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A Scandal that Calls for a New Reformation

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“Christ himself, the model of priests, taught first by the example of his deeds and then by his words: Jesus began to do and then to teach. Likewise, a priest who neglects his own sanctification can never be the salt of the earth; what is corrupt and contaminated is utterly incapable of preserving from corruption; where sanctity is lacking, there corruption will inevitably find its way.”

– St. Pius X

We are taught as Catholics that the Church is holy because Christ is holy.  This is what gives truth value to the second mark of the Church mentioned every time we recite the Creed at Sunday Mass.  The Church is holy and it is by means of the teachings of faith and the sacraments that we can be made holy by grace.  This is what we believe and yet has there ever been a time when it was so very hard to believe? The Church is also composed of sinners; indeed, we are all sinners needing a Savior.  But when it comes to our priests and bishops, we like to imagine that they have a direct line to heaven.  They make little money, forsake a spouse and family and are at the immediate beck-and-call of their flocks.  The lesson that Jesus gives his apostles with the Holy Thursday foot washing is that the greater they would become, the more they would have to humiliate themselves as the servants of all.

Catholicism insists that both bishops and priests should remain celibate— placing the love of the Mystical Body or the Church ahead of all other loves.  At a time when most churches compromise on the moral teachings of Christ; the Catholic faith remains resolute about purity prior to marriage, about the permanence of marriage, about marriage as only a relationship between a man and a woman, about the nature of the marital act as open to the generation of children, and about the sanctity of human life.  The loftier the moral message, the further the messenger might fall when he is exposed as duplicitous.

Our priests witness the marriages of couples in love, consecrating unions with the favor of God and of his Church.  They baptize babies, transforming them from mere creatures of God into adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.  They absolve penitents from their sins, literally stealing the damned from the devil. At Mass they celebrate the sacrifice of Calvary so that we might offer ourselves with Jesus, the Lamb of God, as an acceptable oblation to the Father.  They give us Holy Communion, rations from that promised shore to which we travel as spiritual pilgrims.  Along with bishops, they offer confirmation, completing our baptisms so that we might be enriched by the gifts of the Spirit and made living temples of God.  They anoint the sick, perpetuating the ministry of Jesus in bringing healing to the hurting among us.  They bury the dead, preaching a message of hope that in Jesus love is stronger than death and victorious over the grave.  The priest is at the center of everything Catholic.  That is what makes the current scandal especially devastating.  The faithful are rightly disappointed and upset. Our shepherds are facing a crisis in holiness.

Contagious Scandal & the Loss of Reputation

Any one priest signifies every priest.  This collective appreciation has made the present crisis a damning one.  When the laity look at their priests, they immediately wonder, “Could he be one of those priests?” While regarding only a few, these dark revelations of sin and crime are sufficient in damaging overall trust.

Men presumed as truthful revealed as duplicitous liars.

These are the same men appointed as preachers of the Gospel.  The priest and pastor is the chief catechist of every parish and is entrusted with the faith formation of his people.  What becomes of the message or the Good News when the messenger becomes a witness of bad or scandalous news?  What becomes of his credibility when the mouthpiece of God not only stumbles in his witness but is unveiled as an agent of the devil’s anti-gospel? How can such a man speak to us about the truth when he has failed to put on the mind of Christ?

Men presumed as merciful exposed as sources for sin.

These are the men chosen to give flesh to the Divine Mercy in the ministry of the church.  Who would want to go to confession to such rogues?  Many might think that their sins pale in comparison to such reprobates.  While the efficacy of the sacraments is assured; it is understandable that the faithful would feel stained or polluted by association with these men.  Is it all just empty words and gestures? Compounding the problem, they sometimes substitute malice for mercy and draw others as accomplices into their lives of sin.  How can such men draw us into the love of God when they do not have the heart of Christ?

Men presumed as healers caught as sadistic destroyers.

Jesus condemned the pharisees for placing unnecessary burdens upon good people.  As an antidote he delivered the freedom and healing that belongs to the children of God.  Priests were called to mend souls and to give hope, not to breach their victims from the family of God or to give them cause for despair.  The miscreants in the news destroyed innocence and purposely misdirected the faith trajectory of people’s lives.  They placed their own sexual gratification over sacred promises and the good of persons.  How could they live with themselves, exchanging the joy of right relationship with God for a cruel transitory delight toward others?  Even if there were a failure to love, did they not fear God?

Men presumed as pure are brought to light as defiled.

