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German Summit, Shades of Martin Luther

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The recent manipulation of the Amazonian synod by German churchmen and now their own two-year summit hints at a coming religious revolution.  It echoes the division and devastation enacted by Martin Luther.  The disgruntled monk similarly sought alliances with dissenting religious leaders and earthly rulers. The princes of old are gone but the secular politics of the world are still every bit as opposed to the interests of the Catholic Church as they were before. While Catholicism has moved forward at the pace dictated by providence and the Holy Spirit; we are again a church plagued by scandals and not with one heresy but assaulted by all of them under the heading of modernism.

The German Summit Begins

The first assembly for the German summit was from January 30 to February 1, 2020. Pointing to an atmosphere of rebellion, Cardinal Reinhard Marx made it clear last year that this synod would continue despite objections from Pope Francis. Arguably more Protestant than Catholic, the Central Committee of German Catholics rebuked Pope Francis for a “lack of courage for real reforms” after the promulgation of his Post-Synodal Exhortation (To the People of God and to All Persons of Good Will the Church in the Amazon). Disappointed, but unwilling to give in on the reforms he has championed, Cardinal Marx of Münich asserted that the topics from the synod were “by no means off the table.”

If the subject matter is something that cannot be changed then what is the purpose of such discussions? Are we stirring the pot to ferment trouble or might we find answers that respect the truth, tradition and the needs of a changing world?  Praxis must follow and safeguard doctrinal truth.  When it takes the lead there is no assurance that it is in fidelity with what is right or good.  Further, we must be honest as to the sources of formation.  Are new ideas and stratagems emerging from revelation and the sources of doctrine or from outside the parameters of our constant faith?  Religious relativism and indifference have now made space for defection to other “denominations” or even for the faithless slide into the new atheism.  It seems to me that such was unavoidable given the relativism of truth to human whim and secular expediency.

Artificial Contraception

While all Christian churches condemned artificial contraception for 1,900 years, today Catholicism is viewed by her own congregants as backward and out-of-sync among liberal and conservative believers alike. Back in the 1960’s and the first days of the Vatican reforms and Humanae Vitae, the controversy on this issue should have awakened us to the core problem that would revisit us in other matters ready to explode like divorce, abortion and same-sex bonds.

Unfortunately, we did a poor job of communicating the Church’s rich Christian anthropology.  The incarnation of Christ grants prominence to the dignity of human persons and the sanctity of life.  Persons are not interchangeable.  While animated by immortal souls, the body is not unimportant.  We are not spirits operating extraneous or robotic bodies of flesh and blood.  Unlike the angels we are not pure spirits.  A body without a soul is a corpse.  A soul without a body is a ghost.  The integrated human person is properly a body and soul.  This is how we live and relate to one another.  The sacrament of marriage, along with its obligations and duties, focuses on this reality of human beings as corporeal persons.  We are our bodies.  While love cannot be contained to this world, marriage is a reality that ends at the door of death.   We are promised that we will be like angels and yet with Christ’s resurrection, we are given a clue as to the glorification of the body that awaits us and our restoration, body and soul.  Our understanding of identity embraces an intense appreciation of the human person as a corporeal-spiritual composite.

Gender is not an accidental but rather touches the central meaning of who and what we are.  There is a complementarity of sexes, and while there is an equality in grace it is not mathematical.  We are different.  It is this difference that draws men and women together.  How we are made is also how we relate and communicate.  God has a plan for us and we are called to discern this plan.  When it comes to married couples, there is a basic failure to appreciate that the marital act is more than the mechanics of the sex act but is a profound self-donation to the beloved that trusts the will of God and selflessly embraces the mystery and treasure of human life. Couples that would define their relationships by contraceptive acts, short-change their calling and the openness to life that is a hallmark of their vocation.

The problem of contraception is not a new question although technology has come a long way from the Egyptian use of crocodile dung. The Church saw it as an offense against the first command of Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. Families can be both responsible and open to the gift of life. They can cooperate with God instead of treating God as the enemy and his gift and blessing of children as a disease to be medicated away.

Divorce and Remarriage

While it has been very much in the news, especially given an apparent lack of clarity from Pope Francis, it must be proposed that the Catholic Church still accepts Christ for his word when he condemns divorce and exposes its link to adultery. Unless it is unlawful (the reason why there is an annulment process), marriage endures until the death of a spouse. The Catholic Church stands almost alone in this teaching as many of the Orthodox churches permit second penitential bonds and most Protestant churches will bless unions with divorcees or even with persons of the same sex.  As a sacrament, we are supposed to see in marriage something of Christ’s relationship with his Church.  Promises are made and Christ keeps his promises.  We should pursue the same fidelity.

When it comes to marriage, few churchmen are ogres who want to hurt others. We realize that mistakes can be made. Many of the irregular unions also include children and a genuine desire to return to the sacraments. How do we work with them without destroying the basic meaning of the sacrament? Annulments, properly and honestly done, are part of the solution. Just as married priests in the early days of the Church were asked to embrace perfect continence, might this suggest an answer in certain situations? Can we be more proactive at the beginning of relationships so as to reduce the number of failed marriages? We certainly emphasize that even if couples cannot be invited forward to receive Holy Communion, they should still go to Mass and render God the worship due to him as believers. We are all sinners and all sinners should know that they will never be turned away from the church doors even if they should refrain from coming to the altar. The Mass is still the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary.  I suspect that there were many on the hill of Christ’s death who were similarly drawn to Jesus and his message but remained ill-disposed to fully benefit from the sacramental moment.

Same-Sex Unions and Homosexual Acts

Older Christians have experienced a reversal in how homosexuals are viewed and treated.  The revulsion and prohibition against homosexuality once shared between the Church and state has been turned totally on its head. What was regarded as a perversion and as illegal is now reckoned by secular society as good, permissible and as something which must be actively promoted. Those who oppose homosexual sin are now reckoned as bigots.  Indeed, laws are increasingly targeting believers who want to be tolerant or co-exist but cannot find it in themselves to celebrate what they understand as wrong and as grievous sin.

When it comes to the matter of same-sex relationships, is there a way to acknowledge love and friendship outside of the paradigm of matrimony? Might we recover an expanded appreciation of chaste brotherhood and sisterhood? Could it be that the prevalent eroticism of our times has poisoned this issue?

Abortion and the Sanctity of Life

The issue of abortion is particularly troublesome as the news parades Catholic politicians clapping and cheering the removal of any and all restrictions upon the termination of pregnancies. Literally children nine months in the womb and ready to be born are now vulnerable to what is more infanticide than abortion. The Church proclaims a Gospel of Life that is increasing politicized and made one issue among many. The Church would still proclaim that if one’s life is taken then for that person there are no more issues. We are not opposed to the genuine rights of women.  We refuse to engage in the culture of death’s great deception.  The Catholic Church defends the rights of everyone.  We give voice to the voiceless.  The Church speaks up for the rights of all women and some of those women are in the womb.

