It will be the common experience of the pastoral clergy that young Catholics will come along wanting to be married, and it then appears that the prospective partner has already been married and is now divorced.
It is rather seldom that Catholics have approached their priest at an early stage in the friendship and if they are referred to a tribunal they express surprise and dismay that there is any real problem. It is almost as if there was a common idea that divorce is only a problem as far as Catholics are concerned and therefore a previous marriage of a non-Catholic is no obstacle.
It must be regretted how little an awareness of the true teaching of the Church on the unity and permanence of marriage exists on a practical level for these people. They simply regard the question of divorce as a Catholic rule and perhaps they feel it won't be long before that rule is changed.
-fhere are many misconceptions about what is and what is not possible. Tragic consequences can follow. for example, from the very common belief that the Church does not recognise register office marriages even where the parties are not Catholics.
Before there can be any general statement about the use of a pastoral solution for the invalidly married it is surely essential for us to have a much surer grasp of the essentials of marriage as a unifying and permanent state sanctified by God for those who are baptised. We do all need to be clear about what is a sacrament existing until death and what is a union in which in certain circumstances it may be possible to allow a further marriage. I am confident that Fr Doherty and your other contributors would wish to see as many as possible enjoying the blessings of the sacrament rather than be placed in a kind of matrimonial limbo.
The report on the work of the International Theological Commission opens up the whole question of the papal dissolution of the marriages of those who do not enjoy the Sacrament of Marriage. One might hope that Mr Slattery would have had a clearer understanding of this.
Unfortunately Mr Heseltine's original article was by no means clear. As long as there is this apparent reluctance to accept the difference between a sacramental consummated union and one which lacks one of these elements we shall continue to be at cross-purposes. One can sympathise with those who feel that the Church is being too easy towards those who wish to give up priestly vows. Surely the situation would be made a hundred times worse if the whole teaching On marriage were to appear to be overturned?
There is a very real practical problem about achieving certainty about the nullity of a first union, and I suggest this may be more difficult if the matter is handled outside the tribunal.
Tribunals will be familiar with the problems which impede the just solution of a case. But one may wonder which is the root cause which lands people in a situation where they have made a very big step from which they cannot now withdraw and yet find themselves unable to receive the sacraments.
We tend to be proud of the bond between priests and people. Unhappily, all too often it does not exist when people need help with this kind of marriage problem. Some priests are hostile or indifferent, and may turn people away although they have a perfectly good case.
There are situations where the necessary picture cannot be built up because of the lack of cooperation on the part of the family sometimes non-Catholics, sometimes Catholics.
There may be an area where the tribunal is moribund or so overwhelmed with work that a considerable delay is inevitable before a decision can he given. Despite all these difficulties, it must be said that it is hard to be judge in one's own case.
People don't know the ins and outs of the Church's jurisprudence, and very often would not think about their first union in terms of its nullity or validity. There is also the psychological factor that they are very much happier with some firm backing from the Church for the step they want to take. Our pastoral concern must therefore be to preach the unity and permanence of marriage and encourage people to a greater awareness of this.
There must equally be an awareness among priests and counsellors of the existence of a pastoral body (the tribunal) specifically set up to help those whose first unions have collapsed and who wish to enter a second union, either with the Sacrament of Marriage or in a pastoral solution where it is clear that there was no first union in the eyes of the Church.
The very real scandal to the community is in the area of those whose first unions were to all intents valid and subsisting. They must have every help and support possible but in the present situation the true pastoral solution may not allow them to receive the sacraments.
The danger of scandal of which Professor Sean O'Riordan speaks is not any pharisaical carping but the real danger that people will begin to say "it does not matter now that we are not married in Church."
(Fr) Edward Walker Officialis, Nottingham Diocesan Tribunal. St Hugh's College, Tollerton Hall, Nottingham.
Regarding Mgr Ralph Brown's approach to nullity (December 9): "Those whom God has joined together let no man put asunder". Yes, but are we sure that many marriages, which took place in church and subsequently ended in disaster, had ever really received God's blessing?
That is to pose the questions, whether there was a genuine love between the couples concerned or. in getting married, whether they deceived each other and themselves?
Surely Christ, in his compassion. would grant that such immature unions were never marriages in the first place, and that, when divorce follows, the Church, after due inquiry, should grant annulment and the chance of remarriage.
Surely he would never have condemned such divorced Christians, who in the present circumstances can find remarriage only at the register office? Surely he would not wish them to be banned from Holy Communion?