• Our Blogger

    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Ben on Ask a Priest
    Chinonye on Ask a Priest
    Anon on Ask a Priest
    J on Ask a Priest
    Gabriel on Ask a Priest

We Awaken to the Problem

The defection from faith is an important issue and why for the past two years I invited a young FOCUS missionary named Katie to give her appeal in the parish. Along with other young adults, FOCUS ministers to our youth on college campuses. The statistics are frightful. Some 80% of our youth fall way while at college. These young adults put their careers and much about their personal lives on hold so that they might make a difference for others.

students

I think in truth the issues began long before our teens headed off for college or entered the work force. Minimally Catholic kids suddenly find that they do not have the watchful eyes of parents upon them. Quickly, they are influenced by peers who have no quarter in their lives for organized religion or traditional values. Liberal faculties deride Christianity and mock the sacraments as the domain of ignorance. Professor Paul Zachary Myers is the most blatant on this list, urging college students to steal consecrated hosts so that he can document on the Internet his desecration of the Eucharist. This is not representative of a civil debate about belief; rather, it is an emotional and militant attack upon people of faith.

College campuses will sometimes have Newman Centers and/or Catholic Student Associations. But many of the Catholic students fail to get involved. The attendance of Catholic students at Mass, even at Catholic schools is often pathetic. The best numbers I have heard are at places like St. Francis in Steubenville, Ohio and Ave Maria in Florida. I know one school where the chaplain schedules Masses at midnight so that students will have less competition for their time. One is more likely to see lewd photos on Facebook than posts about religious epiphanies and retreats or time before the Blessed Sacrament. Of course, many parents might not know because they are quickly blocked from seeing what is actually going on.

I am not saying that efforts to evangelize in college are in vain. Rather, I am suggesting that more could have been done (or done differently) earlier to minimize the damage later on. Catholic schools could also be more proactive with single-sex dorms, expectations about participation at Mass, and an uncompromised message about fidelity to the faith and the living out of the commandments. However, we have a problem— when honors are granted to those who seek to strip the Church of her religious liberty— when organizations that promote a homosexual agenda and lifestyle are given funds and recognition— when health service referrals include artificial contraception and abortions— and when crucifixes are removed from classroom walls so as not to offend— then we have become our own worst enemy.

The Price of Compromising on Homosexuality

thKID0AXT3A priest friend recently announced that he saw the Church’s way of speaking of those with same-sex attractions as wildly exaggerated, harsh and inaccurate. His assertion deeply bothered me. I am well aware that people have taken offense and even left the Church over the assessment that homosexuals and lesbians are sexually “disordered.” Often the response to this issue or individual revelations, even from pulpits, is a deafening silence. Homosexuality is joining contraception as one of those issues rarely raised from the pulpit. Privately, people increasing accept and love their friends, regardless. Young people not only accept it but see those who do not as bigoted. Older people are generally more judgmental, but often suspend this judgment when the gay person is someone close to them. Silence is no real answer and a fire-and-brimstone sermon will arouse anger and hurt. But the truth is the truth, is it not? My priest friend argues in a way that makes my head hurt. Often I think he is more like the Episcopalians, suggesting compromise on contraception, divorce and remarriage, and now homosexuality. As for myself, I have no desire to cause pain for others; however, I was ordained to speak for Christ and his Church, not for myself. The Bible and the traditions of the Church give a negative verdict to same-sex attraction and activity. While the orientation is problematical, sin only enters the picture with wrongful fantasies and immoral actions.

