|Change is in the Wind|
One of the less known aspects of Catholicism is what is called the “internal forum” solution. A priest friend of mine jokes that when they were taught this in Canon Law class, the classroom door was locked and the shades drawn. This solution is not usually talked about publicly. Normally it works this way. A person who would ordinarily be ineligible for Holy Communion presents her or his case to a priest—in most cases one’s confessor. In the case of a person who is divorced and remarried the confessor would ask: did you seek an annulment? If not, why not? If you did and it was refused, why was it refused? Sometimes a person does not seek the annulment for a good reason—they have a reasonable fear of retaliation from their estranged spouse, they have been abandoned and cannot find their former spouse, the parish priest has refused to help them with the annulment process, a family member has intimidated them. There are all sorts of reasons. More often they have sought an annulment but were denied it. Sometimes, unfortunately, their ecclesiastical lawyer has not given the case the attention it needs and the argument, though real, did not stand up in the tribunal; sometimes the reasons for the annulment are legitimate but could not be proved. Sometimes the ecclesiastical judge is just opposed to the idea of annulments and does not give fair hearings. I know a case where the wife’s pastor—the priest who had done the wedding—stepped in an interfered simply because he didn’t want it to spoil his record of marriages that last. When the confessor—or other priest who acts as a spiritual advisor—determines that the marriage could have and should have been annulled had the law worked justly, he will advise the person that they are free in conscience to receive the sacraments. The point is that justice must be permitted to trump the law.
This solution is not employed lightly. I must admit that I am surprised the Holy Father called a person from whom he only had a letter and had not spoken with at length. Of course the letter could have been “quite a letter.” Nevertheless, it strikes me as unusual—to say the least—that “Father Bergoglio” as the Pope identified himself would take on the responsibility of giving this advice without extensive research into the case. But he did. And he is the Pope. And it is not the first signal that Pope Francis has sent that he wants to see a different approach to the pastoral situation of the divorced and remarried. Maybe it is time that we give this some serious thought. After all Pope Francis told us in his Easter homily—as I pointed out the other day—that the Resurrection demands we re-think a lot of things and not be afraid to change. And history is in the making with this papacy.