"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Sunday, 21 September 2014


Look at the new magazine on Catholic=Orthodox Relations.   The is a lot of material in one place, and it is still growing


 Here is another Cardinal, Cardinal Burke, who is against Cardinal Walter Kasper's position. I do not think that Cardinal Burke understands Cardinal Kasper. I shall write a commentary, trying to do justice to both sides while supporting Cardinal Kasper

The chief problem is one that has dogged the Church ever since Vatican II. The secular press knows only two positions, both taken from secular politics: they are "conservative" and "liberal" These are not adequate categories for describing schools of Catholic thought. Hence, the media interprets many statements by Pope Francis and by Cardinal Kasper and his ilk as liberal statements, and they certainly can bear a liberal interpretation.   Nevertheless neither Pope Francis nor Cardinal Kasper are liberals; and, when they are interpreted in a liberal context, the meaning of their statements is falsified.  In the first tape, Cardinal Kasper says that Pope Francis is not a liberal: he is a radical.   Interpreting his statements as liberal leads many people, including Cardinal Burke, to miss the main thrust of the argument.   I hope to show this to be the case after you have listened to both cardinals and read Cardinal Angelo Scola's contribution.

It is important to understand that both sides completely accept the traditional Catholic interpretation of Christ's words on marriage, because Cardinal Burke does not seem to realise that.   Hence his reply that simply repeats this interpretation is inadequate and misses the point of Cardinal Kasper's argument (and that of the Pope).   The position of Cardinal Burke etc implies that law has the last word.   On the other hand, Cardinal Kasper argues that it is of the essence of Christianity that God's mercy frees those who fall into a trap from which they cannot escape, even when the trap has been formed by Our Lord's own teaching, even when they are there through their own fault, as long as they repent the process by which they got there.   God's love in Christ sets them free.  Mercy, not the law, has the last word.

It is central to the Church's message and vocation.   The rules exist for man, not man for the rules, however good and sound the rules may be.  This is what Pope Francis meant when, talking about homosexuals, he said, "Who am I to judge?"   He is not a liberal supporting homosexuality.   He follows the Catholic teaching on homosexuality as "son of the Church"; but, in spite of that, he believes passionately that his approach to homosexuals as a Christian must not be judgement and condemnation but the Gospel of the constant love of God for them that is manifested on the Cross.   Again, Cardinal Kasper is not supporting second marriages.   He is not saying that it is O.K. to live with a partner and have sex with him or her outside Catholic wedlock: he is suggesting that people living in a non-Christian situation from which they cannot escape even after repentance without making matters worse, should be presented with Jesus and not the law'   The law was never meant to be an impediment to union with Christ, and they need communion as much as anyone. 

  In my reply, I shall give concrete examples of such of situations like that.   We are talking of real people and the Church radically following the Gospel of mercy.

The Church has two tasks: to preach the will of God as it has been revealed to us, and to manifest to all the constant love of God.   It has been suggested that the Orthodox practice is closer to reality than ours.   There are two pastoral ways to treat a person who has gone against the teaching of Christ and of the Church and is returning to the Church: one is justice and the other is mercy; and it is up to the bishop, priest or spiritual father to decide which way to follow, taking the good of the person as his guide.   More about that later on.


 Scola: Four Solutions for the Divorced and Remarried
my source: S. Magister

Cardinal Angelo Scola
 And the fourth is the newest: to entrust the verification of the validity of a marriage directly to the bishop or one of his delegates, in a nonjudicial forum. With the archbishop of the Milan, there are now ten cardinals who have taken the field against the ideas of Kasper-Bergoglio.

ROME, September 22, 2014 – With the synod approaching, the clash between supporters of change and defenders of the bimillennial doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church in the matter of marriage is becoming ever more heated.

The clash is being fought also and above all at the highest levels of the hierarchy, among cardinals of the first rank. In particular over the dilemma of whether or not to give sacramental communion to divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly.

The innovators have their combative leader in the German cardinal and theologian Walter Kasper. No other cardinal has yet taken sides with him publicly in a substantiated form. The only one who has promised to support him has been Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, who announced that he will bring a document to the synod signed by the German bishops in favor of the change.

