Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The meaning of Papal silence

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Jesus is stripped of His garments.

Silence is not necessarily a neutral response to a question. There is an interesting discussion of it in the courtroom scene in A Man for All Seasons. Silence implies consent: but consent to what depends on the context. Silence can imply approval and complaisance, or the opposite: contempt, or a complete lack of interest.

In any case, the question of meaning is separate from the question of motivation. Motives for actions may be hidden deep in the heart; meanings are public, and are set by the public understandings of words, gestures, and the context in which they occur. That’s not to say that any one person’s understanding of the meaning of a statement, or a symbolic action, or omission, is infallible; it is just to point out the obvious, that it is not open to anyone to use the word ‘no’ to mean ‘yes’ simply by a mental act inaccessible to anyone else. His statement may be insincere, but it still means ‘no’.

With Pope Francis, it is hard not to be reminded of politicians’ use of the phrase ‘my position is very clear’, which is generally followed by a pre-prepared statement which does not answer the question. We may say that the Pope’s position is ‘very clear’, in a similar way. The path to the present crisis is strewn with references to how the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is maintained. But no less insistent is the claim that Amoris laetitia has not simply left things as they were before. Something has changed, something which will make a big difference to a large number of people, something which makes it possible for many people formerly considered, officially, ineligible for Holy Communion, able to receive now, after they and their friendly local priest have ‘discerned’ this.


The level of confusion is such that it is not clear even to those welcoming the new situation what category of people is covered by this new dispensation. One ‘Bergoglian’ tells us it is all about people who are at the fringes of moral responsibility – people driven close to insanity (one might think) by the blackmail of hellish second partners. Another Bergoglian tells us that it is people in grace-filled and happy second unions who can discern their way back to the communion rail. Both views can point to hints in the document, but not all of Pope Francis’ self-appointed partisans are ready to go the whole hog.

Into this cauldron of confusion Pope Francis declines to intervene. The confusion has been created by his statements, his documents, and his chosen spokesmen and associates, so it is natural enough that he does not want to intervene, at least until it has served its purpose. But what could be its purpose, then, and what does it all mean?

One thing to note is that Pope Francis’ native political culture is Peronist, in which the artful creation, maintenance, and timely dissolution of ambiguity and internal conflict – crisis management - is a perfectly familiar way of getting things done. Indeed, you don’t need to be a Peronist to see the advantages of this approach. People will accept things as the price to resolve an escalating crisis, which they will not accept under normal conditions. If you want to reconcile two entrenched parties, or push through painful reforms, or suspend the rule of law, it might be the only way of doing it.

The second thing to note is that the culture of ecclesial politics since Vatican II is somewhat complementary to this. The collapse of belief in the Real Presence, and of the practice of Confession, to take just two examples, are the direct consequence of what Catholics have been taught to do and to think, all the while the Church’s official documents have told us that ‘the teaching of Trent remains intact’, while not actually asserting that teaching with a great deal of conviction. The ambiguities and evasions of the most authoritative documents are glossed with nods and winks at the next level down, the level of Papal speeches and curial Instructions and Directories. These nods and winks become stern instructions to avoid mentioning the traditional teaching at the next level, the level of Bishops’ Conferences and seminary curriculums. At the parish level, on-message priests can preach openly against the old teaching.

Let me illustrate.

Step 1: The Second Vatican Council said that the vernacular could be used for some of Mass, because it may ‘frequently may be of great advantage to the people’.

Step 2: Pope Paul VI said in an allocution that the vernacular would be the ‘the principal language of the Mass’, if (isn’t it wonderful? the key sentence is in the subjunctive) Latin ‘kept us apart from the children, from youth, from the world of labour and of affairs’ like a ‘dark screen’.

Step 3: Bishops’ conferences around the world ceased to make provision for the teaching of seminarians to celebrate Mass in Latin. I was told recently that Allen Hall, the Seminary of the Archdiocese of Westminster, does not have a copy of the Novus Ordo Missal in Latin. The American bishops were excused from the obligation, still in Canon Law, to teach Latin to seminarians because, they explained, they have to teach their priests Spanish.

Step 4: A parish priest can today publish in a parish newsletter (I have a recent example) an attack on the idea of Latin liturgy as utterly absurd.

Oh but this is not about doctrine! I hear readers say. Really? Well, here is Canon IX of the Council of Trent:
If any one saith, ..that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only; … let him be anathema.

Yes, the sincere but not especially high-brow priest who comes out and says, in his newsletter, what his highers and betters have only hinted and winked at has actually been betrayed into heresy: into a direct contradiction of an infallible teaching by a General Council.

