Cdl. Burke to Young Clergy: Church Can’t Change God’s Law on Marriage

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  December 30, 2016   

"Adulterous acts can never be justified, can never serve the good of either the parties or of their children"

VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Raymond Burke is telling young priests that God's divine law with regard to marriage and the sacraments can never be changed, even when children are involved.

The former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura was asked recently if Holy Mother Church has "any pastoral or legislative authority" to allow civilly remarried couples to live as husband and wife.

The cardinal responded, "There is no pastoral authority of any kind within the Church who can grant a dispensation to a party, so that he may live in a marital way with someone who is not his spouse."

Cardinal Burke, the current patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, was responding to three questions asked by "some younger clergy" via Fr. John Hunwicke, a respected elderly priest incardinated in the Personal Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham.


The response by Cdl. Burke to the three queries was dated December 3 and titled by Cdl. Burke: "to certain serious questions of the clergy in the present situation of widespread confusion and error in the Church." The young priests first wanted to know if a priest Is able to give absolution or the Holy Eucharist to a person sharing the marital bed with someone to whom they Aren't validly married in the eyes of the Church. 

The cardinal pointed out that a priest isn't able to absolve the sins of someone who is "living in an irregular matrimonial union and has no firm purpose of amendment." This purpose of amendment means a cohabitating couple must seriously intend to stop exercising the marital act unless they become sacramentally married.

The cardinal added that if the couple does commit "with the help of Divine Grace" to live together chastely as brother and sister, then the sacraments should be given in such a way as to avoid scandal. 

If the party has the firm purpose of amendment, pledging, with the help of Divine Grace, to avoid any sin of adultery in the future, then the priest may give Absolution, counseling the party that they should only receive Holy Communion in a place in which there is no reasonable chance of scandal.

Next, the priests asked if a civilly remarried Catholic couple could in conscience justify having marital relations to keep the relationship together for the good of the offspring.

Cardinal Burke answered that in order to provide a stable home for the sake of offspring a couple may justify living together chastely; he was clear that committing adultery could never be justified for any reason.

"[T]he need to live under the same roof for the sake of children … is not an argument which justifies acts of adultery. Both reason and faith tell us that adulterous acts can never be justified, can never serve the good of either the parties or of their children."

Lastly, the young clergy wanted to know if this is a matter of "Jus Divinum" (God's unbreakable law) or if there is "any pastoral or legislative authority within the Church Militant by which dispensations can be granted in these matters." The former prefect of the Vatican's highest court stated that the Church has no power to change these laws as they come from God Himself. He continued,"There is no pastoral authority of any kind within the Church who can grant a dispensation to a party, so that he may live in a marital way with someone who is not his spouse." The cardinal confirmed this was "a question of Jus Divinum" citing canon 1141 of the Code of Canon Law which he paraphrased.

The cardinal added that if the couple does pledge "with the help of Divine Grace" to live together chastely as brother and sister then the sacraments should be given in such a way as to avoid scandal. 

If the party has the firm purpose of amendment, pledging, with the help of Divine Grace, to avoid any sin of adultery in the future, then the priest may give Absolution, counseling the party that they should only receive Holy Communion in a place in which there is no reasonable chance of scandal.

Concluding his response to Fr. Hunwicke,  Cdl. Burke expressed the need to clear up the prevailing confusion for priests concerning their pastoral care of civilly remarried Catholics. He concluded, "I hope that these answers are of some help to you and to the clergy who have raised them to you. The clear answer to these questions is imperative for the correction of the widespread confusion in the Church which is redounding to the grave harm of souls."

 

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Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.

Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th. is a staff writer for ChurchMilitant.com.

Follow Bradley on Twitter: @BradleyLEli