But it is no mystery that Pope Francis is on Kasper’s side, although he has never publicly and clearly stated what his thinking is, but has implied this with the simple gesture of entrusting to Kasper the introductory presentation at the consistory last February, a dry run for the upcoming synod, and of “agreeing” with him - as Kasper himself revealed - on the proposals for change contained in the presentation.

On the contrary, the cardinals who have spoken out against Kasper’s ideas and in defense of the traditional doctrine and practice are numerous and prominent.

Five of these did so early on and repeatedly, most recently all together in a book that is about to be published in the United States and Italy. They are cardinals Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, Velasio De Paolis, and Carlo Caffarra.

Another five cardinals have spoken out in public and in a thoroughly developed form: the Spaniard Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, Toronto archbishop Thomas Collins, the Australian George Pell, prefect of the newly created secretariat for the economy in the curia, the other Canadian, Marc Ouellet, prefect of the congregation for bishops, and Milan archbishop Angelo Scola.

Pell made his remarks in the preface to a book that is also about to come out in the United States and Italy.

While Ouellet and Scola have weighed in with two extensive articles in the latest issue of the North American edition of “Communio,” the international theological journal founded in the early 1970’s by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger.

Of these ten cardinals, six will take part in the upcoming synod, specifically cardinals Müller, Burke, Caffarra, Pell, Ouellet, Scola.

But there will also be other cardinals at the synod who are solidly established as defenders of tradition, like Péter Erdö, who will present the general relation, Timothy M. Dolan, Willem Jacobus Eijk, Christoph Schönborn, Angelo Amato, Mauro Piacenza, Elio Sgreccia, Angelo Bagnasco.

What follows is a selection from the article that Cardinal Scola published in “Communio,” and republished in the last issue of the Bologna-based magazine “Il Regno.”

Of particular interest, in the selection, are the solutions proposed for the problem of communion for the divorced and remarried.

They are four proposals made in full continuity with the traditional doctrine and practice on marriage, but not devoid of innovative elements. Which concern:

- spiritual communion, or “of desire”;
- recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation even without absolution;
- sexual continence while remaining in the civil union;
- the verification of the validity or invalidity of a marriage not only by the diocesan tribunals or the Rota, but also with a more streamlined nonjudicial canonical procedure under the supervision of the local bishop.

This last new procedure is proposed by Cardinal Scola in detailed form. It can be expected to find an attentive audience at the synod.

With the same intention of “simplifying the procedure, making it more streamlined,” Pope Francis instituted a special commission last August 27 for the reform of canonical matrimonial processes, with the warning of “safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of marriage.”



by Angelo Scola

[…] What has just been said must be kept in mind when we address sensitive topics involving particular suffering, such as the topic of the divorced and remarried. Those who, after a failure of their marital common life, have established a new bond are denied access to the sacrament of Reconciliation and to the Eucharist.

Often the Church is accused of lacking sensitivity and understanding with regard to the phenomenon of the divorced and remarried without careful reflection on the reasons for her position, which she acknowledges to be based on divine revelation. Yet what is involved here is not an arbitrary action of the Church’s Magisterium, but rather an awareness of the inseparable bond uniting the Eucharist and marriage.

In light of this intrinsic relation, it must be said that what impedes access to sacramental Reconciliation and the Eucharist is not a single sin, which can always be forgiven when the person repents and asks God for pardon. What makes access to these sacraments impossible is, rather, the state (condition of life) in which those who have established a new bond find themselves: a state which in itself contradicts what is signified by the bond between the Eucharist and marriage.

This condition is one that needs to be changed in order to be able to correspond to what is effected in these two sacraments. Non-admission to eucharistic Communion invites these persons, without denying their pain and their wound, to set out on a path toward a full communion that will come about at the times and in the ways determined in light of God’s will.

Beyond various interpretations of the praxis in the early Church, which still do not seem to give evidence of actions substantially different from those of the present day, the fact that she increasingly developed an awareness of the fundamental bond between the Eucharist and marriage signals the outcome of a journey made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in much the same way as all the sacraments of the Church and their discipline took shape over time.

