Q. I appreciate your “Question Corner” column, read it faithfully and have learned a great deal from it. But as a convert, one thing still puzzles me. I would like to know why the church has an annulment process that actually may involve a tribunal sitting in judgment on a person’s previous marriage.
It would seem to me that Jesus taught forgiveness and mercy (along with many other things.) Why can’t the Catholic Church ask a divorced person to repent of the sin of divorce and receive forgiveness during a confession, then accept that person as a full member of the church, able to marry again without going through the process of annulment?
I believe that the key is forgiveness: understanding, mercy and an attempt to show God’s love to a person who has probably suffered enough while going through the divorce. (Columbia, Missouri)
A. Before answering your question, I need to remind readers that it is not always necessary (in your words) for the “divorced person to repent of the sin of divorce and receive forgiveness during a confession.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us in No. 2386 that divorce is not always sinful: “It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law.”
Following the breakup of a marriage, a civil divorce may be necessary to ensure certain legal rights and the proper care of children. As for your question, the answer is in your own observation — that Jesus taught “many other things” along with forgiveness and mercy.
One of those other things Jesus taught, the church believes, is that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, one that establishes a partnership for life. Christ said in Matthew 19:9, “Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”
Therefore, in order for a Catholic to be permitted to remarry, it is necessary to determine that the first marriage was not “lawful” in the church’s eyes, which is the reason for the annulment process.
Sometimes it can be shown that the enduring bond of a sacramental marriage was never present from the beginning, perhaps because of lack of freedom, deep emotional instability or a permanent intention to exclude children from the marriage.
When an annulment is granted, it does not affect the legitimacy of the children nor does it imply that the marriage never existed, but only that it did not have the character of a sacramental bond.
You do make an important point in mentioning that spouses may have already suffered a lot during the breakup of their marriage, and for that reason the annulment process needs to be as humane as possible.
For the petitioner, simply filling out the questionnaire about the circumstances of the marriage may dredge up painful memories, so it is helpful for a sympathetic pastor to guide the petitioner throughout the process.
Q. Some parishes are taking liturgical guidelines to illogical extremes. I know of a pastor on Long Island who ruled that a layperson who is a lector cannot be a religious education teacher and that a collection counter cannot be a eucharistic minister. I can understand the desirability of having different individuals for the ministries at Mass (e.g., lector and extraordinary minister of the Eucharist), but what is the logic of the first two examples that I gave? (Wayne, New Jersey)
A. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal in No. 110 says that “if at a Mass with the people only one minister is present, that minister may exercise several different functions.” Clearly implied, I believe, is the converse — i.e., when several ministers are present, no one should exercise more than one ministry at a particular Mass.
Having diverse individuals involved in the liturgy draws more people more deeply into the celebration. It also better illustrates the important role of the laity in the public worship of the church.
But I am certainly not aware of any rule or guideline that would prohibit a layperson from distributing Communion during Mass and then helping to count the collection afterward (or a lector from also being a catechist.)
Perhaps the pastor you reference is simply trying to involve as many individuals as possible in the life and work of the parish.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.