, but a serious rupture.

    Do not the children of the first marriage have first rights to their mother and father in the home? This may sound harsh, but Isaac inherited what Ismael never could because Isaac was the result of the union of marriage, and Ismael the product of a sinful situation ( highly common at the time). Obviously, the children had no control over their parents’ choices, but had to deal with the consequences all the same. In a situation of cohabitation after divorce, the children will suffer if the parents have to separate, but the suffering is not caused by the Church, but by the parents’ sinful actions.

  37. chantgirl says:

    Last thought…..For those saying that Jesus would never ask the cohabiting parents to separate or live in continence, Jesus asked some very difficult things of his followers including the rich young man, who was told to give everything he had to the poor and then come follow Jesus. Jesus frequently asks us to give up something very dear to us in order to follow Him. Often it is the thing that we clutch and cling to, and think we can never live without.

  38. MarkJ says:

    @Thomas Tucker: it is my understanding that spiritual Communion is only possible if you are in a state of grace. Having relations with someone who is not your spouse is adultery, which puts you in a state of mortal sin, meaning you cannot receive Communion really or spiritually. A precarious position to put oneself in!

  39. VeritasVereVincet says:


    But truth remains truth, immorality remains immorality, and the 9th commandment remains the 9th commandment–regardless of circumstances. To say otherwise, to say “in this particular case it is not a sin”, is to capitulate to relativism and deny truth.

    “One doubts that Christ would counsel the woman in the above hypothetical situation to….demand that her non-Orthodox Catholic husband commit to a lifetime of chastity, with the likelihood that he’d divorce her to the great disadvantage of innocent children. At what point is it possible to introduce a little bit of common sense mercy into the process?”

    Truly? I suspect He might say exactly that, for it is the right and moral thing. That is not mercy which condones the sin. We may not do certain evil to avoid possible evil.


    “Should doctrine not be developed just because many sinners will take advantage?”

    Doctrine must be developed only to a greater degree of Truth, not towards the lies or convenience of the world.

  40. HeatherPA says:

    Anilwang, that is an excellent comment. Thank you.

  41. avecrux says:

    MarkJ – lifelong continence is already an option.
    jacobi is correct – St. John Paul II already addressed all of this very clearly.

    lweisenthal – re: “The following isn’t a comment, but a question: For virtually all sins, it’s possible to have sincere regret, to confess, and to obtain absolution. This goes for everything from skipping mass for the purpose of playing golf to murdering one’s spouse. But what about the young woman who marries the man of her dreams, only to end up on the receiving end of marital cruelty (in any of its various guises). So she divorces, remarries, and 15 years later finds herself in a perfectly happy marriage with 2 or three children. And her husband is not at all amenable to living the rest of his life in sexual chastity. At a certain point, it would seem that the admonition against divorce and remarriage — which makes perfect moral sense in most cases — may not be the best thing for all concerned in a given, specific case.”
    The whole question of annulment comes into play here… lots of moving parts in the scenario you lay out, which would all be investigated in the annulment process.

    There is NO SUCH THING as “divorce and re-marriage”, for a Catholic Christian.
    No one and nothing can dissolve a valid, sacramental marriage. What God has joined, no man can separate – period. If a decree of nullity is issued regarding the first *attempt* at marriage, the person is free to truly marry. If there truly was a first marriage, it is impossible to “re-marry” – unless the first spouse dies. Spiritually, divorce does nothing – and sex with anyone other than one’s spouse is grave matter. A period of “penance” requires sorrow for sin and a firm purpose of amendment – it isn’t simply a diocesan hoop I jump so I can continue to engage in adulterous sex and receive the Eucharist. You have to deny what the Eucharist is – deny what marriage is – or both.

  42. kpoterack says:

    One of the things that has helped me in dealing with issues such as this is to look at the actual source text. Unfortunately, it is only available in Italian right now – but that’s what Google translate is for! Anyway, you can find this in articles #122-123 in the Instrumentum laboris (IL).

    Article #122 is simply an exact quote of #52 from the synod final report (SFR) on the same subject. No surprise. This is how the IL is organized. It takes every article from the SFR and comments on each one. It would have been nice for #52 of the SFR to have been left out entirely, but I didn’t really expect this.

    Anyhow, article #123 from the IL has three paragraphs which are interesting.

    The first paragraph refers to Familiaris Consortio #84 and talks about living in continence and spiritual communion and the investigation of the possible nullity of the first marriage. Nothing controversial here.

