The Synod on the Family: What is at stake?
by Dr Pravin Thevathasan
According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"1640 The marriage bond has been established by
God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved.
The Church does not have the power to contravene the disposition of divine wisdom."
Nothing can be clearer than this. The infallible teaching of the Church is that a valid marriage cannot be dissolved.
Pastoral considerations, by their very nature, do not fall within the realm of infallible teaching. Some have been
excellent. Others have been confusing. For example, the Pope taught clearly against artificial contraception in
Humanae Vitae. The doctrine was and remains clear but subsequent
pastoral considerations have muddied the waters to the extent that the doctrine is not understood by many, and
is therefore treated as irrelevant.
With regard to those in second marriages following a civil divorce, some theologians have proposed the pastoral
solution offered by Eastern Orthodoxy. In that tradition, only one marriage can contain the perfect meaning and
significance which Christ has given to it. Marriage is not only for life but it is for eternal life. Widows and
widowers are not encouraged to marry. It was the Catholic Church which offered the merciful solution of fully recognizing
the subsequent marriages of widows and widowers. Unfortunately, under pressure from the state, Eastern Orthodoxy
has moved away from Tradition by recognizing second and even third "marriages" following divorce, albeit
after due penance.
There can be no contradiction between doctrine and pastoral solutions. Pastoral solutions flow
from the doctrinal teachings. The Church recognizes that the family is in serious crisis. We need proper formation
before marriage. The full doctrine of the Church needs to be taught. Lifelong marriage must not be seen as an ideal
to be aimed at but must be seen as a means by which holiness is attained for many. After all, it is a sacrament
which confers grace. With prophetic insight, St John Paul wrote in Familiaris Consortio that married people "cannot look on the law as merely an
ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider as a command of Christ to overcome difficulties with constancy.
And so what is known as the 'law of gradualness or step-by-step advance' cannot be identified with 'gradualness
of the law' as if there were different degrees or forms of precepts in God's law for different individuals and
In other words, adultery and polygamy are intrinsically wrong whether they happen in Germany
or in Africa. So-called pastoral solutions designed to ease the distress of those in irregular situations, but
which undermine the very truth of Christian marriage risk having very adverse pastoral effects: not least with
regards to children denied the stability that is their due.
Copyright ©; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2014
Version: 23rd December 2014