For practical purposes there has been a ‘back flip’ (in Cardinal Pell’s phrase) of teaching, but this can’t be said clearly at the highest level, at least at first. When the new position has been implied by layer after layer official ambiguity, semi-official hints and nudges, and unofficial teaching and practice, then they’ll be ready to come out openly and say it officially: at least, I assume that this was the plan, or at least the hope.

The situation with Amoris laetitia isn’t so very hard to understand, when seen against this background. On the one hand, there is a well-trodden path of allowing conflict and confusion to make something which is totally unacceptable first imaginable, then possible, and then actually the best we can hope for to avoid complete disaster. On the other hand, there is an even better-trodden path of saying officially something which is arguably not at odds with the traditional teaching of the Church; which will be glossed semi-officially as, you know, pointing in a particular direction, and let’s just not say anything about the old teaching; which will be taken by priests at the coal-face, genuinely seeking the good of souls, in a way which simply and plainly contradicts—never mind Trent—the words of Our Blessed Saviour.

Are we going to get a clarification? Only if there is a policy reversal—not to be expected under Pope Francis—or, alternatively, if the policy ceases to attract opposition. While there is some opposition to speak of, while there is anyone of significance annoying enough to point at those old texts setting out the old teaching, and taking them seriously, then it will not yet be the right time to disambiguate the situation at the official level.

Is this a cynical reading of recent history? I think it is a charitable reading. I’m not saying anyone involved has had any but the best intentions. The stakes are high; the opposition entrenched; time is pressing. What would you do? Jesus called his disciples to be as cunning as serpents; there has always been manoeuvring and politicking in Rome. The trouble is that if He said anything at all, if He gave the Church any teaching to guide her children, then we need to take more seriously those old notions and texts, than this kind of policy does. And, bearing in mind that the Pope is unwilling to come out and say openly that Jesus was wrong about divorce, I feel duty-bound to oppose his so-called supporters who do.


I was baptised into the Catholic Faith, and I hope to die in it. May all Catholics say the same.

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25 comments:

  1. I agree totally Joseph.The Nods and Winks ferment Heretical actions which,in themselves,become commonplace practice.Totally against The Truth of The Catholic Church.I ask myself what is the end game of all this?In truth i see the Concilliar Vat11 Church dying off to be replaced by Tradition and a return to the Fundamentals of The One True Church.It is the Traditional Church which is growing whilst the Vat11 Hippy Church is in decline but Prelates don't like to see this.Vat11 is full of self destruction inherent in its ideas-i am not surprised by this because The Smoke of Satan entered The Church so said Pope Paul vi in 1972.We have to rid ourselves of Satan in The Church.

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  2. Much in the same way Bugnini using Pius XII and Paul VI's (with his support) authority undermined and went beyond anything envisaged by the bishops at Vatican II so Francis uses the same tactic or never speaking clearly but using his authority to undermine. This has been a steady strategy used by liberal Modernists for over 5 decades. They undermine, hijack positions of authority, promote and cover for each other. I personally think Francis is a heretic. He says its a sin to seek to convert others to Christianity. He promotes heretics like Cupich, he manipulates synods and now wants adulterers and others living in mortal sin to receive Holy Communion. He even uses a heretic and schismatic Patriarch of Constantinople as his mouth piece. The Greeks are so enslaved to caesaropapism allowed second and third marriages to appease the laws of the Byzantine state before the 10th century. When Christ's words are ignored what point is there. I have known authority has been used to destroy the Church. I have lived and we are living through it. Enough is enough!

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  3. The important thing is to keep up the opposition to all this nonsense. The question is how do the laity do this. Should they not all be writing to their diocesan Bishop to complain about the situation? I am not quite sure what to say but the thrice repeated injunction of Christ - Feed my Sheep - comes to mind as a starter.

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  4. Canon ix of Trent was new to me. Why are people only now beginning to suspect the pope of heresy if all the popes since vii have incurred that anathema? How do you reconcile that canon, the novus ordo and a belief in the infallibilty of the church?

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    1. As I explained in the post, this canon was never authoritatively contradicted, so the question of reconciliation does not arise.

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  5. Thank you for a well written piece on the mechanics and stages of politicking. Your point about the divergent reception by those in favour of a 'more relaxed' pastoral approach is also well taken.

    However, I was a little shocked by your use of Our Lord's words related to serpents to throw up a provisional defence. Likewise the use of the 'there has always been politicking' argument.

