When Catholics divorce and remarry civilly, they are excluded from the sacraments during the lifetime of the first partner. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch has now suggested reforms here, saying this is a question of mercy. He gets support from the moral theologian Prof. Eberhard Schockenhoff.
Good day to Freiburg, Prof. Schockenhoff! The indissolubility of marriage is a great good from the Catholic point of view – what do you think about the proposal of Archbishop Zollitsch??
Archbishop Zollitsch has in no way questioned the indissolubility of marriage. This is not at all up for discussion, it is a natural part of the Catholic Church's faith. What Archbishop Zollitsch has urged is a merciful way of dealing with those Christians who have failed in their first marriage, perhaps were also abandoned through no fault of their own, and who have now married a second time for reasons that they can justify in their conscience, in the interpretation of their life experience, perhaps also in order to take responsibility for the partner and children who live in this second marriage. These Christians have so far been excluded from communion and, by the way, have also been subject to other church penalties, z.B. they are not allowed to take on any church office, in the parish council or as a lector; with a church employer they may even have to fear dismissal. The proposal now is that these disciplinary measures of canon law, which the Church has so far considered indispensable, be reviewed and that a different path be taken, one that is more merciful and also more in keeping with the nature of the celebration of the Eucharist, which after all is not only a recognition of irreproachable behavior, nor is it only the celebration of thanksgiving by the redeemed, but at the same time has sin-forgiving power itself: the outstretched arm of God's love, which he holds out also to sinners, so that also the remarried divorced could participate in the celebration of the Eucharist. This would make clear that the church is also a community of reconciliation.
How could this more merciful way look concretely?? There is, for example, the possibility that the marriage is annulled, considered as not having existed. However, this procedure is very complicated and time-consuming. How could one shorten the procedure?
So this way exists, of course, and where it is possible, it should be followed, because then the way is open for a second ecclesiastical marriage. But in many cases this is actually not possible. And also where a first marriage was valid, but then failed and was separated and now the partners live together in a new union, there is the possibility that they are admitted to the sacraments, especially to the celebration of the Eucharist and to communion. The church could do this by recognizing the decision of conscience of the persons concerned and by lifting the moral condemnation that lies over a civil second marriage. As I said, this can be a responsible way, one cannot qualify from the outside every decision for a civil second marriage as an objectively grave sin. Nor can life in a civil second marriage be portrayed as continued adultery, as the church solution does, but it is quite possible that the individual, even if they have to repent for shares of guilt in the breakup of the first marriage, will make up for it. So that they can now live in the second marriage what actually corresponds to a marriage from the human values, also according to Catholic understanding, i.e. faithfulness, determination for each other, the mutual standing up for each other, responsibility for the children. And this is not an expression of irresponsibility or of persistence in obvious public sin, but it can be a responsible way of life. The Church should recognize this out of respect for the life experience of her faithful and her own judgment of conscience. And this recognition could be expressed, for example, in a blessing ceremony for Christians living in a civil second marriage or in an act of readmission into the communion community, there are various possibilities. With his initiative, Archbishop Zollitsch would like to open the debate within the German dioceses about it. This is certainly also to be seen in the context of the dialogue process.
In your book you also explain how, in your opinion, the previous regulation is based on erroneous developments in the understanding of faith and church practice. What mistakes do you think the Church has made in the past to develop such a strict understanding??–
For centuries, the Church had an understanding of marriage that was contractual in nature: marriage was seen not so much as a personal covenant of love, but as a contract, and its object was primarily the transfer of the right to the body of the other, to the sexual characteristics of the other, and this again primarily for the purpose of producing offspring. And this contractual model of marriage was overcome by the Second Vatican Council when it said: marriage is a covenant, a personal covenant, at the center of which is conjugal love, the giving of oneself, the mutual giving of oneself to the spouses. But the Council has not yet decided the canonical consequences of this changed understanding of marriage, That remarried divorcees, if they enter into a civil second marriage, are automatically in a state of continued sin and public adultery. This is actually only consistent under the condition of this former contractual marriage model. This is an undesirable development that the theology of marriage has actually already eliminated; now it would only be a matter of drawing the appropriate consequences from this new approach of the Council. Another undesirable development is the understanding of the sacraments, because every sacrament, especially the celebration of the Eucharist, is also an invitation of God to sinful people to take the outstretched hand of mercy, so that they can be brought back into communion with Christ and into the communion of his body, the Church. But this is precisely what remarried divorcees cannot experience. For them, the sacrament tends to become a sword of Damocles hanging over them, permanently excluding them, at least during the lifetime of the first partner, from the inner circle of the ecclesial community. These are undesirable developments that need correction.
If the church were now to cautiously change its position, how could this concretely succeed? If the pope had to formulate a kind of decree for this purpose?–
Not everything in the Catholic Church has to be regulated uniformly at the level of the universal church. In the theology of marriage, of course, the indissolubility of marriage, the demand for adherence to marital fidelity, monogamy, the orientation toward children as basic statements on the level of the universal church must be known together, that belongs to the Catholic understanding of faith. But pastoral practice in dealing with remarried divorcees may also vary from country to country. There also a local church could dare an advance, which is accepted then by the world church first of all or is also accepted positively. So this would not always have to be an act of the Pope from above, but there could also be the German dioceses among themselves, perhaps as a result of the dialogue process, come to a new arrangement, which they would of course then also implement in close consultation with Rome and the Pope. Such ways are quite conceivable, we had already 20 years ago the common pastoral letter of the Upper Rhine bishops; in the extension of these proposals one could imagine here quite a new solution.
The interview was conducted by Mathias Peter.
Schockenhoff, Eberhard: Opportunities for reconciliation? The church and remarried divorcees
Herder Publishing House –Aufl./year: 1. Aufl. 2011
Format: 13.5 x 21.5 cm, 200 pages, paperback