Priests are commissioned as eschatological signs of Christ’s kingdom.  This is a basic premise behind the promise or vow of celibacy.  Celibacy is not the same as chastity or virginity.  Rather, it is a wondrous way of loving others.  We are corporeal-spiritual composites, creatures of spirit and flesh.  The purity of the body is supposed to immediately signify the virtuous nature of the soul, the existential resolution as one who loves the Lord so tremendously that it spills over in concern for the neighbor.  As opposed to the pattern of the rich man going away sad because of his many possessions, it is the follower of Jesus who seeks to abandon earthly satisfaction so as to be rich in Christ.  What happened to this singleness of purpose in these men?  How is it that they could be satisfied with the carnal man when they were pledged to something greater, the one who lives in the Spirit?

Men presumed as holy are divulged as devils.

We are all called to be saints.  That is our fundamental purpose in life.  Christ as the new Adam comes into the world to restore an innocence that was lost by sin.  The priest is charged as an instrument of the Lord to dispense the divine mysteries in making this objective possible.  His ministrations allow us to enter in the saving paschal mystery.  Here is where the sins of these men become a kind of blasphemy against all that is holy and good.  Instead of realizing their role as sharers in Christ’s priesthood and extending his saving works, they look to the wimpish failure of the first Adam; indeed, worse than this, they play the role of the serpent.  Do they not see how they have been thoroughly soiled as slaves to the devil?  Have they stopped believing entirely?

We are told that a priest, even in mortal sin, can validly administer the sacraments.  This is one of the great absurdities of faith and yet one necessary to insure the efficacy of the sacraments in the life of God’s people.  Of course, while a bad priest might do some good, his bad character often sours the milk and corrupts or tears down what is built up.  This dissimulation probably constitutes a special wound in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Our Lord is pained by the priest who is a cheat or hypocrite, even as he is supposed to be “another Christ” at the altar.

It remains a conundrum that a priest might take his people to the very gates of heaven but himself be unable to enter.  While we might think that the graces of priesthood would make it easier for him to go to heaven; certain authorities have argued that it makes the prospect of hell more pressing and dangerous.  Why?  The more one is given, the more for which one will be held accountable.  The priest knows better and cannot claim ignorance.  Everything needed for salvation is immediately available.  That makes any neglect inexcusable.  Further, because he has been configured to Christ by his ordination, the devil targets him for every temptation and assault.  At his altar, at his desk, in his car and in his bed he is always in the midst of a fierce battle with the prince demon of perdition.  Priests who forget this will immediately stumble.  The senses are especially targeted.  The scandals of late all appeal to the flesh and sexuality.  The sins committed are virtually unimaginable.  Minds are clouded.  Hearts are hardened.  The devil will take any crack he can find to pierce the priest’s soul— smoking, drunkenness, gluttony, sloth, anger, jealousy, whatever.  The devil may have failed in his temptation of Christ; but starting with his apostles and coming down through history to his priests and bishops of today, he has found men who sometimes falter and even become his property.  Judas may not be the only bishop-priest in hell.

It is a terrible business when the weak link of faith is the shepherd. The weapons to hurt souls and to attack the Church then come from the very hands of the priest— hands that were consecrated for the chalice and the host.  We as Catholics become our own worst enemies.  It is at such times that we must remember that our faith is placed ultimately not in men but in God.  We should also recall the saints, for theirs is the true legacy of the Church.  Instead of running away, it becomes all the more imperative for God’s people to keep the faith and to demand fidelity and holiness of their priests.  All sins might be forgiven, but the sins against innocence must not be forgotten.  A reform of the Church will mean that some higher churchmen will have to step down, certain priests will have to be removed from ministry and others will have to embrace a heroic apostolate of penance and sanctity.  This is not a time for window dressing but of a true moral reform, to deal both with a hostile secular modernity and a rigid clericalism that makes careerism and a fear of scandal into higher imperatives than protecting God’s flock from the robber and the wolf.

If we enter into the light (not afraid of what will be unmasked) and not in the darkness (where the roaches of sin hide), then we will truly walk with Christ.  As opposed to the clamoring enemies of the Church who see the current scandal as the death knell for Catholicism, maybe it is an unavoidable summons to “grow up” and to become a more effective and genuine witness for Christ in the modern world?  Divine providence is most unfathomable when God draws something of the good from the misdirected evil of men.