This helps us to understand why both "Familiaris consortio", and "Sacramentum caritatis" confirmed “the Church’s practice, based on sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2–12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist” (SC, 29).

In this perspective we should mention two elements that must be studied in greater depth. Certainly the Eucharist, on certain conditions, contains an aspect of forgiveness; nevertheless it is not a sacrament of healing. The grace of the eucharistic mystery effects the unity of the Church as the Bride and Body of Christ, and this requires in the recipient of sacramental Communion the objective possibility of allowing himself to be perfectly incorporated into Christ.

At the same time we need to explain much more clearly why the non-admission of those who have established a new bond to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist should not be considered a “punishment” for their condition, but rather a sign pointing the way to a possible path, with the help of God’s grace and continued membership [immanenza] in the ecclesial community. For this reason and for the good of all the faithful, every ecclesial community is called to implement all the appropriate programs for the effective participation of these persons in the life of the Church, while respecting their concrete situation.

Forms of participation in the sacramental economy

The life of these faithful does not cease to be a life called to holiness. Extremely valuable in this regard are several gestures that traditional spirituality has recommended as a support for those in situations that do not permit them to approach the sacraments.

I am thinking, first of all, about the value of spiritual communion, i.e., the practice of communing with the eucharistic Christ in prayer, of offering to him one’s desire for his Body and Blood, together with one’s sorrow over the impediments to the fulfillment of that desire.

It is wrong to think that this practice is extraneous to the Church’s sacramental economy. In reality, so-called “spiritual communion” would make no sense apart from that sacramental economy. It is a form of participation in the Eucharist that is offered to all the faithful; and it is suited to the journey of someone who finds himself in a certain state or particular condition. If understood in this way, such a practice reinforces the sense of the sacramental life.

An analogous practice for the sacrament of Reconciliation could be proposed more systematically. When it is not possible to receive sacramental absolution, it will be useful to promote those practices that are considered – also by sacred Scripture – particularly suited to expressing penitence and the request for forgiveness, and to fostering the virtue of repentance (cf. 1 Pt 4:7–9). I am thinking especially of works of charity, reading the Word of God, and pilgrimages. When appropriate, this could be accompanied by regular meetings with a priest to discuss one’s faith journey. These gestures can express the desire to change and to ask God for forgiveness while waiting for one’s personal situation to develop in such a way as to allow one to approach the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. 

Finally, drawing on my experience as a pastor, I would like to recall that it is not impossible to propose to these faithful, on certain conditions and with suitable follow-up, “the commitment to live in complete continence,” as St. John Paul II declared, “that is, to abstain from those acts proper to spouses.” I can say, after many years of episcopal ministry, that this is a path – involving sacrifice together with joy – that God’s grace does in fact make feasible. I have had the opportunity to readmit to sacramental communion divorced and remarried Catholics who had arrived at such a decision after mature reflection.

Pastoral experience also teaches us that these forms of participation in the sacramental economy are not palliative. Rather, from the perspective of conversion that is proper to Christian life, they are a constant source of peace.

Cases of matrimonial nullity

In conclusion, we must consider the situation of those who believe in conscience that their marriage was invalid. What we have said thus far about sexual difference and the intrinsic relation between marriage and the Eucharist calls for careful reflection on the problems connected with declarations of marital nullity. When the need presents itself and the spouses request an annulment, it becomes essential to verify rigorously whether the marriage was valid and therefore is indissoluble.

This is not the occasion to repeat the fair recommendations that emerged in the responses to the questionnaire presented in "Instrumentum laboris" concerning the necessarily pastoral approach to this whole set of problems. We know very well how difficult it is for the persons involved to turn to their own past, which is marked by profound suffering. At this level too we see the importance of conceiving of doctrine and canon law as a unity.

Faith and the sacrament of matrimony

Among the questions requiring further examination we should mention the relation between faith and the sacrament of matrimony, which Benedict XVI addressed several times, including at the end of his pontificate.

Indeed, the relevance of faith to the validity of the sacrament is one of the topics that the current cultural situation, especially in the West, compels us to weigh very carefully. Today, at least in certain contexts, it cannot be taken for granted that spouses who celebrate a wedding intend “to do what the Church intends to do.” A lack of faith could lead nowadays to the exclusion of the very goods of marriage. Although it is impossible to pass final judgment on a person’s faith, we cannot deny the necessity of a minimum of faith, without which the sacrament of matrimony is invalid.

