Marriage
Part 6 Pastoral Applications

Chapter 66 Internal Forum Solution

or

"Good Conscience Solution"

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Theology

Divorce and the Internal Forum

Admission to the Sacraments

An "Internal Forum Solution" is possible for the following persons:

 

An "Internal Forum Solution" is possible for the following persons:

To Think About

The following pages were given to me by a priest who was helping a couple in the parish some years ago and he wanted me to know what he had told them. I have since learned from a reader of this webpage that they are derived from a letter from Bishop Bernard J. Ganter, Bishop of Beaumont, Texas. It was written on October 17, 1978. I have not yet written him for permission to reprint them here, but I am in the process of doing so.

Preliminary Questions

 

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Bibliography

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Theology

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Divorce and the Internal Forum

Chapter seven of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, "Lumen Gentium," Vatican II, reminds us that the Church "will attain her full perfection only in the glory of heaven", until that time she is a pilgrim people, dwelling in exile, with a genuine though imperfect holiness and with a justice which takes on the appearance of this passing world. Because the Church is visible and social she functions, in part, through visible laws, social systems, and concrete procedures - designed to yield justice and avoid arbitrariness yet none of which are exempt from the weaknesses of human existence, namely, error, ignorance, honest mistakes, lack of information, indifference, fear and sadly, even ill will. Even those fountains of God's invisible transcendent life - the sacraments - are visible and subject to frustration for reasons all too human.

It is in this pilgrim context that I share with you my constant concern for those persons who have divorced and are now in second marriages. I speak not only of fellow Catholics who are of the Household of Faith but also of non-Catholics who now are drawn to the Catholic Church through the example of a Catholic spouse - faithful though unable to receive the Eucharist and their children whose Catholic education has often been powerfully supported by the non-Catholic parent.

Until the present time, innumerable persons who are convinced that they have grounds for an annulment of their first marriages have been unable to obtain one. The reasons why annulments have not been granted are multiple and sometimes lie with the parties themselves who may not wish to open to strangers the deep wounds of earlier years or who may not wish to endure the unseemly delay in Tribunal procedure; sometimes with overworked parish priests who are unfairly expected to be experts in law, theology and liturgy and who simple cannot, without the assistance of dedicated laity, search out the lost sheep; and sometimes with the Tribunal itself because its priests are expected to be experts in the law, psychiatry, family life, theology, and pastoral ministry.

But perhaps the most frequent reason why an annulment is not obtained is because the invalidity of the first marriage cannot be proven in the manner prescribed by canonical and juridical procedure. The following information is presented for your instruction and encouragement in healing the hearts of those persons whose first unions are prudently evaluated in the internal forum to be invalid but proof is unobtainable.

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Admission to the Sacraments by the "Internal Forum Solution " or the "Good Conscience Solution"

What an "Internal Forum Solution" is NOT

It is not a validation by a priest of a second marriage while the spouse of the first marriage is still alive.

It is not a permission for a previously married person, whose spouse is still living, to remarry in the Catholic Church.

It is not permission for a priest to perform any kind of public or private ceremony which has the appearance of a marriage ceremony, validation, or blessing.

It is not a judicial procedure but simply a pastoral decision made in accord with recognized moral and canonical principles that a divorced person who has attempted remarriage (and/or his second spouse) may use the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist, if feasible without scandal.

It is not a substitute for, or by-pass of, external forum solutions of the Tribunal.

What an "Internal Forum Solution" IS

It is a pastoral judgment made by the proper ecclesiastical minister, in the internal forum, that a person involved in a second marriage (while the first spouse is still alive) has, by reason of a properly formed conscience, the right to receive the sacraments, with no canonical decision being rendered by the Tribunal as to the validity or invalidity of the previous marriage or previous marriages.

Definitions

Pastoral judgment: it is a decision made by the pastor or associate pastor, or an equally appropriate priest, without recourse to the Tribunal.

Internal forum: it is a decision reached in private counseling with the parties in the present marriage: For the sake of thoroughness it should not be done during the few minutes available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At least several sessions of in-depth counseling and investigation should be involved; it is never to be rushed nor is it to be readily assumed that the parties understand the full implications of a good conscience solution. As an aid in gathering the facts, the priest could use the "Petitioner's Testimony Form" (as used for formal cases); he could ask the questions on that form of the party, and ask further questions of his own devising if the party's answers are not clear. After the investigation is complete the priest should destroy the form.

Properly formed conscience: it is the task of the priest to assure that the party seeking the good conscience solution understands the difference between an annulment (i.e., a bond never existed from the beginning) and a divorce (i.e., a bond acknowledged by the State to exist is severed by the authority of the State); that the Catholic Church does not recognize the right of any authority to sever a consummated sacramental marriage bond and hence the party's obligation to establish that his/her previous marriage was null from the beginning.

With no canonical decision being rendered by the Tribunal: the Tribunal is by its very nature obliged to follow canonical procedure and judicial precedence; hence, "good conscience" or internal forum solutions are not its proper jurisdiction. If the parish priest has questions concerning the internal forum solution, he is invited to call the Tribunal personnel for assistance or to consult with any other priest in the diocese who may be experienced in such pastoral judgments

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An "Internal Forum Solution" is possible for the following persons:

The "Internal Forum Solution" is possible under the following conditions:

1.  The remarried party and the parish priest are personally convinced of the invalidity of the previous marriages, though unable to offer proof in the external forum because
    a.  no witnesses are available to substantiate the alleged ground; forum because:
    b.  knowledgeable witnesses will not cooperate;
    c.  the first spouse's testimony is needed for proof but not obtainable;
    d.  Medical records or other necessary documents are not obtainable.

2.  The remarried party (and the present spouse if Catholic) can receive the sacraments without causing scandal or adverse criticism in the Faith community.

3.  The remarried party promises to have the present marriage validated in the event of the death of the first spouse.

4.  The remarried party and the present spouse are fulfilling the responsibilities of Christian marriage in the present union, especially fidelity, parenthood, and a genuine sharing of conjugal life and love.

5.  The Catholic party or couple in the present marriage must have practiced the Catholic Faith insofar as possible since entering this irregular union and must be raising any children born of this union in the Catholic Faith.

6.  The Catholic party or couple in the present marriage must agree to receive the sacraments in churches where their irregular union is unknown if this is the only way scandal can be avoided.

7.  The couple in the present marriage must understand that an internal forum solution, based on good conscience, implies no change in Catholic teaching on the Sacrament of Matrimony; that it provides no public approval of their union by the Church; that no entry of their present marriage can be made in the Matrimonial Register of the parish and no certificate of marriage can be issued for their present union. They must be willing to live with this lack of external Church approval which does not, of course imply disapproval of their return to sacramental life based on a good conscience solution.

Conclusion:

All of us know that many good people have left the Church entirely, many stay affiliated to the Church as nominal Catholics, and still many struggle to do the best they can as partners in a second marriage when it has not been possible to secure a decree of nullity for an apparently invalid prior marriage. I would urge you to seek out these suffering souls, use the above norms if applicable and make available the loving mercy of the Lord through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the spiritual nourishment and strength of the Eucharist.

[Further information can be found in Michael Lawler, Marriage and Sacrament: A Theology of Christian Marriage (The Liturgical Press: Michael Glazier)].

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To Think About

 

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/08/10 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at tomrichs@psci.net.