The Church laws regarding marriage

Testimony by Sr. Dr. Jasinta Prakashappa

When Vatican II spoke of marriage in principle it did not address the influence of local cultural practices and their influence on the faithful.

One cultural evil is the caste system which is similar to the racism of the West. The church has failed to tackle the obnoxious practices of the caste system which is still alive. The evil observances of widowhood (ie. Not accepting the remarriage of the widow), the dowry system, bride burning, female infanticide are very visible among the Catholics. The Church is satisfied just administering the sacraments. The traditional evils are untouched, the Church hides behind the so called sacred and she sees to the spiritual aspects of marriage and does not touch the ground reality.

Consequences of divorce

One of the most difficult situations in marriage is the husband abandoning the spouse and disappearing or remarrying in the Indian circumstances. Here the husband leaves the wife to fend for herself after she gives birth to one or more children and goes after another woman without any difficulty. The society and its laws do not penalize such persons or the living together with another man or woman.

However, in some cases the woman so abandoned gets remarried and has a man who also takes care of her and her children and he has a decent family with the new found family.

In this context the church has done mighty little. The church informs that the couple they cannot receive communion and they have to rectify the situation by separation. Which policy seems absurd. Secondly the marriage tribunals which help people to have annulment of the previous marriage and regularize the present are not helpful either. The marriage tribunal with its dates, times, and rules are not accessible to such people as most of them are ignorant and poor and do not have time nor the ability to get the normal rights. Thus they may seek the help of the Parish Priest who being far away from the tribunals cannot attend to the cases.

Such couples however attend mass and seek communion and the parish priest cannot deny such communion nor defame them in the midst of the mass but give the communion. The couples carry on their life as if they are validly married and the community is so immuned that they do not question the practice of receiving the communion. The church at the diocesan level sees this issue more as a legal/canonical issue than as a pastoral issue. Even Parish Priests in many parishes do not care much about this. There are several family movements which are only functioning in small pockets, not helping the whole community, specially the poorer, and uneducated sections of society. (which is the large majority).

This also means that the instructions for marriage should be streamlined and care be taken at the time of marriage with proper scrutiny and instructions so that couple make sure that they are on the right track. Further there is absolutely no follow up of marriage and no support system when marriages are on the rocks. There should be progressive education and training for the married couple specially when they are married for a few years so that all differences and conflicts that crop up in marriage are sorted out and they are helped to deal with them through programmes and courses from time to time. But church abandons them most of the time after marriage.

Another trend that we can notice is that there is much disregard of the catholic teaching on Christian marriage and many are totally oblivious of such teaching and are concerned about their living more than the laws that govern them and that they need to keep.

Another view point one can raise in the context of liberalizing divorce is the question of the right of the child to have its right of having the love from both the parents. Children are vulnerable, with broken homes, or lack of siblings, lack of parental care, lack of mother’s love, give rise to juvenile offenders. Separation from parents push children to the world of crime. 94% of delinquents lack parental care (ECHO Study).

When respecting the couple’s right to divorce, is it possible to violate the rights of the children, which are not for divorce? Who will take care of them? The church run institutions are largely commercial, and the children will be orphaned. The protestant brethren take care of the broken families, the single parent issues and orphans, on the parish level. The parish financial accounts are transparent and it is not so with the Catholics. The Catholics build buildings rather than build communities. The divorced couple should provide for the welfare of their children.

Family Planning and Birth Control

The Church’s position on Natural Family Planning and, nothing else, has drawn flack from the catholic community. People have become numb with regard to the teaching and are quite at home in using Contraception specially in India and don’t feel guilty using it because it is the order of the day in the larger society and they don’t even confess it anymore. As a consequence the church which abounded in running orphanages, now as people are aware of the use of contraception the orphanages are closed down.

The faithful make use of these devices according to their convenience. When no guidance is given specially to the youth, the birth control devices that are used to limit the families have been misused for extra marital relationships and promiscuity.

Homosexual relationships

These are not addressed by the church, it is tolerated. In India, this practice is looked down upon by the large majority of the people. However we need to look at this issue without much of the British Law influencing us in our outlook in India. Eunuchs have been a common experience in the harems of kings and in the common bathing rooms of India which is maintained by them.

The people in India do not recognize people with different sexual orientation and they are not taken on in any work place and thus are reduced to beggary. They are known to extract money from others for their living. They do not have rights in the society and thus are treated badly and cannot come up in life.

Police also use this opportunity to extract money and harass people. The supreme court however in the recent judgement upheld the 1861 British law on homosexuality.

Married clergy

It was so from the beginning. Most of the Apostles were married and later most of the Clergy and Bishops were married. It has to be restored, for the good of the church, to mend her reputation, and the damage that is caused.

Women priests

The development of ministry in the New Testament was from the apostolic building up of the community through preaching admonition and leadership. Women broke the word , women received the command to spread the Good news. The Church is patriarchal and the consequences have had adverse effects on the church. The feminist theology has to be formulated. In those countries that are ready it could be permitted and it will follow in other countries. Jesus is recognized as the feminist. Let the Church follow the Gospels and not the society.