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Bishop Tobin on Remarried Couples & the Eucharist

pptobin280409Has anyone else read Bishop Thomas Tobin’s letter posted on the Providence Diocese’s website?  He invites discussion.  Thus, with all due respect, I would like to share my concerns.  The bishop writes:

In my personal reflection on this dilemma, I turn to the incident in the Gospels in which Jesus and His followers were walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath and because they were hungry, began to pick and eat the grain, a clear violation of an important Mosaic Law. The offense was roundly condemned by the religious experts, the Pharisees. But in response, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:23-28).  In other words, while not denying the validity of the law, our Lord clearly placed it in a “pastoral context,” exempting its enforcement due to the human needs of the moment. Could we not take a similar approach to marriage law today?

One cannot really compare the issue of divorced-and-remarried Catholics being allowed to receive Holy Communion with the incident where our Lord’s apostles are charged with violation of the Sabbath by picking and eating the heads of grain (Mk 2:23-28).  The first is in regard to spiritual disposition and the sacrilege of taking Holy Communion while in mortal sin.  The latter simply focuses upon a pharisaical interpretation of the commandment demanding rest.  The apostles were not in any grievously sinful state.  Jesus excuses them, as a foretaste of the freedom that comes with his dispensation.  But, more than this, Jesus is God.  The lawgiver can excuse whatever laws he wills.  The Church can also make modifications, as with our keeping the Sunday Observance over the traditional Hebrew Sabbath.  However, such authority is not absolute and this juridical rendering is a far cry from trying to circumnavigate around basic objective moral norms.  The Church and the Pope do not have the authority to authorize sin and sacrilege.

What constitutes a genuine pastoral approach?  Excusing or enabling serious sin is no favor to anyone.  While we may be troubled by exclusion and feelings of hurt; how can these compare to the fires of hell and the loss of God’s friendship.  The pastoral cannot be so focused on the external situation or appearances that we neglect the internal reality.  The corollary to the assertion that “matrimony is made for man, not man for matrimony” does not find its solution in feigned second marriages but in a chaste celibacy.  Promises are made to be kept.  If the first marriage is authentic, then as long as one spouse lives, any attempted second marriage is a fiction.  That is the long-and-short of it.  There is no viable solution out of this conundrum.  This is more than “the lofty demands of the law,” but the enduring truth that the two become one flesh.  Affections might stray but one spouse continues to belong to the other.  Infidelity is stealing what is the spouse’s due and giving it to another.  There is no way that the Church could rubber-stamp such a scenario.

The bishop writes,

But at the same time, the Church has taught the pre-eminent value of receiving the Holy Eucharist, and I keep hearing the words of Jesus about the Eucharist, words that are just as valid and important as His words about marriage: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53).

Missing from this assessment is the ancient teaching, recited in the sequence for Corpus Christi, that the same sacrament which brings life to one, brings judgment to another.  Purposely giving Holy Communion to those who are in an adulterous situation would invite condemnation upon them and ridicule upon a hypocritical Church.

Bishop Thomas Tobin states:

And I know that I would much rather give Holy Communion to these long-suffering souls (divorced-and-remarried couples) than to pseudo-Catholic politicians who parade up the aisle every Sunday for Holy Communion and then return to their legislative chambers to defy the teachings of the Church by championing same-sex marriage and abortion.

The bishop means well and he says, honestly, that he does not know the answer to the predicament; however, sympathy for small devils while castigating large ones is no answer at all.  A man can jump from one ledge to another.  If he misses by a foot or an inch, it makes no difference.  He is still just as dead.  This is the appropriate analogy here.

Bishop Tobin echoes an article in the National Catholic Reporter by Fr. Peter Daly who suggested that annulments be simplified by handling the situations entirely at the local level.  The bishop writes:

Can we eliminate the necessity of having detailed personal interviews, hefty fees, testimony from witnesses, psychological exams, and automatic appeals to other tribunals?  In lieu of this formal court-like process, which some participants have found intimidating, can we rely more on the conscientious personal judgment of spouses about the history of their marriage (after all, they are the ministers and recipients of the sacrament!) and their worthiness to receive Holy Communion?

The true Sensus Fidelium is that collection of the laity that keeps our moral laws and regularly goes to Mass.  They would be critical of this proposed solution.  The grounds for annulments often rests in ignorance, deceit, lack of proper discretion, inability to fulfill the obligations of marriage, mental problems, prior addiction, etc.  People are often blind to their own faults and shortcomings; but here the bishop is literally saying, “Physician, heal thyself!”  Would this apply for only the second marriage?  What about the third?  What part would “the other woman” play when marriages were deliberately destroyed?  Such a measure would play into the hands of selfishness.  Many of them do not understand the difference between an annulment and a divorce.  If the bishop’s notion were adopted, there would be no difference— and a basic command from Christ would be explicitly violated.