The issue of abortion can certainly be expanded for a better defense of life in scenarios of war and non-combatants, the elderly and euthanasia and the value or lack thereof of the death penalty in crime prevention, etc. However, this is not a pick-and-choose list. If a person is pro-abortion but opposed to capital punishment, he or she is not pro-life. We need to appreciate the non-commensurate value of human life wherever it exists.

Holy Orders as Restricted to Men

The question of holy orders is frequently considered within the apologetic of power and rights. It should rather be understood in the context of service and gift. The pattern that Jesus gave us is not one upon which we are free to diverge. He selected only men as his apostles, despite the fact that there were notable women who witnessed as prophets to the Gospel: his Mother Mary, the sisters of Lazarus (Martha and Mary), the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary Magdalene and others. The early councils like Nicea forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women. The solemn proclamation of St. Pope John Paul II on the subject was definitive and infallible. Only some men and no women are called to be priests. However, the priesthood is a gift to all of us who participate at Mass and in the sacraments. We share our differing gifts for the good of the whole body. No one has a right to the priesthood. There is no egalitarian equivalence between men and women, although both are equally invited to faith, baptism and grace.  One can prepare for priesthood but no one deserves it. It is purely a gift. If women cannot be priests or bishops then they are logically also prevented from membership in the third tier of holy orders, the diaconate. The evidence is that women in the New Testament who were called deaconesses were not ordained. They cared for female neophytes preparing for baptism. In certain cases, they were simply the wives of ordained deacons.

We can look for ways to include more women in decision-making, but holy orders will never be open to them.  Not only does the tradition not support it, there is evidence of opposition to the prospect.  The witness of the Anglicans is insignificant because apostolic succession was already compromised and they responded to the cries of modernity, not to the dictates of Scripture and Tradition.

Value in the Discipline of Priestly Celibacy

Further, the gift of priesthood or holy orders cries out for a single-hearted love. While a discipline, there is an integral relationship between the priesthood and the charism of celibacy.  (This subject was of such importance that many married men in the apostolic and patristic age were required to pursue perfect continence when they were ordained.) Given that the Holy Father picked the name FRANCIS for his pontificate, I am not surprised that he has resisted calls to allow married men to serve as priests in the Amazon. Traditionally, celibacy is interpreted as an element of apostolic POVERTY and is appreciated in the context of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who went away sad “because his possessions were many.”

  • The Council of Nicea (325 AD) forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women.
  • The Council of Carthage (390) commanded celibacy or perfect continence for priests.
  • The First Lateran Council (1123) & the Second Lateran Council (1139) prohibited clerical marriage and cohabitation.

A Few Closing Thoughts

What is it exactly that the extended German summit hopes to achieve by its assessment of Catholic sexual morality and  the dynamics of priestly life in regard to celibacy and the role of women? The American bishops following Pope John Paul II’s 1995 letter to women also promulgated a pastoral “reflection” on women (after much consultation where dissenters tried to hijack the discussion). The bishops attempted to make appeasement where the Holy Father inadvertently made enemies of certain progressives and radical feminists. However, in the end their effort was so watered down that it was of little lasting value, restricting itself to the unexplored themes of leadership, equality, and the diversity of gifts. The focus moved away from women in the Church to their general place in society. This is not to say that the document lacks utility for future discussions about the extension of praxis that respects the laws of nature and the revealed truths of God. When it comes to the new German effort, it appears that dissenting lay Catholic organizations are being given more a voice than those with a significant traditional faith footprint. Theologians can assist the Magisterium but they are not the Church’s teaching authority, themselves.

The Heat & Controversy Continues…

threebishops

The three bishops essentially cite Pope John Paul II. The argument seems more and more with the historical Magisterium itself and settled doctrine. Here is one instance:

“The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of penance and the eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34).

When it comes to the “ordinary magisterium” and opinions that conflict with settled doctrine, filial correction is an act of loyalty. Indeed, silence would be the act of betrayal.

While annulments are now free (they used to cost a thousand dollars or more) this is the first year in the Archdiocese of Washington (so I am told) that we have not had a backlog of cases. Many couples in irregular unions now feel that annulments are unnecessary and that they can freely return to the sacraments. I have had several people in my parish drop writing their cases while citing news about the Pope and “changes that are coming.” Misunderstandings abound… but there is also legitimate confusion where there should be clarity.

There are a number of voices that interpret any criticism or request for clarification as disloyalty to the Pope and as dissent.  However, one cannot be a dissenter when he or she stands with the long-standing and immutable doctrines of the Catholic faith.  One critic said that we should immediately discount the remarks of these “no name” bishops.  But note that they quote the saintly Pope John Paul II of living memory!  Further, Bishop Athanasius Schneider is not a “no name” bishop. He is a man dedicated to Catholic truth and one who has paid his dues in terms of faith witness. Although he is German, his family was sent to a gulag by Stalin. His mother was imprisoned and martyred in 1963 for helping and sheltering other Christians and a Ukrainian priest. He grew up in the outlawed underground Catholic Church and took his early sacraments in secret. He is the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan and titular bishop of Celerina. He has added his voice to many others in regard to the interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. While whole conferences of bishops have offered correctives, as in Poland, there are notable names daily added to the list as having serious concerns. The names (to name a few) include Cardinal Burke, Archbishop Chaput, Archbishop Sample, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, and two respected Catholic philosophers, John Finnis and Germain Grisez.

Popes can interpret but they cannot reverse or make up new Church teachings. The case must be made, as Cardinal Wuerl suggests, that Church praxis and discipline can change without altering Church doctrine. However, it has not yet been made and many of us cannot imagine how it might be done. One cannot legitimately silence a debate or discussion with ecclesial authority when the overwhelming gravity seems entirely with traditional and perpetual teaching. Those who claim to be following the Holy Father are suggesting that we can invite those in adulterous unions to receive the sacraments, including both the Eucharist and confessional absolution. A number of priests feel, as I do, that this would make us accomplices in the mortal sin of others (who are neither contrite nor who have a firm purpose of amendment).

Marco Tosatti’s sensational blog, in my estimation goes too far. He writes:

“La mia fonte in Vaticano mi ha confidato che ieri sera Bergoglio si è trattenuto a Santa Marta con diversi ‘addetti stampa’ vaticani e ‘consiglieri’ vari per una riunione sul come affrontare questo nuovo ‘imprevisto’ della Correzione dei Vescovi di Astana. La fonte mi ha detto che Omissis era furibondo. E’ andato su tutte le furie. Perchè non sopporta nessuna opposizione. Lo hanno sentito urlare: ‘Se ne pentiranno! Se ne pentiranno amaramente!’. Riferito ovviamente ai coraggiosi Vescovi che hanno ‘osato’ contraddire il neovangelo della neochiesa: l’Amoris Laetitia.”

This is really more gossip and possible calumny than information that furthers the discussion. I just cannot imagine the vindictiveness that the blogger suggests. Absent is the charity exhibited by the many bishops and priests wanting clarification while rightly professing fidelity and respect to the Holy See.