My priest colleague insists that I am very wrong. There is the unspoken insinuation that he thinks I am slow or a bit dull-witted. He wonders why I cannot see things his way. He argues that we all want to be faithful to Jesus and Jesus was all about bringing the outcast home. He indicts me as doing the opposite, behaving more like a Pharisee. He raises his voice, “Show me even one place in the Gospels where Jesus teaches anything about homosexuality! If it is so important, then why is Jesus absolutely silent about it?” He laments that our Lord spoke forcibly against divorce, but points out that there is nothing on this issue. My mind works differently from his. The Bible is more than the Gospels.  The writings of St. Paul are also part of the New Testament. The whole book is the inspired Word of God. The apostle mentions homosexuality as one of a whole grocery list of sins that would forfeit the kingdom. This is serious language. If this is a sin that can land a person in hell; then how can we truly love them and either permit it or exhibit silence? He spoke as the kids do— “But they love each other! How can love ever be wrong?” Love can be plenty wrong. This was not just love, but physical and sexual behavior. This can be added to love, or express love, but love can be very wrong. You have no right to love another man’s wife. A priest has no right to love and keep a mistress. A man has no right to take another man to bed. The same goes for women with women. They can love as parent and child, as siblings, and as dear platonic friends— but erotic and genital love takes it where has no right to go. My priest friend came right out and said it, throwing aside recent papal teaching and the universal catechism, “As long as the gay couple is living in a loving and committed relationship, there is no sin, nothing is disordered.” This was not a new opinion. I heard it from one of my old professors some thirty years ago, Fr. Charles Curran. This was one of the dissenting views that cost him his license and position at the Catholic University of America.

My position is very different. I would side with my late cousin, Fr. John Harvey, the founder of an organization called COURAGE. These faithful sons and daughters deal with their disorder not by acting out but by embracing a life of celibate love, prayerful meditation and service to the community. We should not pretend that vice is virtue. Rather, we should call our brothers to repentance, conversion and heroic discipleship.

It is true that a person should not be judged by one element of his life. However, the activists themselves are the ones who raise their orientation as the singular marker for their identity. An orientation and lifestyle is redrafted as a basic expression of who they are and as something protected by civil rights laws. When you say “hate the sin” but “love the sinner,” they get mad and take it personally. They make no demarcation between their sexuality and how they are accepted as persons. They are wrong to do this but it has become an effective tool for manipulating people and institutions in our society. When it comes to the Catholic Church, though, they bust their heads against a stone wall. Everyone else is giving in, but the Church still says that “what they do” is wrong. What they hear from the Church is “who you are” is wrong. I suspect my brother priest left his guard down to this sort of control tactic. They seek to turn the guilt back on us so that the Church will give in. While we can show special compassion to individuals, I see no way for Catholicism to backtrack on this.

No Such Thing as Trial Marriages

This ad brings to the fore a concern that I have sought earnestly to expose. Couples say they are in love and yet they treat each other as disposable commodities. They have sex and cohabitate, treating the beloved like a used car taken out for a test drive. What a terrible way to treat persons!

Can We Tolerate Civil Marriage over a Church Wedding?

QUESTION: Dear Father, I am seeking for advice that comes from my religion. I am a Catholic and a Filipino. I want to get married but my girlfriend and I don’t have enough money budgeted for a church wedding. We are looking for a civil wedding but based on our faith, this wedding doesn’t have a blessing from our Lord God. Is it possible that we can get married through a civil wedding and after that go to our parish priest to bless us as a couple? Can we have our honeymoon then? Please give me advice. Thank you and God bless.

ANSWER:

You seem to already know the answer.  I cannot tell you anything different.  It might sound harsh, but I will keep you both in prayer. 

Some countries require a dual ceremony, even Italy, since priests do not function as magistrates of the state. In the United States, parish priests are authorized to witness weddings that are recognized both by the Church and by the state. You are right that the Church gives no weight to a strictly civil wedding. It must be witnessed by a priest and at least two witnesses.

I have heard your plight before and I am not very sympathetic. You could still have a church wedding because the sacraments are free. You do not need the expensive window dressing. My father got married in his blue suit, the only suit he owned. My mother wore her prettiest dress. The family had a picnic afterwards. They lived happily as man and wife until my father died 40 some years later. They had seven children and went to Mass every Sunday.

Get your priorities straight. Marriage outside the Church would place your beloved in serious sin and cut you both off from absolution in Confession and the reception of Holy Communion. A fancy gown and reception is not worth your immortal soul. Any children conceived deserve a mother and mother who are truly married in the eyes of God. Otherwise, what would it make you?

A priest could con-validate a civil wedding, but this does NOT bless the prior secular bond. The con-validation would be your true wedding. What came before was play-acting. You would have to repent, receive marriage preparation and receive the sacrament of Penance before the con-validation. Many priests today refuse to give large church weddings for couples civilly married and/or with children. Instead, they insist upon small con-validations with a few family and no music and no Mass. The reason for this is simple, so that other couples would not imitate such shameful and sinful acts. It is a proper punishment and/or penance for couples who are more interested in “show” and “money” then in “truth” and “virtue.”

