Vatican official reaffirms teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics

Archbishop Gerhard Müller (CNS)
Archbishop Gerhard Müller (CNS)


From the Catholic Herald online:

Amid rising expectations that the Catholic Church might make it easier for divorced and remarried members to receive Communion, the Vatican’s highest doctrinal official reaffirmed Church teaching barring such persons from the sacrament without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriage.

But Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, acknowledged that many Catholics’ first marriages might be invalid, and thus eligible for annulment, if spouses had been influenced by prevailing contemporary conceptions of marriage as a temporary arrangement.

The archbishop’s words appeared in a 4,600-word article published in the Vatican newspaper on Tuesday. Speculation about a change in practice has grown since Pope Francis told reporters accompanying him on his plane back from Rio de Janeiro in July that the next Synod of Bishops would explore a “somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage,” including the question of the eligibility of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

Pope Francis added at the time that Church law governing marriage annulments also “has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this.” Such problems, he said, exemplified a general need for forgiveness in the Church today. “The Church is a mother, and she must travel this path of mercy, and find a form of mercy for all,” the Pope said.

The Vatican announced on October 8 that an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops will meet from October 5-19, 2014, to discuss the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelisation.”

The announcement of the synod came amid news that the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, had issued new guidelines making it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

Archbishop Müller’s article seemed designed to temper the expectations of change that these events have excited. The archbishop acknowledged that a “case for the admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments is argued in terms of mercy,” but wrote that such an argument “misses the mark” in regard to the sacraments, since the “entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy and it cannot simply be swept aside by an appeal to the same.”

He continued: “An objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivialising the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive.

“The mystery of God includes not only his mercy but also his holiness and his justice. If one were to suppress these characteristics of God and refuse to take sin seriously, ultimately it would not even be possible to bring God’s mercy to man.”

The prefect’s article also addressed the Eastern Orthodox practice of allowing second or third marriages even when the first is sacramentally valid, a practice Pope Francis mentioned without endorsing when speaking to reporters in July.

“This practice cannot be reconciled with God’s will, as expressed unambiguously in Jesus’ sayings about the indissolubility of marriage,” the archbishop wrote.

For the full English translation of Archbishop Müller’s speech follow this link

This entry was posted in Catholic Moral Teaching, Church Teachings, Pope Francis I, Sacraments and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Vatican official reaffirms teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    On the Catholic Herald website, one commenter remarked:
    “This speech is an excellent piece of work, demonstrating how traditional teaching can be reconciled with a more merciful pastoral praxis.”

    …to which I responded:

    “…this speech is an excellent example of caving in to the spirit of the times. The bit about “many Catholics’ first marriages might be invalid, and thus eligible for annulment, if spouses had been influenced by prevailing contemporary conceptions of marriage as a temporary arrangement” is your proverbial white flag signalling that a complete surrender is in the offing.

    “Mary and Larry have been married for ten years. Larry wants an annulment, but Mary doesn’t. Larry tells his diocesan marriage tribunal: “I honestly thought until death do us part meant 10 years.” No need to pull the other one Larry, your friendly marriage tribunal will have your certificate ready for pick up by the end of the week.

    “This will be extremely unfair to serious Catholics, such as Mary, who refuse to be party to the charade, but whose marriages will be ended without their consent.”
    I should have added that it will also be extremely unjust to the children of the marriage who will become illegitimate post-annulment. How can it be otherwise if their parents obtain a decree that their marriage was null and void ab initio? Yes, I realize that in our enlightened times the concept of illegitimacy has been consigned by government fiat to the ash heap of history, but for people who take marriage seriously and who take the meaning of words seriously, illegitimacy cannot be cast aside that easily, nor should it be.


  2. TerryC says:

    Yes things would be so much better if Larry is force to remain in an invalid sacramental marriage with Mary. He can still divorce her and live separately and receive Communion as long as he does not re-marry. So the purpose of forcing him (and her) to remain in the invalid marriage is???
    Also as a matter of Canon Law children from an marriage found to have been invalid are not illegitimate.


