Step sister who faithfully attends weekly mass, but was unable to celebrate a second marriage in a Catholic church because she and her future husband were already divorced. The friend who was told he couldn’t join the parish council because he married a divorced woman and, by the way, shouldn’t take communion.
For Catholics, practicing and non-practicing, these are familiar stories. These are the stories of other Catholics who discover that due to a decision to end their own marriage and remarry or marry a divorced person, “they are de facto excommunicated,” as the saying goes. Pope Francis, with all the personal anguish this may entail.
It is heartening that Francis is adding divorce to the list of topics open to debate under his papacy. But just like other controversial dogmatic issues, such as the Church’s ban on artificial contraception and same-sex marriage, there is a wide divide between traditionalists and those who yearn for change.
François is trying to fill this chasm. But one always has the impression that it will take a miracle to convince those who oppose any relaxation of the idea that the sacrament of marriage is eternal. To end it, the spouses must now request an annulment and demonstrate that their marriage was never valid in the eyes of the Church.
In the past, cancellation decisions were costly, time-consuming, arbitrary, and seemed to favor the wealthy and the connected. In a signal that he would like to change that, Francis recently told a group of church judges in Rome that he would like “all marriage processes to be free” and expressed concern about the time he it takes to get an annulment.
It is progress. Yet annulment still isn’t appealing to many couples who wish to dissolve an unhappy marriage but don’t care to share intimate details, as required by the church, or accept the idea that marriage doesn’t end. never took place.
Today, these couples have only two choices: to remain in an unsatisfactory marriage and to remain a good Catholic in the eyes of the church; or end their marriage with divorce and lose ties with their church. How wonderful if Francis could change that. For Catholic families burdened by the church’s unjust annulment process, this would be revolutionary.