God gives helping graces to couples who share the sacrament of marriage.  Believers who reject the covenant of marriage for a secular contract forfeit divine help, cause scandal, and threaten each other with the prospect of perdition.  That does NOT say love in my book.

Question 2 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

2. Marriage according to the Natural Law

a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?

It has been replaced by juridical fiction. Man has made himself the “almighty” master of his relationships and God is allowed no say. Same-sex unions immediately imply that the male-female scenario is no longer viewed as absolute. Natural law implies intelligent design and order. Such runs smack into the face of modern subjectivism and relativism. We still hear parodies of the natural law as when Christians find humour in saying that God made “Adam and Eve” not “Adam and Steve.” But there is not much depth to arguments.  Certain academics will appeal to natural law; indeed Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once wrote a brilliant paper showing how natural law invalidated claims on behalf of slavery. However, the accolades he won were lost when he showed how the same principles could be applied to the personhood of the unborn against abortion. Anthropologists are now quick to point to past aberrations of homosexuality to show a degree or normalcy that does not really exist. They will also argue that one worldview should not be given preference over another and despise the work of Christian missionaries in changing the values and practices of indigenous societies. This would even include attempts to stamp out polygamy.

b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?

Heterosexuals still see the immediacy of natural law with their unions and offspring. However, even here they are compromised by the rampant use of artificial contraception. The marital act is separated from its natural ends. The argument is that women are no longer restricted or in bondage to their biology.

c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?

We can talk about such matters in the context of past history but the current trajectory of these questions is something else entirely. The family unit was a building block to a stable society and crucial for civilization. Some experts speak from a type of pragmatism, saying that large families were only desirable when there were high mortality rates or when children become free employment in family businesses. Such reasoning would contend that small families are now the ideal, for population control or environmental issues. Church and society at large safeguarded the traditional family. Today the notion of family is so elastic that it is hard to define. Indeed, it is still evolving. Obviously the nuclear family is not the same as the extended families of Jesus’ day. But now households increasingly have one parent (usually the mother) or two men playing father or two women playing mother. While polygamy is currently against the law, as is pederasty, both are being challenged in the courts. In practice, without benefit of a contract, multiple men and women are already living together in partnerships that cross all gender lines without limits. I suspect we shall see unions of three or more people in civil marriages within the near future. Islam already permits such unions, at least for a man with several wives.

d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?

Non-Catholics cannot be married before a priest or deacon. There must be at least one practicing Catholic for a marriage, or at least a Catholic who is willing to reform. It would make no sense to witness the marriages of Catholics who have committed apostasy and would otherwise want no part of the Church. While such a scenario might be judged unlikely, it does come up. The pressure from parents and the beauty of a church building are enticements for such a request. When the priest says no, the upset is incalculable. But sometimes you have to say no. Nine times out of ten they will also refuse to take part in the marriage preparation. They will then ask if they can rent the church and bring in the local priestess from the Church of the Real Absence down the street. Again, the answer is no. They can repent and reform their lives or they can continue on their way.

Question 3 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization

a) What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the “domestic Church” be promoted?

It seems to me that marriage preparation is frequently too little too late. The class or classes become streamlined so that an obligation might be checked off the list. It seems to me that a successful program would cover basic Christian anthropology and would be so challenging that some couples would even decide not to get married or to continue relationships. We do not want to rubberstamp bad choices or assist people in going through the motions. There is already too much of this with our children. The Archdiocese has standards for catechesis but the guidelines have no teeth and are not binding for advancement. 60% was regarded as passing and yet in my book that rates a failing grade. Are we doing the same with marriage preparation programs? Many dioceses are also pushing off the responsibility to external groups or to individual parishes. But there is no mandated accreditation for these efforts. Some even seem to cloud the truth. For instance, methods of NFP might be taught. However, even NFP is immoral if practiced to avoid pregnancy. It can only be permitted for the spacing of births or to get pregnant. The exclusion of openness to procreation in the marital act is wrong and sinful. Do our couples know this? Are they getting NFP instruction? And is that instruction trustworthy? Hopefully the Theology of the Body plays a large part of such efforts. Catholics should appreciate the sacramental nature of marriage as a covenant established and renewed between themselves and the Lord. A love and passion for persons should be given preference over disorientation or the poison of lust and selfishness. They need to see the family as the little church.