  3. johnhenrycn says:

    So, things would be much better if Mary is forced to accept that her 10 year marriage which produced children never happened even though she insists that it did, because some forward thinking marriage tribunal says it didn’t? The virtue of telling her that she was never married to the father of her children is what exactly? You go girl!

    Concerning the illegitimacy of the offspring of annulled marriages, I can’t speak as a Canon Law lawyer – perhaps you are – and even my recall of the Common Law principles governing civil annullments is sketchy after all these years, but it used to be that procreation usually put an end to that escape route, cases of rape and the like being excepted.


  4. The Raven says:

    The point that JH is making is that the invalidity of many of the marriages that go through the tribunals is, to be polite, something of a fiction: Larry’s understanding of marriage as being a medium term commitment is only likely to date from his first serious acquaintance with a canon lawyer.


  5. kathleen says:

    I have heard non-Catholics say that annulments are simply ‘Catholic divorces’! Although I don’t go along with that way of thinking (for the Church seems to go into the process of annulments very thoroughly) I find it worrying nonetheless.

    Yet it does seem that there are other reasons annulments are granted besides the obvious one of lack of consummation of the marriage act.

    I know someone (a Catholic woman) who married a non-Catholic. To be able to marry a Catholic in a Catholic Church – which is what she wanted – he had to go to instruction classes on the implications of marrying a Catholic. These are principally agreeing to not oppose letting her practice her faith, and that any children born to the marriage would be brought up as Catholics. He made these promises and they had a Catholic wedding.
    About six years later and two young children, he went off with another woman! She was distraught, but eventually, after a forced legal divorce, she tried for an annulment and was given one. The reasons? He had lied to the Church; he had made it very difficult for her to practice her faith, and had point blankly refused to allow the children to be baptised in a Catholic Church…. (although he later begrudgingly allowed a Protestant baptism).
    I don’t think she ever saw her children as being “illegitimate”, because they were born when she was at least legally married, even if not sacramentally, although she didn’t know that at the time.


  6. Toadspitttle says:

    Evelyn Waugh’s ‘annulment,’ way back in the 1930’s, has always struck me as highly dubious, obtained through powerful influence.


  7. Gargantua says:

    I have the impression that if you are “well-born” (allegedly) or ‘connected’, then annulments are remarkably easy to get. Not good, not right.


  8. Gargantua says:

    “my recall of the Common Law principles governing civil annullments is sketchy ”

    I’m not surprised. It’s worth remembering of course that most people do not live under Common Law principles, which a rather idiosyncratic code..


  9. Gargantua says:

    “I know someone (a Catholic woman) who married a non-Catholic. To be able to marry a Catholic in a Catholic Church – which is what she wanted – he had to go to instruction classes on the implications of marrying a Catholic. ”

    Yes Kathleen, good comment. My father was such a non Catholic, who became one of the most constant and faithful Catholic converts I knew in my younger life. And he remained so all his days.


