'Families in Difficulty'

On Feb. 25, the Pontifical Council for the Family published a document entitled “The Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried.” The translation is from the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. (Excerpted)

IN MANY COUNTRIES, divorces have become a true social “plague” (cf. “Gaudium et Spes,” 47). Statistics show a continuous increase in marital failures 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 suffering 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 (cf. 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” (address to Pontifical Council for the Family, Jan. 24, 1997, No. 2; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, Feb. 5, 1997, p. 4).

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. (…)

First Objective: Fidelity.

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 sacrament of marriage.

— 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 (cf. “Familiaris Consortio,” 66) providing for 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 difficulty in their marriage.

— Distributing these pastoral guidelines by means of pamphlets on the situation of the divorced and remarried.

Second Objective: Support of Families in Difficulty

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 into tragedy if the couple does not have the desire or possibility to confide in someone (a priest or a competent layperson) as soon as possible in order to be helped to overcome them.

In any case, everything possible should be done to bring about a reconciliation.

Third Objective: Spiritual Guidance

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 give rise to 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 of redressing any irregularity. Conversion, however, can and must begin without delay already in the existential state in which they find themselves. (…)