Reply to Cardinal Burke on Marriage and Communion

On Nov. 15th, 2014, Cardinal Burke spoke to a conference on marriage and family organized by the traditionalist group “Catholic Voice”. Cardinal Burke said:

“I fail to be able to comprehend how — if marriage is indissoluble and someone is living in a state contradicting this indissolubility of marriage — the person can be admitted to holy Communion”

My reply to this argument is based on the teaching of the Church.

1. Suppose that a couple has a valid first marriage, and they obtain a civil divorce. Any subsequent civil marriage or attempted Sacrament of marriage or non-marital sexual relationship is gravely immoral; it is essentially adultery (though secular society would not use that term). A person who is unrepentant from such a grave sin should not receive Communion.

The problem with Cardinal Burke’s position, though, is that he does not consider a case in which the first marriage is invalid.

2. Suppose that a couple is married in the Church, so that they seem to have a valid Sacrament of marriage. This first marriage might possibly be invalid. And that is why the Church sometimes grants an annulment, and permits a second marriage (which would be the first valid marriage). I’m certain Cardinal Burke allows such persons to receive Communion, as they are not contradicting the indissolubility of marriage.

But Pope Saint John Paul II has proposed another situation, in which the couple are “subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid” (Familiaris Consortio 84). These individuals are not contradicting the indissolubility of marriage by seeking a second marriage (their first valid marriage).

Annulments are difficult to obtain. The expense and time is burdensome, and the process is, in some dioceses, unjust. It may be the case that some marriage tribunals give out annulments too readily, granting an annulment when the first marriage is actually valid, thereby allowing Communion for persons who should not be receiving. And in other cases, the marriage tribunal might refuse an annulment when it ought to be granted, thereby refusing Communion when it ought to be allowed.

If a person is subjectively certain that the first marriage was invalid, there is not doctrinal problem with changing the discipline of the Church to give such persons a path to a second marriage that is valid, with reception of Communion going forward. However, it is a problem if the second marriage is civil only, and therefore not valid regardless of the past attempted marriage.

The Pope could reasonably and faithful permit persons who are certain of a past invalid marriage to meet with their pastor, consult with him, sign a document with his witnessing signature, and thereby obtain the equivalent of an annulment. Then their second union could become a valid marriage by convalidation (just as is done presently after an annulment). This process would sidestep all of the problems with marriage tribunals and the current annulment process.

Such a plan does NOT contradict the teaching of the Church on marriage.

Unfortunately, many conservative and traditionalist Catholics today have decided that they themselves determine what is and is not true doctrine and proper discipline in the Church. They speak as if the Pope were bound by their understanding of doctrine and discipline. Yet in many cases they have oversimplified, distorted, and misunderstood doctrine as well as discipline. They exalt themselves as if their judgment were infallible. When the Pope’s understanding of doctrine or discipline differs from their own, they arrogantly assume that the Pope must be wrong. They do not distinguish between infallible Divine Revelation and their own limited fallible understanding of Divine Revelation. And they speak and act as if the Church herself has no authority to change her own disciplines.

Pride goeth before a fall. A great schism is about to occur. Remain faithful to each and every Pope, and to the body of Bishops in communion with him. Turn away from any Cardinal, Bishop, or other leader who exalt themselves above the Pope, above the body of Bishops, and above the Church.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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2 Responses to Reply to Cardinal Burke on Marriage and Communion

  1. Dot says:

    There is a question of the responsibility of individual spouses in situations where a judgement must be made. In the annulment process, if one spouse initiated the divorce against the will of the other, is this evidence that the spouse was incapable and the marriage was invalid? If not, it seems the victim spouse would be victimized twice.

    • Ron Conte says:

      No, that doesn’t prove invalidity, because people change. The one spouse may have initially intended a lifelong marriage, and then he/she may have fell away from the faith and sought the divorce. Once the marriage is valid, subsequent choices cannot take away its validity.

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