The Church dissolves indissoluble marriages already
Some Catholics are upset at Pope Francis’s suggestion that perhaps Catholics who have married outside the Church might be admitted back to the sacraments. Some even regard the Pope as a heretic (strange how such people are almost always also climate deniers). The Church has always taught that marriage is indissoluble. Indeed it is. But the Church claims to dissolve indissoluble marriages already and it shouldn’t. The pharisees approach Christ in order to trick him. Moses allowed us to divorce, they say, what do you think? If he says divorce is allowed he will go back on his own teaching, if he says it isn’t he is denying Moses. He replies that marriage is indissoluble because in the beginning God made man male and female. It’s nothing to do with your religion. Staying faithful to solemn promises is part of the human condition, as Kant also taught. If two people, whoever they are, promise to love each other for ever in the married state then that bond is indissoluble. And indeed, you often feel with people who have been long divorced that there is still a bond of something special between them which nothing can break. Whether you are Catholic or not, whether you marry in church or in a registry office, you are entering into an indissoluble bond. But the Church does dissolve this indissoluble bond. If two people are neither Catholic, and marry in a registry office, then according to Church teaching they are indissolubly married and may not divorce – not doubtless that such people are likely to pay much attention to Church teaching. But if one of them is a Catholic then they are not indissolubly married and if they divorce there is no problem about the Catholic partner marrying again in church. This is a nonsense. People are humans before they are Catholics. The sacrament of marriage isn’t an alternative to secular marriage but a holy celebration of it.
Christ says that no man can put asunder an indissoluble marriage. The implication is that God can. Christ doesn’t say that in the mercy of God you can’t have another go if the first one goes awry, still indissoluble but you can be indissolubly linked to more than one person, witness your parents. Suppose some nice girl, as so often happens, marries a very difficult man nobody else would touch because she thinks she can reform him. But she finds she can’t. He abuses her dreadfully and she is in misery. Can we really believe that Christ would reward her love and optimism, perhaps unwise and naïve as it was, with the choice of either remaining in a relationship of long term abuse or in celibacy for the rest of her life? Christ’s point is precisely not that he is abrogating the law of Moses and he doesn’t say that he is. He is not adjusting the law, he is holding out a far more wonderful and elevated view of marriage, If Moses allowed divorce, even though marriage is indissoluble, because of peoples’ hardness of heart, then how much more when it is a case of, perhaps, too much softness of heart. The Church’s practice of annulment is, in my view, also nonsensical. Can it be right that if some clever canon lawyer is on the tribunal that tries your case and finds a loophole you can marry again, but if your canon lawyer is not quite so clever you can’t? This isn’t fundamentally a matter of law, which is not to say that we don’t need laws, but a breaking and mending of hearts. Christ was right. There is no happiness, no rootedness, no deep satisfaction in the soul, no human flourishing like that of a happy and stable and indissoluble marriage. And no hell like an unhappy one.