A suggestion

In the second place, as "Instrumentum laboris" also makes clear, it is to be hoped that some way might be found to expedite cases of nullity – fully respecting all the necessary procedures – and to make the intimately pastoral nature of these processes more evident. 

Along these lines, the upcoming extraordinary assembly could suggest that the pope give a broader endorsement [valorizzare di più] to the ministry of the bishop. Specifically, it could suggest that he examine the feasibility of the proposal, which is no doubt complex, to create a non-judicial canonical procedure which would have as its final arbiter not a judge or a panel of judges, but rather the bishop or his delegate.

I mean a procedure regulated by the law of the Church, with formal methods of gathering and evaluating evidence. Examples of administrative procedures currently provided for by canon law are the procedures for the dissolution of a non-consummated marriage (canons 1697-1706), or for reasons of faith (canons 1143-50), or also the penal administrative procedures (canon 1720).

Hypothetically, one could explore recourse to the following options: the presence in every diocese or in a group of small dioceses of a counseling service for Catholics who have doubts about the validity of their marriage. From there one could start a canonical process for evaluating the validity of the bond, conducted by a suitable appointee (with the help of qualified personnel like notaries as required by canon law); this process would be rigorous in gathering evidence, which would be forwarded to the bishop, together with the opinion of the appointee himself, of the defender of the bond, and of a person who is assisting the petitioner. The bishop (who may also entrust this responsibility to another person with delegated faculties) would be called on to decide whether or not the marriage is null (he may consult several experts before giving his own opinion). It would always be possible for either of the spouses to appeal that decision to the Holy See.

This proposal is not meant as a gimmick to resolve the delicate situation of divorced and remarried persons, but rather intends to make clearer the connection between doctrine, pastoral care, and canon law. […]

(Translated for "Communio" by Michael J. Miller)


It has been said that western Catholic theology is Christianity interpreted by canon lawyers.   Even salvation has been interpreted as a transaction by which God received the level of satisfaction that is legally required to pay for the enormity of human sin, purgatory is doing time for offences committed, and hell is perpetual imprisonment.    In this context Our Lord's teaching on marriage and divorce is seen as one more canonical rule among others that has the authority of Christ himself and is, therefore, an absolute.  

I believe this is an inadequate interpretation of the Gospel, just as the paradigm that sees the Church as the perfect society, held together by papal jurisdiction, is an inadequate understanding of the Church.

In St Paul we have another interpretation of the relationship between Law and Grace.   Humankind has sinned and simply cannot re-connect with God by means of the Law.   Indeed, we are unable to observe all the requirements of the Law whose sole function was to show us our own sinfulness and need for redemption.  The human race was caught in a trap of its own making and needed being rescued by God.   God did this through Christ who not only put things right for us by his own obedience unto death, but he himself became our means to approach the Father, entering into an intimate relationship with us.   We live in him, and he in us.   "I do not live, but Christ lives in me," and he acts in and through me.   This enables me to fulfil, not the Old Law, but the New Law of my life in Christ.  This New Law pre-supposes the presence of Christ in  my heart and my synergy with him through the Spirit.

If Christ's teaching on marriage were only a stricter interpretation of the Law of Moses, then we, as gentiles, would not be bound by it, because we are not bound to follow the Law of Moses.   If it is a law belonging to our new life in Christ, then our ability to abide by it depends on the presence of Christ in my heart and my synergy with him in the Spirit.   If that synergy does not exist, then all the new law will do is demonstrate my inability to follow it and my need for redemption.   You are mistaken if you believe that this synergy with Christ  in the Holy Spirit can be reduced to a legal obligation.  In the Old Testament, Christ says, Moses (and God) adapted to the Jews' hardness of heart in permitting divorce. The coming of Christ changed all this, both in the Church that is his body, and in the heart of each Christian which has become, through baptism and in communion, his tabernacle.  The problem of divorce among Christians is not primarily a legal matter to be solved by canon lawyers and legislation, but a sacramental matter and a spiritual one that involves the conversion required by baptism.  "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder," is primarily prohibiting the break up of a marriage; not so much a prohibiting of another marriage when the first breaks up.   Nevertheless, it does imply a radical difference between the first and the second marriage: only the first is made in heaven as well as on earth.   However, it is generally agreed that there are situations in which a separation is not only permitted but is also desirable.   We are back to "hardness of heart"   Things are not so cut and dried as so-called "conservatives" make out.