  10. TerryC says:

    There is no question of the legitimacy of children in case of annulment. I am not a Canon lawyer, but am acquainted with this aspect of the law, as I have dealt with it in conjunction with RCIA. Canonist Edward Peters has even talked about it in one of his books on Canon Law. This is settled law as far as the Church is concerned.
    I must say that I don’t understand your objections. Do you believe that the Tribunals are dishonest? That they would declare a Marriage invalid as a result of secular political pressure or because they are heretics? The Church has always recognized that some Marriages might be invalid.
    What most people don’t understand about the situation of Henry VIII was that one of the reasons he was so upset with the Vatican was that the granting of annulments for reasons sited in his petition to the Church was routinely granted. His wife had been married to his own brother and was granted an annulment so that she might marry Henry. I do not defend his subsequent actions. He however felt that his annulment was only refused because because Catherine was sister to Spain’s King. The marriage itself was conducted when Henry was only 11. Under present Canon Law he would have a case for annulment because children under 13 are deemed too young to have a proper understanding of the institution of marriage.
    As for your mythical Mary, it sounds to me that she–you– are more interested in punishing Larry in some way than in finding truth. Despite what you seem to believe no tribunal would accept such a transparent attempt to fraudulently obtain an annulment. What real benefit is there to perpetuating an invalid marriage? Certainly if Larry is determined to leave Mary refusal to recognize the invalidity of the marriage is not going to prevent that. The most it can prevent is Larry being able to remarry in the Church and his access to the Sacraments. It also prevents Mary from remarrying. It does not prevent Larry from leaving Mary. It does not prevent Larry from getting a civil divorce. Neither of those action would prevent Larry from access to the Sacraments.
    More, provided the Marriage is really invalid, failure to declare it as such is actually an unjust act. It forces two people who have no real impediment to the Sacrament of Marriage to live their lives alone and apart. It allows a bitter Mary to wallow in her failed, invalid marriage and punish Larry for the act of recognizing the invalid union and wanting to seek someone with whom he can share a valid Sacramental Marriage.


  11. TerryC says:

    There was indeed a time when annulments were much easier for the rich to obtain than for everyone else. That was mostly a factor of the process which requires canon lawyers and communication with the various levels of the Church hierarchy. In the days before electronic communication the investigation, litigation and communication costs were beyond most people. Today in the West most diocese support tribunals out of their own funds. Most have no charge at all for processing annulments. There is still likely to be some cost to petitioners in large diocese as they must sometimes travel to give depositions or be interviewed by experts. Penitents and respondents can, of course procure their own canon lawyers, at their own cost. However tribunals do not have an adversarial legal structure such as that of English based court systems, but use the traditional European inquisitorial structure. Everything, including testimony from witness is done in writing.
    Sometimes there is a small charge if the petition is denied locally and the penitent wishes appeal to Rome. Some bishops will even pay for that out of their own funds. There are certainly still parts of the world where diocese are too poor to support standing tribunals and full time advocates. There it is still true that the rich have an easier time than the poor, since they can pay for the cost of supporting the Tribunals and advocates during the process.


  12. johnhenrycn says:

    “..most people do not live under Common Law principles, which is a rather idiosyncratic code..”…sayeth Mr/Ms Gaga (you said it was okay to call you that, a liberty I’ve not extended to you in relation to your references to me as “Johnny” and “JohnBoy”):

    You really should consider spending some of your non-excessive wealth on a pair of bespoke shoes – of a size that won’t fit so easily into your mouth. My intelligent (sic) guess is that billions of people live in common law countries – viz: the Commonwealth + the United States – where common law priniciples are still operative, despite ever-increasing legislative encroachment. There will always be a need for common law – customarily referred to as “judge-made” law – on the frontiers of human endeavour and interaction where statute law has yet to exert its dominance.
    However, insofar as the law of annulment is concerned, it appears that I was mistaken in referring to the “Common Law principles” underlying same, since a bit of Googling tells me that before the mid – 19th century there was no common law relief for the annulment of marriages in England (nor in the rest of Britain if you insist), annulments then being the prerogative of the ecclesiastical courts alone. Nevertheless, when annulment legislation was eventually enacted, the grounds for civil annulments were very restrictive, and remain so to this day, a situation which, in my opinion, should continue.


  13. Gargantua says:

    Gaga is fine if you wish. You are right about Common Law in England, though not in the UK. Not all countries of the UK use this code. Nor does the continent of Europe. And we are Europeans after all.

    Yes the US uses this code. Canada, I dont know. (As a North American, you are aware of all this). As far as I know, that’s it. If I’m wrong, no need to belabour the point. I submit, with good humour. As you will, over a minor error over Common Law principles. It’s OK.

    I have referred to you as Johnny etc, thinking it was informal. I was called Gaga and didnt mind; nor should I; it was just a bit of fun. However I will gladly refer to you by whatever name you wish.

