Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity". Pope Francis/Pope Benedict
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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Pope John Paul II: the limits of Papal power over marriage is a "doctrine to be held definitively"

"There frequently lies a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God's plan for marriage and the family"
Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio


St. Pope John Paul II 
In an address in 2000, to the Roman Rota, Pope John Paul II outlined the limitations of papal power over ratified and consummated marriage. The Pope is always limited to being at the service of  the teachings of Christ. 

The recent attempts at the Synod to fudge around indissolubility, by adhering to it in theory, but differing in pastoral praxis, is in deed a Christological heresy - as pointed out by Gerhard Cardinal Muller. 


Do not be fooled by churchmen who claim that the marvelous Familiaris consortio, composed by our sainted Pope needs "updating", as it is "old". The truth about marriage does not change. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. "God never changes" (St. Theresa of Avila). 


6. Today's meeting with you, members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, is an appropriate setting for also speaking to the whole Church about the limits of the Roman Pontiff's power over ratified and consummated marriage, which "cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death" (CIC, can. 1141; CCEO, can. 853). By its very nature this formulation of canon law is not only disciplinary or prudential, but corresponds to a doctrinal truth that the Church has always held.


Nevertheless, there is an increasingly widespread idea that the Roman Pontiff's power, being the vicarious exercise of Christ's divine power, is not one of those human powers referred to in the canons cited above, and thus it could be extended in some cases also to the dissolution of ratified and consummated marriages. In view of the doubts and anxieties this idea could cause, it is necessary to reaffirm that a ratified and consummated sacramental marriage can never be dissolved, not even by the power of the Roman Pontiff. The opposite assertion would imply the thesis that there is no absolutely indissoluble marriage, which would be contrary to what the Church has taught and still teaches about the indissolubility of the marital bond.

7. This doctrine that the Roman Pontiff's power does not extend to ratified and consummated marriages has been taught many times by my Predecessors (cf., for example, Pius IX, Let. Verbis exprimere, 15 August 1859:  Insegnamenti Pontifici, Ed. Paoline, Rome 1957, vol. I, n. 103; Leo XIII, Encyc. Let. Arcanum, 10 February 1880:  ASS 12 [1879-1880], 400; Pius XI, Encyc. Let. Casti connubii, 31 December 1930:  AAS 22 [552]; Pius XII, Address to Newlyweds, 22 April 1942:  Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di S.S. Pio XII, Ed. Vaticana, vol. IV, 47). I would like to quote in particular a statement of Pius XII:  "A ratified and consummated marriage is by divine law indissoluble, since it cannot be dissolved by any human authority (can. 1118); while other marriages, although intrinsically indissoluble, still do not have an absolute extrinsic indissolubility, but, under certain necessary conditions, can (it is a question, as everyone knows, of relatively rare cases) be dissolved not only by virtue of the Pauline privilege, but also by the Roman Pontiff in virtue of his ministerial power" (Address to the Roman Rota, 3 October 1941:  AAS 33 [1941], pp. 424-425). With these words Pius XII gave an explicit interpretation of canon 1118, corresponding to the present canon 1141 of the Code of Canon Law, and to canon 853 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, in the sense that the expression "human power" also includes the Pope's ministerial or vicarious power, and he presented this doctrine as being peacefully held by all experts in the matter. In this context it would also be appropriate to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, with the great doctrinal authority conferred on it by the involvement of the whole Episcopate in its drafting and by my special approval. We read there:  "Thus 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. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God's fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom" (n. 1640).

8. The Roman Pontiff in fact has the "sacra potestas" to teach the truth of the Gospel, administer the sacraments and pastorally govern the Church in the name and with the authority of Christ, but this power does not include per se any power over the divine law, natural or positive. Neither Scripture nor Tradition recognizes any faculty of the Roman Pontiff for dissolving a ratified and consummated marriage; on the contrary, the Church's constant practice shows the certain knowledge of Tradition that such a power does not exist. The forceful expressions of the Roman Pontiffs are only the faithful echo and authentic interpretation of the Church's permanent conviction.

It seems quite clear then that the non-extension of the Roman Pontiff's power to ratified and consummated sacramental marriages is taught by the Church's Magisterium as a doctrine to be held definitively, even if it has not been solemnly declared by a defining act. This doctrine, in fact, has been explicitly proposed by the Roman Pontiffs in categorical terms, in a constant way and over a sufficiently long period of time. It was made their own and taught by all the Bishops in communion with the See of Peter, with the knowledge that it must always be held and accepted by the faithful.

In this sense it was reaffirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Besides, it is a doctrine confirmed by the Church's centuries-old practice, maintained with full fidelity and heroism, sometimes even in the face of severe pressures from the mighty of this world.

The attitude of the Popes is highly significant; even at the time of a clearer affirmation of the Petrine primacy, they show a constant awareness that their Magisterium is at the total service of the Word of God (cf. Dogm. Const. Dei Verbum, n. 10) and, in this spirit, they do not place themselves above the Lord's gift, but endeavour only to preserve and administer the good entrusted to the Church.

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