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Pope’s annulment reform reaffirms Church teaching, upends Synod’s Communion debate

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ROME, September 8, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- The public confusion over whether the Vatican’s upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family will somehow endorse divorce has been cleared up by Pope Francis, as he said definitively today that marriage is “indissoluble,” meaning that it is permanent until death.

In his decrees released today on annulments -- declarations that a marriage was invalid from the beginning – the Holy Father moved to make it easier and faster to determine nullity of a marriage and eliminated the cost for such deliberations.

But in doing so he also reaffirmed that as far as God and the Church are concerned, divorce and remarriage is never an option, which should, provided the Holy Father’s remarks are heeded, make the much speculated-upon issue of a proposal to allow Holy Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics a dead issue at the forthcoming October Synod.

“Throughout the centuries,” Pope Francis writes in the motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, “the Church, in matters of marriage, acquiring a clearer awareness of the Words of Christ, has understood and explained in greater depth the doctrine of the indissolubility of the sacred conjugal bond, has developed the system for the annulment of matrimonial consent, and has more suitably disciplined the relevant judicial process, so that ecclesiastical discipline is more consistent with the truth of the professed faith.”

The Holy Father also reaffirmed the Church’s primary and eternal mission of saving souls, stating it’s what prompted him to institute the reforms, and he confirmed that marriage is the foundation and source of the family.  

“It is therefore the concern for the salvation of souls that, today as yesterday, remains the supreme objective of the institutions and laws, and drives the Bishop of Rome to offer to the Bishops this reform document, insofar as they share with him the task of the Church to protect unity in faith and in discipline regarding marriage, the cornerstone and origin of the Christian family,” he writes in the document, according to the Vatican Information Service.

The Holy Father issued two motu proprios, or Apostolic Letters, on Tuesday, introducing reforms to the legal structures of the Church which deal with questions of marital nullity.

The motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (“The Lord Jesus, Clement Judge”), concerns the Code of Canon Law (CIC) overseeing the Latin Church, and the other, Mitis et misericors Iesus (“Clement and merciful Jesus”), reforms the Code of Canon Law for Oriental (Eastern) Churches (CCEO).

“Hopefully these documents have freed the Synod to deal with extremely pressing questions,” said Toronto canonist Father Alexander Laschuk, “such as migrant workers, the continued degradation of the family, building a pro-life culture, human trafficking, etc.”

Father Laschuk, a priest of the Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada, a doctoral student in canon law, and an Associate Judicial Vicar of the Toronto Regional Marriage Tribunal, told LifeSiteNews he thinks the documents were timed for release just prior to the October Synod.

“The newly promulgated norms do not make reference, explicitly, to the question of reception of the Eucharist by those living in a state of objective sin in irregular marriages,” he said. “I, like most canonists, do not understand how such an action could occur faithfully in light of both our Lord’s clear teachings on marriage and divorce and the consistent authoritative teaching of the Church’s magisterium. It certainly seems to me to be a more than settled question.”

However, he does not expect the reform will stop those campaigning to overturn Church teaching. “They are aware this is contrary to the clear and consistent teaching of the Church of Rome,” he said. “They are saying, essentially: so what? That response is not rebuffed by this document. They are proposing a radical new understanding of the words of Christ.”

“Our Lord is clear in Matthew 19 that one who remarries after divorce commits adultery. The reception of the Eucharist is for those who are not in a state of sin,” said Father Laschuk. “As a result, the reception of the Eucharist while in a state of continued sin is just not possible and would be a sin of sacrilege.”

An annulment is a declaration by the Church that the spiritual bond of marriage never existed, because one or both spouses entered the marriage either unwilling or unable to fulfill the commitment of the sacrament.

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“I would encourage readers to pray for those struggling in truly broken marriages and the Church’s ministers of justice who try to minister to them,” Father Laschuk told LifeSiteNews. “The matrimonial nullity process has a lot of misconceptions – but there are so many people in our world who enter into a marriage intending nothing in line with what the Church understands as a marriage.”

The pope upheld the sanctity of marriage in his decrees today, stating he was following the majority vote of last year’s Synod for a faster, easier process, but also that his provisions “favour not the nullity of marriage but rather the speed of processes, along with the appropriate simplicity.”

He expressed in his documents the need to guard “the truth of the sacred bond” as much as possible.

“I have done so following in the footsteps of my predecessors, who wanted procedures for the declaration of nullity of marriage to be treated by judicial rather than administrative means,” Pope Francis writes, “not because the nature of the matter imposes this but because it is demanded by the need to protect to the greatest extent possible the truth of the sacred bond; and this is precisely what is ensured by the guarantees of the judicial order.”

Some of the grounds for an annulment, or declaration of nullity, are a lack of openness to children, rejection of the permanence of marriage and commitment to fidelity, serious immaturity, fraud or psychological difficulties, such as depression or addiction.



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