    Any thoughts yet on pilgrimage, johnhenrycn?


  14. johnhenrycn says:


    1. The Common Law is not a “code”. You’re probably thinking of some legal system(s) south of the White Cliffs, but who can say for sure what you’re thinking.

    2. Most, but not all of Canada is a common law jurisdiction, which is not to say that the common law is the only source of Canadian law.

    3. The entire United Kingdom is a common law jurisdiction, which is not to say that the common law is the only source of UK law.

    A Day at a Bespoke Shoemakers


  15. Gargantua says:

    “. The entire United Kingdom is a common law jurisdiction, which is not to say that the common law is the only source of UK law”.

    No, not quite.


  16. johnhenrycn says:

    This is getting to be really tedious. Here’s my final word to you on the subject of the common law. No offence, Ms. Gaga.


  17. Gargantua says:


    Please try a pilgrimage or at least a retreat; This can be of enormous value, I find.

    [Edited by a moderator to remove a reference to a deleted link]


  18. kathleen says:


    I think you are mistaken about the age of Prince Henry (later King Henry VIII) when he married Catherine of Aragon. They might have been promised to each other at an earlier age – a betrothal, i.e. a formal agreement to marry – but they were not married until a few days before Henry turned 18; Catherine was 23 years old. Their marriage took place on 11th June 1509 and for over 20 years it was a happy union according to all the historians of the time…. in spite of Henry’s philandering!

    Whilst 18 might seem far too young to enter into marriage to us nowadays, it is common knowledge that people matured much earlier in those times… and died a lot younger too!
    Henry had always shown himself as having a strong character. No one coaxed him into marrying Catherine – in fact some say quite the opposite is the case, and that he was advised not to marry her – but they were close friends, he loved her, and it was his desire.

    By the way, your inside information about annulment tribunals was very interesting – thank you.


  19. johnhenrycn says:

    TerryC @14:08 comments re marriage tribunals as follows:
    “Do you believe that the Tribunals are dishonest?”
    I shall rephrase your question into two questions:

    1. Do I believe that all marriage tribunals are dishonest, in the sense of acting in bad faith or being careless or lazily indifferent to the outcomes of their deliberations? Of course I don’t.

    2. Do I believe that some marriage tribunals are dishonest in the sense of acting in bad faith or being careless or lazily indifferent to the outcomes of their deliberations? Of course I do.

    My hypothesis – which is not quite the same as a settled belief you understand? – is that the door is being opened to a relaxation of the annulment rules in a way that will prove harmful to the Faith. I concede the remote possibility that some meritorious pleas for annulment are being rejected under the current scheme, but as the saying goes, hard cases make bad law.

    “As for your mythical Mary, it sounds to me that she – you – are more interested in punishing Larry in some way than in finding truth.”

    Metaphorical, not mythical, is the word you’re looking for. Your insinuation about what I’m “interested in” is perilously close to being an ad hominem, so I’m sure you won’t mind my reciprocating with the observation that people interested in and enthusiastic about a widening of the grounds for annulment tend to be those who are seeking one.
    Here’s an interesting book review from my side of the puddle dealing with the question of annulments. Sadly, I fear that Professor Vasoli’s experience with the process in the 1990s is becoming the norm. I recall, but cannot find at the moment, some “Letters to the Editor” in various Catholic publications describing the callous oppression suffered by respondents in annulment proceedings. Perhaps you can find some such from other respondents recounting how fair the process was.

    As for the rest of your points at 14:08, it really is hard on people when you use a shotgun approach, firing off many partially thought out rhetorical pellets, rather than using the sniper’s approach of targeting one, perhaps two, issues at a time.


  20. johnhenrycn says:

    Note to the editors regarding my reply to Gaga at 18:57 – point taken.