Beyond content, I am also worried about timing. Instruction about marriage and moral human sexuality (not just a biology class) must begin early enough so that mistakes will not be blindly embraced in the dating scene. Courtship should be taught over the popular dating efforts in modern society. The truth that sex belongs only to marriage should be emphasized and witnessed by others. Catholics should also be encouraged to reserve their courtship to Catholics. When a Catholic dates a non-Catholic, we should not hesitate or be embarrassed to emphasize the faith and the joy of conversion to the truth. Such marriages still require dispensations.  Maybe we should require RCIA for mixed marriages and require a year or more waiting period?  If the husband and father is head of the home, it is only fitting that he should be the religious head. If he is not a Catholic, then this is compromised. Similarly the mother and wife should have a Catholic sense taken from the model of the Blessed Mother. A non-believer would not have this benefit. Marriages to Protestants might sometimes be tolerated. Marriages to Jews and especially Moslems should be strenuously discouraged. It is best not to date such persons. I am not arguing for an absolute prohibition but there should be a clear mutual agreement that the children will be raised as Catholics.  Such is for the good of faith, for the Catholic party and the children. I really think we have to rethink how we do things in our secular and diverse culture.

b) How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?

What is the measure of such success? People do not always share the intimacies of their spiritual lives. I have urged that we talk with God and that if we love someone then we want to know as much as possible about them. Prayer is a two-way communication that enhances and makes real our personal and corporate relationship with Jesus. I put together a small book for parishioners which speaks briefly about the meaning and variety of prayer; I list important devotional works that are part of our Catholic heritage; and I reproduce some traditional prayers. We live in a busy age, but we must make time for prayer, even if only short aspirations. Parishioners asked for and took the little book. Hopefully, along with my pastoral teaching it made some small difference. We instigated the Traveling Madonna (to pray for marriages and the right to life) and the Traveling Chalice (to pray for priests and vocations). I have urged families to set up prayer spaces or shrines in their homes; to consecrate their homes to the Sacred Heat and to have house blessings. I have suggested that couples have a pattern of prayer into which they can later introduce their children. Hopefully, they have taken all this to heart. Trying to transmit our faith and values can be frustrating.  One sometimes wonders if any difference was made.  But God does not demand that we be successful, only faithful.

c) In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfil their vocation of transmitting the faith?

You cannot give what you do not possess. The leaders of the Church played the part of the ostrich with its head in the sand. It was pretended that everything was going well while the house of cards was collapsing all around us. Many only became alert to the problem in the face of an aging demographic and a shortage of funds. If 75% of our people no longer participate at Sunday Mass, I think it is safe to say that the faith is not being transmitted to the next generation. Many are baptized and remain uncatechised. We can no longer count Catholics on the basis of sacraments received. Even among those practicing their faith, it is hard to light a fire for the faith. Parents are supposed to be the chief religious educators of their children, but practicing Catholics increasingly relinquish this role to the schools or to once-a-week catechesis. It just does not work. Past poor catechesis from the 1960’s and 70’s still haunts us. Adults cannot pass on or transmit what they do not have. There are several lost generations. Every Catholic family, no matter whether they use a parochial school or parish-based program, should be in essence a home-schooling family when it comes to our Catholic religion. It is not enough to do homework and count on others.  Religious faith and values should be studied every night without exception. Indeed, the habit of study should remain with our people so that as adults they will continue to explore the depths of our holy faith. But such is right now rarely the case.

d) In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?

I think such efforts are few and far between. Certainly young adults and teen groups are sometimes the source of religious education, prayer and worship. Small faith-sharing groups were once popular, but some authorities became concerned about the quality of materials and what was being taught. The Rosary remains a staple and the Stations of the Cross are important during Lent. Parishes offer Eucharistic Adoration. Charismatic prayer groups still exist although they seem less prevalent than a few years ago. They also suffered from too much dependence on lay prayer leaders, some of whom became overly intrusive into the personal lives of members. I would encourage the restoration of traditional efforts like the Holy Name Society, Sodalities, and the spiritual works of fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus.

e) What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?