    The second paragraph is the one that is a little bit vague. However, it seems to me to allow for an orthodox interpretation – even demand it. It talks about “others” [who suggest that couples in such a situation be] accompanied by a priest appointed for this purpose” – [and he would make] “an evaluation in order to make use of the power of binding and loosing adequately to the situation.” This suggests to me that the priest would be counseling them about avoiding sin (Are you trying seriously at all? Or are you parading around in skimpy lingere in front of him at night?) – but also hearing their confessions and giving absolution if he thinks they are truly sorry when they fall. In other words, a spiritual director for people in such situations.

    Is this a prudent idea? I have my doubts. Could this be abused? Absolutely. I am sure there would be priests who would more or less tell the couple, “You can’t help yourselves. There’s no culpability here – and there never will be. So, go to it.” Will liberals use this to undermine Church teaching? Yes, very possible so. But I think that the text can be read – and practiced – in a totally orthodox (and helpful) way. In fact the text NOWHERE says that it is OK to have relations in such a situation.

    In fact, the third paragraph goes on to talk about “the objective situation of sin and moral culpability” and recommends reading two documents produced under JP II. First, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s: “Reception of Holy Communion by Divorced and Remarried Faithful” (1994), and, secondly, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Text’s “Declaration on the Admissibility of the Divorced and Remarried to Holy Communion” (2000) – both quite good.

    Now, maybe these were cited only grudgingly by Cardinal B. at the behest of Cardinal M. – a report I have heard – but, still, they are there.

    As someone said, we are in a very different situation than we were a year ago, even six months ago. Is this the birth of something bad, or the last gasp of a dying idea? Honestly, I think that it is closer to the later than the former. Keep praying!

  43. thomas tucker says:

    @Mark J: interesting question, for which we probably need a moral theologian. I am presupposing that she is wishing to live chastely but her civilly-marriaged husband is requiring her to have relations and she is not giving internal consent.

  44. Jethrah says:

    To clarify, when I mentioned “Making the solution explicitly codified and PUBLIC,” above, I didn’t mean making any family’s private life or bedroom arrangements public–I meant PUBLISHing an explanation of how and in what circumstances divorced and invalidly remarried people can sometimes return to the sacraments while still living in the same house with their second defective families. This could be a positive thing that the synod could do which might not be entirely superfluous. It might be a document that would clarify, for the faithful, questions that seem to be in doubt or not well-understood right now.

  45. Luvadoxi says:

    Ah-Veritas I didn’t write clearly. I meant that just because some will plot, take advantage and introduce agendas, that shouldn’t influence the decision. You’re right, truth is the standard. I didn’t mean to suggest doctrine should develop *because* some sin, although my comment may have read that way.

  46. Imrahil says:

    Dear Mr Weisenthal,

    I happen to be unsure of whether remaining in such a remarriage needs go with subjective grave sin, myself. (Especially if only one of the new-partners is practicing religion, and the other utterly refuses, or is driven yet farther away from religion by, the idea of a brother-and-sister relationship – and you know, conversions mostly seem to come one-by-one.)

    However, I am sure that entering into such a remarriage is forbidden to the Christian. The words of St. Paul, certainly, leave no room to move:

    unto the married commandeth not I, but the Lord: Let not the wife depart from her husband.
    But if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
    (1 Kor 7,10ff.)

    Now why is that so? Does God just not like it if we’re having fun?

    No. He wants us to have the fun, so much that He’ll even endure our murmuring at His supposedly hard rules which He set up to hinder anyone unwittingly spoil it.

    I’ll throw in an empirical fact: All divorce laws that exist in Western countries have begun in exceptionalmost exceptions for the heavily afflicted. All exceptionalmost exceptions for the heavily afflicted have over a time very quick in human history – less than two centuries – evolved into no-fault divorce, with the Constitution of Sweden guaranteeing, as a basic right of the man and citizen, to be able to get rid of one’s spouse for any cause whatsoever within a year.

    – No back out of empirics into the safe world of thinking.

    I think the point is simply that if the heavily afflicted can be cut out of their affliction by no-cost divorce, then the a shade less heavily afflicted would be the heavily afflicted, and so on. If marriage can be no-cost divorced for adultery, then people will commit adultery to get divorced. If remarriage with the adulterous partner is forbidden, then people will go to a prostitute to get divorced and marry their real lover afterwards. If marriage can be no-cost divorced for physical violence, is it too much to fear that spouses will nag their spouses into saying that physical violence had taken place when it didn’t, or that they will provoke it if they feel their spouse is subjectable to provocation, or they will lie about it happening? that they will threaten “you can get off easily and with rather little hurt to your reputation, if we think of a story together that will satisfy the divorce court, but if you don’t agree to that, who’s going to believe your version of the story”?

