Valuable Clarifications From Toronto's Cardinal Collins



Today Fr. Robert Barron’s excellent “Word on Fire” site carries Brandon Vogt's rather long & in depth interview with Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins. The Cardinal considers the coming Synod on the Family and makes some rather encouraging remarks. For example, he cuts through the confusion with regard to the Church's teaching on marriage and explains that the Church's position is simply in consonance with Jesus' position:
The Catholic Church simply teaches what Jesus teaches: marriage is an unbreakable covenant between a man and a woman, faithful in love and open to the gift of life. Divorce and remarriage is not allowed when it is a matter of a valid, sacramental, and consummated marriage.

When Jesus was preaching in Galilee, divorce and remarriage was accepted in society. The law of Moses allowed for it (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). The teaching of Jesus that divorce and remarriage is not allowed was revolutionary. It was even an indication of his claim to divinity, for only God has the authority to over-rule the law of Moses. Jesus went back to creation itself for the foundation of the unbreakable bond of marriage between a man and a woman: "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate" (Matthew 19: 1-12). In light of current controversies, it is also helpful to note that Jesus also asserts plainly something that until recently was obvious to everyone: marriage is between a man and a woman.

It is always assumed by the Church that couples are truly, or "validly" married. The burden of proof is on anyone who says that they are not. When requested, however, the Church will examine a marriage to discover whether it was a truly binding commitment of the type that Jesus is talking about, i,e, a valid marriage, which cannot be dissolved. If, after very careful study, the Church discovers that at the time when they exchanged consent at their wedding the couple for some reason did not truly make a binding commitment to marriage, then it will issue a statement, or "declaration of nullity," officially confirming that the marriage was not "valid" from the start. This is very different from a divorce, in which the government official grants that there was a valid marriage, and then uses the power of the state to end it.
Vogt asks the question on so many lips at present:
Some Catholics hope the Church will soon change her position regarding communion for those who are divorced and remarried, perhaps at the upcoming Synod. Others worry such a change would undercut Jesus’ clear teachings on marriage. On this issue, which teachings and practices are immutable and which are open to change?
Cardinal Collins suggests that the Synod on the Family will surely deal with the whole range of issues facing the family today, not only this one issue of communion for those who are divorced and remarried. One key contemporary problem cohabitation of couples without getting married. There are many other societal trends, especially in the western world, that undermine the family. The Cardinal explains that the question of communion after divorce and remarriage is one among many issues, and he would anticipate that the Synod will spend most of its time on the broader issues affecting marriage and the family.

However, the Cardinal assures Vogt that the command of Jesus that marriage is unbreakable is central to the Christian understanding of marriage, and cannot be changed by the Church, although we can change the way we help couples prepare for marriage, and help them live their marriage, and help them practically if their marriage breaks down.

Excellent! That is exactly the sort of clarification we need to hear! Thank you Cardinal Collins!

