“Bound by the bond of a previous marriage”

In the current debate on the topic of "remarried divorcees", a distinction is made between practical pastoral care and canon law. While pastors have always allowed exceptions to general rules on a case-by-case basis, canonical norms apply worldwide. A priest, who breaks it openly or calls to its break, must count on a report with his bishop. However, canon law also allows a few exceptions, namely in the case of imminent danger of death for the person concerned or if the first spouse was not baptized.

With these exceptions, the rules are rigorous. Canon 1134 of the 1983 Roman Catholic Canon Law succinctly states, "A valid marriage gives rise to a bond between the spouses which, by its nature, is lifelong and exclusive."Canon 1141 emphasizes this binding effect: "A valid and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason except death." From this follows the provision on second marriages in canon 1085: "Void marriage is contracted by anyone who is bound by the bond of a previous marriage."

From all this also results the non-admission of remarried divorcees to communion. To this end, canon
915 states that baptized persons who "persist in manifest grave sin" may not be admitted to Holy Communion.

Despite these strict norms, canon law also knows ways to a second marriage ceremony. For example, a marriage that is not sexually consummated can later be dissolved again. And an ecclesiastical court can retroactively declare invalid a marriage that was not validly contracted because of technicalities, mental insanity of one partner, or other reasons.

In practice, this results in some "loopholes": if, for example, the ecclesiastical court finds that one of the partners was incapable of marrying because he or she was unable to ame essential marital duties "for reasons of mental condition," it can declare the marriage invalid. The same is true if it came about under duress or if the partners did not even know what kind of commitment they were entering into by saying "I do" at the altar. These provisions are interpreted generously in some countries, allowing thousands of Catholics to celebrate a second church wedding.

However, many Catholics reject the path of retrospective annulment on principle. They are reluctant to have it established in retrospect that the marriage in which they experienced joy and suffering never legally existed. As modern people, they want to stand by the breaks in their biography and not have them ironed out afterwards. Credibility and authenticity are important to them; in many cases, they consider the ways out provided by canon law to be dishonest.

Another way out, which some canon lawyers recommend to priests, is also fraught with a problem of truthfulness. They argue that the priest cannot know whether the believer coming to communion is actually living in grave sin – that is, also in a sexual sense. In such a case of doubt, however, they would have to allow the person concerned to take communion.

Other churches and religions accept the possibility of divorce and remarriage. Since about 1970, it has been possible in the liberal branches of Protestantism to accompany second marriages with a spiritual blessing. In recent times, even celebrations of blessing have been added for divorces. Orthodox churches also allow second, some even third, marriages under certain conditions. The Old Testament and the Koran know, especially for men, easy ways to divorce by informing the wife. Against this liberal practice in Judea, Jesus once set the strict word that man must not separate what God has joined together. The Catholic Church is still guided by this principle today.

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