This is all quite serious.  The marriage analogy plays a crucial part in our understanding of the Church’s relationship to Christ and the sacrament of Holy Orders.  Weaken one and we hurt the others— the dominoes will begin to fall.

3 Responses

  1. The Holy See Press Office on Saturday announced Pope Francis has decided to establish a Special Commission for the study of the reform of the matrimonial processes in canon law. The decision was made on August 2, 2014.

    This Committee will be chaired by Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota. The other members are: and will be composed of the following members: Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, SJ, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Bishop Dimitri Salachas, Apostolic Exarch of the Greek Byzantine Catholic Church; Msgrs. Maurice Monier, Leo Xavier Michael Arokiaraj and Alejandro W. Bunge, Prelate Auditors of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota; the Rev. Fr. Nikolaus Schöch, O.F.M., Substitute Promotor of Justice of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura; Fr. Konštanc Miroslav Adam, O.P., Rector of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum); Fr. Jorge Horta Espinoza, O.F.M., Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law of the Pontifical University Antoniamum; and Prof. Paolo Moneta, formerly professor of Canon Law at the University of Pisa.

    The work of the Commission will start as soon as possible and will have as its goal to prepare a proposal of reform of the matrimonial process, with the objective of simplifying its procedure, making it more streamlined, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony.

    (from Vatican Radio)

  2. KARL:

    When there is an unjustified divorce, and each of these are known and well substantiated to those involved in the annulment process, this information should be completely forwarded to the ordinary, to the Rota, to the Papal Signatura and to the Pope, immediately before any decision is rendered.


    If the local tribunal has determined that there are no grounds for the annulment, then there is no need to send the case to Rome. The marriage is still binding. Any civil divorce is outside the Church’s direct jurisdiction. Civil divorce is not recognized and does not free a couple from their bond. It is sometimes permitted as an expedient to an annulment case but it is no guarantee of a verdict against the true validity of the bond. The Church has no coercive power that would absolutely force wayward spouses to return to their marital bonds. If cases were arbitrarily or routinely sent to Rome, the Vatican would be overwhelmed. When an annulment is granted and there are objections, this can be sent to Rome and as in the case of Joseph Kennedy, overturned. The decisions of one tribunal are routinely reviewed and must be ratified by a second one. This is to help avoid mistakes although the process is not infallible.


    In union with the Holy See, the local ordinary, having complete knowledge of the unjustified divorce (as is the case in our marriage regardless of what lies the Church may fabricate this time), should inform the guilty party or parties that due to their behavior having been established that the action to divorce was unjustified, they have not established the necessary credibility to give reliable, objective testimony in a canonical legal proceeding. Except in emergencies, express permission is to be sought from the ordinary for legal separation and divorce, per existing canon law. This permission was not obtained in our case either.


    Ordinaries do not generally have “complete” knowledge of annulment proceedings and “unjustified” divorces. Bishops work through emissaries, their priests and laypersons assigned to the tribunal work. While canon law speaks about couples asking a bishop for permission to separate; in practice, most couples address these decisions neither to their pastors nor to the bishops. They go straight to divorce lawyers. Divorce of valid marriages is forbidden to Catholics and most our people know this. While there might be cases where separation is necessary in the face of abuse and endangerment, many opt to divorce for less valid reasons. Formed more by a secular modernity than the Church, these couples do not seem to care what the Church teaches. I am not ignorant of canons like 1692, nor are the tribunals or bishops, but as I said before, the Church is often bypassed until the civil issues are already resolved. No fault divorce laws are especially heinous in this regard. No reasons are required and the required bishop’s authorization is never sought. The laws of the Church seem to anticipate that we are dealing with good and faithful Catholics. Often we are not. Indeed, given the many marriages to non-Catholics, valid and invalid, many annulments are sought for divorced Protestants who want to marry Catholics in the Church. The bishop’s intervention, or his emissaries, would help to prevent the scandal associated with divorce and remarriage. Otherwise, we have as is common in the United States, civil judgments that conflict with divine law and the rights of true spouses. It is here that I would hope the new commission might repair the constant disconnect with divorces and ecclesial adjudication. (I am reminded of the sad case where Bud McFarlane, Jr. divorcing his wife, Bai. Then and now, I very much support her movement against the wholesale divorce epidemic in the United States.)

    When couples come to us with troubled marriages, we direct them to marriage counseling. But often one or both refuse. They run off and get divorced, not to reappear again until they want an annulment so as to marry a new love interest. Increasingly these couples have already entered into civil marriages which have no standing in the Church. The Church tries to meet them where they are but annulments are not guaranteed. Indeed, priests are forbidden to schedule weddings for couples who are not free to marry. Indeed, if married out of the Church, they are deemed unfit for the reception of Holy Communion or participation in parish ministries.

