Pope Francis has appointed a special commission
to look at ways to make it easier for Roman Catholics to dissolve their
marriages in the eyes of the church.
The goal of the 11-member commission announced
September 20, is to reform the process, “with the objective of simplifying its
procedure, making it more streamlined.”
The announcement came as a bitter clash emerged
among cardinals over the church’s approach to marriage, divorce and remarriage.
According to church law, Catholics can obtain
annulments if they can show their marriage was not valid. But if they opt out
of the annulment process, divorce in civil court and then remarry, the church
may refuse them Communion.
Five cardinals are publishing a new book
reinforcing the sanctity of marriage next week, only days before the world’s
bishops gather in Rome for a conference on the subject. The synod will consider
issues including divorce, cohabitation, domestic violence and gay unions.
German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, one of the
authors of the book, Remaining in the
Truth of Christ, has made it clear nobody has the power to sever the bonds
of marriage. “When we are in the presence of a valid marriage, there is no way
to sever that bond,” Mueller said. “Neither the pope nor any other bishop has
the authority to do so, because it touches on a reality that belongs to God,
not to them.”
As several Vatican observers warned of further clashes
between hard-liners and those seeking a more open approach to divorced
Catholics at the October synod, the pope has urged bishops to build unity and
“Don’t waste energy in disagreements and clashes,
but in building and loving,” the pope said in an address recently.
Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota,
the Vatican’s highest appellate court, which includes lawyers and theologians,
will head the new commission.
Marco Politi, renowned Vatican expert, said the
pope may want to streamline the process but that did not mean he wants to
change church doctrine.
Liberal theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper heads a
Vatican body responsible for promoting Christian unity and is expected to
address the bishops’ synod.
While Kasper favors a more lenient approach to
offering Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, he said the issue
should be broadly debated not only among a handful of cardinals but throughout