In paragraph 86 of the final document from the 2015 Synod of Bishops, we read:
The process of accompaniment and discernment directs these faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and the steps that can foster it and make it grow (source).Many times, proponents of the "internal forum solution" don't bother to refer to canon law. I have seen, though, some people see the phrase "internal forum" and connect this passage from the Synod document to canon 130 of the Code of Canon Law: "Of itself, the power of governance is exercised for the external forum; sometimes, however, it is exercised for the internal forum alone, so that the effects which its exercise is meant to have for the external forum are not recognized there, except insofar as the law establishes it in determined cases." The article I linked to above makes the connection between "internal forum" and canon 130. Why would anyone connect the two? To suggest that it is possible for "the priest" (as the Synod document says) to exercise "power of governance" in the "internal forum" so that a "divorced and remarried" Catholic is able to have their marital situation regularized and receive Holy Communion. Since the Code of Canon Law says this is possible, people should not be upset at how the Synod has simply restated what's already in the Church's law. "Conservatives" should get educated and get over it. So goes the argument (maybe without the prior sentence).
The purpose of this post is to show that there is no connection at all between what the Synod document says about the "internal forum" and canon law. Furthermore, there is no support for the "internal forum solution" in canon law.
Canon 130 is, as plainly seen in the text, about the exercise of the power of governance. There are three aspects of the power of governance in the Church: legislative, executive and judicial. Diocesan bishops can exercise all three aspects and cannot grant their legislative power to anyone else (the Pope can make such a grant but no other Diocesan bishop can do so). Diocesan bishops routinely "delegate" their executive and judicial power to priests. For example, the Vicar General is the bishop's cooperator in regard to executive power while the Judicial Vicar cooperates in regard to judicial power.
Certainly, the parish priest cannot exercise legislative power. Could it be judicial power? This really seems to be what he is doing: making a judgment about a person's marital status based on information given to him by the Party. This, however, is impossible. First of all, the typical parish priest does not have the ability to exercise judicial power: this has to be specifically granted to him by the Diocesan bishop. It could happen that a Bishop would grant all priests this ability, though, so this is not a fatal defect. The essential point is that judicial power cannot be exercised in the internal forum because it is necessarily an action of the external forum: all the interested Parties must be able to know what evidence has been presented and be able to contest it. Most importantly, all interested Parties must be able to know what has been decided. If a priest and person have an "internal forum" conversation and the priest makes some determination about the person's marital status in the "internal forum", the other Party couldn't and wouldn't be able to contest the "evidence" and defend himself. He also wouldn't know about the decision (unless the person revealed it--but, the point is that the one who made the decision is bound to inform all the Parties).
No, it's not judicial power. Can it be executive power? Executive power can indeed be exercised in the internal forum. There are many different expressions of executive power: dispensations, remissions of penalties, precepts, singular decrees of various kinds, instructions, etc. In the context of a "divorced and remarried" person's participation in the life of the Church, what could the priest do in terms of executive power? It seems to me that the only possible action would be a dispensation. The law itself makes mention of dispensations being granted in the internal forum (in canons 1079, 1082). Can a "divorced and remarried" Catholic be dispensed from something and then be "regularized"? The impediment is a prior bond of marriage and this impediment is from the divine law. No one can dispense from the dictates and requirements of divine law. Many times in the course of the Synod process, we were told that "doctrine will not be touched" and "the indissolubility of marriage is upheld." The mere notion that a person could be dispensed from a prior bond is totally contrary to the faith.
If the priest is not exercising power of governance in this scenario, is the "divorced and remarried" person doing so? No. Nobody can be a judge in his own case and, again, no one can dispense from divine law.
Since this notion of the "internal forum" has nothing to do with canon law, what's it all about? My hope is that it is simply about the priest bringing the person to a realization of, at least, the requirements of divine law regarding marriage, divorce, adultery and reception of Holy Communion. That's my hope. Is that what the Bishops were thinking about when they voted in favor of this paragraph of the document? I don't know.
For more information about this topic, see:
A scholarly article
A newly minted canon lawyer
Cong. for the Doctrine of the Faith