Kazakh bishops affirm indissolubility of marriage – and its implications

Archbishop Tomash Peta of Maria Santissima in Astana Wikimedia Commons CC 30 CNA Archbishop Tomash Peta. | Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0

Three Kazakhstani bishops signed a statement on Sunday confirming that it is not licit to admit to sacramental communion Catholics who are divorced and illictly remarried, if they are not living according to the long-standing teachings of the Church.

The statement was released in response to norms issued by several groups of bishops since the promulgation of Amoris laetitia.

"It is not licit (non licet) to justify, approve, or legitimize either directly or indirectly divorce and a non-conjugal stable sexual relationship through the sacramental discipline of the admission of so-called 'divorced and remarried' to Holy Communion, in this case a discipline alien to the entire Tradition of the Catholic and Apostolic faith," read the Dec. 31, 2017 letter of the bishops.

"By making this public profession before our conscience and before God who will judge us, we are sincerely convinced that we have provided a service of charity in truth to the Church of our day and to the Supreme Pontiff, Successor of Saint Peter and Vicar of Christ on earth."

The statement was signed by Archbishop Tomash Peta of Maria Santissima in Astana; his auxiliary, Bishop Athanasius Schneider; and Archbishop Jan Pawel Lenga, Bishop Emeritus of Karaganda.

It comes nearly a year after the same bishops issued an appeal to prayer that Pope Francis would confirm the Church's constant practice regarding the indissolubility of marriage.

The three bishops noted that some bishops around the world – such as those of Malta and Sicily – have issued norms allowing for the divorced-and-remarried who have a living spouse yet who are in "stable cohabitation more uxorio" with a third person to "receive the sacrament of Penance and Holy Communion, while continuing to live habitually and intentionally more uxorio with a person who is not their legitimate spouse."  Those norms have qualified that such permissions are limited to individual cases, at the discretion of a confessor, pastor, or bishop.

More uxorio, which means "in the mode of marriage," refers in this context to cohabitation and a sexual relationship between those who are not validly married.  

"These pastoral norms have received approval from various hierarchical authorities. Some of these norms have received approval even from the supreme authority of the Church," they noted. Pope Francis had, in 2016, sent a letter approving of norms from the bishops of the Buenos Aires region of Argentina, which seemed to permit reception of holy communion in particular cases.

The Pope's letter, and the Buenos Aires norms, were then promulgated in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, a fact made known last month.

"The spread of these ecclesiastically approved pastoral norms has caused a considerable and ever increasing confusion among the faithful and the clergy, a confusion that touches the central manifestations of the life of the Church, such as sacramental marriage with the family, the domestic church, and the sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist," the Kazakh bishops stated.

They said that to admit the divorced-and-remarried to Communion "means in practice a way of approving or legitimizing divorce, and in this meaning a kind of introduction of divorce in the life of the Church."

Such pastoral norms "are revealed in practice and in time" as a way of spreading the "plague of divorce", they said, quoting from the Second Vatican Council's pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et spes.

The bishops maintained that the Church should be, rather, "a bulwark and an unmistakable sign of contradiction against the plague of divorce … because of her unconditional fidelity to the doctrine of Christ."

"An approval or legitimation of the violation of the sacredness of the marriage bond, even indirectly through the mentioned new sacramental discipline, seriously contradicts God's express will and His commandment," the Kazakh bishops wrote.

They stated that sexual acts between those who are not married are "always contrary to God's will and constitute a grave offense"' and that no circumstance, including diminished guilt, can make such a sexual relationship "a positive moral reality."

The bishops also emphasized that although the Church cannot judge the internal state of grace of any person, sacramental discipline is not based on this but on their "visible and objective situation"; and that is it morally illicit "to engage in sexual relations with a person who is not one's legitimate spouse supposedly to avoid another sin."

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They also affirmed that the divorced-and-remarried may be admitted to Communion "only when they with the help of God's grace and a patient and individual pastoral accompaniment make a sincere intention to cease from now on the habit of such sexual relations and to avoid scandal. It is in this way that true discernment and authentic pastoral accompaniment were always expressed in the Church."

Furthermore, they said that those who violate their marriage bond with their legitimate spouse may not participate in Communion, and that "the fulfillment of God's will … constitutes the true spiritual good of the people here on earth and will lead them to the true joy of love in the salvation of eternal life."

The bishops called the recently proposed pastoral norms "a substantial alteration" of the Church's 2,000 year discipline, and added: "a substantially altered discipline will eventually lead to an alteration in the corresponding doctrine."

"The constant Magisterium of the Church … has preserved and faithfully transmitted both in the doctrine (in theory) and in the sacramental discipline (in practice) in an unequivocal way, without any shadow of doubt and always in the same sense and in the same meaning (eodem sensu eademque sententia), the crystalline teaching of Christ concerning the indissolubility of marriage."

The bishops said that the indissolubility of a ratified and consummated marriage is "the revealed word of God and the faith of the Church," and that sacramental discipline cannot contradict this, "because of its Divinely established nature."

The faith naturally "excludes a formal contradiction between the faith professed on the one hand and the life and practice of the sacraments on the other," they said, citing Vatican II and the writings of St. John Paul II.

"In view of the vital importance that the doctrine and discipline of marriage and the Eucharist constitute, the Church is obliged to speak with the same voice. The pastoral norms regarding the indissolubility of marriage must not, therefore, be contradicted between one diocese and another, between one country and another," they added, citing St. Irenaeus of Lyons and St. Thomas Aquinas.

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The bishops provided ample citations for the existing teaching and practice regarding the indissolubility of marriage, including Bl. Pius IX, Ven. Pius XII, Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

"As Catholic bishops, who … must defend the unity of faith and the common discipline of the Church, and take care that the light of the full truth should arise for all men we are forced in conscience to profess in the face of the current rampant confusion the unchanging truth and the equally immutable sacramental discipline regarding the indissolubility of marriage according to the bimillennial and unaltered teaching of the Magisterium of the Church," they wrote.

"Being bishops in the pastoral office those, who promote the Catholic and Apostolic faith, we are aware of this grave responsibility and our duty before the faithful who await from us a public and unequivocal profession of the truth and the immutable discipline of the Church regarding the indissolubility of marriage. For this reason we are not allowed to be silent," stated the Kazakh bishops.

They made their affirmation in the spirit of Ss. John the Baptist, John Fisher, and Thomas More, who were martyred for upholding the indissolubility of marriage, and of Bl. Laura Vicuna, who offered her life for the conversion of her mother, who was living in concubinage.

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