UCAN Spirituality Catholic Church News

The Failure of a First Marriage

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Cardinal Walter Kasper

The failure of a first marriage is not only related to bad sexual behavior. It can come from a failure to realize what was promised before God and before the other partner and the church. Therefore, it failed; there were shortcomings. This has to be confessed. But I cannot think of a situation in which a human being has fallen into a gap and there is no way out. Often he cannot return to the first marriage. If this is possible, there should be a reconciliation, but often that’s not possible.

In the Creed we say we believe in the forgiveness of sin. If there was this shortcoming, and it has been repented for—is absolution not possible? My question goes through the sacrament of penance, through which we have access to Holy Communion. But penance is the most important thing—repentance of what went wrong, and a new orientation. The new quasi-family or the new partnership must be solid, lived in a Christian way. A time of new orientation—metanoia—would be necessary. Not punishing people but a new orientation because divorce is always a tragedy. It takes time to work it out and to find a new perspective. My question—not a solution, but a question—is this: Is absolution not possible in this case? And if absolution, then also Holy Communion? There are many themes, many arguments in our Catholic tradition that could allow this way forward.

To live together as brother and sister? Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it’s a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian. That could also create new tensions. Adultery is not only wrong sexual behavior. It’s to leave a familiaris consortio, a communion, and to establish a new one. But normally it’s also the sexual relations in such a communion, so I can’t say whether it’s ongoing adultery. Therefore I would say, yes, absolution is possible. Mercy means God gives to everybody who converts and repents a new chance….

The second marriage, of course, is not a marriage in our Christian sense. And I would be against celebrating it in church. But there are elements of a marriage. I would compare this to the way the Catholic Church views other churches. The Catholic Church is the true church of Christ, but there are other churches that have elements of the true church, and we recognize those elements. In a similar way, we can say, the true marriage is the sacramental marriage. And the second is not a marriage in the same sense, but there are elements of it—the partners take care of one another, they are exclusively bound to one another, there is an intention of permanence, they care of children, they lead a life of prayer, and so on. It’s not the best situation. It’s the best possible situation.

From “Merciful God, Merciful Church” Commonweal  (2014)