    When the bond is presumed as authentic and present, here are some of the pertinent canons:

    [1151] Spouses have the duty and right to preserve conjugal living unless a legitimate cause excuses them.

    [1152 §1] Although it is earnestly recommended that a spouse, moved by Christian charity and concerned for the good of the family, not refuse forgiveness to an adulterous partner and not disrupt conjugal life, nevertheless, if the spouse did not condone the fault of the other expressly or tacitly, the spouse has the right to sever conjugal living unless the spouse consented to the adultery, gave cause for it, or also committed adultery.

    [1152 §2] Tacit condonation exists if the innocent spouse has had marital relations voluntarily with the other spouse after having become certain of the adultery. It is presumed, moreover, if the spouse observed conjugal living for six months and did not make recourse to the ecclesiastical or civil authority.

    [1152 §3] If the innocent spouse has severed conjugal living voluntarily, the spouse is to introduce a cause for separation within six months to the competent ecclesiastical authority which, after having investigated all the circumstances, is to consider carefully whether the innocent spouse can be moved to forgive the fault and not to prolong the separation permanently.

    [1153 §1] If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay.

    [1153 §2] In all cases, when the cause for the separation ceases, conjugal living must be restored unless ecclesiastical authority has established otherwise.

    [1154] After the separation of the spouses has taken place, the adequate support and education of the children must always be suitably provided.

    [1155] The innocent spouse laudably can readmit the other spouse to conjugal life; in this case the innocent spouse renounces the right to separate.

    Here are the canons that refer to separation and divorce:

    [1692 §1] Unless other provision is legitimately made in particular places, a decree of the diocesan bishop or a judicial sentence can decide the personal separation of baptized spouses according to the norm of the following canons.

    [1692 §2] Where an ecclesiastical decision has no civil effects or if a civil sentence is not contrary to divine law, the bishop of the diocese of the residence of the spouses, after having weighed the special circumstances, can grant permission to approach the civil forum.

    [1692 §3] If a case concerns only the merely civil effects of marriage, the judge, after having observed the prescript of §2, is to try to defer the case to the civil forum from the start.

    [1693 §1] Unless a party or the promoter of justice requests the ordinary contentious process, the oral contentious process is to be used.

    [1693 §2] If the ordinary contentious process has been used and an appeal is proposed, the tribunal of second grade, observing what is required, is to proceed according to the norm of ⇒ can. 1682, §2.

    [1694] The prescripts of ⇒ can. 1673 are to be observed in what pertains to the competence of the tribunal.

    [1695] Before accepting the case and whenever there is hope of a favorable outcome, the judge is to use pastoral means to reconcile the spouses and persuade them to restore conjugal living.

    [1696] Cases concerning the separation of spouses also pertain to the public good; therefore the promoter of justice must always take part in them according to the norm of ⇒ can. 1433.


    The ordinary should require a personal appearance from the guilty parties, at his office and he should give them a fixed period, unless they can absolutely prove to him at this meeting that their divorce was an emergency if no permission was sought, to admit, in public, their crimes and demonstrate such action has legally been, at least, legally and personally, substantially begun, after which, in the absence of these changes and admissions, formal excommunication would be invoked.


    Let me repeat, the bishops are way too busy to meet with every troubled couple. That is why priests function as extensions to the bishops. But the truth be said, couples do not ask priests if they can get divorces. Most the time, when they make an appointment, they are already in a second relationship. The Church has no civil or disciplinary authority to do as you suggest. Things might have been different in a feudal society or under the rules of the defunct Inquisition, but the Church has no such intimidating power over people’s lives, today. The Church does not seek to parade people’s sins before others. Indeed, the Church might face legal action if we sought to purposely place particular people to ridicule or bullying. In any case, if a divorce is unjustified then no grounds will be found for an annulment and they will not be able to marry again in the Church. They are not excommunicated, but they cannot lawfully receive absolution or Holy Communion while they remain in a state of sin. This is sufficient. If they should take the sacraments anyway, then they will have to answer for their actions before God. Most priests do not know on any given Sunday who is or is not disposed for the sacrament. We do not tattoo or burn scarlet letters upon our fallen brothers and sisters. I suppose, by comparison, ISIS militants could make such demands and chop of the heads of those who fail to comply; but such will not be how the Church will react.

    It is sufficient that the Church forbids divorce. This is where so-called “unjustified” divorces face their judgment. The annulment process or the work of the tribunal will help assess if this is the case. Remember, a true marriage cannot be divorced. Only invalid marriages between Christians can be declared null.


    This should be done in every single unjustified divorce.


    Let us be honest, this is personal to you. You want your wife and her love-interest to suffer. I am sure you are capable of hurting them sufficiently without the Church’s assistance. The Church serves the truth, not vendettas.


