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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Cardinal Müller Gives Needed Clarification

muller

This was probably the most important interview that Arroyo ever presented on World Over. CARDINAL MÜLLER says that the “moral” is the “pastoral”… there can be no conflict… no polygamy… no sacramental spouse and another civil law spouse… the Holy Father’s document must be interpreted within the Catholic tradition. Anything else is heresy! He spells out that any accommodation that would permit the restoration of the sacramental life (without an annulment) would be a “brother” to “sister” relationship. He also said that women deacons are impossible. The biblical title was not a reference to Holy Orders. The ongoing commission is being misinterpreted. Nevertheless, he did say that we may find new non-sacramental charges for women.

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The Penitential Rite & Forgiveness at Mass

MARK:

I’m having a difficult time understanding the Penitential Rite at Mass.

If we have gone to confession and confessed our sins, why are we supposed to call them to mind at Mass?

Aren’t we forgiven and isn’t that an invitation from the Evil One for us to continue to dwell upon our sins?

Didn’t the Psalmist say that our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103)?

FATHER JOE:

Catholics do not believe in the notion of “once saved, always saved.” We return to Confession again and again to have sins forgiven. Similarly, the Mass forgives sins, although we are generally asked to refrain from taking Holy Communion if we are in a state of mortal sin. The Penitential Rite does indeed have a type of absolution and we often speak of it as forgiving small slights or venial sins. The movement of the liturgy parallels the outreach of John the Baptist and later Christ and his apostles. The pattern established is a simple but important one: REPENT and BELIEVE.

At the beginning of Mass we want to spiritually prepare ourselves. Unlike Confession, where we acknowledge particular acts of personal sin; at the beginning of Mass, we reflect upon our general sinfulness and continuing need for conversion. Sins may be forgiven, but sometimes the bad habits, selfishness and weakness of the flesh causes us to sin again. In any case, we are not yet the Christians we are supposed to be. The Mass is a powerful instrument in our transformation ever more and more into the likeness of Christ. Further, while the absolution of Confession forgives sins, we still owe God penance to appease for the temporal punishment due to sin. The Mass possesses infinite graces to assist in this regard.

It is the true that the devil would have us deny the Lord’s mercy. We should not doubt the power of the priest’s absolution and the truth that sins are forgiven in Christ. However, we could also sin by presumption, supposing that we no longer needed divine mercy and grace. We are called to be counted among the saints. But the truth be told, most who walk the earth are still sinners who struggle daily with the world, the flesh and the devil.

As for the psalms, remember that they were written long before the coming of Christ and his redemptive work. They could offer a limited foreshadowing or anticipation of what was to come, but that is all.

Psalm 106:4-5: “Remember me, LORD, as you favor your people; come to me with your saving help, That I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, rejoice in the joy of your people, and glory with your heritage.”

The forgiveness and salvation often beseeched by the Hebrews was more connected to the nation than individuals. If God looked with favor upon you, it was interpreted through prosperity, land and children. Jesus brings a different kind of mercy. He is the Messiah who conquers the devil, sin and death— not the Romans. He tells us to pursue the imperishable treasure of heaven. The New Jerusalem or New Zion is not the political state of Israel, but the kingdom of God— a kingdom that breaks into the world first through the person of Jesus and later through the Church.

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?

synod-of-bishops

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.

Can a Priest Deny Sacraments to a Gay Man in the Hospital?

The news was on fire this morning about a DC priest who purportedly refused to give Last Rights to a gay heart-attack patient at the Washington Hospital Center.

Oh boy, here we go again! This man condemns the priest but we only have his side of the story.

I suspect there is a lot more to the story than what we are hearing.  A priest was requested and Father Brian Coelho came to the bedside of the patient, Ronald Plishka.  The priest followed the ritual by offering the Sacrament of Penance prior to the Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion.  If a patient is unconscious, the priest will often presume contrition and a desire for the sacraments, giving absolution even without auricular confession.  In this case, the patient was alert and responsive.  The patient seemed to want to make small talk and remarked about how as a homosexual person he was so happy that the Pope was accepting of gay people.  But he next asked if this admission bothered the priest, almost as if he were baiting him.  The priest said it did not but offered to pray with him.  Nothing more was said about Extreme Unction and Viaticum.  While left unsaid in the article, this intimates that this dialogue took place as part of a Confession.

Because the disagreement probably happened during Confession, the priest is silenced by the seal and cannot share his side of the story. Indeed, he would face automatic excommunication if he says anything… something I hope that Church authorities appreciate. Even they cannot question the priest.

Instead of a civil conversation, the patient rejects the offer of prayer and tells the priest “to get the [deleted] out of here!”  That in itself probably demonstrates an improper disposition for God’s mercy.  Then the doctors came in to calm him down.

We should pray for all the parties involved. 

Should We Be Specific in Confession?

QUESTION:  If one confesses to the mortal sin of looking at pornography but refrained from mentioning that it was of the homosexual kind, did the penitent commit still another sin? What if he was afraid that the priest would look upon him differently?

ANSWER:  The person should probably be more specific, but given doubt and fear, confessing to the sin of pornography was probably sufficient. People should not be afraid of their priests.  A rule of thumb is to confess “species and number.”

Heated Conversation Over Annulment Article

wedding125

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.

Can the Most Wicked Be Forgiven?

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Mike asked a few questions about forgiveness that I have heard from others and are worth sharing.

1.  I have been wondering about forgiveness in general. Are there any sins so bad that they will never be forgiven, regardless of how much you repent and accept Jesus?

As long as you are alive, there is hope. If you are sorry, you can be forgiven. However, after death, our orientation and choice becomes permanent.  Of course, we are creatures of habit.  The longer we wallow in our sins, the less able and willing we might be to crawl out of the hole we have made for ourselves.  God wants to save us; but, we must also want to be saved.

2.  As an extreme hypothetical, if Lucifer suddenly repented and asked for forgiveness from God, would he be forgiven?

This is regarded as a nonsense question. It contains within itself a self-contradiction. The devil is a pure spirit. He lives outside of time. He has turned away from God. He cannot turn back. He hates God. This status is forever. Hell is more than a place. It is also a disposition. That is why the devil can say, “I am hell.” We should not feel sorry for or romanticize about the devil. We in our mortality are capricious in our choices. But the angels and the souls of the dead live in eternity. All they know is the eternal now. They are what they are. There is neither the desire nor the opportunity to change. Just as the saints are safely in their heaven forever and ever; so too are the damned fixed in their perdition, lost forever. The fallen angels define something of their angelic natures by their rebellion. They cannot be remade.

3.  Does God’s forgiveness only apply to humans, in other words?

Yes, only “living human beings” can avail themselves of God’s mercy. The demons would have none have it. Indeed, they hate the Divine Mercy, itself.

Another question came from Sarah.  She writes:

I did the Blasphemy Challenge years ago and regret it now that I’m re-discovering faith. Was it an unforgivable sin?

As long as there is breathe in your body, sin can be forgiven.  The atheists who promoted the “challenge” did not understand hyperbole and the correct reading of Scripture.  Sin is only unforgiveable when there is no sorrow for sin and repentance.  One cannot simultaneously reject God’s mercy and invoke it through contrition.  Are you sorry for your sins?  The Divine Mercy is ready and desirous of forgiving you.