This is the text of the address delivered by Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis in the ecumenical council Nov. 20 on the document on matrimony.
I am highly pleased by the votum “On the Sacrament of Matrimony” and more particularly on the suggested dispositions affecting inter-confessional marriages.
In its fifth paragraph the proposed votum would introduce two very important departures from the present legislation: the one concerns the premarital guarantees, the other the canonical form.
The new approach to the guarantees, it seems to me, is particularly praiseworthy in that it serves both truth and charity. Herein the Church is concerned with the observance of divine law and the safeguarding of personal right. It is evident that the new disposition would safeguard the right to marry more realistically than the present law. Moreover, the new approach would more effectively secure respect for the divine law. The norms of the Code of Canon Law often enough obscure the existence of a divine law, and by insisting over much on juridical procedure, emphasize ecclesiastical law beyond measure. Adoption of the suggested proposal would strengthen respect for divine law, by stressing more emphatically the role of personal responsibility. Responsibility for the security of his own faith as well as for the Catholic education of children is rightly placed on the Catholic party. In this way we can lessen the possibility of offense to the consciences of our separated brethren.
The schema proceeds wisely and prudently in its approach to the canonical form. It offers a middle course between the extremes of inflexible retention and complete relaxation of the form. Although each extreme has its adherents, I believe that this compromise affords the best response to the needs of our time. On the side the schema supports the general retention of the canonical form of marriage for validity in such cases. Not a few Fathers will find this displeasing and they can point out that the clandestinity of marriage, which the Tridentine legislation was intended to counteract, is no longer a problem. However, a new pastoral problem has presented itself in some countries — the high incidence of early and hasty marriage with a probability of subsequent divorce — which recommends the retention of the form for validity.
Nonetheless, to demonstrate our respect for human dignity and to reduce the principles of ecumenism to practice, it is apparent that in some cases, the Ordinary must be empowered to grant dispensation from the form. This disposition is closer to the spirit of Trent than the existing norms. It would be well to remember that in the decree “Tametsi,” the Council of Trent, treating of clandestine marriages already contracted, stated:
“Inasmuch as we must not doubt that clandestine marriages contracted by the consent of the parties are true marriages as long as the Church did not make them invalid; they are rightly condemned who deny that these are true and valid marriages, and this Sacred Synod so condemns them…. (Denz 990).”
Finally for the sake of honesty and justice, those baptized in the Catholic Church who have been reared without Catholic education must not be bound by the canonical form of marriage, nor restricted by any impediments of merely ecclesiastical law.
I conclude by asking that these norms which answer so well the pressing needs of many persons be enacted and promulgated without delay. In serving the cause of truth and charity we must transcend considerations of our own convenience and procedural efficiency.