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Still Struggling with Accompaniment

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Catholics in irregular unions have been encouraged to receive spiritual communion at Mass despite their marital status. How is this even possible should they be absolutely ill-disposed to grace?  Cardinal Kasper argues if they should be urged to receive the one then why not the other— the actual reception of Holy Communion. Should they be excluded from the Eucharist? He acknowledges that the reception of the Eucharist does not mean that they can contract a new “sacramental” marriage while the prior spouse is alive.  This has not changed.

Regarding charges of a doctrinal shift, Cardinal Donald Wuerl stated in a letter, “No, the Church’s teaching has not changed; objective truth remains unaffected.” Similarly, Cardinal Müller has said in regard to the permanency of marriage that “This is a matter of a consolidated magisterial teaching, supported by scripture and founded on a doctrinal reason.” This embattled issue is the praxis by which we might seek to assist couples in irregular unions at moving toward a “new integration” into the Church that would respect both the dignity of marriage and make possible a restoration to the sacramental life. I would concur with Cardinal Gerhard Müller that efforts by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and Cardinal Walter Kasper to reconcile a changed pastoral practice with traditional dogma in Amoris Laetitia (chapter 8) are not convincing.  Cardinal Müller states, “Thus, a paradigm shift, by which the Church takes on the criteria of modern society to be assimilated by it, constitutes not a development, but a corruption.”

Cardinal Kasper cites five criteria for the proper disposition to receive Holy Communion:

  • Genuine sorrow or contrition over the failed bond;
  • Views the restoration of the prior bond as utterly impossible;
  • Appreciates that abandoning the second bond would incur new guilt;
  • Attempts to live the second marriage in the “context of faith”; and
  • Yearns for the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist.

These are not wholly the traditional requirements, which are:  (1) being in the state of grace, 2) having fasted for one hour, and 3) appropriate devotion and/or attention.  Pastorally I can sympathize with what he is trying to do; however, I cannot give my support to what must still be regarded as an adulterous union.  Indeed, while there is tremendous sympathy for those who have entered into an irregular union, nothing is said about the abandoned and proper spouse.  Where is the concern that the spousal support and affection that should come to him or her is instead given to an another, an interloper?  Despite the context of feelings or emotions, there is an objective order that is not changed by sentiment or even by expressed sorrow.  True contrition should lead to an amendment of life.  It seems to me that this revisionist stance is a denial of personal heroism and a betrayal of the Church’s support, either for the abandoned spouse or should they both be culpable, for the valid marital union that is wounded.

Certain proponents contend that secular divorce should be weighed in the equation, a determination that is often required before annulment proceedings.  The Church seems to give certain deference to secular authority over marriage and divorce even though that same authority does not acknowledge the Church’s jurisdiction.  For instance, the courts have no reservation at rendering divorces, not merely for those married before civil magistrates, but for those whose marriages were witnessed before priests and deacons, as well.  If there were mutual respect, then the state would abide by the Church’s rules and withhold divorces to Catholic couples until or if annulments were granted by ecclesial authority.  But it is not going to happen.  Indeed, the secular and religious definition of marriage daily becomes more divergent; we see this most clearly in the emergence of same-sex unions given the same legal gravity as bonds between men and women.  Cardinal Kasper wants to give something of the importance rendered to valid unions to feigned marriages.  His criteria are sufficiently vague; so much so that unqualified they would equally attempt to justify homosexual as well as heerosexual bonds.  Applying the Cardinal’s categories: the gay person might be sorry about prior failed attempts at heterosexual union; view as impossible either celibacy or “living the lie” of a conventional bond; understand that abandoning the same-sex union would be painful and usher forth unbearable guilt and betrayal; seek to live the new bond with fidelity as they worship regularly as Catholics; and long to receive the sacraments and find acceptance.  Would the Cardinal want his arguments stretched this far? The orthodox believer would argue that sex outside of a valid marriage is a sin.  Further, our Lord tells us that marriage lasts until the death of a spouse.  The Church defines marriage as an exclusive bond of unity and fidelity between a man and woman that is open to the generation of new human life.

Apologists for a change in discipline insist that we should redefine what is meant by adultery.  I am doubtful that this is possible.  The fact that those in irregular unions share tenderness for each other and display responsibility for children is indeed often quite true.  But sin does not have to be utterly malicious.  It can be subtle or even gentle.  No one questions their capacity for love and compassion.  However, does the good that one does for one eradicate the bad or the damage done to another?

