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Reflective of Human Nature or Sexist?

It is sometimes difficult to keep up with our changing culture. How some people hear and read things is often at great variance between people of differing generations and those more or less sensitive to varying views about human nature and morality. A Texas school district has removed a quote that was painted above lockers at a middle and elementary school after the quote sparked criticism online this week. It reads:  “The more you act like a lady, the more he’ll act like a gentleman.”

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It was argued that it perpetuated “horrible gender stereotypes, shaming women, sexism, misogyny, and discrimination.”  Is that how everyone sees it?

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Just curious as it was reminiscent of a quote from the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who wrote in LIFE IS WORTH LIVING:

“When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

He was also once purportedly cited at a dinner of saying, “Men will be as good as women want them to be.” Men seemed to understand and did not think it was sexist or pejorative of males.  I suppose it simply respected the assumption that men and women were wired somewhat differently.

Is this no longer regarded as a tenable proposition?

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How Do We Get Out of This Mess?

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His Enemy Came and Sowed Weeds All through the Wheat

These are dark days for the Church.  One of my friends even said, “These scandals make me feel ashamed to work for the Church.” I well understood.  At every Mass a priest mentions and prays for his bishop by name.  What if a bishop should disappoint you or you discover that one was likely a reprobate?  I suspect a number of priests have paused or recently winced during the saying of the Eucharistic prayer.  In any case, we are called to pray for the good and the bad, always remembering as priests that we are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.

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Jesus’ apostles often disappointed him— one even betrayed and despaired, taking his own life.  I suppose the best of priests are wounded healers.  Nevertheless, there are certain sins that cry out to heaven.  I am reminded of one of the parables:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Is it time for the harvest?  It is so very hard to separate the weeds from the wheat.  Indeed, the weeds threaten to strangle the wheat.  We desperately want to see the weeds bundled and burned.

The Devil Made Me Do It

Alarmists about Vatican II regularly cite a quotation attributed to Pope Paul VI that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”  While I neither have a celebratory nor a pejorative view of the Council, I do feel that a diabolical attack upon the Church extending back to the very beginning of the incarnation is reaching a fever pitch in these latter days.  The assault targets both clergy and lay.  The complicit backdrop is a culture where sexual perversion is increasingly regarded as normative, where immigrant families are derided as criminals and subhumans and where mothers argue for the choice or right to murder their children.

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Just as Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient promise for redemption given our first parents; the devil is all about broken promises.  He corrupted Adam but failed when it came to Jesus and that failure fills him with an eternal spite.  He numbs consciences to the truth about the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons.  He hardens hearts, not merely against charity but even about what should be obvious in regards to compassion, mercy and decency.  Truth is an immediate casualty but so is the love that beckons to us from the Cross.  We become comfortable with our sins and selfishness.  Divine commands become weak suggestions.

Christ was tempted but could not fall; however, we still struggle with the brokenness of the first Adam.  Apart from Christ we are destined to fail.  The world pampers our pride.  The flesh entices our senses.  The devil seeks to oppress and even to possess us.  Satan has a burning hatred for us and the Church.  He lost the war against Christ but continues to corrupt and steal in skirmishes for individual souls.  We should not pretend that the devil is a fool.  He knows that the best way to hurt the Church is to undermine her ministers— as goes the priesthood, so goes the Church.  It was only a matter of time that this crisis would turn to the bishops given that they possess the fullness of priesthood.

Jesus redeemed us and yet some would return to their bondage of suffering, sin and death.  We hear the devil speaking through the mouths of his slaves all the time:  “I am not a saint so why try? May we always be going to hell but never get there.  You can’t tell me what to do.  If it feels good then do it.  It is my body.  Everyone is doing it! Those foreigners are all drug dealers and rapists!  I’ll run over anyone who gets in my way!  Going to church is a waste of my time.  To hell with her brains, I want her for her body.  We don’t want his kind around here. It only becomes a baby if you want it.”  Yes, I am convinced that the devil has a hand in this abuse scandal; but, of course, none of the guilty can escape personal culpability.

Man Has Made Himself the Measure of All Things

153444973830414067 (3)Everything is salted with sensuality and eroticism:  television, movies, music, books, art, the internet, etc.  Fifty Shades of Grey becomes a bestselling book and it leads to sequels and films, affirming that pornography has truly gone mainstream.  We feed our children to demons, not only with abortion but by eroticizing adolescents— dressing them as provocative adults, putting makeup on babies, romanticizing their juvenile relationships and allowing them to set the rules in our homes (giving them everything they want).  We fill their heads with profane music and delight in their dancing, much as did lecherous Herod over Salome.  Nevertheless, denying our own cooperation in sin, we point the finger at others when lines are crossed.  Man imposes his strictures of fad as dictates over natural law itself, the height of lunacy. Few are willing to admit that gender confusion and same-sex unions place sick minds over otherwise healthy bodies and make a twisted parody of marriage.