  21. Roger says:

    Henry a papal dispensation was obtained for his marriage to Catherine. He was born 28 June 1491 and actually married in 1509 (thats as 18 year old) and were happily married (Henry’s own writings) for many years. The divorced was in 1533. Actually a annulment was granted by Rome.
    But what did Our Lord say about the sacrament of marriage and divorce under mosaic law?
    The hardness of your hearts. That is the real problem this lack of Love and selfishness. But lets get back to Henry VIII. England was a Catholic country in other words it was under and subject to Peter. Protestant England was a totally different country. The Loss of Faith is the greatest tragedy that can befall a people because Satan came back with a vengence in a country that had been lost to nim.
    It is easy to blame Henry and ignore that Bishops and Lords who went along with him! A country that sanctions Divorce is a country that legalises Adultery. This is God’s view on this world an adulterous generation because it has destroyed the sacrament of marriage.
    Annulment isn’t Divorce. Of all the sacraments marriage isn’t for Eternity it is for the Life of the spouses. Actually the two marry each other and the Church confers the sacrament.
    What should cause dread in the West is the General Apostacy from the Faith because the free will rejection of Christ means that Satan has moved back in with a vengence!
    The Bishop of Bling? Well this accusation sounds very like the similar popular conceptions that were heard at the time of the Reformation and most sinisterly in France (French Revolution).


  22. Gargantua says:

    Re; the post of 18.57

    [The moderator – We’re not going there.]


  23. johnhenrycn says:

    [The moderator – Please consider this argument curtailed]


  24. johnhenrycn says:

    You’re a very nice person, Gaga, and it’s been super getting to know you. Let’s do lunch.


  25. johnhenrycn says:

    Time to move on, Gargantua, but consider me duly chastised for taking our squabble a step too far.


  26. TerryC says:

    I confess to having a interest as I have had to deal with annulments due to my involvement with RCIA. I have seen people who were either members of Protestant communities or never practicing Christians who were baptized while children have to deal with the annulment process for marriages that had been terminated decades in the past. One woman that I know of was married decades ago in Communist China and divorced decades ago in that same country. You can imagine the problems that are resulting from this. In almost every case they had remarried. Their Protestant communities had always taught them that divorce was permitted or they had no faith at all at the time of their marriage. So of course they went into their marriage with a different understanding of the institution of marriage than the Catholic understanding. Failure to meet any of the
    I beg pardon for any ad hominem, it was not my intention.
    No shotgun approach that I can see. My first point speaks to the illegitimacy of children was in answer to your 20:51 and 22:24 post, which insisted that the children of annulled marriage are illegitimate. They are not. The rest is in answer to your other posts. No shot gun merely answering your points from multiple posts.
    As for the treatment of non-petitioning spouses I can well understand their response. In the cases I am most familiar with in many cases the marriage terminated decades ago. They have moved on with their life, often have a new spouse, do not look fondly on the failed marriage and believe the Catholic annulment process is unnecessary. The very fact that the Tribunal contacts them opens old wounds. There is really no “nice” way to do this.
    I note that according to the book review that you posted that Vasoli was himself the unwilling spouse in a annulment proceeding. I believe that fact taints his analysis of the system. He seems to have an agenda in this. If the other person doesn’t want to remain in a marital situation all these kinds thing only make it more difficult for them. If the marital situation is bad enough it will not prevent them from leaving, only make it harder for them to do so, and punish them afterwards for having done so. Perhaps not so amazingly the person inflicting the psychological trauma almost never sees a problem with the marriage, and almost never wants to end it. Naturally they have the same response to the tribunal communication as for long separated non-Catholic spouses.


  27. johnhenrycn says:

    Some good points, TerryC, worth reflecting on, although I remain of the view that liberalization of the annulment process will turn out to be an undesirable development. Orthodox Judaism (and possible the other strands – Conservative and Reformed – as well) require that a husband grant his wife a Get in order for her to be divorced and to remarry, and if he refuses to grant her one, all hell breaks loose; but that’s not our problem 😉


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