    Either have marriage that can be dissolved for any reason, only requiring the time the administrative act takes and (and that not necessarily) a time-requirement to think-it-over – or have no no-cost divorce at all.

    The teaching of Christ sees that sometimes a marriage must be divorced.

    (Note that this really is an exceptional thing; divorce, even taken alone, would be a sin in anyone who does not think his case to be an exceptional one; though I guess unhappiness substantially surpassing usual ups and downs qualifies.)

    But that means that if we don’t want general divorce, if we do want what Pope Pius XI. in a beautifully unmodern and unmodernly beautiful phrase described as

    Besides, a strong bulwark is set up in defense of a loyal chastity against incitements to infidelity, should any be encountered either from within or from without; any anxious fear lest in adversity or old age the other spouse would prove unfaithful is precluded and in its place there reigns* the tranquillity of secure possession. (Casti connubii 37. Beginning after the * exchanged the official translation by my translation of the German one, just because it is so endearingly unmodern.)

    If we want that, if we want what marriage really is (and what every lover actually does want)… then divorce, though it must be, must be ensured to come at a cost that is not endured for light reason.

    Even by the guiltless party. This means suffering for the guiltless (or significantly less-guilt) party, yes, but the Christian, though he does not always have to suffer, never suffers in vain.

    (And let’s face it, be it in the choice of spouse or in the leading of the marital life, how many entirely guiltless parties of an unhappy marriage are there?)

    “I approve of release as long as it isn’t spelled with a hyphen.” (a Catholic friend of Chesterton, quoted by the latter when he was not yet Catholic, in: The Superstition of Divorce).

  47. juergensen says:

    So, we now have an “irreversible” state of sin? Well, then, what about “irreversible” sodomy? … “irreversible” adultery? … “irreversible” pederasty? … “irreversible” racism? … oh, where does the “mercy” end?

  48. ksommer76 says:

    Ok. Here’s my problem regarding this whole marriage mess. WHY are we always discussing the end result of “failed” marriages and never looking at the beginning? By this I mean why are we allowing young, unchatechized Catholics to get married in the first place. If we truly value marriage and consider it a life-long vocation on the same level as holy orders, then why do we accept a 4-6 month “marriage preperation” period and little to no public discernment? Our seminarians spend 4 years getting their bachelors degree then another four in seminary. That’s 96 months MINIMUM in discernment. And marriage is only worth 4-6? It’s as if the priest assumes that when a couple comes to them for marriage it’s already a done deal. I know many marriages where the priest should have seen that the marriage was not proper nor destined for life-long, but married the couple anyway. I have read familiaris consortia and know that the discernment is supposed to take place through the everyday experience of living in a family that has, at it’s core, a committed, faithful couple, BUT THAT ISN’T HAPPENING! I really do believe that until we begin to treat marriage as a true sacrament, which means denying it to those who are not ready to recieve (RECIEVE, all sacraments are gifts we recieve not things we deserve or earn ) we will never get beyond applying bandaids.

  49. Sonshine135 says:

    This is some very dangerous territory here. Couldn’t any sin be classified as chronic? Hasn’t the formula for readmission always included the need for repentance (i.e. turn away from sin)? Is everything in society is so cheap and expendable today that the only way to lure in people is now cheap grace? Am I to line out where Christ asks the sinners to “go forth and sin no more”?

    We all also know where this will lead. Bishops have no time for this type of penance and counseling. Priests have no time for it either. Many Priests won’t even bat an eyelash, and say, “You’ve lived with this stigma for so long. That in and of itself is penance enough. Welcome home!”

    Cheap mercy, cheap grace, and cheap faith is enough to discourage even the most hopeful and devout Catholic.

  50. SanSan says:

    Living like brother and sister…..probably doable once your a senior…….prior to that, doubtful. Many have a hard enough time finding, much less staying on the “narrow path”. Won’t work…..stop right there Cardinals…..

  51. JPK says:

    I think Father Z covered the theology of this issue pretty thoroughly. But, he does bring up a good and practical point? The local bishop would be doing nothing but adjudicating couples’ habitation status. If this discussion does become a matter of Church policy, would the bishop’s conferences end up delegating this to the laity (professional Catholic marriage experts)?

