Monday, March 09, 2015
A Pastoral Solution?
A pastoral problem:
'A' is from a South American country, she married 'B', the marriage was not that good from the beginning but she has been refused an annulment on the grounds of 'lack of due discretion'. 'B' was a political activist and was imprisoned by the then regime, many people were killed but there is no evidence 'B' was, indeed he might well have informed on his friends, which resulted in 'A's' two brothers being killed, he might well have gone into hiding and changed his identity. 'A' came to Britain 25 years ago, she tried to find 'B'. Reports said he had been killed, whilst other said he had fled to Germany and had changed his name and had started a new life, afraid of 'A's family. 'A' has 'married' again but has not been to Holy Communion since, though she goes to Mass more or less weekly.
Simply because of the lack of hard and fast evidence it is impossible to come to a judgement that 'B' is dead and 'A' is free to marry. For those Christian women kidnapped women in Syria and Iraq, after the trauma of rape and shame and forced conversion and forced marriage it is possible in the Middle East that there will be many men, who are uncertain whether their wives are alive or dead. What is the pastoral solution, indeed what is the theological solution?
Presumably here the local Bishop or even parish priest has to make a decision, either that 'B' is dead and 'A' can marry or else he is alive and she cannot but actually there are more nuanced solutions which some might take, that 'B' though he might not actually be dead, is effectively dead as far 'A' and the marriage are concerned.
The problem is the lack of formal evidence, and of course, being blunt, 'A' could be lying her head off.
It seems that this type of situation: lost, possibly dead or enslaved wives and husbands, that lead the Eastern Orthodox Churches to find ways to relax Jesus' teaching on marriage and consequently on the reception of the Holy Eucharist in the seventh and eighth centuries. A thousand and more years on and the standard practice in many Orthodox dioceses is that re-marriage is almost automatic on presentation of a civil certificate of divorce and most priests can be persuaded to forgo the once customary gradation of rites for second or third marriages.
A friend, a Greek Canonist suggests that it was the wars that marked the rise of Islam that brought about the change in the Orthodox understanding of marriage, together with a rather Eastern approach to marriage as a 'sacramental act' of the Church rather than the Western rather tighter understanding of seven distinctive sacraments of which marriage is one.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake