|Dr Brian Lewis is one of Australia’s
most eminent moral theologians.
He is a graduate of the Angelicum and the Alphonsian Academy in Rome
and formerly lectured in moral theology in Ballarat and Melbourne.
Prior to retirement he taught scripture, theology and ethics on campuses of the present Australian Catholic University.
He has contributed articles to many journals and reviews.
Perspectives - The articles at
this link are part of an ongoing series written by Dr Brian Lewis which
explores understandings of conscience and morality in the Christian
tradition. Deeper insights into the Scriptures and church traditions open
up new possibilities in ecumenical and philosophical thinking in the
search for a more comprehensive moral worldview.
Brian's previous articles
July 30, 2012 Brian Lewis, Ballarat, Australia
OF THE DIVORCED AND REMARRIED
Bernard Häring, prominent 20th century Redemptorist moral
theologian, is credited with instigating the renewal of moral theology. His
major work The Law of Christ appeared
in the decade prior to Vatican II and soon had world-wide impact on the
presentation of moral theology. Häring
continued his revisionist work almost to the end of the century. He was not only
an innovative thinker but a prolific writer. His last book No
Way Out? Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried in I989 manifests his
deep compassion towards those who have suffered the trauma of marriage
Bernard Häring, prominent 20th century Redemptorist moral theologian, is credited with instigating the renewal of moral theology. His major work The Law of Christ appeared in the decade prior to Vatican II and soon had world-wide impact on the presentation of moral theology. Häring continued his revisionist work almost to the end of the century. He was not only an innovative thinker but a prolific writer. His last book No Way Out? Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried in I989 manifests his deep compassion towards those who have suffered the trauma of marriage breakdown.
'This is something that challenges
all of us', he said in the Foreword to this book. 'The present situation
challenges me as someone who has retired after 50 years' activity as a moral
theologian and as a priest dealing with people to utter what is perhaps my last
word of encouragement, out of sympathy not only for those who are divorced but
also with the bishops and all who are active in pastoral work'. The question
that primarily and ultimately concerned him was 'whether the Church in its
entire existence, in its dealings with the law of Christ and in its turning to
those who have been hurt or who have failed, can ever more be experienced as the
sacrament of Christ's reconciling mercy'.
The position of the Roman Catholic
Church, which upholds the permanence of Christian marriage as proclaimed by
Christ (Matthew, 19:3-12), stems from the teaching of Pope Alexander III in the
12th century that a second marriage after the collapse of a first is
as such to be condemned unless there is certainty that the first marriage was
invalid. On this rests its Code of Canon Law which sets out annulment of
Christian marriage as a procedure, according to which a Church tribunal declares
after investigation that a Christian marriage was invalid from its inception.
Annulment in the Roman Catholic Church is not a divorce, a dissolution of a
valid marriage, but rather a determination that the sacrament of marriage was
not validly entered into in the first place and never in fact existed. So in
this case the parties are free to marry.
In contrast to the Roman Catholic
Church and its focus on absolute fidelity to the teaching of Christ, the
Orthodox Church has insisted strongly on the compassion which in the real world
should colour the application of fidelity to Christ's teaching towards those
enduring the deep hurt that is so often the aftermath of a broken marriage.
Häring professed himself encouraged
in his search for a compassionate approach to the divorced and remarried by the
statement of the 1980 Synod of Bishops in Rome, which he saw as expressing what
he wished for and which was included by Pope John Paul II in his
Apostolic Exhortation on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern
World (Familiaris Consortio) in 1981.
While adhering to the strict party line regarding the reception of the
Eucharist and the need of complete continence in an invalid relationship, the
Pope stated: 'Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to
exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference
between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have
been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have
destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have
entered into a second union for the sake of the children's upbringing, and who
are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and
irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid'.
Continuing, John Paul shows that he
shared the Bishops' concern: 'Together with the Synod, I earnestly call upon
pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the (remarried)
divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider
themselves as separated from the Church'. He also recognised that 'for serious
reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot
satisfy the obligation to separate' (par.84).
Häring states that he was even more
encouraged by the proposal made by one of the Synod members, a special friend of
his, that serious examination be made as to whether the Roman Catholic Church
might gain enlightenment, and perhaps an opening to compassion, from the
practice of the 'economy of salvation' of the Orthodox Church. The proposal, he
states, was endorsed by over 90% of the votes. Häring saw this as an avenue for
'the careful discernment of situations' of which John Paul spoke and as a
healing approach to the problems of remarried divorcees.
In the 22 years since No
Way Out? was published, little has changed in the practice of the Roman
Catholic Church in regard to divorce and remarriage despite the fact that the
pressures on marriage are today much greater. Evidence of this is that currently
in many countries up to about 50% of marriages break down and end in divorce.
The revised Code of Canon Law (1983) actually abolished some concessions that
had been permitted in particular regions and sought to have a level playing
ground. In practice the only avenue of redress in the main remains recourse for
an annulment to a marriage tribunal. It must be said that, in many dioceses at
least, the response of these tribunals has been simplified and expedited and
cases been approached with compassion and pastoral concern rather than in a
legalistic manner. Marriage tribunals are even more overburdened than they were
in Häring's time. Recourse to them has dramatically increased in the
intervening years. The great danger for these tribunals, however, as Häring
foresaw clearly, 'is of turning into courts of law where the healing love of the
Redeemer can only with difficulty gain admission' and where it is difficult to
'find the atmosphere that would be favourable for the work of helping and
According to the National Catholic
Reporter (01/05/12), a conference in Rome in April, 2012 hinted that the Vatican
may be considering a more restrictive approach to annulments. The conference
focused on Canon 1095 of the Code of Canon Law, which gave as ground for
annulment lack of ability to consent by one party because of 'causes of a
psychic nature'. Of the 15 to 20 grounds for an annulment in Church law, more
are granted on the basis of this particular canon than on all the others
combined, roughly two-thirds of the total. Some critics maintain that the
pastoral desire to help people in difficulty has led to an overly elastic
interpretation of this canon. No wonder the wags have called it the 'loose
Häring's conclusion regarding this
increasing pastoral problem is that the Church needs to consider seriously 'a
different way of thought and quite different institutions, which would make the
Church capable of being convincingly recognised and experienced by the world as
the sacrament of salvation, of Christ's healing and reconciling love' (p.21).
His challenge remains to be taken up in the Church today.