Did Pope Francis Just “OK” Divorce and Remarriage?
News came out recently about Pope Francis’ changes to the annulment process. Many have questions, and some have bashed the Pope for these changes, saying he’s now, essentially, allowing divorce and remarriage. The critiques come from, I believe, a ‘fundamentalist’ approach to the Scriptural beliefs of marriage, divorce, and remarriage (see Mark 10, for instance.) However, Pope Francis isn’t just “okaying” divorce and remarriage – he is (in my humble opinion) making a pastoral move. This move, as it were, is taking into account various aspects. (Note: annulment is not divorce. For more, read this post on Catholic.com.) For TrueManhood, these aspects pertain to male leadership and faithfulness in general and I think they are worthy of discussion here.
The various aspects I see in this new decree:
- Marriage has trended strongly towards being merely a civil agreement, not a sacramental union imaging the Most Holy Trinity. When we reduce the Sacrament of Matrimony down to a civil contract, we are unable to freely give ourselves to our spouses, and it’s much “easier” to simply walk away. Men – it is common for people to say that “men are afraid of commitment.” I have witnessed this in some males, but not everyone. For a marriage to work and work well, it is my belief that a man must absolute commit to TrueManhood each and every day. If you screwed up yesterday, today is a new day.
- Marriage preparation, in many cases, is a laughable waste of time. This sounds harsh, but the facts are the facts. I hear story after story of people having terrible experiences in marriage prep, engaged encounters, and so forth. This isn’t to say that they are all bad – I’m aware of many good programs and approaches – but it’s something the Church must remedy. Priests (often whose hands are tied for various reasons) consent to marry uncatechized persons who are regularly breaking many of the Church’s basic requirements (ie: not actively involved in the life of the Church, cohabitating, engaged in pre-or-extramarital relations, contracepting, and so on) and thus bringing into question the validity of the sacrament from the very beginning.
- Marriages are ending in divorce at a staggering rate, and those involved need salvation too. Pope Francis has proven time and again that he takes the pastoral approach (that of the Good Shepherd… think “leave the 99 for the 1 lost sheep”) because people need love, care, and relationship before they will ever follow a set of rules. This is really the heart of true evangelization. Because of #’s 1&2 above, this group of individuals (again, uncatechized – meaning that they don’t know the teachings of the Church, thus are unable to apply them to their marriage and unevangelized – meaning that they don’t know the person of Jesus Christ in an intimate relationship) believe that they are unable to now be a part of the life of the Church (which is the means that Christ gave us to be united with Him in Heaven) and therefore leave. Pope Francis wants to minister to these people, and allow the faithful to do the same.
- The process for annulments has been extremely time consuming and costly. Although we don’t wish annulment on anyone, when valid, it is the right thing to do and to be granted by the Church. For some dioceses, the process takes years and costs hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Pastorally, this isn’t helping the families in need of annulment, but making it much more difficult. Pope Francis’ plan is to streamline the process, cutting the Tribunals down from 2 to 1, and giving the judges more decision-making abilities. Some take this as lessening the process so as to be able to give annulments out like candy… but that’s not what this is at all. The entire process of annulment will still take place, but should be much more cost effective (Pope Francis wants them to be free, if at all possible) and be a much quicker process.
- The legal nature of annulments has likely turned some away from Catholicism towards other denominations. Because of the above mentioned issues, and the stigma that “a divorced person isn’t welcome in the Catholic Church”, this legalese is driving a wedge between baptized persons and a community which would support and build them up. The Church’s mission is for the salvation of all, not just a select group of people who are sinless. Because we all sin, we all need salvation!
I’m very well aware of the struggles of marriage… it’s really stinkin’ hard! Sometimes, annulments are what is right and good. When this is the case, they should be granted. When it’s not, then they shouldn’t. Whatever your current status (single, married, divorced, annuled, widowed, etc.) I suggest that you look up the Church’s teaching on marriage, why She says that marriage is so important, why She teaches that marriages are indissoluble, and why spouses should fight together to save their marriage. Use the Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with Sacred Scripture, encyclicals, writings of the saints (DEFINITELY see Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s work on the matter!) and see how it benefits your life. It will enrich you and hopefully you’ll be able to share that with someone else who might be in need of the knowledge too.
To Pope Francis: thank you for challenging us all to be more pastoral and loving in our interactions and evangelization efforts. We could take a legalistic approach, but that will likely push people away. Instead, we remain faithful to the Church, with a true heart of charity, desiring that all come to know, love, and serve God. Specifically for the men reading this post, I want to encourage you to study the Church’s teaching on marriage, and then lead your wives/families in it. If your marriage is struggling at all, and you do this, you’ll find that the Church is urging the spouses to become a total gift of self, like Christ did for his bride (the Church). When you do this, marriage is what it is supposed to be. When you do this, marriage plays a huge role in your sanctification and your evangelization. Men, it’s now that we have the opportunity to shift the world’s thinking on what marriage is and how to do it successfully.