Marriage is indissoluble according to the doctrine of the Church and a Pope’s phone call could not change that, a canon lawyer has explained.
Media speculation arose this week over an alleged phone call made by Pope Francis to a divorced and remarried Argentine woman. It is claimed he told her she could receive Communion.
It is simply “impossible Pope Francis would have changed the doctrine on the indissolubility of the marriage” via a phone call, responded Fr. Hector Franceschi, a professor of canon law and matrimony at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
He told CNA April 24 that he has been astonished by “the number of reports about the story, which are clearly expressions of an agenda to change the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage in view of the next synod of bishops, and to push the Church to change its praxis.”
While some media have made much ado about the alleged conversation, the story is doubtful in its details – Fr. Federico Lombardi, Holy See press officer, noted Thursday that “that which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion.”
“Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.”
Indeed, the Church’s doctrine cannot develop in contradiction to itself.
Fr. Franceschi stressed that “in a speech given to the Roman Rota in 2000, Pope John Paul II stated that the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage is definitive, and not even the Pope himself can change this doctrine.”
Bl. John Paul II had told the tribunal on Jan. 21, 2000 that “it is necessary to reaffirm that a ratified and consummated sacramental marriage can never be dissolved, not even by the power of the Roman Pontiff.”
“The opposite assertion would imply the thesis that there is no absolutely indissoluble marriage, which would be contrary to what the Church has taught and still teaches about the indissolubility of the marital bond,” the Pope continued.
Fr. Franceschi continued his reflection, noting that pastoral care must respond to the particularities of any given situation, adding that “a shepherd can handle with discretion peculiar cases, even while he can never go beyond doctrine.”
“In any case, it is more than clear that a person who is divorced and remarried is not excommunicated, and is not sidelined from the life of the Church.”
He suggested that any phone call from Pope Francis was a matter “not of a change in doctrine, but of pastoral care.”
“It is a way to turn upside down the notion that a sinner cannot attend Holy Mass.”
He noted that in Familiaris Consortio, his 1981 post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Christian family’s role in the modern world, John Paul II similarly “invited those who live in irregular situations to go to Holy Mass, to ask for help and to beg for Lord’s mercy.”
Fr. Franceschi stressed that “in fact, Pope Francis has not make any official statement as Roman Pontiff. In my view, Pope Francis will not officially address the question until the synod of bishops, and any official statement will be in accordance with the doctrine of the Church.”
Pope Francis has asked for courageous pastoral care in response to the divorced and remarried, yet to be courageous “does not mean to change the doctrine of the Church,” Fr. Franceschi noted.
“To be courageous means to address the pain of the divorced and remarried, supporting them and helping them to put into practice what has been said several times in recent years. That is, do not exclude the divorced and remarried from the life of the Church, when in these days people are surprised if a divorced and remarried person even continues to attend Mass.”