Monday, March 28, 2011

The Re-marriage of Fallen-away Catholics: A Review of the Motu Proprio Omnium in mentem

A Catholic man, a well-known personality, became a Born-again Christian and married a Baptist woman without securing the required dispensation from the Catholic authorities. After a few years, they break up and get a civil annulment from a Philippine court. Now he wishes to remarry in the Catholic Church with a Catholic woman. Can he do it?

The Canon Law on Mixed Marriages and the so-called Disparity of Cult

There are two phenomena regulated by Canon Law which oftentimes are confused: mixed marriages and disparity of cult.

A mixed marriage is one contracted between two baptized persons, one of whom was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, and another who is a member of a Church or ecclesial community which is not in full communion with the Catholic Church. According to c.1124 of the Code of Canon Law, such a marriage cannot be celebrated without the express permission of the competent authority. Canon Law further stipulates that such permission can be granted by the Local Ordinary if there is a just and reasonable cause, but only if the following requirements (called cautions) are met: (1) the Catholic party declares that he/she is prepared to remove dangers of falling away from the faith and makes a sincere promise to do all in his/her power to have all the children baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church; (2) the other party is informed at an appropriate time of these promises which the Catholic party has to make, so that it is clear that the other party is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party; (3) both parties are instructed on the essential ends and properties of marriage, which are not to be excluded by either party (c.1125).

Can.1126 further establishes that the conference of bishops is to establish the way in which these declarations and promises, which are always required, are to be made, what proof of them there should be the external forum and how they are to be brought to the attention of the non-Catholic party. In practice, many dioceses in the Philippines now require the non-Catholic party to sign a simple document to this effect.

Failure to follow these norms by itself does not invalidate the canonical marriage thus contracted, but it renders it illicit─i.e., if done with full knowledge and consent, it would be gravely sinful for all involved (starting with the witnessing priest of course who should know better).

Quite a different matter is the so-called impediment of disparity of cult established by c.1086, which stipulates:

§1. Marriages between two persons, one of whom is baptized in the Catholic Church or has been received into it and the other of whom is non-baptized, is invalid.

§2. This impediment is not to be dispensed unless the conditions mentioned in cc.1125 and 1126 [i.e., the cautions for mixed marriages] are fulfilled.

In other words, whereas in the case of an unauthorized mixed marriage is only illicit but valid, the presence of the impediment of disparity of cult─unless lawfully dispensed─renders the marriage invalid from the start.

The Motu Proprio Omnium in mentem

The Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio” Omnium in mentem, issued 26.X.2009, dealt with two unrelated matters: a clarification of the ministerial function of deacons, and the obligation of the canonical form of marriage for those faithful who have left the Church in a formal way. Saving the first matter for a future article, let us focus now on the second clarification.

The Motu Proprio dealt with the obligation of the faithful who have left the Church in a formal way─e.g., the typical fallen-away Catholic who joins the Born again movement─to follow the ecclesiastical laws regarding the canonical form of marriage, the required dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult and the need for permission in the case of mixed marriages.

It did this by taking away from the previous redaction of cc.1086, §1 (establishing the impediment of disparity of cult), c.1117 (requiring the canonical form if at least one of the parties of marriage is a baptized Catholic) and c.1124 (requiring permission from the Local Ordinary for a mixed marriage), a phrase which limited the scope of the Catholic party to one who “was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not by a formal act defected from it.” Thus, in the new redaction of the aforementioned canons, the phrase “and has not by a formal act defected from it” has been deleted.

The crux of the matter is that many problems arise as regards the separation of the faithful from the Church. The papal document explains it:

“First, in individual cases the definition and practical configuration of such a formal act of separation from the Church has proved difficult to establish, from both a theological and a canonical standpoint. In addition, many difficulties have surfaced both in pastoral activity and the practice of tribunals. Indeed, the new law appeared, at least indirectly, to facilitate and even in some way to encourage apostasy in places where the Catholic faithful are not numerous or where unjust marriage laws discriminate between citizens on the basis of religion. The new law also made difficult the return of baptized persons who greatly desired to contract a new canonical marriage following the failure of a preceding marriage. Finally, among other things, many of these marriages in effect became, as far as the Church is concerned, clandestine marriages.”

In sum, what the motu proprio has established is that even if a Catholic separates from the Church, he/she is still under Church Law, even if he disregards it. If he/she marries a person who is not validly baptized without due dispensation (from the impediment of disparity of cult) from the Local Ordinary, that marriage would be invalid.