As a bit of an aside, the movie and book SILENCE has a priest betray his faith so that the children and parishioners he loves might be spared torture and death.  We understand as weak human beings what he does.  However, we are also called to be saints.  While we try to make a positive difference in this world, we set our sights on the coming kingdom.  We are not promised perfect happiness in this world.  There is no road to holiness that sidesteps the Cross.  The priest in the story saved a few lives and his own, but did he cost them the faith and himself, his immortal soul?  The Church would tell us that God sets the terms for salvation.  Might the Church be on the precipice of betraying marriage just as a reputed change in Vatican policy to the Communists in China might betray the underground church?  Do we really want this pontificate and time in the Church’s history to go down as the age when we surrendered to secular modernity?  Returning to the subject of marriage and broken vows, are we not proposing that weakness and cowardice should be rewarded where we should be supporting courage and even martyrdom?  I cannot mentally escape the story of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher.  We allowed an entire empire and earthly kingdom to separate from the Church over the matter of a divorce.  As one Anglican critic recently said, if this discipline should change, then the Church of England finally wins.

Seeking to be a good priest, I would never do anything to deliberately hurt parishioners or to precipitate scandal.  Pastors of souls must keep professional secrecy and the seal of confession.  We might urge people in private to refrain from Holy Communion because of unresolved sins, but we would not seek to publicly embarrass and/or to berate them should they reject our guidance.  Behind the scenes, many priests quietly work with couples in irregular unions so that they might apply for annulments and hopefully have their unions con-validated by the Church.  There are also couples, often older, who live as brother and sister.  They need to be together but they also respect the teaching of Christ and the demands of the Church.  All this is wholly different from the attitude that couples in irregular unions might be publicly invited by their pastors to full participation in the sacramental life while remaining in a second or third civil marriage.  Does the need for penance and the Eucharist trump the sacrament of matrimony?  How can this be when the sacrament of marriage is intimately associated with the covenant of Christ and his relationship with the Church, his bride?

I have struggled to appreciate Cardinal Kasper’s reasoning.  Nevertheless, it still befuddles me.  He asserts that nothing has changed because even if we allow those in irregular unions to receive absolution in confession and to take Holy Communion, they still cannot contract a new “sacramental” marriage while the prior spouse is alive.  It perplexes me to no end as to why he does not see the inner contradiction.  The logic he employs utterly escapes me.  He seems to be making a distinction between a one-time sacrament and those sacraments which are regularly received again and again. But marriage is a sacred covenant with one’s spouse in Christ that is renewed regularly with the marital act whereby the two become one flesh.  Sexual intercourse with anyone other than the spouse signifies not the renewal or consummation of the covenant bond, but rather, its betrayal.  How can one betray the covenant of Christ in bed and then receive the Eucharist which is the new covenant in Christ’s flesh and blood?  How can one be absolved from sins when the mortal sin of adultery remains undisturbed at the very center of life?

It should also be added that while the focus is often necessarily upon the sexual dynamic of marriage and fidelity; sexual or genital expression does not exhaust all the intimacies and duties that come along with marriage.  Divorce and remarriage (or cohabitation) signifies a violation of the whole package of the bond.  They are called to share a common life, to give daily comfort and companionship, and to be helpmates in finding their salvation in the Lord.  Married couples are called to be best friends.  No matter what comes, they are supposed to stand together.  All these elements are violated with infidelity and divorce.  As the Church struggles to delineate the boundaries of accompaniment; I plead that we do not forget the true spouse.  In many cases, he or she might have been innocent and desiring to fight to make the marriage work.  But it takes two and what is one to do when the other walks away.  Often they suffer alone in silence, praying and loving a spouse that seems to have forgotten them— who now takes comfort and pleasure in another’s arms.  As a priest I have counseled many such people.  Faithful to the Church and to their conscience that the bond was true (meaning forever) they one-sidedly keep their shredded promises and do not date.  Offspring are also part of the larger picture.  Children from an abandoned family are made aware that their father has started a new family.  They wonder within their sorrow and tears, why does he love them more than us?

My pressing personal concern is beyond the temporal or pastoral and admittedly, is somewhat selfish.  If I should invite those in irregular unions to take the Eucharist and/or to be absolved in the confessional; would I be compromising my own soul by enabling or condoning mortal sin?  I can appreciate “accompaniment” but like the men on the road to Emmaus, I would like to see them turn around.  I do not want to walk unashamedly with adulterers, even very cordial and pious ones, into the flames of perdition.  Of course, it is possible that they might be saved by their ignorance of the truth; just as I might be condemned for my certainty about it.  Wouldn’t that take the cake!

