In an exclusive interview with ZENIT, Patriarch Fouad Twal speaks of Church reform and what he believes is needed.
While noting that presently, the most talked about area of reform has to do with family life, Patriarch Twal admits, “Of course, this issue which carries much emotive reaction is the subject of divorce and remarriage.”
Hence, he confined his remarks to this area under discussion.
“Obviously, the major area under discussion regarding reform is that of marriage/family life,” he said, adding, “This is a very difficult subject to resolve because the words of Jesus do not accommodate an alternative.”
According to Catholic theology, he underscored, the Church has no power to dissolve a sacramental marriage, or to dissolve the sacrament of holy orders. The annulment process, he added, “does not break apart a marriage or unmake a priest,” but rather is “a formal investigation into the validity of the sacrament to see whether the sacrament actually took place or not.”
When granted, the Patriarch noted, annulment is the Church’s declaration that the sacrament was never valid. He explained that this investigation of a request for nullity “tends to take a long time, “since the benefit of the doubt goes to the validity of the sacrament,” and, in the case of marriage, “there are two parties involved, and they don’t always see things the same way.”
Because, when annulment is granted, it is the Church declaring the sacrament was never valid, the Patriarch said this causes concern to some people and raises questions, especially: “What becomes of the children of such a marriage? Are they illegitimate?”
“Legitimacy is a matter of licity – the legitimacy of a human action and its consequences, e.g., administration of a sacrament or a contract,” he noted, adding, “It is commonly distinguished from validity, since an action may be valid but not licit, e.g. a layman conferring baptism without urgent necessity.”
“I am very sympathetic to the many Catholics who suffer with separation and broken marriages. This is undoubtedly one of the most painful pastoral issues that the Church has to deal with,” the Patriarch said, noting how divorce is very common among Catholics, nearly as common as for the rest of society.
But for a Catholic who wishes to remarry in the Church, he stated that an annulment is necessary, “and this can be just as agonizing as the initial separation.”
“It means digging into sometimes horrible memories, embarrassing questions of a very intimate nature, and sometimes exposing oneself to the hostility of the other party,” he explained.
Turning to how it affects people’s views of the Church, he noted,“People can even feel that the Church is working against them, or at least not actively helping them to find the happiness they seek.”
“Obviously, something needs to be done here.”
This is complicated, however, he reiterated, “and it would be disingenuous to gloss over the real issues. “
“The Church must remain faithful to Jesus, who plainly stated that those who divorce and remarry commit adultery. So on one hand, the Church is seeking to be as compassionate and helpful as possible to those who would like to move on from a broken marriage, and yet it can’t just eliminate the parts of Jesus’ teaching that are hardest to live by.”
Moreover, the central thrust of the next synod, Patriarch Twal said, will not be “how to make it easier to get out of a bad marriage. The Church will want to send a message to young people that she still believes in marriage and that lifetime commitment — with God’s help — is still possible.”
“How to combine a robust affirmation of marriage with a renewed commitment to compassion is the enormous task that awaits the bishops.”
Practically, the Patriarch said he would like to see the authorities performing a deep study of the importance of faith in the sacrament of matrimony. “For instance, regardless of a person’s lack of faith commitment, if baptized as a child but no longer practices the faith, he/she can contract validly, sans a diriment impediment, the sacrament simply because of baptism.”
“Given the widespread loss of true faith, living in a society whose moral foundation is crumbling, and the common divorce mentality (“if the marriage doesn’t work out, I can always get a divorce”), the area of faith and faith commitment must be examined as an integral part of the investigative process and a possible ground for the annulment of the presumed valid sacramental marriage,” he said.
Considering that one party may be hostile to the faith, he noted that it is ironic that a sacramental marriage is confected.
In the 1970s, Patriarch Twal explained, the notion of lack of due discretion or lack of due competence became a major grounds for nullity and opened the floodgates to declare null many marriages. The field of psychology/psychiatry was introduced and resulted in analyzing deeply the ability of persons to assume and fulfill the essential obligations of marriage.
The Latin Patriarch underscored that the problem of divorce and remarriage cannot be viewed from the post-marriage period, but rather requires a rigorous review of the preparation required for entry into the sacrament of matrimony. He said the Church must look more intently at the quality of preparation and the couple’s readiness.
“Civilly, it is more difficult to obtain a driver’s license than a marriage license! Likewise, a bank, investigating a request for a mortgage loan on a new house, takes exquisite care to ensure that a couple can fulfill the terms of the contract. Surely, the life-long commitment of marriage requires exquisite care and more in-depth preparation in determining the couple’s readiness.”
“The necessary reforms,” Patriarch Twal said, “are: a rigorous catechesis on marriage and the objective denial of matrimony to those unsuited for it. And regarding annulments, address this situation to make the annulment process simpler with less red tape and duplication of services. “
The Patriarch concluded, saying, “We rely on your prayers.”