    Taking your presumably rhetorical question as a genuine interrogative, I answer that if I considered my teaching compatible with the deposit of the faith, I should have no reason to adopt such tactics and in any case I hope I should be adverse to such an approach under almost any conceivable circumstance. For one thing, it is not really compatible with the inseparable injunction to be as innocent as a dove.

    What is the compulsion? You refer to entrenched opposition. Many, probably including yourself, would aver they are entrenched because the teaching is irretrievably entrenched. However one has no reason, not to accord such opposition good faith. Such politicking, and acts of politicking not touched in your article, do not exhibit good faith and should never be necessary with those of good faith. Moreover the Pope is in a position of authority, he has no need of it, if his case can be made at all.

    The 'there has always been' argument is feebler still. There has always been a fluctuating amount (and variable quality) of almost anything, which has practically zero bearing on the moral implications here. I can say that such a brand of politicking is, to my mind, not generally associated with virtue and far less heroic virtue. A far more relevant consideration might be whether we have any real precedent on almost any count.

    Politicking and teaching don't and shouldn't mix. Apart from the glaringly obvious reasons relating to trust, integrity and clarity, there are numerous examples to support this view. I'm sure an ambiguously worded letter to King Henry VIII might have been quite expeditious, for instance. Almost any martyr might also stand as an example.

    Note I intend not to cast a stone myself, but feel almost betrayed into it by what I perceive to be a slight but nevertheless dangerous slip toward equivocation. At least in your case I am quite confident in ascribing the best intentions. It is as though your own exposition took you somewhere you didn't wish to go and then you took refugee in nonsense.

    In terms of intentions, I consider that we are entitled to hope or perhaps even believe there may be some explanation we have not thought of, or to endeavour not to consider it at all, but I would advance we are not entitled to justify it glibly or matter-of-factly.

    Ironically enough in the context, regarding the matter of personal intentions, unless there is some positive matter that needs to be brought to light, I would respectfully suggest... silence.



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    1. You need to listen again to Thomas More response to his daughter when she tells him about the Oath of Supremacy.

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    2. In 'A Man for all Seasons'

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    3. I'm sorry but my English language -I'm Italian- is somehow limited and as such it does not grant a suitable reply to Harry T. here above. However, in regard to the last sentence in the last paragraph :"I would respectfully suggest silence" I wish to point out that silence is what brought the Church where it is since Vatican II. I wish we had shouted since, but we - the majority of the faithful- fell silent and here we are.

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  6. Silence is not denial, therefore could be assent. It is ambiguous. This ambiguity is typical of what has plagued the Church since VAT II. It is as you say also the ploy of polititians. In Church terms it leads to Gradualism.

    One thing if I may. Are there really lots of people in invalid marriages anxious, even desparate to receive Holy Communion. I suspect not. That means ther are two forces at worrk. A small number of wealthy people who seek social comfort and approval of their situation, and Gradualism, the idea that doctrine can development, which it cannot, it can only deepen.

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  7. Somewhere I read that in Germany, in a diocese of 430,000 Catholics, they were asked by the diocese for any divorced or remarried who wanted to take communion to write in. Three couples did so. I am afraid people in that situation are generally in a state of a darkened conscience as a result of their sinful behaviour and are not very keen to seek the light.

