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A Compassionate Approach to Divorce and Remarriage

The CCIA position statement on Divorce and Remarriage

++ Michael Callahan

Presiding Archbishop, The Catholic Church in America

Greetings and prayers in Christ's Holy name;

Considering all the confusion being proffered in Catholic Circles regarding the subject of Divorce and Remarriage, especially in light of Pope Francis' apostolic letter "Amoris Laetitia,” I've had it on my heart to clarify this subject from the perspective of the Catholic Church in America. However, this is not a local, American issue, Catholic jurisdictions and dioceses around the world are struggling to do the right thing. It is my prayer that this letter will be utilized as a basic guideline to reconcile many with God, Word, and Sacrament within the CCIA.

Another concern is that any teaching on this subject not be confused with other theological issues of our day. Point of observation — Amoris Laetitia is being interpreted by many bishops around the world as justification to reunite active homosexuals with the sacraments. My writings here today are entirely related to the subject of divorce and remarriage within a marriage between one man, and one woman.

This subject is near and dear to my own heart as the pain and suffering of divorce has affected my personal life on several levels. The understanding of how the Church relates to those seeking to reconcile themselves with God and sacrament should be approached with care and compassion. With that stated though, reconciliation must be applied with competent and consistent catechesis — underscoring the fundamental importance of matrimony in both the life of the individual family and the life of the Church.

In that Matrimony, in the Catholic Church is a Sacrament, and is intended to be permanent, it is of utmost importance that we as shepherds do not take this matter lightly, or somehow diminish the essential nature and importance of Christian marriage.

The Church has always been involved in the work of healing and reconciliation. The Lord Jesus made no distinction between either physical or emotional healing. We as the Church of God are called by our Lord Jesus to bring healing and reconciliation to a broken and divided world. This sense of love and compassion must be extended to those faithful who experience the sting of divorce and subsequent remarriage.

For many churches, divorce and subsequent remarriage is "the unforgivable sin," forever separating Christians from Church and sacrament. We recognize that divorce is a major trauma for all who experience it, whether we speak of the spouses or the children of a family. While the ideal is to avoid divorce, and that spouses be reconciled with one another through the grace of God, we are aware of its reality and ask God to heal our hearts when they have been broken by this reality.

Saint Paul, the apostle, in his epistle to the church at Rome, asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Too often, however, it is the church itself, which provides the answer. At the precise time when we have been broken and made vulnerable by the experience of divorce, our misery is compounded by a sense of condemnation by our Christian church. It is not the healing voice of Jesus we hear, like the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s gospel, but rather it is the voice and weight of law and the judgment of church leaders, which confront us and add to our grief. It is apparent that those who have divorced and remarried are in greater need of the sacramental life of the Church.

We join our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters in an ancient tradition of supporting those who have remarried by counseling them to now reflect upon all that has passed and to grow in all that will come during their new marriage. Such growth can only be successful in union with the sacramental life of the Church and in the Church’s teaching on the life of prayer and the excellent way of love as taught in the Holy Scriptures and practiced by faithful families.

To deny the gift of sexual union to those who have remarried is to destroy rather than to support the success of a remarried couple. Sexuality is a source and a celebration of love between husband and wife. It is a special and secret place, which allows intimate sharing. It is the measure of a healthy relationship between two individuals who are of the age and health to share in this manner.

Though we are a growing jurisdiction, we do not have the faculty or facilities to research and offer formal annulments similar to the Church of Rome. However, through pastoral discernment, and counseling, similar results may be obtained.

As a Catholic and Apostolic Church, we acknowledge that Jesus gave to his apostles, and subsequently, to their successors, the bishops, the authority of “binding” and loosing.” That is to say that we have at our discretion the ability to forgive sins — even the sin of divorce and remarriage. As the presiding bishop of the CCIA, I pass on this authority to the pastors in my jurisdiction the responsibility to prudently council and offer forgiveness even to those who are fighting this battle.

Rather than condemnation and separation from Church and sacrament, compassionate guidance and loving support are the appropriate responses, which clergy and laity should offer. The strength of the Church depends upon the strength of our families, whether those families are formed by an original marriage or by a subsequent remarriage.

Both those who are divorced and remarried deserve to find prayerful support from their faith community. Our prayers and hope are that of wiping away every tear with the grace of the risen Christ, and celebrating the love of God as it exists between husband and wife, parent and child, our brothers and sisters of the Christian community, and between all of the human family. Every Catholic family is valuable and every Sacramental marriage deserves support for its emotional, sexual, and economic stability.

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