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Catholics can now remarry after divorce, but they must not have sex, say Cardinals

Pope Francis

~ The Tribune, Nigeria.

Divorced Roman Catholics should be able to remarry, but only if they abstain from having sex, a prominent group of cardinals said on Thursday. The 'no sex' rule would ensure that divorcees who get married again are properly contrite before they are allowed back into the fold of the Church, they said. The proposal was put forward by a group of 11 senior Catholic leaders in a backlash against Pope Francis' attempt to give divorcees a fast-track route to forgiveness by the Church. It is likely to add to the confusion and pain felt by many divorced Catholics, who are excommunicated if they remarry without first having their original marriage annulled by the Church. 

Pope Francis' reforms, announced this week, are designed to make it simpler, cheaper and much quicker to get a marriage annulment. But conservative Catholics believe that easing the way to annulments will undermine the teaching that marriage is for life and encourage more divorce. The 11 cardinals are to put their arguments in a book to be released next week by a San Francisco publishing house run by the same Jesuit tradition to which Francis himself belongs. Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family will call for stern laws on marriage and annulment to remain, and for Catholic teaching on lifelong marriage to be strengthened. 

It urges caution before the rules on annulments are eased. One of the 11, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, said that easing the rules for couples who are divorced and remarried "is the mistaken pity of an incompetent or weak physician who contents himself with bandaging wounds without treating them." 

He said such couples should be required to demonstrate their contrition "by at least refraining from sexual relations with the new spouse." The 'no sex' rule, understood to be backed by a number of conservative Catholic leaders who have not joined the 11 in a public stand, would apply until the newly-married husband or wife obtained an annulment for their first marriage.

Francis' proposed reforms are the first changes to annulment laws in more than 100 years. They mark a dramatic shift from the position of Francis' predecessors in the Vatican, who have taken the view that making annulments easier would be to encourage divorce and soften the Church's teaching that marriage is for life. 
Catholic doctrine does not recognise divorce, although the Church accommodates those who go through civil divorce on the grounds that a couple who part must settle on who will bring up their children and how their property should be divided. This means that people who undergo civil divorce remain full members of the Church, which regards their marriage as intact. An annulment is recognition from the Church that the marriage was never valid in the first place. 

It can be given if a husband or wife does not want children, or did not understand their marriage vows, or has lost their Christian faith. Divorcees who remarry after a civil divorce without an annulment are considered to have contracted an illicit marriage and to have committed adultery. They are banned from the central sacrament of communion. Francis' fast-track proposal means a couple should be able to get their marriage annulled in just 45 days if they both agree. At present the process can take years. It will also mean an end to exorbitant fees and a complex and long-winded appeal system. Four of the 11 dissident cardinals will take part in a conference on family life scheduled in the Vatican next month and which looks increasingly important for setting the direction of Catholic teaching.

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