In an 8/5/2015 article in the National Catholic Register titled “‘By No Means Excommunicated,’ but Divorce and Remarriage Contradicts the Sacrament”, statements by Pope Francis have set off a firestorm of controversy once again in Church circles. Some fear that Church teaching on marriage will be changed or watered down.
As the article states:
Echoing his predecessors on the need to care for divorced-and-remarried persons, Pope Francis said Christians should help these persons integrate into the community, rather than treating them as though they are excommunicated.
“The Church well knows that such a situation contradicts the Christian sacrament,” the Pope said in his Aug. 5 general audience in St. Peter’s Square. Nonetheless, he added, the Church should always approach such situations with a “mother’s heart; a heart, which, animated by the Holy Spirit, seeks always the good and the salvation of the person.”
“It is important that they experience the Church as a mother attentive to all, always disposed to listen in encounters,” he added.
The community is to welcome persons who have divorced and entered into new unions, the Pope said, so that “they may live and develop their adherence to Christ and the Church with prayer, listening to God’s word, frequenting the liturgy, the Christian education of their children, charity, service to the poor and a commitment to justice and peace.”
As someone who has experienced the trauma of divorce personally, I do believe that priests and the parish communities could be much more supportive to the parent and, especially, any children involved.
After my divorce, I met many Catholic divorced women who, whether or not they remarried, felt isolated from the rest of their parish and some even erroneously believed that they could not receive Communion even when they had not remarried. Sadly, every one of these women reported receiving little or no emotional or spiritual support from their parish priest even though some had reached out to their priest before the divorce. Many even left the Church, often for a more welcoming Christian church.
This is a situation that can be helped by sensitivity and deliberate outreach from priests and parish members. I assume that is what Pope Francis was talking about when he emphasized the need for a welcoming presence for people and their children dealing with divorce-even those who have remarried without an annulment.
I do support the annulment requirement based on Church teaching about the sacrament of marriage. Even though the annulment process can be painful at times, the questionnaires and personal interactions with the priests and people helping with the process can result in new insights, understanding and even a sense of closure and forgiveness.
I was granted an annulment from my first marriage years ago and long before I unexpectedly remarried 20 years after my divorce. I feel the annulment process was overall a positive experience and enabled me to marry my wonderful husband Kevin with no reservations. I certainly would not have remarried without the annulment.
I do recommend exploring an annulment after divorce, especially when a remarriage is being contemplated. An “Annulment FAQs” page can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Those Catholics who remarried without an annulment should not assume that they have no recourse. I strongly encourage them to contact a Church authority for guidance.