The best posture is to pray for the Holy Father and for faithful and loyal clergy who are trying to safeguard the truth while showing real compassion to sinners. Pray for the couples and families as well… many of us want to bring them spiritual medicine, not placebos.

Finding Hope & Not Despair in the Synod

I am troubled that otherwise orthodox Catholic critics are suggesting that the Synod on the Family in Rome will signal a fall into apostasy.  While there may be a number of wrong-thinking priests and bishops, I have confidence that nothing of the Church’s doctrinal integrity will be sacrificed to pastoral expediency.

While the deposit of faith is both fixed and develops, there can be no revocation of objective truths.  Those couples living in second marriages or irregular unions cannot be uncritically invited to receive Holy Communion.  They may come up without our invitation; but we cannot encourage people to commit either mortal sin or sacrilege against the Eucharist.  No degree of penance would suffice unless there is genuine repentance and a firm amendment of life.  Any projected change in discipline or a so-called pastoral provision cannot justify regularizing church life for recalcitrant adulterers.

Despite the derision by angry critics that many priests are spineless wimps, most men in ministry are dedicated and courageous in their service.  Priests who seem to turn a blind eye to scandalous behavior are often in the dark or uncertain about the marital status of others.  The opposite may also be true.  Their apparent passivity may consist of knowing too many facts about which they are duty bound to keep within professional secrecy and/or the seal of Confession.  A priest may do nothing by word or gesture or intimation based upon what he learns in the sacrament of Penance.  This is the case even when absolution is withheld.  Such a predicament does not prevent others from condemning faithful priests who are already suffering when they must treat adulterers, active homosexuals and child-murderers as if they are Catholics in perfectly good standing.

Of course, it is no wonder that many of the laity might expect churchmen to invite blasphemy against the Eucharist when ministers are generally forbidden by their bishops to refuse the sacrament to others for fear of negative publicity or scandal.  We have witnessed for many years the tension of various pro-life groups with certain U.S. Bishops demanding that they turn away from the altar pro-abortion politicians and others who enable the murder of the unborn.  This conflict has yet to be resolved and continues to alienate those who should be on the same side and working together.  In any case, there is a vast difference between a general passivity and a universal invitation.

The Holy See and the Church are servants of the Word, not its master.  The words of St. Paul about fornicators, homosexuals and adulterers cannot be stripped from Scripture or from the constant tradition of the Church.  Similarly, the notion of the “closed-table” finds it roots in St. Paul and the censures of the early Church:  “And therefore, if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, he will be held to account for the Lord’s body and blood. A man must examine himself first, and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup; he is eating and drinking damnation to himself if he eats and drinks unworthily, not recognizing the Lord’s body for what it is” (1 Cor. 11:27-29).  While there are different theologies in the Church, they must speak to the same doctrinal truths.  Disciplines and pastoral practices are not geared to circumvent doctrine but to help express and realize them.

What can we expect from the Synod on the Family in Rome?  Compromise would precipitate acceleration in the breakdown of marriages.  I foresee a reaffirmation of the timeless faith with suggestions to redouble our efforts to welcome and bring healing into the lives of our people.  Let us trust our bishops.  Let us work with our people and not against them.  Let us put aside the silly sensationalism in the news and give the living Church the opportunity to teach and minister as she should.  There will be discussion and debate in Rome.  But we have confidence in the Holy Spirit and the Magisterium.  The process can be messy but so is life.  The truth will prevail.

Are We Validly Married?

Couple-Kiss2HENDRIX:

I got married to a woman I knew through my first wife (whom I didn’t married in a Catholic Church). When I and my first wife were separated, I got married to that women knowing fully well that she got married in Catholic Church before, although she divorced her first husband. For more than two years now, I and the woman are not living together again due to her aggressive nature. Is our marriage valid or invalid according to Catholic Church teachings?

FATHER JOE:

Your comment is a bit confusing as to which woman and lacks significant details.  Thus, it is very hard to give you a precise or clear answer.

Are you Catholic?  Were the other parties Catholic?

A Catholic must get married in the Catholic Church for a bond to be both licit and valid.  Prior bonds aside, marriages outside the Church (as before a civil magistrate or Protestant minister) are deemed invalid. They are not regarded as married either by the Church or God.

Marriages that take place in the Catholic Church are regarded as binding until death.  If an annulment is granted through the Marriage Tribunal then they might be free to get married again.  Otherwise, divorce or no divorce, they are still considered as married.  That means that attempted secondary or tertiary marriages are regarded as invalid.  It is as Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of Matthew, an opening to adultery.

A Response to Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage & Defection

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RUFUS:

I am (was??) a Catholic. I am now divorced and in a second relationship. I have no idea what God has in store for me, whether I am going to roast in Hell or simmer in Purgatory; but I am done with the double standards and hypocrisy of the Catholic church.  I still love God and believe in Jesus but I think it is ridiculous to attend church and not have communion; either you are or are not in good grace… there is no middle ground… Hell or Heaven.

FATHER JOE:

It seems the issue is more than a disagreement about the perpetuity of marriage as a sacrament; you quarrel about basic Catholic soteriology. Like many Protestants you would reject the notion of Purgatory and yet this teaching is reflective of divine mercy and the tradition of praying for the dead that we inherited from the Jews of Christ’s time. We must be perfected by grace if we are to enter fully into the kingdom and the heavenly presence of God. Protestants get around this conundrum by positing a juridical imputation over any kind of actual transformation into the likeness of Christ. Thus, people might remain sinful worms but as long as they have faith they can enter heaven because Christ conceals them from divine justice. Catholics believe that all will be unveiled. Unless there is a true conversion and perfection, we could not bear to stand in the divine presence. A process of purgation heals the soul that belongs to God so that it might be purged of the last remnants of selfishness and venial sin. Saints already perfected would indeed rush into heaven. Those who die in mortal sin would be cast into hell. The damned are damned because they place their own will above that of God and his commands. Such souls might say they love God and believe in Jesus, but they fashion for themselves a counterfeit Christ that cannot save them. Hypocrisy is immediately implied with sinfulness from believers; but the Church, while composed of sinners, is holy because Christ is holy. Our Lord called sinners to himself and so the Church must do the same, even if it sometimes compromises her witness. You should have remained with the Church. One more sinful hypocrite would have made little difference— and you had everything to gain from abiding in the house established by Jesus Christ.

As for participation at Mass, this is a fulfillment of the command to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Every Mass is a re-presentation of the oblation of Christ on the Cross, albeit in an unbloody manner. Here too your faith was evidently defective. The reception of Holy Communion is a great gift and the ideal, but you closed that door because of a weakness of the flesh and a heart that loved, not too much, but too little. The prohibition about divorce and remarriage is clearly taught by our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew. Only since the reformation and particularly in the modern era has this teaching been called into question by dissenters. Short of an annulment, the Church’s hands are tied. Jesus is unapologetic, we are talking here about adultery, no matter how one might “feel” about it.

Matthew 5: 31-32

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Matthew 19: 3-12

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” His disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

If an annulment can ascertain that a union is “unlawful,” then one might be free to enter into a true marriage. But if the marriage is real then it endures until the death of a spouse.