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  8. I understand that you're speaking in the capacity of Latin Mass Chairman here, but your constant referral of the Kasperite Communion crisis to the post-Conciliar Church's normative use of vernacular in the Mass betrays the doctrinal gravity of the former. Yes, Pope Paul VI said in one General audience that vernacular masses would become the 'principal language of the Mass', as opposed to the 'divine Latin language' continuing on as the 'exclusive language of prayer', whilst nevertheless insisting that 'the faithful should be able to sing together, in Latin, at least the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass' and that Latin would remain the 'language of the Holy See'. This may well be described as reckless and damaging to the Church's liturgical tradition, but it is obviously not heretical even when you take into account the Canon IX you mention (oh, and correct me if I'm wrong, but given that this Canon follows on from the Council's simple statement that 'it has not seemed expedient to the Fathers, that [the Mass] should be every where celebrated in the vulgar tongue', is it not the case that they were simply anathematizing counter claims that it is doctrinally wrong to ever not say the Mass in the vulgar tongue i.e. in another time and place it may well be expedient, and certainly not heretical, for all masses to be said in the vernacular). Now, of course, there will be heretical clergyman and laity who will wish to quote mine particular Papal statements in order to bolster heretical claims, but the difference this time is that the Pope seems to be speaking and acting, at least privately, in a way that genuinely may well be contrary to the Church's doctrine. Restricting ourselves to article 6 of the Buenos Aires directive, for which Pope Francis explicitly claimed that there could be 'no other interpretation' of his own post-synodal exhortation's stance on the communion debate, we find a number of highly problematic statements that don't just seem imprudent, but actually heretical. The first statement of the passage claims that it 'may not be feasible' to some of those in irregular second unions to remain continent (unfeasible even to ‘propose’ it, in fact). This sounds (at the very least) extremely close to saying that it is not possible for some people to not commit adultery, which is surely a direct contradiction of the Council of Trent's clear teaching on justification: 'If anyone says that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to observe, let him be anathema'. The only way I can think of reading it in a remotely orthodox way (even, though, still in contradiction to current canon law), is if we restrict ourselves only to those who know their previous union was null and yet cannot have it proven in the external forum - but this is nowhere implied in the text. Then in the next sentence we read that there can be 'limitations that mitigate responsibility' for adultery which allow admittance to the sacrament of Confession and Holy Communion - but given that they've already put aside in article 5 those who have an ‘intention’ not to commit adultery but fail to remain continent for whatever reason, it is clearly discussing only those who have no intention to remain continent (with an added situationist reference to the welfare of children). If this is the case, how on earth can a pastor licitly give them absolution for their adultery in the confessional?! Again, even though they make not even the slightest reference to it, I can only see this as heretical unless we presume that it is not adultery and that the first union’s nullity simply hasn't/can’t be proved to a tribunal – though I would be delighted to hear of another way in which it can be understood as doctrinally possible, even if it can be considered pastorally bonkers.

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    1. Ascher: You write "if we restrict ourselves only to those who know their previous union was null and yet cannot have it proven in the external forum - but this is nowhere implied in the text."

      Before Familiaris Consortio in 1981 some priests were teaching that if a divorced and remarried couple sincerely believed that a previous marriage was not valid and either they had not yet received an annulment or it was not provable then they could continue to have sexual relations and receive communion. It was known as the use of the internal forum. However Familiaris Consortio specifically condemned that teaching. But in addition to this what that internal forum teaching overlooked was that in the case of Catholics who contracted only a civil marriage they were not married in the sight of the Church and therefore they were in no better position than any other cohabiting couple who were not married. There is really no possible situation however much accompanied and discerned where a divorced and remarried couple who without an annulment are doing anything other than committing adultery and are therefore excluding themselves from communion if they are not prepared to be continent. Amoris Laetitiae is hereticial in suggesting otherwise.

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    2. Dear Nicolas, thank you for the reply. Firstly, while I am in no way promoting the internal forum solution as a discipline and even recognized that it remains contrary to canon law (though I didn't see it 'specifically condemned' in Familaris Consortio), it does seem to me that its possible doctrinal status is more complex than you make out - but I am not a professional theologian, so I am more than willing to be shown to be wrong. Firstly, it seems to me that we must be clear that it is perfectly possible for someone to know in good conscience that their marriage is null and yet be unable or in certain cases be justly unwilling to have that affirmed in the external forum and to further recognise that this is a pastoral dilemma of sorts. The question is then whether or not the 'binding' nature (as described for such cases here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06153b.htm) of these peoples' original unions is a matter of doctrine, or instead a discipline maintained to prevent scandal, which may be open to change much like the past normative disciplinary denial of funeral rites to those who committed suicide was able to change even though suicide remained a grave sin. As for the Church not being able to recognize civil marriages as marriage and this making all conjugal relations in such unions equivalent to fornication - putting aside non-Catholics who convert after a second marriage, I understand that some Catholics who have a non-sacramental inter-religious marriage because of their spouse, may have their marriage recognised in the eyes of the Church even when it can't be done in the canonical form - so, again, I don't see why this necessarily contradicts Church doctrine, even though, again, the internal forum method genuinely does strike me as imprudent.

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    3. If a person cannot obtain an annulment due to some insurmountable difficulty but is convinced that his/her first union was invalid, there is still no possibility for that person to enter into a second union or to have a conjugal relationship with a person other than the original putative spouse.

      Anyone who says that that is possible has to affirm one of the following:

      1. A person can lawfully self-annul his/her previous marriage via the internal forum and does not need a Church tribunal to declare on validity (which thereby allows a person to enter a second, valid union, canonically recognized by the Church, but without a decree of nullity of the first union).

