Text of Melkite Archbishop’s New Intervention on Marriage

This is a translation of the speech on Oct. 4 by Archbishop Elie Zoghbi, Melkite-rite patriarchal vicar for Egypt, during the discussion of the parts of schema 13 dealing with marriage.

Since some publications have made too much of my recent (Sept. 29) intervention in the council about the special case, frequent and painful, of the abandonment of the innocent party, and since they have published the text of this intervention all over the world, I have asked permission to speak again in the council hall, not to retract or to change what I have said, but to recall briefly the following:

  1. My intervention had a strictly pastoral purpose: to find a solution to the problem of so many young married people condemned, through no fault of their own, to live alone in forced continence.
  1. In my intervention I clearly affirmed the immutable principle of the indissolubility of marriage, and I avoided using the word divorce on the subject because in Catholic terminology this word signifies an infraction of the immutable principle of the indissolubility of marriage.

  1. This indissolubility is so rooted in the tradition of the Churches of East and West, Orthodox as well as Catholic, that it could not have been put in doubt by a conciliar intervention. Indeed, that same Orthodox tradition has from the beginning considered marriage indissoluble, just as indissoluble as the union of Christ and the Church, His spouse, a union which remains the exemplary type of the monogamistic and sacramental union of Christians. In Orthodox theology divorce is nothing but a dispensation granted to the innocent party of a marriage, in certain well-defined cases and out of a purely pastoral solicitude, in virtue of what the Orthodox call the “principle of economy,” which means “dispensation” or “condescension.” This dispensation does not reject the principle of the indissolubility of marriage. On the contrary, it places itself at the service of this principle, like the dispensations from valid marriages granted by the Catholic Church in virtue of the Petrine Privilege. We will not speak of the abuses which are always possible but which do not change the theological reality.
  1. What I suggested in my intervention, therefore, concerned the innocent party. Referring to the traditional interpretations in the East of the text of St. Matthew (chapters 5 and 19), I was considering the possibility of eventually adding to the grounds for dispensation already admitted by the Catholic Church, the ground of fornication and desertion by one of the parties of the marriage, with the purpose of averting the danger of perdition threatening the innocent party.
  1. There is nothing surprising about such a proposal: it leans upon the authority of established doctors of the Eastern Church who cannot be lightly accused of having yielded to political and human considerations in interpreting as they have the words of the Lord.
  1. It is in light of the universal fidelity of both the East and the West to the principles of the indissolubility of marriage that the Roman Church during the long centuries of the union and even after the separation did not contest the legitimacy of the Oriental discipline that allowed the remarriage of the innocent party.

Conclusion: This is the meaning and the tone of my last intervention in the council. There is an exegetical, canonical and pastoral problem that cannot be undervalued.

This is the opportunity of allowing a new ground like those already introduced by virtue of the Petrine Privilege; it is up to the Church to judge.

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