RUFUS: 

The bottom line is this, if you are Catholic and marry and the marriage, for whatever reason, your fault or not, ends in divorce then if you start another relationship (because God gave us the power of love and the will to use this most beautiful gift), whether a marriage or not, the Catholic church teaches you will go to hell unless you sincerely repent, i.e.. end the relationship and live the rest of your life alone.

FATHER JOE:

Do you think people only hate themselves into hell? I perceive plenty of hate in your words, but you fail to note that love can be disordered or distorted. We can love the wrong things. Ultimately, we are to love God above all else and that means following his commandments. If you love yourself or even another person in a way that is not in sync with divine love, then you manufacture a type of idolatry. True husbands and wives are to see Christ in the beloved. That makes the defection from a marriage into an abandonment of Christ who is signified in the sacramental covenant and union. Note that here you only think about yourself. If you trusted Christ’s words (not just the Church’s rules), then you would have been wary of risking the soul of the person with whom you committed adultery. If you really loved her than you should sooner die than do anything that would place at risk her share in eternal life. Resentful for yourself, you enter into a tirade against the Church. I suppose this is an attempt at self-justification. Instead of facing or even struggling with your guilt, you castigate the Church. Mass attendance would have exposed you to God’s grace, even if you were not fully receptive toward it. Did you attempt an annulment? Or did you just run away? If you go to hell, and we leave that judgment to God, it will be because of your closed disposition to his grace and gift of mercy— not because you fled a Church that was both faithful to God’s law and desiring to show you compassion. The way you talk about “repentance,” you make it sound like a dirty word. The problem here is yours.

RUFUS:

Thinking you can get away with this until you are on a your deathbed and repent at the last minute doesn’t count as such repentance is insincere, as if planned.

FATHER JOE:

No one is saying that you had only the deathbed for which to look forward. That is you speaking. Such cynicism is poison to the hope that should be the life’s blood of every believer. No one would urge you to wait until close proximity to death to repent. However, neither should you malign the sincerity of such conversions at the end of mortal life. Not only do you blaspheme against divine mercy; such an attitude would negate the value of contrition, perfect and imperfect, as displayed by the good thief on the Cross who steals heaven. Ideally we should be sorry because we love God.  Nevertheless, God’s forgiveness will even reach out to us if our faith be largely grounded on the fear of losing heaven and suffering the pains of hell.

RUFUS:

Of course, you could die in a road accident, in which case, you have no time to repent and are going to go straight to hell. So the choice for a divorced Catholic who cannot get an anulment is bleak; spend the rest of your life alone or accept that you are going to hell anyway, so you might as well eat, drink, be merry, whore to your heart’s content, and break just about every commandment in the book. This is ridiculous.

FATHER JOE:

Sin is sin. A mountain climber might miss a footing or a ledge by an inch or by a yard, it is all the same. He would be just as dead. You cannot make one sin an excuse for others. I bet no priest ever told you that you were going to hell. It may be that God faced you with this prospect in your life and you refused to acknowledge your fault. Your problem is not so much with the Church and her catechism but with God and his living Word. I cannot say if you would have gotten an annulment, but if you walked with the Lord then you would never really be alone. Am I supposed to feel sorry for you? I freely embraced a celibate life. There were wonderful girls I knew in my youth who would have made incredible wives and mothers; but I dedicated my life to Jesus and his Church. The trouble with you is that you did not trust and love God enough. Now all you can share with others is venom or poison.

RUFUS:

There is nothing in the bible that unambiguously states this and the outmoded catechism needs to be thrown out and rewritten. This, and good marketing is the only way the catholic church will save itself from the extinction it is suffering.

FATHER JOE:

Does it make you feel better to attack the Church? God’s laws and truths are timeless but you would have us subscribe to the fads and fashions of a fallen world that parades its broken promises. Christ keeps his promise to us. We must keep our promises to him and to each other. Faithfulness still matters. I would call you back to fidelity and the safe harbor of faith. You need not join the world’s chorus in forsaking the Church and Christ. Yes, the Church is increasingly a sign of contradiction. Yes, religious liberty is threatened and faith is attacked. But believers have everything to gain in being fools for Christ. The folly of the world leads only to death and despair. Have faith— have courage— embrace sacrificial love— and come home.

Counseling for Catholic Marriages

Catholics with marital problems should have readily available avenues within the Church for professional counseling in the hopes of salvaging their marriages.

More can be done to prepare priests for this kind of work but I think there is also a need for full-time professionals with training in psychology and intervention-counseling. These counselors should be well-versed with the Catholic faith. If they are not on the same page with us about human sexuality and the value of marriage, then they can escalate a problem instead of being part of the solution.

  • When red lights appear in the Pre-Cana preparation, referrals can be made before marriages in the Church.
  • When problems develop within marriages, referrals can be made to facilitate healing or reconciliation.
  • When questions arise about sexual identity and remaining in good standing with the Church, referrals might be made to assist people in coping and to counteract bias from non-Catholic sources.

While there are good independent counselors who charge fees, I would also recommend that there be professionals hired directly by the Church. Their salaries might be shared between parishes as within deaneries. They would work closely with pastors, while preserving confidentiality, to either prevent bad marriages or to salvage troubled ones. Such staffing should be viewed as serious as religious education directors, office managers and bookkeepers. In any case, a public list of counselors vetted by the Archdiocese should be readily available to pastors and the people they serve.

Catholic marriage counseling is necessarily different from that which is offered by those who do not share our understanding of marriage or our views about human sexuality. These counselors need to discern how a troubled Catholic marriage might be fixed. The truths of faith are integrated into our appreciation of psychology. The goal is to have couples living a daily vocation where there is both joy and sacrificial love. Marriage is viewed as a covenant and as a permanent union. Too many quickly jump to divorce as the answer. Catholics should see that as an option generally taken off the table.

Instead of urging an immediate divorce, a separation might be promoted so as to further the conversation or to prevent verbal and/or physical abuse. If a marriage has terminal problems and cannot be salvaged, then the counselor might suggest an annulment. That is where the pastor and/or the officials on a Church Tribunal would enter the picture. However, this is inherently always a sad or tragic situation. It means that avenues to save a marriage have failed.

Right now we have noble efforts like Retrouvaille but there is a pressing need for something more clinical.

A Few Thoughts about the Synod Relatio & Debates

My head is spinning about some of the things that are being seriously argued at the Vatican’s Synod on the Family. I am already concerned that a Commission was established to look at streamlining the process for annulments even prior to the start of the Synod. It seems to me that if such were a concern then the bishops would then request the Holy See to do so. Will the documents which will be formulated reflect the majority view and Catholic tradition or will there be attempts to steal the show for the minority progressives?