Church Law is constructed on the lines of secular Roman Law; but it differs in two important respects.   Secular law can only function where the government can enforce it, and behind it there is always the possibility of physical force.   Church Law, however, receives its empowerment from the self-giving trinitarian love of God which is manifested in Christ, and from the answering self-offering in Christ of the Church throughout the world, both loves - God's love for us and our love  for God -  being expressed in the sacriifice of the Mass; and this synergy of loves results in universal communion of ecclesial love. As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says, " ...the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows."   It is the source of the power that is necessary for Canon Law to function, and it is the goal of Canon Law to enable members of the Church to participate in the liturgy through loving God.  

Canon Law is the servant of this meeting between God and human beings, not its master: the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.   Let me give you a concrete example.   When we first went to Tambogrande in 1981, we found a community of wonderful people who were deeply religious, but whose sexual lives were often in a chaotic state. Most were not married; many men had more than one woman, and it was generally accepted that men are unable to control their desires.   Of course there were also people who were very faithful to their partner, whether they were married or not.   In our evangelization, what were we to do?   When they came to communion "like hungry dogs" - to quote Graham Greene - were we to turn them away because they were not married?  What would come first, giving them Christ or the rules?   Like the majority of missionaries I met, we concentrated on giving them Christ.   We did this, not because we approved of their morality, but because the rules only take on an importance once people are in an intimate relationship with Christ.   Christ's love comes first: doing his will to the best of our ability follows.
Rules have to fit in to this context.  All Cardinal Walter Kasper is doing is trying to make legal what we learned from pastoral experience.   

This is all bound up with the New Evangelization, putting an encounter with the Person of Christ in the centre of our message and not allowing rules to get in the way, whether the person contacted is meeting Christ for the first time or is repenting after doing things which separated him or her from Christ. There should be no situation, none whatever, that impedes a repentant sinner from returning to communion through absolution and penance.

Cardinal Burke does not answer Cardinal Kasper's argument.   All he does is repeat Christ's teaching which both he and Cardinal Kasper accept.

 Let us look at a few examples of concrete circumstances where it is my belief that communion should be  .  Let us leave out those whose first marriage is actually null and void and haven't the means to put their case to a Roman court.

  • There is the case of an Anglican who has divorced and re-married.   Under the rules, if he has matrimonial relations with his second wife, if he becomes a Catholic, he cannot go to communion. have really stable families
  • A married couple splits up.   They re-marry and settle down to have really stable families.   Very often, second marriages last.   It would be against the good of the second families, would do harm to everyone concerned, if they were to split up again.  Usually, there is no realistic possibility for the original couples to get back together. The second family, once there are children, has become a human reality that must be respected and supported.   I would consider it my pastoral duty as a priest to support the unity of a second family which, at the same time, is the reason why the couple cannot go to communion.   That does not mean that the second union has become a sacramental marriage: but it does mean that the element of sin has been forgiven through repentance, penance and absolution and the couple is doing the best it can in the new circumstances.
Cardinal Scola does not deal with the case being forward.  His main argument is stated in this paragraph:
What makes access to these sacraments impossible is, rather, the state (condition of life) in which those who have established a new bond find themselves: a state which in itself contradicts what is signified by the bond between the Eucharist and marriage.

There is a much stronger connection between communion and membership of the Church, church unity being the res sacramenti of the Church, yet there are occasions when non-Catholic Christians may legally go to communion.   Therefore, this argument of the Cardinal does not support a blanket ban on people who are divorced and re-married.   The Eucharist has so many facets, so many levels of meaning for just one of them to justify a complete ban. 

