We would like to express our faith in the Sacrament of Marriage: the indissoluble union of a man and a woman baptized in Christ; a union ordered to the procreation and education of children.
We note that the Sacrament of Marriage is a treasure for the couples themselves, for society and for the Church. It involves a maturing process marked by hope for those who wish to strengthen their love in stability and fidelity, with the help of God who blesses their union. This reality redounds to the benefit of all other couples as well.
In many countries, divorce has become a true social plague. Statistics show a continuous increase in marital failure even between those who have been joined by the Sacrament of Marriage. This worrying phenomenon leads to a consideration of its many causes, which include: the state's lack of concern for the stability of marriage and the family, permissive divorce laws, the negative influence of the mass media and international organizations, and the inadequate Christian formation of the faithful.
These setbacks are a source of suffuring for people today and especially for those who see their plan of married love fade away.
The Church is extremely sensitive to the sorrow of her members: just as she rejoices with those who rejoice, she weeps with those who weep (sf. Rom 12:15).
As the Holy Father clearly stressed in his address to us during our plenary assembly: "Let these men and women know that the Church loves them, that she is not far from them and suffers because of their situation. The divorced and remarried are and remain her members, because they have received baptism and retain their Christian faith."
Pastors should therefore care for those who suffer the consequences of divorce, especially the children. They should be concerned for everyone, and, in constant harmony with the truth of marriage and the family, they should try to soothe the wound inflicted on this sign of Christ's covenant with the Church.
At the same time, the Catholic Church cannot remain indifferent to the increasing number of these situations, nor can she surrender in the face of a custom resulting from a mentality that attacks marriage as an exclusive indissoluble commitment, just as she cannot approve of anything that disparages the very nature of marriage.
Furthermore, the Church does not limit herself to condemning errors, but in accordance with the constant teaching of her magisterium - reasserted especially in Familiaris Consortio - she wishes to use every means so that the local communities can provide support for those who are living in situations of this sort.
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For this reason, at the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, we present the following recommendations to the bishops - as those who oversee the pastoral care of marriage - and with them to their respective communities. They will be useful for developing concrete pastoral guidelines and for adapting them to individual situations.
We also invite all Church leaders to make a special effort with those who are suffering the hurtful consequences of divorce, keeping in mind:
- the solidarity of the whole community;
- the importance of the virtue of mercy which respects the truth of marriage;
- trust in God's law and in the Church's provisions, which lovingly protect marriage and the family;
- a spirit enlivened by hope.
This particular effort presupposes an adequate formation of the priests and lay people involved in the pastoral care of families. The first sign of the Church's love is that she does not allow such a worrying situation to be passed over in silence.
To help rediscover the value and meaning of Christian marriage and conjugal life, we suggest three objectives and the relative pastoral measures.
The whole Christian community should develop ways to support fidelity to the Sacrament of Marriage by a constant commitment to:
- providing for the preparation and celebration of the Sacrament of
- stressing the importance of catechesis on the value and meaning of conjugal and family love;
- guiding family members in daily life (pastoral care of the family, recourse to the sacramental life, Christian education of children, family movements, etc.);
- encouraging and helping separated or divorced couples who are alone to remain faithful to the duties of their marriage;
- preparing a bishops' directory for the pastoral care of the family wherever this has not been done;
- the preparation of the clergy, particularly, of confessors, so that they will form consciences according to the laws of God and the Church on marriage and family life;
- promoting the doctrinal formation of pastoral workers;
- encouraging liturgical prayer for those who are experiencing difficulties in their marriage;
- distributing these pastoral guidelines by means of pamphlets on the situation of the divorced and remarried.
Pastors must particularly urge parents, in virtue of the Sacrament of Marriage they have received, to support their married children; brothers and sisters, to surround the couple with their fraternal affection; friends, to help their friends.
In addition, the children of the separated and divorced need special attention, especially in the context of catechesis.
Pastoral assistance should also be provided for those who turn to or could turn to the judgment of the ecclesiastical courts. They should be helped to consider the possible nullity of their marriage.
It should not be forgotten that marital difficulties can frequently degenerate in to tragedy if the couple does not have the desire or possibility to confide in someone (a priest or a competent lay person) as soon as possible, in order to be helped to overcome these problems.
In any case, everything possible should be done to bring about a reconciliation.
When divorced Christians enter a civil union, the Church, faithful to our Lord's teaching (cf. Mk 10:2-9), cannot give any public or private sign that might seem to legitimize the new union.
It is often observed that the experience of previous failure can elicit the need to ask God for His mercy and salvation. It is essential for the remarried couple to give priority to the regularization of their situation in the visible ecclesial community and, spurred by the desire to respond to God's love, to prepare themselves for the process or redressing any irregularity. Conversion, however, can and must begin without delay already in the existential state in which they find themselves.
As witness and guardian of the marital sign, the bishop - together with the priests who work with him - in his desire to lead his people to salvation and true happiness will not fail to:
a) express the Church's faith in the Sacrament of Marriage and recall
the directives for its fruitful preparation and celebration;
b) show the Church's suffering over marital failure, especially over the consequences for the children;
c) exhort and help the divorced who have been left alone to be faithful to the sacrament of their marriage;
d) invite the divorced involved in a new union to:
- recognize their irregular situation, which involves a state of sin,
and ask God for the grace of true conversion;
- observe the elementary demands of justice towards their spouse in the sacrament and their children;
- become aware of their own responsibilities in these unions;
- immediately begin to walk towards Christ - who alone can put an end to this situation: through a dialogue of faith with the new partner in order to advance together towards the conversion required by baptism, and especially through prayer and participation in liturgical celebrations, while not forgetting however that, since they have divorced and remarried, they cannot receive the Sacraments of Penance or the Eucharist;
e) lead the Christian community to a deeper understanding of the importance
of Eucharistic devotion, such as visits to the Blessed Sacrament, spiritual
communion, Eucharistic adoration;
f) encourage meditation on the sense of sin, leading the faithful to a better understanding of the Sacrament of Reconciliation;
g) foster an adequate understanding of contrition and spiritual healing, which also implies forgiveness of others, reparation and an effective commitment to serve one's neighbor.
January 25, 1997