Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Annulment reform and the Kasper proposal

Back in the innocent days we had discussing Cardinal Kasper's proposals, the suggestion was that people be allowed to receive Holy Communion despite living in uncanonical situations. He said, in an interview, that he thought reform of the process of annulment wouldn't make a difference to all that many people. Instead, we had to take a different view of the new, adulterous, unions, which people who had left perfectly valid first marriages had contracted. (My post about it.) He said:

And the second is not a marriage in the same sense, but there are elements of it—the partners take care of one another, they are exclusively bound to one another, there is an intention of permanence, they care of children, they lead a life of prayer, and so on. It’s not the best situation. It’s the best possible situation. Realistically, we should respect such situations, as we do with Protestants. We recognize them as Christians. We pray with them.
Part of the motivation for this was, no doubt, a naive belief that the annulment process could only be twisted so far, but another, and perhaps a more powerful one, is the observation that many of the couples in illicit second unions do not want an annulment.

This may seem surprising, but it is true. I've encountered this attitude myself; here is Mgr Basil Loftus about it (criticising 'the often negative and harmful purported 'solution' of marriage nullity.'), and here is Cristina Odone (angered by 'the practice of annulment, where you could effectively buy the Church’s collusion in untying the marital knot.')

It will be interesting (no, actually it will be both boring and depressing) to see how these people respond to the reform of the annulment procedure. A step in the right direction, or in the wrong direction? Cristina Odone has rejected seeking an annulment to straighten out her own, personal, marital situation. She may be mollified a little by the hope to reduce or eliminate the financial cost, but the cheapening of the first marriage is exactly what she is against. She, and others like her, want to affirm the reality of the first marriage, not deny it. She wants the Church to act like the state, and allow not the recognition of invalid marriages as invalid, but the divorce of valid marriages which were great at first but then, you know, we moved on, we drifted apart, there was an affair, there was luuurve...

Does Mgr Pio Vito Pinto, the architect of the reform, understand this? He wants the new procedure to be used by lots and lots of people, but in fact the expense and time involved, and the possibility of rejection, were not the only factors stopping people seeking annulments up to now.

One way of looking at the reform is as a way of avoiding a Kasper-like solution, either in theory (through an official loosening of discipline) or in practice (through an unofficial loosening of discipline). People have already written that by bringing out the reform before the Family Synod, the Pope has removed the issue from the agenda. This may be part of the intention, but I'm not so sure it will work, at least in the medium and long terms. Pressure to allow non-annulled second-marriage couples to receive Communion will not be eliminated by allowing quickie annulments. Odone and others already think that annulments are make-believe, and beneath their dignity. Is the reform going to make them change their minds? No; at least if they are consistent, it will confirm the view that annulments are make-believe, and render impossible any remotely convincing response from faithful Catholics on the subject. These couples will say that since annulments can be had for any and no reason for those willing to go through a sham process, it is utterly unjust to stop couples who have not been through a sham process receiving Holy Communion.

Again, Kasper spoke of couples who felt convinced in themselves that their first marriages were invalid, but couldn't get a annulment for some technical reason (perhaps the Church didn't share their views of what was an obstacle to validity), or who didn't want to go through the process. If the process of getting an annulment is made vastly easier, will there be fewer such couples, or more? Obviously, more, because it will be vastly easier to convince oneself that, if one went to the trouble, one could get an annulment. If one is convinced in conscience that the first marriage was null, why bother going through the process?

There might be reasons: a desire to marry in church, for example, or to be in 'good standing' for the purposes of involvement in the huge bureaucracy of the German Church. Ultimately, however, I expect that many people will be very impatient of the demand that they go through a process perceived as essentially meaningless, and perhaps demeaning as well.

I don't think the Kasper proposal avoided this problem either, as a matter of fact, because he proposed a 'penitential path' which I can't see many couples in second marriages undertaking with much enthusiasm.

(I wonder, in passing, if all these ideas are trying to tackle a problem in a highly specific form which only exists in certain influential countries, like Germany and Argentina, and don't address the form of the problem in the English-speaking world and elsewhere.)

What we have the annulment reform as presented is a plan which, I predict, will not solve the pastoral problem of couples lacking the correct paperwork, but will weaken marriage as perceived and as practised. The pressure on priests to give Communion to those in illicit unions will not go away, but a new problem will arise: pressure on conscientious bishops to grant annulments on slender or non-existent grounds. It could be in diocesan chanceries, rather than an the Communion rail, that the sparks begin to fly.

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  1. Re this - ¨These couples will say that since annulments can be had for any and no reason for those willing to go through a sham process, it is utterly unjust to stop couples who have not been through a sham process receiving Holy Communion.¨

    Nice point here - it reminds me of people deciding to go to communion without confession, on the grounds that it would be unjust for them to forego because they have not partaken in what they see as a sham/make-believe process. They think its a sham because they had to fabricate some sins to confess as children in the confessional, in the absence of having anything to say. I wonder if the two perceived injustices are parallel. (That confession ended up going like that is a disaster and inauthentic of course, but how do you retrieve a culture from that?).

    1. I think the problem with our society/culture is that there is not just couple of things wrong with in the thinking. There is quiet a lot of things wrong. One thing cannot be fixed because the rest of the problems and their consequences exert pressure against the fix.

      But in a way, this has always been the case at various times. The solution in times past had been to call people to repentance and conversion to the Catholic faith. The person who comes back to the Church this way is ready to undertake the purging of multiple faults they may have in their thinking and life style. They would be asking what the Church demands of them rather than how they can bend the Church to accommodate their sinful lifestyle etc.

      In contrast, today the Church is trying to implement some other solution that seems to only address whatever problem seems to be on the radar. Sometime ago it was abortion (while the Church remained relatively silent about fornication and things that lead to sexual promiscuity). Today it is divorce/remarriage/sodomy. Tomorrow it will be the next thing that society has a bone to pick with.

      I would also like to add that there seems to be a sense that people just do not know how to be prudent. The current idea of prudence is based on personal experience and there is no hesitation to disregard advise from those before us at a whim.

      So I don't think anything is going to be solved anytime soon. It is not because it is impossible but because the Church just doesn't seem interested to go through the trouble or seem to have some unrealistic expectations (i.e. we can save all if we just dialogue).

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  3. An excellent piece, except for its seeming to assign blame for the motu proprio to Mgr. Pio Vito Pinto. The reponsibility for this lies squarely with Pope Francis; that is undeniable, if only because it is a motu proprio. It is his will and his decision. It is part of a broader policy he has to undermine Catholic teaching on marriage and the family; the existence of this policy is evident from the character of the delegates that he personally named to the upcoming session of the synod on the family. This blog seems to have a policy of never seriously criticising the pope, and trying to keep up appearances as if he had no hostile intentions towards faith and morals - rather like a family pretending that its paterfamilias is a model of rectitude, and never referring to his drunkenness and mistresses. This policy was never right, but I do not see how it can be maintained any longer - and in fact with this post you have abandoned it; you have very rightly attacked a papal motu proprio, which is an attack on the pope himself. I am afraid you will have further opportuities to continue in in this vein.

    1. The Holy Father is not a canonist, as I understand it. I'm not absolving him of responsibility, but the close canonical reasoning to come to this solution rather than any other (including Kasper's) presumably took place in the minds of his advisers.

  4. I don't think the Kasper proposal avoided this problem either, as a matter of fact, because he proposed a 'penitential path' which I can't see many couples in second marriages undertaking with much enthusiasm.

    This point is too often overlooked, and never really addressed (that I have seen, at any rate) by Kasper himself. But it is a real issue. Many Catholic remarried couples are not going to be keen on the idea that they are stuck with "second class" penitential marriages, especially if you go all the way and have Church rites for them on the model that some Orthodox churches employ - "penitential" is a candid description of what they look like.

    Too many such Catholics really want the full deal: They want the Church to simply cave in and recognize divorce. Everyone should get a second chance if they screw it up the first time, they think. And not many seem keen to invest the energy in trying to reconcile that desire with the clear words of Christ in the synoptic gospels condemning divorce in unequivocal terms.