Saturday, 6/ 14/14
Let me go back to yesterday’s Gospel which dealt with divorce. It quoted Jesus as saying, “Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery.” That leaves us wondering what is meant by the phrase unless the marriage is unlawful. The Greek phrase used by St. Matthew is not too helpful. It says the divorce is unlawful except in cases of porneia, a word meaning fornication.
Back in 1967 or 1968 our church came to a decision in interpreting that phrase. A combined group of Scripture scholars and marriage experts came to Pope Paul VI explaining that exception Jesus spoke about.
They said that many men and women are trapped in marital unions that are not true marriages before God. They convinced the Holy Father that the church should provide courts of experts that could get at the facts that would allow people so trapped to obtain civil divorces from those bad unions. With that, each diocese set up courts that advise the bishop to grant annulments to set free the people mistakenly bound.
As a parish priest who has had no special training this matter, I was forced to explain the church’s new approach both to people seeking annulments and to people who denied we should grant them. Let me give you my inexpert view of possible grounds for granting an annulment.
I base my explanation on words the priest addresses to the couple at their marriage ceremony. He asks, “Have you come here freely, without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”
Those words contain four questions which must be answered in the affirmative for the wedding to represent a marriage before God.
1. Are you free from visible or invisible forces forcing you to marry? 2. Are you free from any real limitation such as an agreement to have children or riches, so that the absence of that perceived benefit would terminate this alliance? 3. Are you free from the narcissism that would prevent your giving yourself to the other party? 4. Are you committing yourself to a true marriage or to just a limited arrangement?