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What is it about this new Synod document that has critics saying it signals a revolutionary shift in favor of same-sex couples? It is acknowledged that this “relatio” urges clergy to make “fraternal space” for homosexuals. But what does it say? We read:

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

Are we reading the same document? All I see are questions. Hopefully they are not rhetorical. Do we eject gay brothers and sisters from our churches? No we do not. Can we invite them forward for Holy Communion? Yes, provided that they maintain chaste and celibate lives. Can we affirm or value their sexual orientation? No, we cannot do so. Such would devalue the true meaning of marriage and human sexuality. We cannot move away from the assessment of disorientation or that same-sex carnality is mortal sin.

As a so-called case-in-point of past intolerance, the news contrasted this development with the story of Barb Webb who was fired from a Catholic school when she and her partner announced her pregnancy. Similarly, her partner, Kristen Moore was asked to resign from her post as a music director at a Catholic parish. The secular media glossed entirely over the moral issues that extend beyond same sex unions, like the freezing of embryos, donated semen and IVF technologies. All these elements are reckoned as moral evils and sinful.

This relatio is being interpreted precisely as Cardinal Kasper would suggest. The doctrinal truth is eclipsed, if it remains, for the sake of a pastoral provision or slackening of discipline. The same reasoning he uses for divorced and remarried couples is being applied to active homosexuals. I find this reckoning very disturbing. Discipline can be distinguished from doctrine but discipline is always at the service of doctrine. There are doctrinal elements that cannot be ignored. It is contradictory to say that gay acts are sinful and then to value, in any way, homosexuality. It is contradictory to say that marriage is a lifelong institution and that divorce is a sin, while inviting couples to receive Holy Communion who are living in adultery. The truths of Scripture are clear and we must always be at the service of the truth on every level: doctrinally, canonically and pastorally.

The document recognizes that same-sex couples live lives where they render “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” Critics are saying that this is a crack in the door that may one day lead to full acceptance. I would say that this is not the case. The statement is one that reflects the immediate horizontal human condition but says nothing about the vertical supernatural dimension. It is a mere statement of fact that these couples support each other in their day-to-day lives. However, this does not mean that they are in right standing before God. Mortal sin is still mortal sin. I suspect that there are many “nice and pleasant” people who make good neighbors and yet will suffer damnation and hellfire. We are not saved by simply being nice but by being faithful and obedient to God. The Church can relax certain disciplines but she cannot change divine positive law. My fear is that tolerant language might enable or encourage more sinners to remain within their sins. The Church must be a place for saving truth and grace. She should never be an enabler for sinful lifestyles or blasphemous acts like receiving the Eucharist while ill-disposed or in mortal sin. This document does NOT acknowledge the “holiness” of such couples as was suggested in the Huffington Post article by Antonia Blumberg (1/13/14). It simply asks if we might tolerate with passivity and silence the situation of people living in sin.

I cannot buy this application of any “law of graduality.” No matter how slow might be the movement to holiness; the Church should never compromise on the fullness of truth. Confessors can exhibit great understanding and compassion for married couples who use artificial contraception, with the hope that they will eventually come around to the Church’s understanding of human dignity and the full value of the marital act. It is here that I can well appreciate “graduality.” However, this is not the same as cohabitating, adulterous and same-sex couples. They have no right to a shared bed.  In their regard, where there is neither contrition nor amendment of life, absolution must be withheld. Similarly, while they should attend weekly Sunday Mass, they should abstain from taking Holy Communion. The priest will not usually embarrass people in public but he fails his sacerdotal charge if he does not challenge such couples in private.

This law or better yet, theory of graduality was very much the rationale for the “open table” of Anglicanism. It was hoped that this welcoming to receive the Eucharist would draw others into greater unity. Contrastingly, the “closed table” of Catholicism sees Holy Communion as an expression of an ecclesial unity that is already realized. This is representative of the ancient tradition wherein heretics and grievous sinners were denied the sacrament or even excommunicated. The Church’s censure of interdict would also illustrate this posture. One had to be properly disposed and graced to receive the sacrament. Anything less was judged as blasphemous and scandalous. One should not pretend there is a union that is not truly there. This resonates with the current debate about divorced and remarried couples as well as with active homosexuals. We cannot allow a false compassion to tolerate normalization for the sake of public acceptance while the pastoral accommodation is deceptive to the doctrinal truth and the spiritual state of souls before God. We can move away from using pejorative biblical terms like “sodomites” and “adulterers,” but the underlying reality will remain the same. Does this really serve the summons to repent and believe?

If we change the discipline for those in serious sin and the intrinsically disordered, would we not logically have to open up Holy Communion to others (particularly Christians) who might be in ignorance of the full ecclesial reality but who live moral lives? It is a real can of worms and I would prefer to leave it closed. But that is my opinion.

Relationship between Discipline & Doctrine

It is unusual to hear a debate between bishops aired in the press and public forum. Continue to pray for all the participants in the Vatican Synod of the Family.

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Cardinal Kasper:

“Nobody denies the indissolubility of marriage. I do not, nor do I know any bishop who denies it. But discipline can be changed. Discipline wants to apply a doctrine to concrete situations, which are contingent and can change.”

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Cardinal Wuerl:

“The reception of Communion is not a doctrinal position. It’s a pastoral application of the doctrine of the Church. We have to repeat the doctrine, but the pastoral practice is what we are talking about. That’s why we are having a synod. Just to repeat the practice of the past without trying to find a new direction today is no longer tenable.”

“That’s going to be the challenge, and I think that’s what the Holy Father is calling us to do. He’s saying, we know this, we believe this, this is what is at the heart of our teaching. But how do you meet people where they are? And bring them as much of that as they can take, and help them get closer?”

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Cardinal Dolan:

“When we talk about some time of renewal and reform of our vocabulary, we don’t mean to soften or to dilute our teaching, but to make it more credible and cogent,” he said. “It’s not a code word for sidestepping tough things; it’s more a methodology.“

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Cardinal Burke:

“There can’t be in the Church a discipline which is not at the service of doctrine.”

“The reformers were saying: ‘Oh, we’re not questioning the indissolubility of marriage at all. We’re just going to make it easy for people to receive a declaration of nullity of marriage so that they can receive the sacraments.’ But that, is a very deceptive line of argument which I’ve been hearing more now in this whole debate.”

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Cardinal Pell:

“As Christians, we follow Christ. Some may wish Jesus might have been a little softer on divorce, but he wasn’t. And I’m sticking with him.”

“We’ve got to be intellectually coherent and consistent.  Catholics are people of tradition, and we believe in the development of doctrine, but not doctrinal backflips.”

“Communion for the divorced and remarried is for some — very few, certainly not the majority of synod fathers — it’s only the tip of the iceberg, it’s a stalking horse. They want wider changes, recognition of civil unions, recognition of homosexual unions. The church cannot go in that direction. It would be a capitulation from the beauties and strengths of the Catholic tradition, where people sacrificed themselves for hundreds, for thousands of years to do this.”

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Cardinal Müller:

“One cannot declare a marriage to be extinct on the pretext that the love between the spouses is ‘dead.’  Indissolubility does not depend on human sentiments, whether permanent or transitory. This property of marriage is intended by God himself. The Lord is involved in marriage between man and woman, which is why the bond exists and has its origin in God. This is the difference.”

