Recent remarks by Pope Francis about the need for a stronger pastoral approach to marriage and divorced couples, do not signal the church is overturning its laws or practice of denying communion to Catholics who divorce and remarry, said two canon law experts.
When Pope Francis made parenthetical reference to the Orthodox churches permitting, in some cases, a second marriage, he was referring to an issue that has been under discussion for decades, said U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature.
The pope told reporters July 28 during his flight to Rome from Rio de Janeiro that “the Orthodox have a different practice.” They “follow the theology of ‘oikonomia’ (economy or stewardship), as they call it, and give a second possibility; they permit” a second marriage, the pope had said.
Cardinal Burke, who spoke Sept. 16 at a renewal course on marriage law hosted by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, told Catholic News Service that talking about the differences between the way the Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church handle the breakup of marriages “is a discussion that’s been going on for decades.”
He said he took the pope’s remarks to journalists in July to mean that “the Holy Father is simply saying that this discussion should be taken seriously.”…
…The Catholic Church teaches that while divorced Catholics can receive the sacraments, Catholics who have been divorced and remarried civilly cannot.
Father Luis Navarro, dean of the pontifical university’s canon law faculty and priest of the prelature of Opus Dei, said in his opening talk that Pope Francis’ remarks recognize the difficulties remarried Catholic find themselves in.
But, the priest said, tribunal courts, pastors and other members of the church “need to help them with the truth because the truth is more pastoral than anything else.”
Speaking with CNS, Cardinal Burke agreed, saying the church balances defending the truth and being merciful by making sure its tribunals are both impartial and offer real assistance to couples.
Couples need to be able to “present their understanding of the marriage as completely and accurately as possible” to the church tribunal, he said, and, in turn, the courts should be impartial so that couples “receive a decision which is according to the truth and not to please this party or that party, but to please God.”
In his talk, Father Hector Franceschi, professor of marriage law at the university, said Pope Francis’ remarks to reporters on the papal plane “do not mark a revisit or overturning of church practice” concerning divorced and remarried Catholics “because the fundamental principle of indissolubility cannot be obscured let alone set aside.”