Internal forum solution instead of an annulment?
Yes, and no. There is an internal forum solution, but it is probably not what you might think it is.
Firstly, the "external forum" is the annulment process in this case. The "internal forum" is the confessional process. The internal forum cannot oppose canon law or the teachings of the magisterium. Nor can the internal forum oppose a ruling or judgment of the external forum.
So why do some Catholics, including many priests, counsel other Catholics of this supposed "internal forum" solution for re-married Catholics? Because the Catholic Church has taught that there exists an internal forum solution. But that solution is very specific, and has conditions.
Under the papacy of Pope Paul VI, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's document of April 11, 1973, which addressed the Diocesan Bishops and censured the admittance of invalidly married persons to the sacraments, stated in the final paragraph:
"With regard to admission to the sacraments, the local ordinaries will also please, on the one hand, stress the observance of the current discipline of the church while, on the other hand, take care that pastors of souls follow up with particular solicitude those who are living in an irregular union and, in addition to other correct means, use the approved practice of the Church in the internal forum."Not any "internal forum solution" will due. It is to be the "approved practice of the Church." So, what is the approved "internal forum" practice?
On March 21, 1975, the same Sacred Congregation explained the phrase "the approved practice of the Church in the internal forum" in the following way:
"The couples may be allowed to receive the sacraments on two conditions, that they try to live according to the demands of Christian moral principles and that they receive the sacraments in churches in which they are not known so that they will not create any scandal."Now, if you have not been granted an annulment, then you are presumed to be still married to another. Canon 1085 §2 states: "Even if the prior marriage is invalid or dissolved for any reason, it is not on that account permitted to contract another before the nullity or dissolution of the prior marriage is established legitimately and certainly." Even if one is subjectively certain of the invalidity of their prior marriage, they may not licitly re-marry without an annulment. A Catholic who married illicitly may not receive of the Sacraments. For example, Catholics in merely civil marriages, have married illicitly according to canon law. Even if this is their first marriage, if it is merely civil, they cannot be licitly admitted to the Sacraments until they "regularize their situation in the light of Christian principle" (see Familiaris Consortio , par. 82). So, to live in accord with Christian moral principles has a very specific meaning, which includes submitting to Catholic canon law.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger states, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful, 14 Sep 1994 http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_14091994_rec-holy-comm-by-divorced_en.html
"The faithful who persist in such a situation [divorced and remarried, without annulment] may receive Holy Communion only after obtaining sacramental absolution [internal forum], which may be given only "to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they 'take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples'"(8). In such a case they may receive Holy Communion as long as they respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal."This is in accord with, and in fact quotes from Pope John Paul II's 1982 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, which states:
"Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist [internal forum solution], can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples."So, yes, there is an internal forum solution, and it is:
1) You are first obliged to repent of your past sin.
2) Next, you are obliged to separate. But for serious reasons, you can remain together if you live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.
3) You are obliged to receive sacramental absolution in the Sacrament of Penance.
4) You are obliged to receive Holy Communion so as to avoid giving scandal (eg. where your irregular marriage is unknown)
If someone, even a priest, suggests an "internal forum solution" other than that described by the magisterial teachings above, their solution is invalid. Apart from the internal forum solution or an annulment (external forum solution), re-married Catholics must refrain from receiving the Holy Sacraments.