    All canonical standing of an unjust divorcee should cease and they should be denied complete access to Catholic Church property and access to clergy until they repent, in public in a legally binding manner.


    Jesus approached tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all sorts. The priests and the Church will never close our doors to sinners… even you.


    This is what every marriage deserves from the Catholic Church. It is true mercy and true justice and defends both truth and the institution of marriage as a whole and in individual cases.


    Justice is served by truth, not by vengeance. There is nothing of either justice or mercy in your view. In any case, another comment had you disown the Church and malign her shepherds. In another age you would be the one facing serious ecclesial censure. You cannot condemn the Church and expect to have a voice in her deliberations.


    In our case, I called the local ordinary, Bishop Gerald O’Keefe, then of the diocese of Davenport, Iowa. I asked him to intervene on behalf of our marriage to work for reconciliation. This was before our divorce was final. His response, burns in my memory: “Why would I help a man who has abandoned his wife and children?”


    Sorry, Karl, but we only have your perspective on what was actually said. And yet, did he have a point? I would not want to air the various reasons for this conflict on a public blog. It is not the place. But I fail to see how things were made better by you leaving the home. Did you come to a priest at that time? Was marriage counseling offered? Separation is often a terminal decision. Couples more so than not do not then get back together.


    I was forced from our home with threats of divorce. My wife’s parents were wealthy. She told me she had a blank check from them to destroy me. She made it perfectly clear that she would take everything from me, including our five children and do ANYTHING she felt necessary. I HAD NO CHOICE. This lie came from my wife to the bishop who never bothered to solicit the perspective of BOTH spouses. When the annulment started our children’s GODPARENTS testified in favor of our marriage. This entire unending nightmare is a lie and has always been so.


    I have never said you were not wronged. The fact the annulment was denied is proof in your favor. The Church still regards your marriage as binding.


    But the Church refuses to take any action except to pursue nullity. It has never attempted to work to heal this marriage although I have sought that directly and indirectly for decades.

    Cases like ours are everywhere in the Church.


    I can assure you that if both you and your estranged wife came for counseling, the Church would try to save your marriage. But you BOTH have to want it. We talked about this before. Neither Christ nor his Church can make her love you. The Church witnesses marriages but couples make them and they can break what they have made. The marriage remains but love sometimes dies. Promises are broken. Again, the Church has no coercive power to force her back into your arms. We can only help save marriages when couples want them saved.


    Of course I am furious. BUT, I have never closed the door on reconciliation, this is public knowledge. Nor have I been unfaithful to our vows. I had no say in our children’s sacraments, the lover did.

    In every diocese and parish my wife and her lover have lived, they have been welcomed as husband and wife, in every way but a wedding.


    It may be in some cases the priests did not know the history. But even if they did know, the most we can do is privately ask them to refrain from Holy Communion. Even if absolution was denied, if they saw a priest within the Sacrament of Penance, the priest would still be restricted by the seal of Confession against exposing their sin by word or action. He is silenced, even if they come down the aisle for the Eucharist.




    Spit on it? Far from it… only an annulment would free you to date and marry. Indeed, even if it were granted, as long as you believe the marriage was real and binding, you would be obliged in conscience to practice a celibate life. The same goes for your wife, but you can neither bend her to your will nor to that of Christ. I do not like your nastiness or anger, but I applaud your fidelity to her and I sympathize with the many tears you have shed. It is in that light that I continue to pray for you, even if you suspect and reject such prayers. That is about all I can do for you. That is about all the Pope can do for you. There is a profound freedom at the heart of marriage and discipleship that we must not invade. We might seek to win and woo, but will not get far with threats and the sword.


    The only reason our marriage survived nullity was NOT my testimony; it was that of the GODPARENTS. They have respected our marriage.



    That is part of the process. Never underestimate the value of witnesses. They keep us honest. When the annulment verdict is negative, couples are informed. They can appeal again, but without new evidence, the annulment can still not be granted. But even though you can prevent your wife from ever entering into a Church marriage, this will not bring her home to you. I am sorry about that. It is the hard truth. Would it satisfy you that her adultery will probably earn her a place in hell? Is this what pains you? Or is it for this that you hope? God forbid!

  3. Read the Rorate Caeli blog and see what is going on. Exactly as to be expected.

    Yes, you are likely to dismiss it again. Blind. You would not have seen Hitler coming either, is my guess, were you in Europe in the 30’s. I am sorry for you.

    My faithfulness to our vows, Francis spits on.

    He will have his day before his maker, as will I.

    You can say what you will but the last you told us, the annulment effort of your wife failed. Is this not what you wanted? For all your anger Karl, I thought it was granted. What would you have the Church do to please you? Now you attack me personally. This goes way beyond anger and disappointment. What is wrong with you?

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