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CDF is even more correct than people realize

November 14, 2014

At one level, the only thing newsworthy about CDF upholding the traditional, doctrine-grounded, discipline on sacraments for divorced-and-remarried Catholics is the fact that, in light of the great confusion on this matter sown by certain synodal participants and officers, it is newsworthy that CDF upheld the traditional, doctrine-grounded, discipline. What times we live in.

That said, however, the English-language reports on the CDF letter need clarification in one important respect.

The CDF, in its original French text, notes that first in the sequence of steps to address the status of persons in irregular unions, it is necessary “Vérifier la validité du mariage religieux dans le respect de la vérité, tout en évitant de donner l’impression d’une forme de ‘divorce catholique’.” Everyone seem to be translating that line as “Verify the validity of the religious marriage in the respect of truth, all the while avoiding giving the impression of a kind of ‘Catholic divorce’.”

That’s not what it means.

The French verb “verifier” does not mean “to verify”, its obvious but misleading English cognate, but rather, means “inquire about” or “investigate” or “test”. Ecclesiastical authority is, therefore, being reminded by the CDF of the importance of ascertaining the true matrimonial status of the persons, and not simply “verifying” their status as if–and I have cautioned others about before–the validity of marriage can itself ever be “verified”.

In directing ecclesiastical authority to examine first the validity of the (presumptively) valid marriage before it, CDF is reminding Church leadership to do exactly what its tribunals and canon law are designed to do in these cases, namely, test the presumption of matrimonial validity.

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