      OR

      2. A person cannot lawfully self-annul his/her first union but nevertheless can still have a conjugal relationship with someone that he/she is not canonically married to while at the same time having access to Holy Communion.

      Neither one of those options is viable according to Catholic teaching.

      There are no other options.

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    4. Again, I am thankful for a reply, as I would really like an answer to my confusion, but I don't see how my points are being addressed. Firstly, we must be clear that the external forum merely acknowledges the nullity of a union, it does not make a marriage null. Secondly we must acknowledge that currently the Church admits that a Catholic can sometimes licitly marry outside of the 'canonical form'. The fundamental question, then, is whether or not the 'binding' nature of the original union, which is ontologically not a marriage, is a changeable discipline designed to prevent scandal or a doctrinal matter which relates to the necessary public character of the sacrament. For that latter point, though, you need to demonstrate that this is the case - you can't simply dismiss a legitimate question with assertions of your own opinion.

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    5. 'Catholic can sometimes licitly marry outside of the 'canonical form'.'

      What sort of case do you have in mind?

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    6. Dispensations from the canonical form (i.e. officiation of a bishop/priest/deacon, plus attendance of two witnesses) are normally granted, as you well know, for certain inter-religious marriages which encounter 'grave difficulties' in observing the canonical form (c. 1127.1) e.g. strong resistance to a Catholic canonical form of marriage from the non-Catholic fiancé/fiancée and their family. The impossibility of a priest or deacon to officiate at certain (remote) ceremonies, I understand, can also be an opportunity for the canonical form to be side-stepped and a lay person officiate instead - or in impossibly rare hypothetical desert island scenarios, it would presumably be acceptable for the prospective spouses to marry themselves without anyone else in attendance (even if they would have to have the marriage validated upon reentering an ecclesial community). My purpose for mentioning such cases, though, is not to argue that it is currently possible for Catholics to remarry without an annulment - that is clearly contrary to canon law as it stands - but, instead, just to point out that what we're dealing with looks suspiciously like a changeable discipline (however good and prudent it may be), not an unchangeable doctrine. Of course, you could counter that such case-by-case dispensations and retrospective validations/regularizations still maintain the public nature of the sacrament, which is doctrinally mandated by the Council of Trent's Canon XII on Matrimony ('If any one saith, that matrimonial causes do not belong to ecclesiastical judges; let him be anathema') and the controversial decree ‘Tametsi’ on clandestine marriages (‘The Council declares and makes incapable of contracting marriage any persons who attempt to do so without having as witnesses the parish priest of the place or some priest delegated by him or by the bishop, along with two or three witnesses’). But, again, it seems to me that things are a bit more complicated than that, because Canon XII was (as best I can tell) responding to Luther's call for complete secular civil divorce, not arguing against the possibility that there may be specific annulment cases that can’t be sufficiently dealt with by ecclesiastical judges, and, regarding Tametsi, civil marriages are public in a way that previous clandestine marriages weren’t, so the two situations needn’t be treated as pastorally equivalent, and the validity of pre-Tridentine marriages not held ‘in the face of the Church’ were considered valid, even when they were legally prohibited (and, of course, post-Tridentine marriages in regions not bound by the canonical form, continued to be valid outside of that form). All of this, it seems to me, would make the complete abolition of canonical form as a requirement for valid Catholic marriages perfectly possible (https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/an-orientation-to-the-question-of-canonical-form-for-marriage/), which would in turn presumably pave the way for allowing particular remarried Catholics to receive communion (at least privately) if they knew, but couldn’t prove, that their original marriage was null and void – again, not to mention remarried non-Catholics who currently cannot enter the Church in ‘good standing’ without an annulment of their original union.

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    7. The cases are hardly parallel. But as a matter of fact, no one in this debate is suggesting that second-marriages-without-an-annulment be recognised as sacramental marriages, so I really don't know what point you imagine you are making.

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    8. I never said that the cases were parallel, just that they point to the flexible nature of canon law in this particular area. And I never once mentioned sacramental marriages; that is a separate issue relating to the baptismal status of the spouses. I was merely responding to Nicolas' claim that 'Catholics who contracted only a civil marriage ... were not married in the sight of the Church and therefore they were in no better position than any other cohabiting couple who were not married'. My point is that the idea that a Catholic who contracts a civil marriage (without even a dispensation) must be committing fornication if they engage in conjugal relations with their civil partner, seems to be a matter of current discipline, not perennial doctrine and that therefore Nicolas' conclusion that any claim that this could be otherwise is de facto 'heretical' seems incorrect.