The Orthodox would say that, according to the akribeia, or strict nature of things, communion should only be taken by people in communion with the Church; but there are occasions and situations when the Church meets the demands of love and uses oiconomia by lifting the ban on certain people from going to communion.   The Catholic Church allows non-Catholic people in certain circumstances to receive communion.   We are arguing that this should be extended to divorced and re-married people.  Cardinal Scola does not give a single reason for his position except for one that is really not strong enough.

The only condition that would justify a complete ban would be if it were said that those who are living in a second marriage are, for that reason, living in mortal sin - a continuous emnity with God; but this is not being said.   To take advantage of spiritual communion instead of sacramental communion would be impossible if they were in mortal sin.  If they are considered to be capable of true repentance, there is no reason to refuse them absolution.  If they are capable of spiritual communion, there is no compelling reason to ban them from sacramental communion.  The reason given by Cardinal Scola is simply not strong enough.

Here is another Vatican official, the 49 year old Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.   I don't think he addresses Cardinal Kasper's central point about the centrality of Christ rather than rules.   Nevertheless, it does put the oikonomia of the Eastern churches in a historical context.  I therefore include it.


by Cyril Vasil, S.J.

my source: S. Magister
Influence of Roman and Byzantine Civil Law on Divorce and Second Marriages

In the pre-Christian era Roman law permitted divorce in general for two sets of motives: upon agreement of the parties (dissidium), or on the basis of a fault by one of the parties (repudium). […]

The greatest reformer of Roman law, the emperor Justinian (527–565), personally desired that his reform of marriage law be applied also within the Church. […] Novella 117 of Justinian was a compromise between the tradition of the Eastern Church, which permitted separation for reasons of adultery or in order to enter a monastery, and Roman law, which permitted divorce for many more reasons.

It is often asserted that the Eastern Church, in its desire to live in harmony with civil authorities, often made concessions at the cost of compromising the message of the gospel. However, during the first millennium we can say that even in the East the Church adhered to the axiom of Saint Jerome: “aliae sunt leges Caesarum aliae Christi” (the laws of Caesar are one thing, the laws of Christ another). […]

We first notice a real change in the Nomocanon in 14 titles compiled by Patriarch Photius of Constantinople in 883. This collection affirms the indissolubility of marriage while it also provides a list of causes for divorce introduced by Justinian’s legislation. The successive development in the Byzantine Empire reinforced the role of the Church, while the Church accepted a new relationship to the State. […]

Up until the end of the ninth century, it was still possible to contract a civil marriage, but by the year 895, on the basis of Emperor Leo VI’s Novella 89, the Church was declared the only institution with legal competence for the celebration of matrimony. In this way, the priestly blessing became a necessary part of the legal act of marriage.

Thus, the Church became the guarantor of marriage as a social institution. Following this, ecclesiastical tribunals gradually, and then in 1086 definitively, received exclusive competence for the examination of marriage cases. As a consequence the Eastern Church had to conform its practices to State and civil legislation. Then once civil legislation began to allow divorce and successive remarriages, the Eastern Church was obligated to recognize these practices. […]

The successive spread of Christianity from its center in Constantinople to other missionary territories and nations brought about the geographical extension of the judicial-disciplinary practices of this tradition as well as the diffusion of the theological principles that founded such practices.

In this context today, we see diverse Orthodox Churches, which, despite the fact that they are institutionally and hierarchically separate, nevertheless follow most of the same disciplinary and spiritual principles.

Divorce in the Russian Orthodox Church

Once Christianity arrived in Russia from ancient Byzantium, the provisions of Byzantine law regarding divorce were incorporated into its laws along with some modifications regarding the Russian situation. […] 

In the so-called synodal period (1721–1917), a fixed number of reasons for divorce was established and clarified by State authorities in collaboration with ecclesiastical authorities. […]

In 1917–1918 the Pan-Russian Council (Vserossijskij Pomestnij Sobor) of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted new regulations concerning divorce, reacting to recent secular laws established by the Soviets. […]

The Synod established on April 7 and 20, 1918, that marriage blessed by the Church is indissoluble. Divorce “is admitted by the Church only in condescension to human weakness and out of care for the salvation of man”, on the conditions that there has been a breakup of the marriage and that reconciliation is impossible. The decision to concede an ecclesiastical divorce falls under the competence of the ecclesiastical tribunals, which work at the request of the spouses, provided that the reason presented for divorce conforms to those approved by the Holy Synod. […]