Commission to Reform Annulment Process

Alejandro W. Bunge Archbishop Luis  Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, SJ Bishop Dimitri Salachas

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio Fr. Jorge Horta Espinoza, O.F.M. Konštanc Miroslav Adam, O.P.

Leo Xavier Michael Arokiaraj Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto Msgrs. Maurice Monier

 Nikolaus Schöch, O.F.M. Prof. Paolo Moneta

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT  (Notice they are mostly clerics and no women.)

Row 1 – Msgr. Alejandro W. Bunge / Archbishop Luis  Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, SJ / Bishop Dimitri Salachas

Row 2 – Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio / Fr. Jorge Horta Espinoza, O.F.M. / Fr. Konštanc Miroslav Adam, O.P.

Row 3 – Msgr. Leo Xavier Michael Arokiaraj /  Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto / Msgr. Maurice Monier

Row 4 – Rev. Fr.  Nikolaus Schöch, O.F.M. / Prof. Paolo Moneta

Pope Francis Establishes Commission to Reform Marriage Annulment Process

(Vatican Radio) The Holy See Press Office on Saturday announced Pope Francis has decided to establish a Special Commission  for the study of the reform of the matrimonial processes in canon law. The decision was made on August 2, 2014.

This Committee will be chaired by Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota.  The other members are:  and will be composed of the following members: Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Archbishop Luis  Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, SJ, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Bishop Dimitri Salachas, Apostolic Exarch of the Greek Byzantine Catholic Church; Msgrs. Maurice Monier, Leo Xavier Michael Arokiaraj and Alejandro W. Bunge, Prelate Auditors of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota; the Rev. Fr.  Nikolaus Schöch, O.F.M., Substitute Promotor of Justice of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura; Fr. Konštanc Miroslav Adam, O.P., Rector of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum); Fr. Jorge Horta Espinoza, O.F.M., Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law of the Pontifical University Antoniamum; and Prof. Paolo Moneta, formerly professor of Canon Law at the University of Pisa.

The work of the Commission will start as soon as possible and will have as its goal to prepare a proposal of reform of the matrimonial process, with the objective of simplifying its procedure, making it more streamlined, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony.

Heated Conversation Over Annulment Article

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This morning I was alerted on Facebook to a commotion on the Internet regarding an article by a brother priest of the Archdiocese of Washington.  Another priest, Msgr. Charles Pope, who authors the Archdiocesan blog noted:

“I was saddened to see that a priest of my Archdiocese wrote a rather harsh article on Church Marriage teaching. I do think we need to look to clarify the annulment process but I guess I would reform it in very different ways than Fr. Peter Daly says. Anyway, Ed Peters does a pretty good job here of answering my brother priest.”

I said my prayers, offered Mass and then tracked down the article and Dr. Peters’ response.  CATHOLIC WORLD REPORT aligned itself with Dr. Ed Peters as did Father John Zuhlsdorf on his blog.

Doctor Peters versus Father Daly

The first thing that Google found was the site for the canonist Dr. Edward Peters.  He offered a stinging rebuke to Fr. Peter Daly’s NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER article on reforming annulments.  While the issues at stake were vitally important, saying that it was harsh would be an understatement.  Castigating my brother priest as sarcastic and childish, he critiqued Father Daly’s article, saying:

  • He violates the “heart of Church teaching on the permanence of marriage.”
  • He is “repackaging common historical errors, irrelevant platitudes and bad theology.”
  • His dismissals of the juridical are “complaints about Christ’s economy of salvation.”
  • Fr. Daly does not want reform of annulments but their “abandonment.”

Wow, regular readers are aware that I routinely struggle with a pugnacious manner of my own, but goodness, Dr. Peters certainly pulled no punches!

I guess I was going about this backwards.  What did my priest friend say that merited such rebuke?  I tracked down Fr. Daly’s article at the newspaper site.

Oh boy, what can I say?  As another parish priest, I will share my (personal) position, hopefully with an ample supply of charity.   So what did he write to cause all the Internet chatter?  The article is entitled, “Pope Francis Should Consider the Church’s Outdated Annulment Process” (January 13, 2014) by Fr. Peter Daly.

True Sensus Fidelium

He admits that the catalyst for the article was the recent request from the Holy See for input in the upcoming special Synod on the Family.  Along with many others, he is excited by the apparent new openness of the Magisterium to hear from the rest of the Church, the rank-and-file priests in the trenches and the laity in the pews.  (Some critics are arguing that the survey was only addressed to the bishops but this is not strictly true.  The bishops sent the questions to priests and the faithful for collaboration.  Several dioceses placed the questions online for quick electronic responses.  Deadlines were give clergy and laity as to when to send in their answers.)  He stamps this change of direction as a miracle and writes:

“In our top-down hierarchical church, the concept of the sensus fidelium has been pretty much a dead letter since the Second Vatican Council. Usually Rome talks and we listen. But now he wants to hear from us. Thank you.”

Certainly, there is much to be said about listening, but we all still have different roles to play and ultimately the response of sheep to a shepherd is that of obedience.  As for the sense of the faithful, we must be wary of the fact that many if not most today are formed more by a secular, hedonistic and materialistic world than by the Gospel.  Only those believers who maintain the core truths, worship, and conscientiously live out their discipleship are truly agents of sensus fidelium.  You cannot transmit or develop what you really do not have.  I would suggest that fallen-away uncatechized Catholics and the majority of dissenters do not qualify despite the fact that someone spilled water over their heads decades ago to appease aging grandparents.

The Protestant Practice & the Orthodox Model Fall Short

Father Daly takes the survey from Rome and narrows his focus to the question of annulments.  His response is blunt:  “scrap our current annulment process and look east to see what our Orthodox brothers and sisters are doing.”  As a priest in good standing, he rightly asserts that Jesus did not approve of divorce and remarriage.  (I have often been amazed at the mental gymnastics that certain Protestant churches must employ to get around this restrictive teaching, especially in the Gospel of Matthew.  They make wiggle-room where there really is none.  But is Father Daly trying to force wiggle-room?)  He also knows full well that the current annulment process is an effort to respect this teaching while showing compassion to our people.

He brings up the Orthodox churches of the East which allow second Penitential Marriages as a possible solution.  But many of us fault it as a negative symptom of national churches.  Remember that Roman Catholicism was willing to allow the entire English church to slip away over the issue of marital permanence and King Henry VIII.  Would we now backtrack and say we were just kidding about the gravity of this issue?  Neither Sir Thomas More nor Bishop John Fisher can be given back their heads; and neither can we really turn back the clock on licit and valid marriages.  Along with certain Protestant notions about faith, authority and Scripture that are trying to get a foothold in the Eastern churches, especially those transplanted into the West, this issue of second marriages may be a greater hurdle to ecclesial reunion than either the Filioque Clause or Papal Primacy.

