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Three notes on Kazakhstan ‘Profession of the immutable truths about sacramental marriage’

The Kazakhstan profession is a model of clarity compared to disastrous statements by the Bishops of Malta and German episcopal conference.

(CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)

The presentation of Catholic teachings on marriage and morality set forth in the brief statement from Kazakhstan Bps. Peta, Lenga, and Schneider is quite sound. Indeed, in contrast to, for example, the ambiguous statement from the Argentines the Kazakhstan profession is a model of clarity; set against the disastrous statements by, among others, the Bishops of Malta and German episcopal conference the Kazakhstans are withering. I offer three notes for those reading on the Kazakhstan profession.

First, while the Kazakhstans address only sacramental marriage (that is, marriage between two baptized persons) much of their message applies to any marriage, for all marriage is, as canonists say, intrinsically indissoluble.

Second, when the Church talks about “marriage”, she always means marriage valid in her eyes and not necessarily marriage in the state’s eyes or marriage as many people use the term in common speech. It is, of course, far too cumbersome to include every qualifier that the Church assumes in regard to marriage every time the word “marriage” is used, but these qualifiers must be recalled when one composes and analyzes technical texts closely.

Thus, third, with regard to the Kazakhstans’ assertion that “Unequivocally and without admitting any exception Our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ solemnly reaffirmed God’s will regarding the absolute prohibition of divorce”, two important qualifiers (briefly indicated later, but easy to miss in this first assertion) are necessary for this statement to stand, namely, we must be talking about sacramental marriage (else, the Pauline and Petrine Privileges fall), and second, we must be talking about consummated Christian marriage (else, papal dissolution of ratam-non-consummatum marriages falls). These three exceptions to the permanence of marriage comprise, to be sure, a minuscule percentage of the divorce-and-remarried cases actually faced by pastors, but sweeping language must account for legitimate exceptions to its terms, however rare such exceptions are in real life.

(This post originally appeared on the “In the Light of the Law” site and appears here by kind permission of Dr. Peters.)

About Edward N. Peters 101 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.


  1. what are the odds that pope humility will make sure he includes families that fit the divorced & remarried with a really good reason category in his annual baptism bonanza later this month?

  2. I’m a bit annoyed that you used the full noun “Kazakhstan” as an adjective instead of the more correct adjective/demonym “Kazakh”.

    But otherwise, great article. It’s a great and sad irony that Catholic bishops from a developing, Muslim-majority have a stronger sense of proclaiming charity with truth than bishops from more developed, Christian-majority countries.

    • From their names, it seems none of the bishops are Kazakhs. In that part of the world demonyms are used to refer to members of the demos in question rather than to residents or citizens of a particular state.

  3. The Kazakhstan Bishops did specify “ratified [A marriage entered into by two baptized persons, whether Catholic or not making it a sacrament] consummated” marriage as indissoluble in a copy available on 1P5. “Because of its Divinely established nature, the discipline of the sacraments must never contradict the revealed word of God and the faith of the Church in the absolute indissolubility of a ratified and consummated marriage”. The issuance of their declaration marks the first National Bishop’s Conference rejection of the alleged doctrine contained in two letters added to the Acta Apostolica presumed Magisterial [though not meeting the doctrinal requirement sententia definitive intenda] by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin. A true and significant repudiation unprecedented in Church history since it targets this Pontificate’s policy on sacramental marital indissolubility. And a hopeful turning point for other Conferences to follow for a united stand in defense of and reaffirmation of the Gospels.

  4. I don’t understand: if a couple marries solely in a civil way and live together as if they were married religiously – which they aren’t – is this a marriage that falls under the category of “(for) all marriage is, as canonists say, intrinsically indissoluble”?

    • Alex,

      Your question isn’t sufficiently specific to answer simply “yes” or “no.”

      Some people who “marry in a civil way” aren’t marrying one another at all. That’s because Christians hold marriage to be a Natural, Observable Fact About The Human Species, in which a human male and female voluntarily commit to unite for mutual help and comfort in the bearing and raising of children and, thereby, the founding and dynastic enlargement of a family. They observe that involvement by civic governments over the millennia have variously either helped or harmed this feature of the human species, but that marriage as a feature of the species exists whether the government acknowledges it, denies it, perverts it, encourages it, forbids it, redefines it, or even if there’s no government at all.

      Now because of what a marriage is. entering a marriage requires mental competency (i.e., it’s impossible to validly marry in Vegas when you’re drunk, on a lark), a lack of outside compulsion (there are no valid “shotgun marriages” if the couple wouldn’t otherwise have chosen to marry), a commitment to never divorce and to remain faithful until the death of one of the spouses, and an openness to raising children together if God blesses the couple with fruitfulness.

      So a couple who civilly “marries” with the intent of just “trying it out for a few years to see how it goes” (i.e. allowing for the possibility of separating at a later time) simply isn’t getting married. Likewise a pair of “swingers” planning to have sexual relations with others. By the Christian definition of the word “marriage,” the thing called “open marriage” is a contradiction in terms.

      This, by the way, has nothing to do with the idea of “sacramental marriage” (sometimes confusingly called “Christian marriage”). The above is merely a description of natural marriage; i.e., what does and does not fit the definition of this particular feature of the human species over time. All observers admit that humans do other sexual things (generally destructive of family health) as well. But “marriage” is that which humans ought to do for the maximum benefit of themselves and their progeny over generations.

      Having clarified what is and isn’t “marriage,” we can answer your question.

      If a male-female couple of Hindus, or Buddhists, or Atheists, or whomever, go before a civil magistrate and marry one another, being of sound mind and intending to be faithful until death, being open to children and intending to raise them to healthy and safe maturity and to remain together even after that to welcome grandchildren…then, YES, they are Really Married. And in that case, their marriage is intrinsically indissoluble (although it might be extrinsically dissoluble under the Pauline or Petrine “favor of the faith” circumstances).

      But if that some couple goes before a magistrate, or even a Christian priest, and attempts to “marry” while under compulsion, or not of sound mind, or not intending faithfulness, or intending to avoid children altogether (DINKs), then no matter what the civil government says, they are not married. If one later becomes a Christian and separates from their former common-law “spouse” and meets some opposite-sex Christian whom they wish to marry, a Christian clergyman will marry them with no qualms: They’ve never been really married before now, so, there’s no obstacle to them marrying now.

      Make sense?

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