Marriage internal forum solution

Quite a number of Synod Fathers appealed for greater efficiency and a speeding up of Marriage Tribunals as a way forward pastorally with regard to the divorced and re-married Catholics, even at the recent Synod.

Sep 04, 2015

Quite a number of Synod Fathers appealed for greater efficiency and a speeding up of Marriage Tribunals as a way forward pastorally with regard to the divorced and re-married Catholics, even at the recent Synod. This will surely benefit a good number of people who are in a position to meet the juridical demands required, and thus, establish in the Tribunal (the External Forum) that there indeed had been no marriage at all from the beginning (i.e., cases for annulment). However, the issue at stake that some of the Synod Fathers were calling attention to was about those cases of re-married Catholics who cannot prove that there was no first marriage in the External Forum (in the Tribunal) but who are certain in their conscience (the Internal Forum) that there was never such a marriage. In fact, Pope John Paul II himself recognizes such cases in No:84 of Familiaris Consortio (FC).

Traditional Catholic canonical practice recognizes that there is a distinction between the external and internal forums. With regard to our own theme, Siegle writes:

The problem concerns, primarily, the conflicting situation that arises when a marriage is invalid before God, but the invalidity cannot be proven before a human tribunal.

Secondarily, it concerns situations in which a sacramental marriage was broken and an individual, now remarried, desires to receive the sacraments while remaining faithful to a second union.

This is the case of those who are divorced and remarried and who are now anxious to return to full communion with the Church but cannot do so because their first marriage, invalid as it was, ended in divorce and there is now another marital union.

It is in such cases, that what was traditionally known as “the internal forum solution” was frequently applied in the pastoral field in the past:

Very few responsible Catholics would deny the positive value of law in safeguarding the integrity of marriage and family life and the ideal of indissolubility. But various situations exist that cannot be resolved satisfactorily by an external forum judgment, since the key facts may be known only in the intimacy of the marriage by the partners themselves. In such cases, another legitimate pastoral option exists, known as the internal forum solution (IFS).

That is to say that a re-married spouse who is certain in his properly formed conscience that his/her previous marriage was never valid but cannot prove so in a marriage tribunal with all the juridical requirements demanded there, can receive the Eucharist after a careful and prayerful discernment, taking into consideration what the Church’s magisterium teaches seriously. This was normally done with the assistance of a conscientious pastor. One needs to notice that there is no question of dissolving a valid marriage here: “Marriage, as we know it, is indissoluble, but there must be a marriage first in order to speak of indissolubility. We cannot take apart something that has not been moulded together.” Rather, it is a matter of declaring the nullity of marriage, not in a marriage tribunal (external forum) but in one’s properly formed conscience (internal forum). This pastoral solution was officially approved, at least twice, in the 1970s. While censuring the diocesan bishops from admitting to the sacraments those who were invalidly married, Cardinal Seper of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1973 stated:

In regard to admission to the Sacraments, the Ordinaries are asked, on the one hand, to stress the observance of the current discipline and, on the other hand, to take care that the pastors of souls exercise special care to seek out those who are living in an irregular union by applying to the solution of such cases, in addition to other right means, the Church’s approved practice in the internal forum.

Two years later, the same CDF re-approved it, and explicitly explained what the phrase “the approved practice of the Church in the internal forum” really means, in a letter signed by its secretary, Archbishop Hamer when he wrote to Archbishop Bernadin of Chicago:

I would like to state now that this phrase must be understood in the context of traditional moral theology. These couples may be allowed to receive the sacraments on two conditions, that they try to live according to the demands of Christian moral principles and that they receive the sacraments in churches in which they are not known so that they will not create any scandal.

Thus, we need to be clear that this was an approved pastoral practice of the Church that respects the supreme moral norm of Christian living, namely, acting according to one's properly formed conscience. However, in the contemporary world, where people tend to equate their feelings to conscience, where any conscience whether properly formed or not is used to justify any and every decision in one’s life, this solution has the risk of ending up in subjectivism that could easily lead to moral relativism. Perhaps, this growing contemporary risk may have been the reason that prompted Pope John Paul II himself not to mention this as a possible pastoral solution in his Familiaris Consortio (FC), though in the previous decade it was twice officially approved by the CDF. As a matter of fact, later, this pastoral approach was discouraged by the CDF head, Cardinal Ratzinger, when he implicitly forbade its use in his Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church in 1994.

On the positive side, this pastoral solution upholds the subjective pole of morality without denying its objective pole. As Bishop Peter Cullinane of New Zealand wrote recently, the opposition to any change in the Church’s practice concerning the reception of Holy Communion by people in irregular situations is often based on its apparent contradiction of the objective moral order of indissolubility.

“It is one thing to uphold the Church's teachings and the need to align our lives to them; it is another to say that whether people may receive Holy Communion or not depends on their objective situation.”

As we know, beginning with Jesus in the gospels, the Christian tradition has insisted the primacy of subjective (interior) morality without negating the objective (external) morality. In this sense, too, this pastoral solution of internal forum has its own merits, provided the safeguards against its abuse are well in place. — Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection

--To be continued next week

Total Comments:0