Sexuality is Who You Are Not What You Do

We are sexual beings.  Even the celibate knows himself as either male or female.  The word sex is often wrongly reduced to activity.  It is actually expressive of our identity or who we are.  It is for this reason that the U.S. Bishops went forward with the “Marriage Matters” campaign against so-called same sex marriage.  Marriage is an exclusive bond between a man and a woman.

Reductionists perceive sexuality as an action and one that can be measured or judged.  It sacrifices the element of mystery as a quality of a person’s inner being.  It is also narrowed to consequences.  Pregnancy and birth are inhibited as one would a disease.  The prospect of a stable or singular relationship is often spurned in favor of momentary pleasure or a thill that might employ any number of sexual partners or none at all.  People “have” sex instead of “being” their sex.

I recall a paperback fantasy story (the title escapes me) in which those cast in hell became more bestial.  Everything and everyone became more eroticized in hell.  Women became more endowed in breasts and curves.  The men discovered that their genitals grew and they lost almost all self-control.  One man tried to sneak into heaven but raced back to hell when he observed the gradual disappearance of his male sex organs.  Despite these peculiar elements, the author tried to avoid the more grievous vulgarities in his composition so as to promote certain moral truths. While interesting fiction, I would contend that he got the situation basically wrong.  We become more and not less of what we are with judgment in the afterlife; men and women in heaven will never stop being male or female.  Joseph is still the foster “father” of Jesus and Mary will always be the blessed “mother” and the New Eve.  There will be no concupiscence in heaven.  There will be no marrying or giving in marriage— except for the marriage banquet of the Lamb.  There will be perfect self-control.  There will be unity in Christ.  We will relate to one another as brothers and sisters, men and women— not as sexless drones.

While angels may be without gender, such is not the state of human beings.  Male and female is how we are made and it is how we will be remade.  God’s grace will perfect us but we will still be who and what we are.  The divine economy will give us a share in immortality but God will not unmake our identity.

Frequently in these arguments, critics will point to St. Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ “there is neither male nor female.”  This does not mean that men and women are interchangeable or utterly the same.  What it does say is that men and women alike are called by Christ to be disciples.  We all have the capacity for faith and to benefit from the saving graces of baptism.  I have engaged in past debates where critics used this passage to argue for women’s ordination.  However, it does not apply to anything more than our universal priesthood in baptism.  The tradition coming down from Christ and the apostles is that the ordained priesthood is reserved to men.  Men are seen as living icons for Christ.  They signify the divine bridegroom at the altar with the Church as his bride.  A woman priest would suffer from the same critique as would same-sex marriages:  the marriage analogy would be transformed into a lesbian caricature that could only feign priesthood.  The true priesthood, the Mass and sacramental absolution would be lost.  Gender is not an accidental element but a substantial quality of human identity.

An Over-sexed World Does Not Understand Sex

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Analogies scratch at the surface of truth and reality.  Nevertheless, they do allow a certain degree of illumination.  We speak of heaven as an eternal banquet.  We view the relationship of Christ to his Church as akin to the marital bond of a husband to his wife.  Just as there can be no gluttony in heaven, neither can there be lust.  The imperfections in human desires and activities can have no part to play in their eternal dimension.  While we are broken, the moral life demands that we strive toward something of the perfection that awaits us.  Food means physical life.  Marriage means the life of children.  Food gives satisfaction.  Marriage brings the joy of marital union.  God will sustain us and he will feed us with his very self.  Ultimately, the measure of our unity is within the peace of Christ.

It may be that marriage finds itself in trouble within the modern world because people do not know what marriage and sex is really about.  Failure to appreciate the truth damages relationships and makes the marriage analogy incomprehensible.  There is confusion because many refuse to admit that they might be wrong.  Just as certain virgins are anxious about telling others about their inexperience; those with active sex-lives may be reticent to admit that they are regularly engaged in something that they really do not understand.  Persons are often reduced to a means to a selfish end.  Sex is treated as recreation or as something to release tension.  While it should be expressive of a bond, it should not be regarded as bondage.  The abuse of sexual union leads to a whole assortment of ills.  That which should draw people together and make possible personal integrity can inadvertently fragment personalities and cause rifts of infidelity and frustration.  If one has a negative experience of sexual behavior, particularly when it is abusive, then how can he or she imagine that it is good, joyous and holy?  There may be no sexual intercourse in heaven; however, this does not mean that such loving coupling cannot point to a profound intimacy between the divine and the communion of the saints.