  52. SanSan says:

    Dear Clergy, On another note, can we stop all this “dialogue” about the poor divorced and disorded sex and just set our sites on saving as many souls as possible by speaking the unvarnished Truth. Go to confession and SIN NO MORE. Get into a “State of Grace” and stay there! Remember, Judas is in Hell and he use to be able to heal the sick and raise the dead! Send out the alarm, wake up those who walk through life in a stupor. Teach the CCC! Proclaim the Good News–there is a way–the narrow way–find it and never let go. God Bless us all.

  53. Imrahil says:

    Dear ksommer76,

    I consider that dangerous ground.

    First, we do not value marriage as a vocation on the same level as Holy Orders. It’s a level below.

    Second, the recipients of Holy Orders are chosen by the responsible bishop and receive their Holy Orders at the bishop’s discretion. The marrying couple receive the sacrament from each other, the priest’s job is that of a witness, not of rejecting candidate-pairs.

    And yes, though you may not like the idea, there is such thing as a right to the Sacraments, if a couple who knows their Catechism and says they’re in love and are willing to sign all that Catholic marriage means, wants to be married. They can be barred by law, by pre-existing bond, but not by “in our parish all other parishioners go for six-months formal counseling so you have to do so too”, to be silent of even longer times. (Of course they have to take decent respect to the priest’s schedule, as long as that remains technical.)

    Third, hindering couples that want to marry and are not incapable of marrying to marry has a “temptation to fornication” ring to it.

    Sorry for the frankness.

    I have a scenario before my eyes where a young man (graduated and with a job) and a young woman, both not unbeautiful, both practicing Catholics and well-versed in contents of their faith, meet standing around in front of the Church after a TLM. The man immediately falls in love and, by an unforeseen sudden courage, asks the woman to marry him. The couple engage themselves on the spot and agree to get to know each other for some months…

    and then the pastor says: “Sorry, my dears. Diocesan policy. I must not witness your marriage you ere four years are over.”

    Would we call that a desirable situation?

  54. Imrahil says:

    Note: If a Christian could validly and licitly enter into a merely-natural-marriage, and consummate said marriage, and the sacrament would be sort of a bonus which the Church bestows in addition…

    then the withholding the sacrament, telling them “go to the registrary; it is not a sin; but we, as a Church, don’t want to bless your marriage yet” would be a different story.

    But that is not the case. Although the sacrament is, per se, such a bonus, still it exists in the marriage of all baptized Christians, and is the only possible marriage for them.

  55. The Masked Chicken says:

    “@Thomas Tucker: it is my understanding that spiritual Communion is only possible if you are in a state of grace.”

    It is my understanding that one who has repented, but not yet able to receive sacramental confession, can make a spiritual Communion.

    As for this whole marriage thing – this is just silly, with a capital S. Let the current generation of adulterers die out and let the Church institute much tighter screening and teaching policies for marriage. Short of marrying a sociopath who will appear like the sanest of people before the marriage, the Church should be able to tell if a marriage will be stable before the wedding day and act accordingly. I know that in days-gone-by, when the idea of courtship was prevalent, it was the job of both the community and the family to test the appropriateness of the spouses for each other and could either provide help, support, or denial to the possibility of marriage between the two Intended. After the wedding day, should a change in mental state take place due to infirmity (a stoke which alters personality, for example), the marriage becomes a Cross.

    Every sacrament is based on the Cross as a referent. People getting married should be scared out of their wits into understanding what they are getting into. To quote St. John of the Cross, “Those whom God loves he bids come die.” Marriage, like all sacraments, should be a sweet death to self for the love of God and neighbor.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, the Church has dropped the ball in marriage preparation and so has the familes of those getting married. We are told not to judge, but I think a little judgement goes a long way, really. One just has to be careful of what one judges.

    I have to keep repeating this, but things like no-fault divorce and the Protestant sensibilities that would render marriage into nothing more than a legal contract (which the Lord, specifically, dismissed as being what God intended) are what have allowed the whole divorce and remarriage fiasco to happen. If the Church would distance themselves from civil legalities and Protestant mentality in determining what a marriage is, it would be much better off.