First, we must resist the modern temptation to clericalize the laity with all sorts of Church ministries. Second, everything should be done to foster family life and values. (Catholics and other Christians should refrain from shopping on Sundays and spend time at home. This will also allow believers to be with their families and to be able to worship instead of working. We need to safeguard the Lord’s Day better than we have lately. Third, priests should consecrate the homes of couples in faithful marriages, reinforcing the sanctity of the home and urging them to keep negative elements outside their doors. Fourth, couples should stay together despite the obstacles and treat their fertility as a great blessing to be fulfilled with joy. In other words, love each other, have babies, work hard, and go to Mass. It really is no secret.

f) What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?

I will speak more about this in later questions, but feel that marriage preparation should be more than a quick Pre-Cana class. Marriage is a life-time commitment. Maybe it needs something more akin to the RCIA? Too often halls are rented and gowns are bought before the couple calls the priest. We need to turn this agenda around. While there are special programs to help hurting marriages; we also need a pool of professional counsellors who would be on call at modest cost to assist couples in struggling marriages. These counsellors should have the mind of the Church. Secular counsellors often see little or no value in permanence and quickly urge clients to separate and terminate relationships.

Question 4 – Extraordinary Synod on the Family

4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations

a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

Not only is it a reality, the practice is reaching beyond “ad experimentum” in becoming a state of life all its own. Sure, there are couples who “shack up” to see if they are meant to live together, but many cohabitate for years without getting married or even intending to get married. Society, itself, is unsure how to deal with the phenomena. For instance, laws for common law marriages are falling by the wayside. It created situations where couples were regarded as legally married while they, themselves, thought they were not. I suspect that some of these couples suffer from ambivalence about marriage or a fear of the lasting commitment. Of course, the epidemic of divorce may also be a catalyst. I have heard couples say that they want to be sure and that they do not become another negative statistic. Ironically, those who cohabitate before marriage do not seem to fare as well as those couples who are virginal and/or chaste; why is this? I would submit that cohabitation grants none of the spiritual safeguards for marriage and thus is not analogous. There are no graces from the sacrament; indeed, the couple are most probably living in a state of mortal sin. Such cohabitation presumes that the couple are engaged in sexual activity or fornication. Indeed, some couples live together because it makes sexual congress easier. Others live together because they take refuge in each other within an increasingly cold and disconnected world. Men and women are lonely and afraid. Even though they are not married, they cling to each other for support and companionship. Unfortunately, mortal sin is no adequate preparation for a grace-filled marriage. Couples say they love each other… but not enough to wait and not enough to preserve the holiness of the beloved. This selfishness and mind-set is a terminal kernel.

I should add that when these couples come to the priest and ask for marriage, they are frequently treated the same as chaste couples trying to do right by God, the Church and themselves.  A girl can be pregnant but she wants to wear white.  But if she is living with her boyfriend and having sex, it becomes a broken sign.  We can recommend separation but sometimes the length of the relationships and the logistics (including finances) of cohabitation would make this difficult.  I have them stay apart the night before the wedding and require them to go to Confession.  I would recommend that we marry such couples but do so in a way that minimizes the scandal.  They could offer their vows in a chapel of the rectory or in a small service with less than a dozen friends.  We could let couples know that cohabitation would cost them the marriage ceremony of their dreams.  These are precisely the people who need to ponder more the inner realities of marriage and less the external trappings.

b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?

Is this question for real? Of course, they exist. Indeed, this year for the first time in the United States there are more couples cohabitating than married.

“About a quarter of women move in with a romantic partner before the age of 20, and more women than ever live with a partner before they get married, according to a new report by the National Center for Health Statistics. Nearly half of women (48 percent) between the ages of 15 and 44 lived with a partner before getting married between the years of 2006 and 2010, an 11 percent jump since 2002 and a 41 percent jump since 1995. Less than a quarter of so-called “first unions”—meaning a first marriage or first cohabitation—were marriages during that span. In 2002, 30 percent of “first unions” were marriages. According to the report, 1-in-5 women became pregnant during their first year of premarital cohabitation, 40 percent of first marital cohabitations transitioned to marriage within three years, and 27 percent dissolved within five years. People are also prolonging marriage for longer after moving in together, according to the report. In 1995, the average length of a cohabitation that transitioned into marriage was 14 months—between 2006 and 2010, it was 21 months.”

c) Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programs?