The annulment process might need to be reworked, but I do not believe the Orthodox provide a viable alternative.  Although not as shallow as our Anglican friends, the Orthodox might hide a false caricature of marriage behind elaborate ceremony and the pretension of sorrow.  True contrition means reform or change of life.  The so-called Penitential Marriages just give the couple their own way while feigning some degree of anxiety in conscience about it.  Father Daly insists that the matter should rest entirely with one man, the priest on the ground.  But he and I know that priests are not the same and there are some who may wrongly replace the Gospel with their own opinions and sentiment.  The Tribunal seeks an objective reality.  Is the prior bond a true or false marriage?  There are the judges, an advocate and the defender of the bond.  Beyond these five or more people, the judgment rendered will be reviewed again by another Church court.  They study the facts of the case and hopefully are neither susceptible to the manipulation of money nor to a false compassion.

I must admit that I am devilishly amused by Father Daly’s Episcopal priest-friend finding delight that the Catholic Church’s stand on divorce and remarriage will always give cause for the “Episcopal church.”  The shadow of the reformation still falls upon us.  His friend may be right.  Indeed, I would add (perhaps without charity) that until the final judgment, there will be a place for the Episcopalian church so long as sinners cling to a counterfeit priesthood and Mass, the fantasy of priestesses, the blessing of same-sex unions, the promotion of contraception and tolerance for abortion, the marrying of adulterous couples and the reception of renegade Catholic priests who want to bed their paramours.  Goodness me, I really have to work harder on my ecumenism!  But I would rather be a member of the Church that goes to heaven than the “church of anything-goes.”

The Pastoral versus the Legal?

Father Daly writes:

“The problem with the process in the Roman Catholic church is that it takes what ought to be a pastoral matter and turns it into a legal one. It is complicated, often unfair, and frequently unintelligible to the participants. Some tribunals are easy. Some are hard. It can be very capricious.”

(Is the use of the small “c” in Church an editorial liberty taken by his newspaper?)  As a civil lawyer, Father Daly has a point.  The subjective elements in how many cases are handled can be very worrisome.  Although I would usually be cold water to Father Daly’s hot, we agree upon this much.  The annulment process is not easy.  Formal cases require people to revisit all the pain and betrayal that poisoned their unions.  Adequate grounds have to be discerned in the muddle of mutual allegations and tears.  Witnesses are gathered.  Interviews are given.  Essays are written.  Then a thousand dollars and a year later a verdict hopefully emerges from the backlogged Tribunal.  That verdict is then reviewed by a second court that can approve or send it back.  Most applicants I have assisted seem to get declarations of nullity, but not all.  Sometimes I have to scratch my own head about the grounds.  But I am not a canon lawyer and would not want to be.  I pray for those who must spend so much of their lives and ministry ruminating over the dark side of life and marriages gone sour.

Father Daly desperately wants to be welcoming to those attracted to Catholicism.  While I have serious disagreements with him, he obviously cares and grieves about those estranged by marriages gone bad and new bonds that are not recognized.  My heart also bleeds for the few who wanted to save their marriages— angry and weeping daily at what they see as complicity in allowing their spouses to marry again in the Church.  Annulments are very staggering in principle and practice.  We are saying that couples previously regarded as married, even before a priest in Church, are not really married and that there is no sacrament.  Some defect invalidated the meaning of their marital act (sleeping together, i.e. sexual congress), having children and living a common life.  They said in their vows before God and to each other that they would forever be faithful and endure all hardships for each other.  But now we hear that someone lied or was incapable of living out the vocation or was mentally ill or had no intention of being faithful or practiced deceit or really did not understand what he or she was doing (after a six month wait and pre-Cana instruction).  One or both of the spouses want out.  It may be a year or twenty years later, but they feel entitled to start over.  Father Daly and I both help such people to begin again, although I am left troubled in conscience by many cases.  People even joke these days, “Promises are made to be broken.”  However, I was raised to believe that vows were made to be kept— in marriage and in the priesthood— even unto the Cross.

I certainly understand the RCIA dilemma for divorced and remarried candidates but there is no good way around it.  Fr. Daly argues that “All the annulment process does is put a road block in their way to entering the church.”  I would contend instead, that the barrier is their failed marriage and their attempt to bypass divine law in marrying again.  The annulment is the Church’s way of respecting the indissolubility of the sacrament while trying to help a couple out of the mess of their own making.  The process has its faults and is not perfect.  But, we would have them authentically married and delivered from the bondage of grievous sin.  It is not just or charitable to ignore a problem that damages their relationship with God and his Church.  They may not subjectively be aware of how much they need this healing.  We should not side-track or halt this process.

Speaking about non-Catholics having to get annulments before entering the Church, he writes that the process is “painful and pointless.”  I have to admit that this use of the word “pointless” makes me cringe.  It may be that the good Father is employing a degree of hyperbole.  He writes:

“They have to find witnesses, get records, take statements, dig up old contacts, and open old wounds. All of our language is legal, not pastoral. We speak of petitions, tribunals, witnesses, advocates, petitioners, defendants and evidence. It is Kafkaesque. It turns pastors into bureaucrats, to no purpose.”

I certainly appreciate his frustration and empathy for the people he serves.  But I would not say it is pointless or lacking purpose.  How else might we make something that is wrong into something right?  It is a difficult business but life is hard and frequently a real mess.  There was a time when divorce was illegal and annulments were rarely or not granted.  I am sure that Father Daly would not have us backtrack.  At least we are trying.

Father Daly says that he has taken “the pastoral route” for the elderly and terminally ill— in other words, he has invoked internal forum.  I have no comment about this.  It is the business of the confessional.  As long as a couple is not engaging in sexual congress and there is no danger of scandal, the priest may have certain discretion.  But I would be very careful about how far I would stretch this pastoral stratagem.  Dr. Edward Peters seems to read more into it; he wonders what he means and warns that if he married such people then these rites are “gravely illicit” (Canon 1085 § 2), “possibly invalid” (Canon 1085 § 1) and/or “sacrilegious” (Canon 1379).  He states that it would be an “abuse of ecclesiastical power” (Canon 1389).  I suspect that all Fr. Daly is doing is helping sick and elderly people to face their last days in right relationship with God.  I would not make more of it than that.

God Opposes Divorce & Remarriage

While all must follow natural and divine positive law, only Catholics are obliged to follow “man-made” Church laws.  (Of course, some Church laws reflect God’s explicit providence and cannot be abrogated.)  Heterosexual marriages between Protestants are acknowledged as sacraments, no matter if witnessed before a minister or civil magistrate.  Marriages with those not baptized are natural bonds but are also generally regarded as fully binding (with the possible exception of referral to the Pauline and Petrine privileges).  Homosexual unions between anyone, anywhere, are not true marriages.  A Catholic must pledge his or her marriage vows before a priest or deacon.  This law could change but it is unlikely and probably unwise to tamper with it.  Divorce is forbidden by Jesus (Matthew 19:3-9):

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”

Nevertheless, there is the irony that no Church annulment case can precede until after a civil divorce.  While some authorities, even clergy, would wrongly argue against the view that divorce is a sin— such is the case, at least for the party or parties who damage the bond and force the separation.  Spouses have vocational obligations or responsibilities toward one another.  Separation does not immediately dispense culpability for marital duties.  Divorced persons should not date.  Rather they should live chastely with no corner given to possible adultery.  Nevertheless, in practice, most annulments come after couples are civilly married and are sexually intimate.  The mess can get messier.