The Russian Orthodox Church today admits fourteen valid reasons for permitting divorce. […] However, from the study of actual divorce decrees or declarations issued by the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, it seems that it is not possible to deduce any particular method for conducting a canonical investigation, or to understand clearly the reasoning behind the application of a given motive for granting divorce. Often one simply finds in this documentation an ecclesiastical divorce decree, together with the request presented by the interested party, a statement that the couple has not been living together, and an indication that a civil divorce has been granted. Following this, the dissolution of the religious marriage and permission to remarry is granted.

Divorce in the Greek Orthodox Church

[…] Beginning in the twelfth century, divorce was received in canonical legislation and in practice by the Greek Church. Slowly, causes for divorce were introduced that were modeled on the morals and the situation of society. […]

Beginning in the seventeenth century, divorce was made more difficult. […] At the end of the eighteenth century the compilation of laws known as the Pedalion allowed only one motive for divorce: adultery. […]

However, both husband and wife are excommunicated if they are divorced for reasons other than adultery and then take a new spouse. Such persons are subject to the canonical punishment of seven years’ prohibition from the Eucharist. The Pedalion recalls that according to the Council of Carthage (407), spouses divorced for reasons other than adultery must reconcile or never remarry. The Pedalion was published with the consent of the patriarch and became above all the recognized text in the Greek Church. However, it did not have a strongly restrictive influence regard- ing the practice of divorce.

Greece obtained its independence in 1832; matrimonial affairs were regulated by a royal decree issued in 1835. […] The Greek State recognized the sacramental character of marriage and entrusted marital affairs to the competence of the Greek Orthodox Church, except for questions of divorce, which remained an affair of the State. […] If this tribunal decreed a divorce, the bishop was obliged by civil law to grant a “spiritual divorce”. […]

The divorced spouse (whose civil divorce was recognized by the ecclesiastical authority) who wished to contract a new marriage had first to perform an assigned penance (epitimia). Following this, the Church ritual for the second marriage had a penitential character. […]

A third marriage was conceded only to those previously divorced persons who were at least forty years old and without children. However, these individuals were prohibited from receiving the Eucharist for five years. […] Fourth marriages were prohibited. […]

In 1982 a further reform of family law took place in Greece. This reform introduced an option between civil and religious marriage. […]

In the case of divorce, only the civil courts have competence, according to the actual Greek judicial structure. Only after the civil decree of divorce has been issued can the Church decide whether to grant a religious divorce. This canonical dissolution of matrimony pertains only to those who have celebrated a canonical marriage and wish to contract another. […]

Looking now at both the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Churches’ policies and practices, we see that valid motives for divorce can be divided in three groups:

1. Adultery and other similar immoral acts;
2. Physical or legal situations similar to death (disappearance, attempted homicide, incurable illness, detention, separation for a long period, etc.); 
3.Moral impossibility of a common life (encouragement of adultery).

Juridical Procedures in Countries with “Personal Statutes”

[…] In Lebanon, as in other countries in the ex-Ottoman Empire, the life of these single, Christian communities is governed by so-called personal statutes. In these personal statutes, each Church defines itself and its relationship to the other ecclesial communities. […]

In this way, each Church was “obligated” to define reasons and conditions for the declaration of nullity of a marriage, the dissolution of the marriage bond, the separation of the spouses while remaining in the bond of marriage, and divorce, as well as the possibility to contract a new marriage.

A look at these approaches to marriage questions in some Orthodox Churches leads us to conclude that, in concrete practice, the Orthodox Churches either endorse civil divorces or recognize them more or less covertly. […]

In actual practice, long-term separation of spouses is considered the equivalent to divorce because in Orthodox theology, common life is the essential element of marriage, and the conception of separation "manente vinculo", as it is applied in the Catholic Church, is unknown in the Orthodox Churches.

Indissolubility of Marriage: Does a Common Orthodox Doctrine Exist?

