Every region in the world has its own challenges related to marriage, especially when it comes to Christian marriages. For example in Uganda many couples are cohabiting without marital blessings of the church; European countries take lead in divorces, in Belgium for example 70% of all marriages breakup in few years; in India many couples stick together only for the sake of avoiding scandal, embarrassment and for the “well being of children” rather than for love. In the early 90s being a new resident in Kenya I used to be surprised to see many single mothers comfortably living with their children and always avoided talk about their male partners.
In this reality, church is tasked to instil the values of unitive and permanence in marriage, that are basis of the institution of marriage. The Second Vatican Council of 1960s in its document Gaudium et Spes (GS), speaks of two important aspect of Christian marriage: the role of unity and permanence of marriage in order to ensure the wellbeing of the couples; and welcoming children in the context of the healthy family.
In his preaching mission Jesus spoke very little on the issue of marriage. Few statements he made were rather in the context of controversy created by the Pharisees. They wanted to test Jesus’ own answer on complicated issues of divorce and remarriage. Jesus answers them in a humane way rather than basing himself on Old Testament laws.
Like Jesus the church upholds unitive and permanence at all costs. Unity: “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mk 10:7-8), namely, marriage is between a man and a woman. Note that the article, ‘a’ in English indicates ‘one’! Permanence: “what God has united, human beings must not divide” (Mk 10:9). Why are unity and permanence so important in human marriage? Human beings have to just look at their heart. Is it just possible to forget and move on with one’s life after two people have entered into an intimate relationship where everything was shared, at the physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels?
“The natural law” is always the foundation of church law. It is inherent in human nature. Human being follow the rhythm of nature and flow with it. Human heart repels when the natural law is violated or ignored. We can say that it is naturally revealed to us. In the same way laws of marriage are within the nature of human heart. Hence, the concept of divorce is against human heart.
People were excited about the announcement of Pope Francis on divorce. In a simplistic way people believed that Pope has relaxed divorce laws and it will be easy for people to divorce and remarry. No way! The new ruling is about speeding up the process of procuring nullity for invalid church-celebrated weddings where there is sufficient evidence to support the claim that that union was illicit.
For example, if it is shown beyond any reasonable doubt that there was no free consent between partners, then that marriage could be declared null and void. Previously in such cases the couple required two affirmative sentences. That is, if the diocesan ‘court’ gave a positive verdict that this marriage was indeed invalid, the case had to be filed again to receive a second affirmative sentence for the union to be declared legally invalid. The present ruling is that one affirmative sentence is sufficient to nullify an invalid marriage. In very obvious cases of impediments (with which the wedding was celebrated), the Diocesan Bishop can declare the nullity of such union.
This move, at its core, is very pastoral, because previously as the couples in question waited for their case to be resolved – which obviously took a long time – they were not allowed to receive Holy Communion. Now, since the case will be speeded up they don’t need to be in a limbo regarding their status within the Catholic community. Hence, the speeding up of the procedure is indeed in line with Pope’s agenda of mercy and inclusion.
In GS 52 the church speaks of “…the family as the place where different generations come together and to help one another to grow in wisdom and harmonize the rights of individuals with other demands of social life; as such it constitutes the basis of society.” And it invites all social groups and civil authorities to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and support them, to safeguard public morality and well being of the home. It advocates the rights of parents to procreate and educate children in the family.
For Pope Francis, begetting children safeguards and develops the family. In his recent visit to the US he said, “A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society… the choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.” It also means that couples procreate number of children that they can care and cherish.