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    9. “II. CONCERNING THE ADMISSION TO HOLY COMMUNION OF FAITHFUL WHO ARE DIVORCED AND REMARRIED

      ...The Code of Canon Law establishes that “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (can. 915)....

      ..In recent years some authors have sustained, using a variety of arguments, that this canon would not be applicable to faithful who are divorced and remarried….

      ..Given this alleged contrast between the discipline of the 1983 Code and the constant teachings of the Church in this area, this Pontifical Council, in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments declares the following:

      1. The prohibition found in the (above) cited canon, by its nature, is DERIVED FROM DIVINE LAW and TRANSCENDS THE DOMAIN of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter CANNOT INTRODUCE legislative changes which would oppose THE DOCTRINE of the Church.

      The scriptural text on which the ecclesial tradition has always relied is that of St. Paul: “This means that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the body and blood of the Lord. A man should examine himself first only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks a judgment on himself.”

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    10. Again, this does not address my point. 'Divorced and remarried' in this context obviously doesn't include people who divorce for just reasons of separation (e.g. domestic abuse) before remarrying after the death of their original spouse, nor does it refer to those who are civilly divorced, alongside an annulment from their previous marriage, and who subsequently remarry. The whole point of the Pontifical Council's letter here is to point out that specifically those who are committing an act that is objectively sinful (i.e. in contrast to the above cases, their remarriage is adulterous) should not receive communion, even if they do not meet the 'subjective ... conditions required for the existence of mortal sin' (i.e. they were ignorant or unwilling when engaging in an act that was OBJECTIVELY sinful). This is all well and good. My question is just whether or not a change in canon law (i.e. rescinding the historically novel canonical form requirement for marriage) would allow specifically people who know their first marriage was null without being able to prove it in the external forum, to remarry and engage in conjugal relations with their new partner, without objectively engaging in the sin of adultery (in turn, allowing them to receive communion 'remoto scandalo'). Thus far, no one has answered my query.

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    11. But your inquiry contains a false premise:

      "My question is just whether or not a change in canon law (i.e. rescinding the historically novel canonical form requirement for marriage) would allow specifically PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEIR FIRST MARRIAGE WAS NULL without being able to prove it in the external forum."

      That begs several questions.

      1. Without a ruling from the Church, how do such people KNOW that their first marriage was null?

      2. At what point did they find out this information?

      3. How would a person be able to ascertain that his/her subjective feelings regarding the validity of a marriage conform to reality?

      4. What if the person feels he/she KNOWS that the initial union was invalid but is WRONG? Is it suggested that the person could never be wrong on this matter?

      If it is possible for the person to be wrong, then the person CANNOT "know" that his/her first marriage was null.

      What is being suggested is exactly what I stated above: that people would be able to self annul their marriages based on their subjective feelings on the matter, because they "know" that a first marriage was invalid even though the persons cannot demonstrate it objectively.

      If this could happen, we would not need tribunals, and you would not have to worry at all about canonical form in the first place. All marriage issues would be taken care of via the internal forum.

      So, your question contains an unprovable assertion. As a result, there is no way to obtain a proper answer.

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    12. It is not controversial to say that there may be various forms of coercion or other defects in consent that could have knowingly been present to a participant at the initiation of the union, but which nevertheless remain externally unverifiable - Joseph Shaw has ceded as much in past discussions and, as a point of reference, the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia confirms that 'a marriage may be null and void in the forum of conscience, but binding in the external forum for want of judicial proofs to the contrary' (and, as noted earlier, my argument is just that the 'binding' nature of the invalid union in such cases is a matter of changeable discipline, not perennial doctrine). But the external forum, of course, gives the individual greater assurance of the nullity of their union (though, it too can err) and its public character further gives the whole faithful assurance of the canonical validity of any subsequent unions, which explains why ecclesiastical tribunals should remain the normative procedure and why, as I suggested, the internal forum could only ever allow an individual to receive communion remoto scandalo.

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  9. But the fact remains:

    A person cannot possibly "know" with any certainty that their first union was invalid if the only criterion for knowing is that person's subjective, fallible judgment, the 1914 CE nothwithstanding.

    How could a person know that "various forms of coercion or other defects in consent" are sufficient to invalidate the union if the only person making such a judgment is the person himself/herself?

    If such cases were allowed to be handled in the internal forum, then we have arrived at self annulment, and no tribunals would be necessary.

    In addition, the idea that the Catholic Church had to wait until this pontificate to figure such a thing out is beyond the pale.

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