Will the Pope Change his Mind on Divorce?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pope Francis waves from the Popemobile on his way to attend the Via Crucis on Copacabana Beach during World Youth Day celebrations on July 26, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Buda Mendes/Getty)

"What God has joined together, let no one separate." For 500 years, the Catholic Church has lived by that decree from Matthew 19:6.

To this day, parishioners who divorce and remarry are denied communion, a symbol that is often viewed as the most important aspect of the Catholic religion. But this week, Pope Francis may chart a new course and break ranks with his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, refused to allow for pastoral discretion on the issue. 

While the Pope is unlikely to endorse divorce, he might relax the rules regarding annulments.

An annulment is granted when "a marriage thought to be valid according to church law actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union," according to the American Conference of Catholic Bishops. An annulment, which can take years to obtain, is a declaration by a church court that a marriage was never valid in the first place because one of the essential elements of a union wasn't satisfied.

Once a marriage between two Catholics is annulled, both parties can remarry and receive communion in the eyes of the church. 

James Carroll is the author of "An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us" and "Toward A New Catholic Church: The Promise of Reform." He's also a columnist for the Boston Globe, and he examines the choices facing Pope Francis regarding marriage and the future of the Catholic Church. 

"[Pope Francis] said in a very pointed way in his so called apostolic exhortation in November, 'The church is not a toll house, it's the house of the Father where there is a place for everyone,'" says Carroll. "But the truth is the Catholic Church has been acting exactly like a toll house for a long time. You have to qualify to be admitted and to be admitted to the sacraments. The question of divorce and remarriage is essential to that. What Pope Francis has indicated in a variety of ways is that it's time for a major change in the way we think of not just that particular issue—divorce and remarriage—but the church itself."

As it stands now, there are millions of Catholics around the world who have been denied sacramental access to the church because of the issue of divorce and remarriage. If the church were to change its position, those individuals would now have a renewed access to the church—making it a much more powerful institution than it has been in the recent past.

"Those millions of people are the church," says Carroll. "Francis has brought back the vision of Vatican II, which defined the church as the people of god—not the bishops and the priests. In a way, the church has already spoken on the question of divorce and remarriage in the ordinary lives of human beings, the Catholic people, and finally the hierarchy is listening. That's why there is, I believe, good reason to expect change."

Carroll adds that he believes that the church will likely take up the issue in October of this year, adding that preparations for the meeting already include serious discussions by church leaders on the question of divorce, remarriage and re-admission to the sacraments. 

"There are signals, loud and clear, that change is coming on this," he says. "It's very clear that Pope Francis has a comprehensive agenda for change in the church. It begins with a basic change in attitude. His attitude has already set in motion profound changes that reach from the pragmatic and institutional, like finances, to the moral and spiritual, like the meaning of the sacraments and the true and ongoing need for church repentance and change over this question of sex abuse. I think the movement has been set powerfully in motion, and there are reasons to be very hopeful and even optimistic about the coming changes."


James Carroll

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [9]

Susan McCabe from Vashon island Washington

I have no comment on this topic, but would like to receive the question of the day that John mentioned on the air. How do I sign up for that? BTW, John is my current favorite journalist. I do all I can to listen daily f on KUOW, Seattle.

Thank you!
Susan McCabe

Feb. 21 2014 01:14 PM

Better to have a church with sincere members who strive to live according to the teachings. As the Bible notes we as believers are in the world but not of it as far as doing what the world does.

Feb. 18 2014 09:16 PM
John A.

Chart the use of annulment over the past 50 years. My suspicion is that it has greatly increased. Two in my immediate family, for example.

Feb. 18 2014 03:17 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

People enter marriages in good faith but they don't always work out no matter how much praying and swearing of the Lord's name is done.

When I first saw the headline,"Will the Pope Change His Mind On Divorce," I thought that The Pope was reconsidering his break up with his wife. I guess I read to many page 6's.

Feb. 18 2014 11:28 AM
Ed from Larchmont

When the pope discusses a doctrine, it's not 'his opinion' on the issue. It's the Church's teaching on the issue. He isn't giving his opinion, he is guiding the Church according to the will of God as he tries to discern it, largely from what has been handed on to him, as St. Paul says.

Feb. 18 2014 09:22 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Pope Francis' attitude is different ... things have their time ... but earlier popes led things in this direction. John Paul II was the mercy pope, and they are stressing mercy now more and more.

Feb. 18 2014 09:19 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Because they are planning for the upcoming Synod on the family.
But someone who is divorced and remarried needs to look into annulment, it's a pastoral practice.

Feb. 18 2014 09:18 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Someone who has divorced and remarried is in sin, but is not condemned. They can go to Mass, they can participate, they just can't received Communion.
(Another anti-bishop speaker... ho hum.)

Feb. 18 2014 09:16 AM
Ed from Larchmont

There is no chance that the pope will change the doctrine on marriage and the Sacraments, he doesn't even have the power to do so if he wanted to, which he doesn't. The issue is being discussed because the Church is concerned about the many people who are in this situation, to find out what can be done for them pastorally.
Note: a person who is divorced civilly can receive the Sacraments (in the eyes of the Church they are still married but living apart). Also, if a Catholic marries another baptized person with the Church's blessing and divorces, he or she has to get an annulment (saying the marriage had a defect at the time of the marriage which made it so it couldn't have been a sacrament) before remarrying.

Feb. 18 2014 09:12 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.