Our culture is erotically saturated.  Pornography has gone largely mainstream.  Sex pollutes the media entertainments and advertising.  Many people claim that they have to have it, giving impetus to a drug market where all sorts of dysfunction cures are prescribed.  Nevertheless, while there is a focus on fantasy and the mechanics of human sexuality; there is a paucity of reflection upon ultimate meaning and the theology of the body.  If human sexuality is reduced to an accidental then it might no longer matter… serial marriages, multiple partners, same-sex unions, fornication and even adultery are shifted to the periphery of social life with minimal moral importance.  However, the traditional Western philosophical and religious critic would lament that this is all a lie.  Human sexuality is not accidental and gender is not interchangeable.  There must be a genuine complementarity, sufficient gravity in importance and a lasting permanence.  Our gender identity is a core substantive element.  The union of men and women is not between two half’s but rather two whole’s.  It builds upon who they are, making them (together) something new.

 

The Dark Secret

What is the presumed dark truth that remains largely unspoken by the churchmen desiring a “paradigm shift” in reference to those in irregular unions being invited to receive the sacraments, i.e. the Eucharist and the penitential absolution?

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I suspect that despite objections to the contrary, they really do not believe that there is any lasting bond (sacramental, natural or spiritual) associated with the marriage of men and women.  There was a priest I knew, died some years ago, who ridiculed the very notion that there was a lasting spiritual change in the spouses akin to the sacramental character imprinted upon the soul of men ordained to the priesthood.  While I agreed that sacerdotal ordination was “forever” and that marriage was “until death do they part,” he spurned the notion of any real but invisible tie between spouses other than a psychological one.  His view seemed to me as overly Anglican, as does the Orthodox compromise of penitential marriage.  My thinking upon the question remains unchanged.

Marriage is a perpetual bond.  Our Lord insists that it remains in effect as indissoluble as long as the spouses are alive.  Further, while marriage ends at the threshold of this world and the next, we should all appreciate in Christ that love is stronger than death.  There is something about the connection that changes spouses in an irrevocable way.  They might marry again after a spouse dies; but a mysterious quality remains from the first union.  Something changed with the bond that does not revert back to what it was before.  Given that marriage is reflective of Christ’s relationship with his bride, the Church, this struck me as a necessary truth.  Our Lord will never abandon or divorce his Church.  Spouses give something to the beloved that is singular and that creates a union that is unique and unrepeatable.  A second marriage may have its own value and particular traits; however, while not maligning a second chance at love, the first bond (if real, and in certain cases even when suspect) has a residual or lasting impact or impression.  I am talking about more than mental memories; it is as if the body itself has its own remembrance.  Further, what we do in the flesh has a powerful interplay with the human soul and identity.

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.”

C. S. Lewis has this to say in Letter 18 of The Screwtape Letters:

The Enemy described a married couple as “one flesh.” He did not say “a happily married couple” or “a couple who married because they were in love,” but you can make the humans ignore that. You can also make them forget that the man they call Paul did not confine it to married couples. Mere copulation, for him, makes “one flesh.” You can thus get the humans to accept as rhetorical eulogies of “being in love” what were in fact plain descriptions of the real significance of sexual intercourse. The truth is that wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured. From the true statement that this transcendental relation was intended to produce, and, if obediently entered into, too often will produce, affection and the family, humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call “being in love” is the only thing that makes marriage either happy or holy. The error is easy to produce because “being in love” does very often, in Western Europe, precede marriages which are made in obedience to the Enemy’s designs, that is, with the intention of fidelity, fertility and good will; just as religious emotion very often, but not always, attends conversion. In other words, the humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly-colored and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result.

 

The Heat & Controversy Continues…

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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.

Not the Clarification for Which Many Were Waiting

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Last year the Buenos Aires bishops interpreted the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia so as to permit those sexually active in invalid unions to receive Holy Communion (in certain cases). The Holy Father praised their interpretation in a private letter (September 5, 2016) to Bishop Sergio Alfredo Fenoy, the Delegate of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina. He wrote, “El escrito es muy bueno y explicita cabalmente el sentido del capitulo VIII de Amoris laetitia. No hay otras interpretaciones.” (Translation: The document is very good and clearly explains the meaning of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations). On June 5, 2017 by order of a papal rescript, both the Criteria or Interpretation of the Buenos Aires bishops and the papal letter were published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, purportedly making this the position of the Church’s “authentic Magisterium.” This seems to conflict with the teaching of Pope John Paul II and with the current Code of Canon Law (canon 752). It would affect our discipline about Holy Communion and even Confessional Absolution. Cardinal Wuerl insists that the doctrine has not changed, just the pastoral discipline. I think I will go back to praying on my knees for awhile on this one.