According to the catechism of the Catholic church, a divorced person is forbidden from receiving the sacrament of holy communion unless they have their marriage annulled. For many Catholics whose marriages produced children and lasted decades, the annulment part is a big problem.
Last week, a synod of Catholic bishops from across the globe convened at the Vatican to address issues of family and divorce. In advance of the synod, Pope Francis issued an order that streamlines the process of obtaining an annulment and centralizes the church bureaucracy that deals with such requests.
At the conclusion of the synod on divorce and the family, the bishops issued a carefully worded set of recommendations to the prelate. The document was so carefully worded, however, that both the conservative and liberal wings of the Catholic church claimed “victory”.
As matters presently stand, and will stand for some time to come, a remarried Catholic is in an “irregular union”, essentially committing adultery, unless the first marriage is annulled. Many Catholics know of the loose standards that are utilized by the church’s apparatus in determining whether a marriage should be annulled; there is a strong whiff of religious bureaucracy perpetuating itself.
The fact is, once a marriage is consummated and produces children, that marriage, in fact, existed. To annul such a union seems like a disingenuous dogmatic “work around” designed to feign inclusiveness in the faith.
Bishops from the West, both the United States and Europe, have legions of divorced faithful. Those countries have couples that have been vocal spokespersons for inclusiveness; although there are voices on both sides of the issue.
The developing countries of Africa and Latin America, on the other hand, are entrenched in the rules that exclude divorced and gay Catholics from participation in the sacraments. The intellectual battle within the Church will rage on for some time.
The Pope is considering the recommendations from the synod and could issue an encyclical sometime in 2016. Or he could decide to do nothing.