    The Chicken

  56. Traductora says:

    Imrahil, excellent comments. Nobody ever said being a Christian was going to be easy, and as you point out, it’s not the civil divorce that’s the problem (because sometimes it is done purely for civil legal reasons) but the civil “remarriage ” afterwards, because it simply can’t be considered a marriage by the Church. That is, the divorce has effect only in the civil sphere, and any attempt to enter into marriage again would also have effect only in the civil sphere.

    That said, for prudential reasons, I think it might be a good idea to insist on a longer betrothal period. Heck, even for non-Catholics, this would be a good idea. Marry in haste, repent at leisure…

  57. WYMiriam says:

    ksommer76 and The Chicken both raise a point that I would like to make in perhaps somewhat plainer language and expand a bit.

    As things stand now (in the USA, anyway), couples who wish to receive the Sacrament of Marriage are to undergo a specific number of months of preparation (which number varies from diocese to diocese). Not only that, but the quality of the preparation also appears to be quite variable from place to place.

    I have a niece who was married a few years ago, and has some bitter words to say about the preparation she and her spouse-to-be went through, particularly in relation to making sure the couples were definitely aware of AND committed to the Church’s teaching concerning the indissolubility of marriage (it was, according to her, sadly deficient in content and emphasis). During our discussion, the matter of impediments to marriage was raised, as also the question of whether or not there was any screening for any of the things that most commonly contribute to a declaration of nullity.

    So I ask, not because I’m accusing anyone, but because I simply do not know:

    has any bishop, priest, or moral theologian — or anyone else — ever proposed (or required) that these aspects of marriage — its indissolubility, the impediments to marriage, and what makes a putative marriage null — be thoroughly covered in preparation classes?

    How many null “marriages” would be avoided if the couples were screened for, say, emotional immaturity, which is (I believe) grounds for issuing a decree of nullity?

    And on a related matter, has any bishop, priest, or moral theologian (or anyone else) ever suggested that there be additional marriage preparation prior to a second union (one priest prepping one couple, for reasons of confidentiality), in which the reasons for the decree of nullity are fully disclosed to both persons seeking the marriage and in which both persons are specifically screened to see to it that that reason or those reasons is/are no longer present? In other words, how many people come to a second “marriage” with the same faults that contributed to the declaration of nullity in the first “marriage”? And how can we prevent making the mistake all over again?

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  59. kiwiinamerica says:

    Is the “new mercy” regarding the reception of Holy Communion confined only to those in second marriages? What about those of us in third, fourth and fifth marriages? Are we included too? If not, why not?

    Is there some solid Kasperite theology which says that couples are entitled to one and only one “do over”? At what point is an irregular “marriage” considered to be “irreversible”? OK, so I’m onto my fourth marriage but trust me Father, this one is “irreversible”. No, don’t laugh……I aint doing this no more….I’m done! Three divorces is enough!

  60. robtbrown says:


    Marriage is a contract. Unlike a civil contract, however, it cannot be broken just because both parties want to relieve each other of the contractual obligations. That is because the goods of the Church are involved in a Sacramental marriage, and Sacramental marriage is a bond only broken by death. The only possibilty is an annulment, which declares there was at least one impediment to consent to the contract.

    I never have understood why a penitential period would be relevant. The question is whether there was actually a first marriage. It might be sinful to walk out on a marriage, but that would not break the bond. If the sin refers to someone living in an adulterous union, that isn’t resolved by penance.

  61. chantgirl says:

    Paul Priest explains well the three heresies that are behind the Kasper solution:

  62. anilwang says:

    MarkJ says: “Spiritual Communion is only possible if you are in a state of grace.”

    Yes in the strict sense, but not necessarily entirely true in the general sense.

    If you go into it with the attitude that “Spiritual Communion” is just a diminished form of sacramental communion, then you’re 100% correct and you might even be committing the sin of sacrilege by requesting that Christs body be united with mortal sin.

    If however by “Spiritual Communion” you mean, you’re requesting whatever Grace God can provide you through the Eucharist, you are in essence requesting the Grace to receive the sacraments and that request will not be ignored according to the Epistle of St James. It’s very similar to the prayer “I believe, help my unbelief”. Yes, you are admitting to your lack of faith that puts a barrier between you and the Catholic faith, but you are also asking for the Grace to overcome that barrier. Converts and reverts will understand what I’m trying to say.

  63. Quaeror says:

    Through God, all things are possible.

    Except, apparently, a level of forgiveness and new birth that would allow his faulty children to share in the bread of life required for entry into heaven?

  64. robtbrown says:


    You want them forgiven of what sin?

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