Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Roman Catholic critique of the Orthodox discipline pertaining to divorce and remarriage

Divorce and Remarriage, Oikonomia, and the peril of following the Greeks 

Generally forgotten, or at least downplayed, when discussing the myriad issues which divide Rome from Orthodoxy, and firmly ignored by the "our only real difference is the Papacy" crowd, is the reality that restoration of communion with Rome would require us to excommunicate a sizable percentage of Orthodox Christians. Many thanks to Fr. Dylan for pointedly thrusting this issue back into view.


dmw said...

Not to oversimplify the matter, but the Roman Church in granting non-infallible decrees of nullity, i.e. annulments, can make mistakes in judging this or that marriage to be invalid from the start. A man can abandon his family, for example, and the wife can still be denied an annulment (even if objectively the married wasn't valid) and the wife is left to assume headship of her family without the support of a spouse and is denied the ability to remarry.

Fr. Theodore Phillips said...

Rome's current practice in the matter of decrees of nullity -- judging from the cases of family and friends of which I have first-hand knowledge -- more or less uses a "legal" means to achieve the same practical end as the Orthodox understanding of "condescension."

Even though the theory behind an annulment remains that there was an impediment to a true, valid marriage, it really is not very hard to come up with something post facto that will serve nicely for the purpose of getting permission to "re" marry. The "lack of proper intention" on the part of one or both spouses is a great favorite and I have seen couples negotiate such a reason.

I had a relative who got to take advantage of the "Pauline Privilege." This is meant to apply to ending marriage with a non-believing spouse who hinders the believing spouse's practice of the Faith. There was no such interference, and the request for an annulment and a Catholic wedding came well after the initial divorce of the person who my relative wanted to marry - who at the time of that divorce was not even Catholic. But the technicality prevailed and the annulment was granted (mind you, I am glad for their sake).

Between our Lord's exception of adultery and St Paul's exception of marriages with non-believing spouses, it can be honestly argued that it is "Scriptural" that not all remarriages after divorce are adulterous.

Man should not sunder what God has joined - but adultery does exactly that since St Paul notes that having sex with a prostitute (male or female, paid or otherwise) makes the person "one flesh" with that prostitute. So, if that did not sunder the original marriage, would not that marriage subsequently have three or more parties in it?

The Orthodox application of economy is how we express our understanding of the power given by Christ to the Apostles and their successors (all of them, not just St Peter) to "bind" or "loose" on behalf of Heaven. The Lord did not divide this into categories of law such as the author of the article uses. He trusted the Church to act under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that is what it has consistently done (so the slippery slope argument isn't really pertinent to this).

The Roman Church interprets/ applies the same Dominical saying differently. Fair enough. Although, it does seem that there are possible exceptions for the rich and famous... a last name beginning with "O" comes to mind, and even Henry VIII would likely have gotten his dissolution had the Pope not been politically subject to Queen Katherine's nephew. But wait, the Pope dispensed from God's Law to allow Henry and Katherine to get married in the first place... oh my, so confusing!

Ordo Antiquus said...

Another thing frequently forgotten is that the Orthodox practice is far stricter than what Cardinal Kasper and other Catholic liberals want the Catholic Church to do. Orthodoxy requires a bishop's blessing for the second marriage. What Cardinal Kasper wants is for Catholics who are in a civil marriage, and who are still technically bound by an un-annulled, sacramental, marriage, to be formally given permission to receive communion even without the need for a bishop to "bless" the new marriage.

Unknown said...

I'm Oriental (Ethiopian) Orthodox, and the Ethiopian church prefers to give prominence to our Lord's exception of adultery, and leaves it at that. This makes sense to me.

Alan Phipps said...

"... it really is not very hard to come up with something post facto that will serve nicely for the purpose of getting permission to "re" marry."

Well, I'm wary of speculation as to the precise deliberations of tribunals who actually grant annulments. I am aware of some of what they do, and the process is quite serious and involved. Canon lawyers take their jobs very seriously.

You suggest that there are fairly trivial reasons for being granted an annulment. But it doesn't follow that these reasons are in fact invalid or unreasonable! To me, it speaks to a lack of proper marriage preparation so prevalent today, where folks get married solely on the basis of emotion or 'how they feel' about their potential spouse rather than any serious commitment for life. Thus, the problem isn't so much the trivial granting of annulments as it is with marriage prep in the first place. In many place, prep appears to be bad or even non-existent.

David Bird said...

I wish people would not pepper their comments with loaded phrases "our only real difference is the papacy crowd" and "Cardinal Walter and the Liberals". It does not contribute to the discussion. There is a real attempt by Catholic bishops and theologians to take the "sister churches" paradigm seriously. There is the recognition, made explicitly by Pope Francis, that, even in nour separation, the Holy Spirit is active and alive in both our traditions; and that our appeal to Tradition must take into account Orthodox as well as Catholic Tradition. Liberals may jump at the idea; but it seems an obvious step by many who are not liberals. Putting other people into categories, especially essentially political categories like "conservative" and "liberal" can blind a person,s understanding to what is really going on.

Fr. Theodore Phillips said...

I certainly agree that much of the problem has to do with poor preparation for marriage -- not necessarily the fault of pastors, but of prevalent social ideology. And I admit that in view of this appropriate intention may be lacking in many cases. But, honestly, does anyone ever really know what they are getting into when they marry?!?

I am sorry if I over-generalized. However, I really do have first-hand knowledge of negotiations between divorced persons for what would constitute a workable application for annulment. That is not the fault of the Tribunals, whom I am sure do their best to be both objective, fair, and faithful.

But I do believe that the system has evolved to be a different approach to the same dilemma that the Orthodox practice seeks to address. Whether the marriage "never was" or "died a definitive death" and hence no longer "is," both Churches acknowledge the need for some people to be able to enter into a subsequent Christian marriage; one does so through an exacting legal process, the other through a penitential process.

God help them, and us all, to overcome our hardness of heart.

an unworthy monk

Isa Almisry said...

I am not impressed by the sanctimony of the Vatican's Corban factories.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it does seem that the Catholic higher standard is met with derision for no good reason. The only reason for the annulment process is to determine if a valid marriage took place. Valid marriage, no remarriage.

Oddly, the Catholic attempt to consider the Orthodox standard only gets Catholicism more derision.

Do the Orthodox hate Jesus demand that we be one? Is there anything a Catholic can do that the Orthodox will not condemn?

Isa Almisry said...

"Wow, it does seem that the Catholic higher standard is met with derision for no good reason. The only reason for the annulment process is to determine if a valid marriage took place. Valid marriage, no remarriage."
Sanctimony is not that high a standard to meet.

"Do the Orthodox hate Jesus demand that we be one?"
No. We are.

"Is there anything a Catholic can do that the Orthodox will not condemn?"
The Orthodox are the Catholic.