Since our Catholic personality married the Baptist woman (invalid baptism) without dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult, that first marriage was invalid. Thus, after securing a civil annulment, he is free to marry (not re-marry) in the Catholic Church with a Catholic woman.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Denial of Holy Communion to Civilly Remarried Catholics

I am an assistant parish priest, forced to confront difficult situations on my own at times, due to the frequent absence of the parish priest for family reasons. Recently I was again placed on the spot because of the presence of a well-known personality at Sunday Mass, who was with his partner who most people know as his wife, but who I—together with quite a number of people in the parish—know he is only civilly married to, since he has an existing canonical marriage with another woman who is still very much alive and also quite present in the public eye. The problem is this person and his partner came to receive Holy Communion. Since I was placed on the spot and to avoid creating a scene, I just gave them the Holy Eucharist. Did I act correctly?

Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
On Communion for Divorced and Remarried Persons

This question had been exhaustively answered by a Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts dated 24.VI.2000. For brevity, we can reproduce the pertinent numbers of that document in the following paragraphs.

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" (c.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. It is acknowledged that paragraph 84 of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, issued in 1981, had reiterated that prohibition in unequivocal terms and that it has been expressly reaffirmed many times, especially in n.1650 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, and in the Letter written in 1994 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Annus internationalis Familiae. That notwithstanding, the aforementioned authors offer various interpretations of the above-cited canon that exclude from its application the situation of those 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 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."

This text concerns in the first place the individual faithful and their moral conscience, a reality that is expressed as well by the Code in c.916. But the unworthiness that comes from being in a state of sin also poses a serious juridical problem in the Church: indeed the canon of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches that is parallel to c.915 CIC of the Latin Church makes reference to the term "unworthy": "Those who are publicly unworthy are forbidden from receiving the Divine Eucharist" (c.712). In effect, the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful.

2. Any interpretation of c.915 that would set itself against the canon's substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries, is clearly misleading. The phrase "and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin" is clear and must be understood in a manner that does not distort its sense so as to render the norm inapplicable.

The three required conditions are:

a) grave sin, understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective immutability;

b) obstinate persistence, which means the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.

c) the manifest character of the situation of grave habitual sin. Not to be considered to be within the situation of serious habitual sin are those faithful who are divorced and remarried, who would not be able, for serious motives -such as, for example, the upbringing of the children- "to satisfy the obligation of separation, assuming the task of living in full continence, that is, abstaining from the acts proper to spouses" (Familiaris consortio, n.84), and who on the basis of that intention have received the sacrament of Penance. Given that the fact that these faithful are not living more uxorio (i.e., unchastely) is per se occult, while their condition as persons who are divorced and remarried is per se manifest, they will be able to receive Eucharistic Communion only remoto scandalo (i.e., avoiding scandal).

3. Naturally, pastoral prudence would strongly suggest the avoidance of instances of public denial of Holy Communion. Pastors must strive to explain to the concerned faithful the true ecclesial sense of the norm, in such a way that they would be able to understand it or at least respect it. In those situations, however, in which these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, the minister of Communion must refuse to distribute it to those who are publicly unworthy. They are to do this with extreme charity, and are to look for the opportune moment to explain the reasons that required the refusal. They must, however, do this with firmness, conscious of the value that such signs of strength have for the good of the Church and of souls.

The discernment of cases in which the faithful who find themselves in the described condition are to be excluded from Eucharistic Communion is the responsibility of the Priest who is responsible for the community. They are to give precise instructions to the deacon or to any extraordinary minister regarding the mode of acting in concrete situations.

4. Bearing in mind the nature of the above-cited norm (cfr. n.1), no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it.

Applying the Norms to the Specific Case

A distinction will have to be made on whether or not the persons concerned, who are civilly married but not canonically married, are in fact living in habitual sin. As the Declaration itself pointed out (ref. n.2-c), it could happen that the couple concerned may find it difficult to separate (e.g., because they are raising up children), but are in fact not living as husband and wife and are therefore not sinning against chastity.

However, since the fact of their observing chastity is a private matter known only to them, and the fact that they are not married canonically is a matter known to many in the community, the canonical norm is that they must be refused Holy Communion in that community.

Nevertheless, the Declaration also carefully notes that this must be done with utmost charity, avoiding a public refusal as much as possible. In this particular case, what could be done is for the priest to explain the matter to the couple and request them to attend Mass somewhere else where they are less known, such that their reception of Holy Communion could virtually pass unnoticed, thus making the possibility of scandal as remote as possible.

Finally, since our poor assistant parish priest was placed on the spot, and since he could not have been in a position to judge the subjective conditions of the couple concerned right there and then, he did well in giving them Holy Communion. However, he is duty-bound to follow up and talk with the couple as mentioned in the previous paragraph.