The husband as head of the home expects a certain level of obedience.  That is why he is also regarded as the final authority when it comes to the discipline of children.  The wife must be respected as the heart of the home.  I tell every man who gets married, that his primary duty in life is to make his wife happy.  I tell the ladies that their devotion to the husband must be that of a best friend, and that she is literally his home.  Together they are responsible for their common life, with all its struggles, joys, sorrows, affection, accomplishments and failures.  They are ordered by nature and their vocation to give intimate friendship to one another where there is the satisfaction of sexual passion and openness to procreation.  It is the duty of a husband and wife to become lovers and parents.  The husband is commanded to treat his wife in a generous and honorable way.  They must work together as partners in insuring the goods of the family, materially, emotionally and spiritually.  Husbands and wives are called to be help-mates to one another.  It is grievously wrong to steal the affection and support owed to a spouse and to give it to another.  Mutual respect and esteem should properly be realized.  Indeed, if there is a separation, one of the duties is not to get married again.  A man who walks out on his wife deprives her of his support and a possible family.  Many such women in the time of Jesus were then forced into adultery to find a means of taking care of themselves.  A woman who abandons her husband will deprive him of the friendship owed him, including the physical intimacy to which men are strongly oriented.  How many stories have we heard about men who turned to mistresses when their wives became to their overtures?  Women who use sex (deprivation) against innocent husbands sin mortally.  This would also apply the other way around.  A woman neglected by her husband might be tempted to fulfill her yearning for affection and friendship elsewhere.  Divorce is not recognized by the Church.  Neither separation nor divorce exonerates or frees the spouse from the various inherent duties of marriage.  While extending marital benefits to the spouse would become impossible or absurd in breakups; still no such recourse can be made to others to procure or to offer these benefits.  Doing so is the commission of adultery, even if tender and loving.

An Administrative Law of the Church for Good Order

The “loophole” for Catholics is really nothing of the kind.  Catholics married outside the Church are not married.  That is why a declaration of nullity is short paperwork.  When convalidations take place we are at pains to emphasize that the new ceremony is not a renewal of promises previously made before a Justice of the Peace.  Instead, even if only five people are in the chapel, this convalidation is the true marriage— not the big expensive affair at the rented mansion or before the judge at the seaside garden of a rich friend.

Fr. Daly laments that these quick annulments or declarations seem unjust.  I can top this.  A couple came to me where the bride-to-be was the “other woman.”  She joked that she stole the Catholic boy from a life of sin so that he could marry in the Church.  This woman deliberately made a play for the civil husband of another woman.  Now she justified it in light of the quick declaration of nullity from the Archdiocese. Her attitude sickened me.  I felt compromised by my association with them.

The priestly critic sees no sense in Church legalities about marriage.  But it is not silly.  The Church has a right to regulate her sacraments.  Given that society and the Church no longer share a common vision of marriage, it seems to me that the Church’s legal appreciation of marriage is more important than ever before.  The pastoral cannot trump objective truth.  The priest might want to give the couple a second chance but it is not for him to decide.

The canonist is not dealing with law like a civil lawyer.  Society today deems law as capricious and open to constant revision.  The Church lawyer must acknowledge laws for the good order of the Church, divine positive law and natural law.  The Church could remove the requirement that Catholics must be married before a priest or deacon.  However, it would only complicate the question about true and false marriages.  But the Church cannot dissolve marriages simply on the say-so of forgiving and caring priests.  The priest has the power to absolve sin.  He does not have the authority to redefine right and wrong in marrying people who are already married, divorce decree or no decree.  If God has made a couple one flesh, and it is fully a sacramental reality, then neither a parish priest nor the Pope has the authority to say otherwise.  The priest is a servant of the Gospel, not its master.  We stand under God’s Word, not above it.  When it comes to marriage we must not by the lie that annulment is a Catholic divorce.  The only reality akin to divorce in regard to the Catholic understanding of marriage is death.  Couples are married,  “until death do they part.”  Annulments are simply a limited means of intervening in cases where a prior bond is determined in justice not to be fully real and binding.  If genuine, no act of charity and compassion could intervene.  It is here that Dr. Peters would interpret Fr. Daly’s argument as one against marital permanence.  The good priest acknowledged Christ’s teaching and the understanding of the Church; however, his solution would utterly compromise the doctrine of marriage.

The Plight that Faces Us

Father Daly writes:

“Nobody is deterred from getting divorced and remarried by our annulment process. But many people are deterred from coming into or back to the church by our annulment process. It is spiritually counterproductive.”

The numbers may be few but I would not say “nobody.”  I have known people who broke off relationships because they loved the Lord and his Church more than a romantic entanglement.  Admittedly I am confused by some of my brother priest’s opinions.  People may not understand the annulment process but all we are doing is asking people to keep their promises.  Everyone on their marriage day thinks with the Catholic Church and they vow to be faithful to each other, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, until death do they part.  It is only later when something goes wrong that people want out.  If we close our eyes and mouths to believers who marry outside the Church then do we become accomplices in their sin?  We need to invite them into seeing the annulment process as a stage of healing.  We must also invoke courage and strength when no annulment is possible and any second or third marriage attempt is a form of adultery.  Filling our churches with couples locked into lives of mortal sin is not the answer and would also be “spiritually counterproductive.”

Closing Thoughts

I have long since lost the argument in the Archdiocese about withholding communion, particularly to the enablers of abortion.  I have personally wept over the sacrilege against the sacrament and the prospect of bringing the full weight of judgment to communicants ill-disposed to receive our Lord.  Father Daly writes:  “To our faithful, the real scandal is not the fact that divorced and remarried people might receive Communion, but that sincere people who really desire the Eucharist are kept from it by a legalistic, complicated, capricious and alienating annulment process.”  I think the world of this priest, and I could never challenge his legal knowledge and writing skills.  He was ordained a month after me back in 1986.  He is a beloved and successful pastor.  Family members attend his church and adore him.  He remains in my daily prayers.  I see many of the problems and issues he sees; but I cannot agree in all his assessments and proposed solutions.  I am a parish priest and would not trust myself to write off a command from the mouth of Christ.  I could not do it.  As for Holy Communion, I urge everyone to go to Mass; however, I also ask that each of us reflect upon our worthiness for the Eucharist.  If we are living in an objectively immoral situation and mortal sin, it would be sacrilege to take the sacrament.

The Mass is also a testimony to a marriage banquet.  Christ is the groom and the Church is his bride.  Jesus will never break his promises to his bride.  We should keep our promises.  Christ who is ever faithful was brought to his Cross by all our broken promises.  Yes, even in the face of abuse, betrayal and abandonment, we should remain faithful.  I suspect that the answer for which we are looking in this debate rests with an imitation of Christ and a deeper awareness and resolve to practice sacrificial love.