Again, of course this is a reality here in the U.S. and the Archdiocese of Washington. It was hoped that the six-month waiting period before marriage, and the accompanying preparation, might help. But the divorce issue still plagues us. The problem’s answer is shared Catholic faith and values. If couples worship and pray together, a Gallup poll shows that all but 2% stay together. And even that 2% might be an aberration from false responses. Couples that do not pray face a 50% plus divorce rate. This truth speaks for itself. If a couple practices sacrificial love and places their marriage into God’s hands, then his grace will sustain them. If they ignore his help, they are more liable to fail. As for percentages in the parish, I cannot say. Many no longer even tell the priest. This includes those who have remarried outside the Church. This complicates matters and makes for embarrassing situations among volunteers for parish service or for membership in fraternal organizations like the Knights of St. John and the Knights of Columbus. Like most priests, I have no specific parish program to deal with this issue. The priest will offer counselling if they come forward and assist in an annulment and/or subsequent convalidation. The issue is delicate and sometimes frightfully complicated. I had a situation of a couple that wanted to get married in the Church. They were both Catholic but the man was previously married outside the Church in a civil court. The Church would not recognize that bond but it lasted some years and they had children. The man procured a Declaration of Nullity Because of Lack of Canonical Form. There was nothing really stopping the second (true) marriage. However, as the priest I felt corrupted by the situation. He had abandoned his prior spouse and the girl he wanted to marry was “the other woman” who bragged about stealing him from his civilly married spouse. Married or not, it was a sickening situation!

I know that there are programs in the Archdiocese to assist troubled marriages, like Retrouvaille. There is also Marriage Encounter.

d) In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?

Some drop out regarding religious practice. Others act as if it is no big deal. Those who take Church teaching seriously feel guilt but there is resentment that they cannot receive absolution and the Eucharist. They frequently want to be treated as regularized when they are not. Some priests have told them that it is up to their conscience as to receive Holy Communion or not. They might even shop around for priests tolerant on this point. Of course, guidelines in the Archdiocese of Washington are currently rather permissive and priests are generally not allowed to withhold the sacrament. (Although many of us regularly substitute a quick blessing gesture, something in itself which is not proper to the communion line but which helps to avoid a negative confrontation.) I have encountered a few over the years who were unaware of Catholic marriage law, but only a few. There has also been the wrinkle of renegade rent-a-priests who posture as clergy in good standing and witness marriages without faculties. I have encountered two cases of this in the last two years.

e) What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?

They all pretty much ask for the sacraments or are upset when they discover that they should refrain. That is why they see the priest. The majority drop out and probably do not care. They will not make the effort to talk to a priest. Unfortunately, everyone who goes to Mass these days takes the sacrament. Ushers have to be careful not to intimidate such people to come up so as to avoid shame.

f) Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

There has already been criticism of the many annulments granted in the United States. I suspect simplification would make the problem worse. Annulments must always be in conformity to the truth. There are some situations that cannot be fixed.

g) Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programs exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?

I think we need to do more to emphasize the value of the person who is not married or who through no fault of his or her own must now live as a single person after a failed marriage. Couples are not made up of two halfs that are made whole. We are complete unto ourselves. Not all stories in this world end happily. It is then we seek solidarity and consolation in Christ’s saving Cross.

Although not always conveniently located, there are also groups for Divorced and Separated Catholics. However, I am not certain that these always constitute the proper pastoral response. I have known divorced people becoming romantically inclined with people who share their hurts and disappointments. Instead of encouraging separated Catholics to mend fences, it makes the breaks permanent. Couples start dating when in the eyes of the Church they still belong to their lawful spouse. The Church, after all, does not recognize divorce and the person or persons who precipitate the break commit sin. This last point is either glossed over or denied, even by some assisting clergy. Are we encouraging fornication, cohabitation and adultery with our support groups for separated and divorced Catholics? Why is it that we do not encourage them to be chaste and content on their own?  Do we really want a breeding ground for romance for this group?