In seeking a common Orthodox doctrine regarding the indissolubility of marriage, divorce, and the marriage of divorced persons, we confront the question of whether it is possible to speak of a common doctrine or of a “magisterium” of the Orthodox Churches. […]

The first difficulty we encounter is the fact that in the past, few Orthodox authors attempted a profound theoretical reflection on the question of common Orthodox doctrine. […]

In general, we can say that on the basis of the Gospel text, all the Orthodox authors at heart recognize the indissolubility of Christian marriage as one of its characteristics and teach this doctrine to all Christian spouses as an ideal toward which to aim. […]

At any rate, even as Orthodox bishops acknowledge the possibility of divorce and remarriage, they admit this only as an exception that confirms the rule of the unity and indissolubility of marriage.

Among Orthodox authors and bishops, opponents to divorce are not lacking. Some of these authorities uphold the complete observance of the indissolubility of marriage and the impossibility of divorce for any reason.

For example, the Russian Archbishop Ignatius (in the Russian Orthodox Church, Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov, 1807-1867) did not permit divorce for any reason, not even for adultery.

More moderate, but nevertheless appreciable opposition to divorce has also been evidenced both by Archbishop Iakovos (Coucouzis, 1911-2005), the Orthodox Metropolitan of North and South America (1959-1996), who insisted already in 1966 that concessions of divorce should be limited, and by the Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III (1923–2012), who following his enthronement in 1971 reduced the many reasons considered valid for granting divorce in the Coptic Church to one: adultery. […]

Concluding Considerations

[…] For the Catholic canonist accustomed to reasoning according to categories of matrimonial procedural law, it is often difficult to understand the fact that, in the Orthodox Church, there is no talk ever about procedural questions about marriage cases per se, that is, there are no roles for an advocate, a promoter of justice, a defender of the bond, and there are no instances of appeal, among other juridical structures.

The Orthodox Churches have practically never elaborated a clear doctrine regarding the indissolubility of marriage that could bring the New Testament requirements to the judicial level. This fact is the key that allows us to understand why the Orthodox Churches, even through the expressions of their supreme authorities – oftentimes only passively – accept the sociological reality. […]

The Position of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church does not recognize the procedures involved in the declaration of the dissolution of a marriage bond, or those applied in the case of a divorce on account of adultery, in the manner in which these procedures are employed by a number of Orthodox Churches, nor does it recognize the Orthodox application of the principle of oikonomia (which, in this case, is considered contrary to divine law), because these dissolutions presuppose the intervention of an ecclesiastical authority in the breakup of a valid marriage agreement.

In the decisions in these matters reached by the authority of the Orthodox Churches, the distinction between a “declaration of nullity”, “annulment”, “dissolution”, or “divorce” is usually lacking or is practically unknown. […]

Many Orthodox Churches do little more than simply ratify the divorce sentence issued by the civil court. In other Orthodox Churches, as, for example, in the Middle East, in which ecclesial authorities hold exclusive competence in matrimonial matters, declarations dissolving religious marriages are issued solely by applying the principle of oikonomia.

At the beginning of this essay we asked whether the Orthodox practice could represent “a way out” for the Catholic Church in the face of the growing instability of sacramental marriages, by providing a pastoral approach toward those Catholics who, after the failure of a sacramental marriage and a subsequent civil divorce, contract a second, civil marriage.

Before responding to this question, another question should be posed. Is it thinkable to resolve the difficulties that Christian marriages must confront in the contemporary world by lowering the demands of indissolubility? […]

Christ brought his new, revolutionary message, one that was “countercultural” to the pagan world. His disciples announced his good news, fearlessly presenting near impossible demands that contradicted the culture of that age. The world today is perhaps similarly marked by the neo-paganism of consumption, comfort, and egoism, full of new cruelties committed by methods ever more modern and ever more dehumanizing. Faith in supernatural principles is now more than ever subject to humiliation.

All this brings us to consider whether “hardness of heart” is a convincing argument to muddle the clearness of the teaching of the Gospel on the indissolubility of Christian marriage.

But as a response to the many questions and doubts, and to the many temptations to find a “short cut” or to “lower the bar” for the existential leap that one makes in the great “contest” of married life, in all this confusion among so many contrasting and distracting voices, still today resound the words of the Lord: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9).,


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