He goes on to demonstrate The Church of Christ's great mercy & compassion in this regard: 
Even apart from Our Lord’s command, divorce is a great human tragedy that can have devastating effects upon the spouses, and especially upon their children. That is why we need to do all that we can as a Catholic community to help couples prepare for marriage, and to assist them during marriage. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are many groups, such as “Marriage Encounter”, and other such groups, that offer great assistance to spouses. When there are problems in a marriage, groups such as “Retrouvaille” seek to help the couple once more have a healthy marriage…
…Our Lord’s teaching on marriage, like his whole teaching on discipleship, can at times be very difficult. Especially in the world in which we live, but really in all periods of history, a certain heroism is required in the Christian life. We are all called to holiness; that is not just the vocation of the few who are canonized, but of all of us.
So what cannot be changed is the fact that what God has joined together, no one can put asunder. But the Synod may well deepen our understanding of Christian marriage, building on the treasure of teaching in Scripture and Tradition, such as the beautiful document of St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio. We need above all to help couples faithfully and fruitfully live the sacrament of marriage.
Sadly, marriages sometimes fail, and the Synod may try to find more effective ways of caring for people in those painful situations. [exactly!] If a couple separates, despite every effort to heal the marriage, and are legally divorced, each is called to continue in a faithful life of Christian discipleship. They cannot marry again, as they are married already. Many divorced Christians lead a life of exemplary holiness, recognizing this reality. They are an inspiration to us all. I hope the Synod offers encouragement to those who are divorced and faithfully living the Christian life.
Perhaps, when someone has been civilly divorced, if the marriage is examined by a Marriage Tribunal of the Church, it will be found not to have been valid, and the person will be free to marry. But that may not happen, or a person for various reasons will decide not to seek to discover their status in the Church concerning their marriage (that is, whether they are in reality single or married). Although the dedicated staff of marriage tribunals offers great pastoral care to those whose marriage has failed, the Synod might be able to find ways of improving the processes tribunals use for making a judgement concerning the validity of marriages, and so that is one possible area of change. Any human process can always be improved.
Many people who are divorced, and who are not free to marry, do enter into a second marriage. There are various reasons that can lead to this, and their fellow parishioners should not occupy themselves speculating about them. Catholics in that tragic situation can be involved in many ways in the life of the community, but they may not receive the sacraments, such as Holy Communion, since whatever their personal disposition is or the reasons for their situation, known perhaps only to God, they are continuing in a way of life which is objectively against the clear command of Jesus. That is the point…. Although it would not be right for them to receive the sacraments, we need to find better ways to reach out to people in this situation, to offer them loving assistance.
One thing that would help would be if all of us realized that receiving communion is not obligatory at Mass. There are many reasons why a Christian might choose not to receive communion. If there were less pressure for everyone to receive communion, it would be some help to those who are not in a position to do so. [This is such an important point, and probably one of those post-conciliar problems that has arisen through an effort to emphasise the importance and centrality of the Blessed Sacrament, which has unfortunately led to a reduction in reverence. The council attempted to encourage us to receive Jesus in the Eucharist as often as possible. Post-council, we find this has led to a culture where it seems everyone must go to Holy Communion. If you don't, fellow parishioners try to shoo you up to go!].
Often, people in this situation decide no longer to continue as members of the Catholic community, as they are not able to receive sacramental communion at Mass, even though they can experience a kind of spiritual communion through prayerful adoration, although abstaining for good reason from receiving communion; that, for a Catholic can be a truly penitential act. It is a great tragedy if they leave the Church. It is likely that they, and their children, and their descendants, will become disconnected from the source of life in Christ that is found in the Church. We need to think of what we can do to reach out to people in this situation, in a loving and effective way. But as we do so, we also need to be attentive to the command of Christ, and the necessity of not undermining the sanctity of marriage, with even more dire consequences for all, especially in a world in which the stability of marriage is already tragically compromised. If we proclaim in actions, even though not in words, that the marriage covenant is not really what Jesus says it is, then that offers short term comfort at the cost of long term suffering. As the sanctity of the marriage covenant is progressively weakened, it will ultimately be the children who will suffer most.
So although fidelity to the teaching of Christ on the indissolubility of marriage is not open to change, there may be things that we can change to assist our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in this difficult and painful situation.
I would encourage you to spend some time reading the Cardinal's interview. What he says makes perfect sense to a Catholic ear and is an excellent antidote to some of the schismatic madness being reported of Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Baldesseri. Cardinal Collins adds his voice to the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Muller, Cardinal O'Malley, Cardinal Caffarra, and even Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi, who explained in a press conference the purpose of the extraordinary consistory for the family is not to change doctrine (which cannot be done). In the video below, he stresses that no cardinal believes doctrine should be changed. Rather, efforts will focus on understanding challenges and a pastoral approach to “thorny issues” like divorce.



All these sources are right, Catholic doctrine is revealed. It can develop, but it cannot alter, as even the most basic theologian knows, but I just wish someone would explain it to Cardinals Kaper and Baldesseri!

The thing is that apparently conflicting statements from these Cardinals is confusing for everyone, and even if you know that Lombardi is right and doctrine cannot change, you feel uneasy because these two Cardinals have spoken contrary to the teaching of the Church. This is unsettling and disconcerting for the faithful, and causes the people great pain. It is especially painful for those of the faithful in difficult marital positions who nonetheless, remain faithful to the teaching of the Church. I know of at least one case where someone in this position was recently told in the confessional by a priest of liberal bent that they could now receive Holy Communion, despite their circumstances "because Church teaching has changed".

The facts are that even if Cardinals Baldesseri and Kasper are speaking out of turn, even if they are wrong, even if they are outvoted, outdated, outmoded, or out of their minds, some Catholics will listen to what they say and interpret it in the most liberal sense possible.

For this reason, if for no other, I hope the synod clarifies all this as soon as possible.


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