What view and what attitude should we take, in your opinion, to couples who live an irregular situation?
At the last Synod, I offered a key that caused much discussion and was even mentioned in the Relatio post discupatationem, but that is no longer present in the final document, the Relatio Synodi. It was an analogy with the ecclesiological key given by Lumen Gentium, the constitution on the Church, in its article 8. The question at issue is: “Where is the Church of Christ? Where is concretely embodied? Does the Church of Jesus Christ really exist, as he desired and founded?”. To this, the Council responded with the famous statement: “The sole Church of Christ remains in the Catholic Church” subsists in the Catholic assembly. It is not a pure and simple identification, like saying that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church. This was stated by the Council: “It subsists in the Catholic Church”, together with the Pope and legitimate bishops. The Council adds this phrase, which has become key: “Although outside of her body there are many elements of sanctification and truth, belonging properly to God’s gift to the Church of Christ, they push towards Catholic unity.” Other denominations, other churches, other religions are not simply nothing. The Vatican II excludes an ecclesiology of all or nothing. All this takes place in the Catholic Church, but there are elements of truth and holiness in other churches, and even in other religions. These elements are elements of the Church of Christ, and by their nature tend to Catholic unity and the unity of mankind, toward which the Church herself, in anticipation, so to speak, of the great plan of God which is a single Family of God, humanity. This key justifies this approach of the Council, for which it does not consider first what is missing in the other Churches, Christian communities or religions, but what is positive there. They capture the seeds of the Word,as has been said, the seeds of the Word, elements of truth and sanctification.
How can this insight be applied, in your view, to the family? Do you think there are elements of sanctification and truth, that is, positive elements, in imperfect forms of marriages and families? In these forms the explicit sacramental marriage covenant is lacking. But this does not seem to prevent that there are also elements that are almost promises of this alliance: loyalty, attention to each other, the desire to be a family. This is not everything, but it’s already something. You can recognize these “seeds” of truth about the family, then the shepherds can help you to grow and mature?
I simply proposed to apply this interpretation to the ecclesiological reality of the sacrament of marriage. Because marriage is a Church in miniature, the’ ecclesiola, the family as a small church, it seems legitimate to establish an analogy and say that the sacrament of marriage is fully realized where there is justly a sacrament between a man and a woman living in faith etc. But this does not prevent that, outside of this full realization of the sacrament of marriage, there are elements of marriage that are signals of waiting, positive elements.
For example, consider a civil marriage …
Yes, we consider it as something more a mere de facto union. Why? It is a simple civil contract which from the point of view of the Church has no meaning. But we recognize that in civil marriage, there is more commitment, a stronger alliance, than in a simple de facto union. … The couple are committed to society, to the people and to themselves, in a more explicit alliance, legally anchored by sanctions, obligations, duties, rights….The Church believes that it is a step further than simply living together. There is in this case a closer proximity to sacramental marriage. As a promise, a sign of waiting. Instead of speaking of all that is missing, you can even come close to these realities, noting the positive things that exist in this love that has stabilized.
For the Synod, therefore, it will be important of the look on the quality of situations that objectively speaking, have failings .
We should look at he numerous situations of coexistence not only from the point of view of what is missing, but also from the point of view of what is already promised, that is already present. Moreover, the Council adds that, although there is always real holiness in the Church, this is made up of sinners and advances along the path of conversion (LG 8). It is always in need of purification. A Catholic can not be put on a grade higher than the others. There are saints in all the Christian churches, and even in other religions. Jesus said twice to the pagans, a woman and a Roman officer: “Such a faith I have not found in Israel.” A true faith, that Jesus found outside of the chosen people.
If we apply this to marriage, the gap is not between those who live a sacramental marriage – and they are, so to speak, in order – and the rest of humanity , who lives with difficulty imperfect realizations of what should be the sacrament of marriage …
Those who have the grace and the joy of living a sacramental marriage in faith, humility and mutual forgiveness, trust in God who acts in our daily life, they see and discern in a cohabiting couple, the same elements of true heroism, true charity, true mutual giving. Also we must say: “It is not yet a full reality of the sacrament.” But who are we to judge and say that there are not elements in them of truth and sanctification? The Church is a people that God draws to himself and in which all are called. he Church’s role is to accompany each in growth, on a journey. As a pastor I experience this joy of being on the road, among the believers, but also among many non-believers.
We realize that, on the one hand, it is necessary and it is good to have objective criteria, we need it, but, on the other hand, these criteria do not exhaust all of reality …
I take a very simple example that concerns a man and a woman. Their first marriage was civil, because he was already divorced, and they are then married civilly. This marriage was a failure and they are separated. The woman has a second marriage. In this case, the husband had not been married religiously and she had been married civilly. They were therefore able to celebrate a sacramental marriage. Objectively justifiable, it is correct. But what would happen if the first woman’s husband had not been divorced? If it had been the first religious marriage, which went on to failure for different reasons and finally led to a second union, this would be irregular. This should make us respectful to the objective order, but also pay attention to the complexities of life. There are cases in which only a second or even a third marriage, people really discover the faith. I know a person who had a very young first religious marriage, apparently without faith. This was a failure, which was followed by a second and even a third civil marriage. Only then, for the first time, did this person discover faith and became a believer. Therefore, the objective criteria are not set aside, but in accompaniment I stand next to the person in his journey.
So, what to do in these circumstances?
The objective criteria clearly tell us that some people, tied by sacramental marriage, can not participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church. Subjectively this situation is lived as a conversion, as a real discovery in their lives, to the point that it could be said, in some way – so different, but analogous to the Pauline privilege – that for the sake of faith you can take a step which objectively goes beyond what we would say is the rule. I think we are faced with something that will have great importance during the next Synod. I do not avoid, in this regard, remaining shocked by a purely formalist way of arguing, by beating the drum of intrinsece malum‘ (“intrinsically evil”).