Pope Francis has a reputation for sometimes saying surprising things. In some cases, however, the surprise arises not because he said something unusual, but because the people reacting to him did not know that much about Catholicism in the first place. Here is the latest example.
The Pope got a headline with Yahoo News–“Pope Says Family Separation Can Be ‘Morally Necessary'”–by noting that the separation of spouses can be not only justifiable but even demanded by the correct set of circumstances. Said the pope: “There are cases in which separation is inevitable . . . Sometimes it can even be morally necessary, when it’s about shielding the weaker spouse or young children from the more serious wounds caused by intimidation and violence, humiliation and exploitation.”
This remark, according to the reporter writing up the story, marked “a change of tone in the Catholic Church’s attitude to troubled marriages.”
For my part, I don’t see how there is any change. Anybody can consult the Catechism and see that it says the following:
2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.
You can then go look up the provisions in canon law that are cited and see that they say the following:
Can. 1153 §1. If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay.
To be sure, the canon law does not use the expression “morally necessary.” But I think any prudent person would see that “grave” danger to a spouse or children is the kind of thing that would make separation not only optional but even the right thing to do. There is nothing new here.