Italian Cardinal Defends Traditional Catholic Teaching on Marriage

On 15 February, the Italian journal Il Timone published an article written by Cardinal Camillo Ruini – former Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome – in which he defends the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage according to which the “remarried” divorcees may not receive the Sacraments if they do not live as brother and sister. This article had been first published in 2014 (as Dr. Sandro Magister kindly pointed out to me), but the fact that it has been now re-published again demonstrates its significance in the current context.

Ruini’s statement is important inasmuch as he has weight within the Roman Curia. He is the former President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference and was a close collaborator of Pope John Paul II. In the past, Cardinal Ruini had publicly spoken against so-called “same-sex marriages.” In 2007, he said: “It must be said that (homosexual unions) are at odds with basic anthropological facts, in particular with the nonexistence of the blessing of generating children, which is the specific reason for the social recognition of marriage.” Ruini also contributed in 2015 to the Eleven Cardinals’ Book in defense of marriage.

This statement still will be of help for those prelates in the Church who work to preserve the Catholic doctrine on marriage. It is to be hoped that Ruini’s statement now will encourage more cardinals to come forth into the public and then politely to reject the moral relativism and heterodox episcopal guidelines which are now spreading within the Catholic Church.

In the following, we present some important excerpts of Cardinal Ruini’s article. Mr. Andrew Guernsey, once again, was so kind to provide the translation from the Italian original text.

Il Timone, 15 February 2017

Ruini: Communion for the Remarried Divorcees is Impossible. The Magisterium is Clear and Not Modifiable

Cardinal Camillo Ruini


Other questions, even those already repeatedly addressed by the Magisterium, continue to be brought before us and seem to be becoming more and more acute – among which is that of the divorced and remarried.

Familiaris Consortio“, n. 84, has already indicated the attitude to assume: not abandoning those who are in this situation, but on the contrary having special care for them, by undertaking to make the Church’s means of salvation available to them—helping them, then, who are not to be considered at all separated from the Church, and participating instead in their lives, discerning situations well, moreover, especially those of spouses unjustly abandoned compared to those who did rather culpably destroyed their marriages.

The same “Familiaris Consortio,” however, reaffirms the practice of the Church, “founded on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to Eucharistic Communion.” The fundamental reason is that “their state and their condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church signified and effected by the Eucharist.”

Their personal fault is, therefore, not in question, but rather the state in which they objectively find themselves. For this reason, the man and woman who, for serious reasons, such as the upbringing of children, cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, in order to receive sacramental absolution and approach the Eucharist must take up “the commitment to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from those acts proper to spouses”.

It is undoubtedly a very difficult task, which, in fact, is taken on by very few couples while there is unfortunately a growing number of divorced and remarried persons.

Other solutions are being attempted for some time. One of them, while firmly maintaining the indissolubility of a ratified and consummated marriage, believes one can allow the divorced and remarried to receive sacramental absolution and to approach the Eucharist, under specific conditions but without having to abstain from the acts proper to married spouses. This would be a second plank of salvation, offered according to the criterion of “epikeia,” to unite mercy to the truth.

This path, however, does not seem viable, mainly because it involves the exercise of sexuality outside of marriage, despite the endurance of a ratified and consummated first marriage. In other words, the original marriage bond would continue to exist but one could act as if it did not exist in the behavior of the faithful and in liturgical life. We are therefore faced with a question of consistency between the practice and the doctrine, and not only a disciplinary problem.

As for the “epikeia” and canonical “aequitas“, they are very important criteria in human and purely ecclesiastical norms but they cannot be applied to the norms of divine law, over which the Church has no power of discretion.

To support the above-mentioned hypothesis, pastoral solutions can certainly be cited which are analogous to those proposed by some Fathers of the Church and go to some extent in practice, but these never attained the consensus of the Fathers, and were in no way common doctrine or discipline of Church (cfr. the letter of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith to the bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the reception of Holy communion by divorced and remarried faithful, 14 November 1994, n. 4). In our time, when, by the introduction of civil marriage and divorce, the problem has arisen in its present form, there is, instead, beginning with the encyclical “Casti connubii” of Pius XI, a clear and consistent position on the part of the Magisterium, which goes in the opposite sense and that does not appear to be changeable.

One might object that the Second Vatican Council, without violating the dogmatic tradition, proceeded to new developments on matters, such as religious freedom, on which there were encyclicals and decisions of the Holy Office that seemed to preclude them.

But the comparison is not convincing because the right to religious freedom has resulted in an authentic conceptual deepening, by tracing back this right to the person as such and to his intrinsic dignity, and not to the abstractly conceived truth, as was done previously.

The proposed solution for the divorced and remarried, however, is not based on a similar deepening. The problems of the family and marriage, moreover, affect people’s daily lives in an incomparably larger and concrete way than those of the foundation of religious freedom, the exercise of which was largely assured in countries of a Christian tradition already before Vatican II.

We must therefore be very cautious in modifying the positions that the Magisterium proposes for a long time and in such an authoritative manner, concerning marriage and the family: otherwise, there would be very grave effects on the credibility of the Church.

This does not mean that every possibility of development is precluded. A road that seems feasible is the review of the processes for matrimonial nullity- which are norms of ecclesial, not divine, law.


The article has been slightly updated after a kind e-mail from Dr. Sandro Magister.

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