Forbidden are a host of words and concepts like purity, chastity, virginity, temperance, obedience, duty, sacrifice, etc.  Truth is no longer “what is” but simply “what we want it to be.” A Christian society has largely vanished.  Many elements of the Church have given up the fight and have been seduced.  Custody of the eyes is virtually impossible.  If there remains any element of shame from damaged consciences and complicity in scandal then it is brushed aside by critics upon others.  We find much of this transference in how the Church is faulted, especially her clergy.  A problematical homosexual infestation is ignored or tolerated because the culture wants to affirm and normalize homosexuality.  Thus, the errant priests who largely target males are labeled as “pedophiles” when in actuality they are largely repressed homosexuals acting out with other men or committing pederasty with older minors.

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Where do we go from here?  Silence was not the answer; indeed, it became part of the problem.  Moving the men around was not the answer; like shipping the trash out to sea it only made a problem for others somewhere else.  Much of the damage cannot be healed.  What was done cannot be undone.  Many of us had hoped and prayed that this problem was largely behind us.  Now we know that most of us will be long in the grave before these troubled seas are calm again.

The late cardinal-priest Dulles was a prophet about this problem, urging adequate protections for innocent priests but also alerting the bishops that they should not exclude themselves from reprimand and public penance.  When these issues first began to make headlines the USCCB recommended a day of penance for the laity to pray upon this issue— but the criticism was rightfully made that the laity would prefer to see the bishops and priests on their knees.  The situation with the disoriented and misbehaving clergy might have been a symptom of a sick society and a repressive Church but still people were right to argue about the blinders that some of the shepherds were wearing.  I suppose the issue of fault is often connected to liability and lawyers.  It should be about contrition, amendment of life and penance.

The revelations during the last few weeks have caused many of us who love the Church, clergy and laity alike, to weep as we have prayed.  How can we win back the confidence of God’s people as credible witnesses to the Gospel? The flock has every right to be upset at the many allegations of misconduct and the passivity from bishops in protecting our children.  Where was accountability in all this?  How could anyone move up the ranks of the hierarchy when there were sordid rumors and even past settlements for sexual misbehavior?  Many of us are shaking our heads; it is so unbelievable.  And yet, like throwing gasoline into an open fire, there are many in authority claiming “I did not know” or “We thought we could morally reform the man” or “A few of the details need correction or clarification.”  No one should be falsely charged, either in the commission of heinous acts or as hiding that which cries out to be known; however, missteps were made and we will never move forward while there is a refusal to accept responsibility for how matters were handled.

I’m Mad as Hell and I am Not Going to Take This Anymore!

Most bishops do not regularly live and work in parishes.  They may not be fully aware of how angry people are.  I am reminded of the 1976 movie Network where the television newscaster shouts, “You’ve got to say: I’m a human being, g-dammit! My life has value! So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

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As I said, the faithful have every right to be upset.  They deserve good and holy priests.  They should expect that their bishops and priests would love and protect them, especially the children.  Will we see more empty pews?  Will needed funds dry up?  I cannot yet say, although I have heard more than one person say that he or she will be cutting back.  As with the lawsuits and large monetary awards to victims and their lawyers— we could also end up victimizing the faithful in the pews and the needy in our communities. While the Church’s moral authority is compromised, we are still a voice and helping hand for the oppressed and the poor.  What will happen to them if our resources are stripped away from the Church?

A Proposal for the Future

I have a hard time believing some of the things I am hearing.  I do not want to believe it all.  The deteriorating situation signifies bad news in terms of our credibility in proclaiming the Good News.  Again, what must we do?  Msgr. Charles Pope writes:

“As a lower-ranking priest I cannot issue demands or send binding norms to those in wider and upper ranks of the hierarchy, but I do want to say to God’s faithful how powerfully aware I am of their justified anger and agree with their insistence that something more than symbolic action or promises of future reform is necessary.”

At the end of his article at the National Catholic Register, he states:

“Remember, too, not every bishop or priest is equally to blame. Some are suffering as much as you are. However, no one, clergy or lay, should exempt himself from the task of summoning the Church to reform and greater holiness.”

That is exactly the case and I would like to applaud his courage and forthrightness in saying so.

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It is my view that only something drastic will make any difference in the current climate of anger and distrust.  I am only a priest and maybe a poor one, but here are my suggestions:

  • There should be a new review board given over entirely to the laity (men and women) where bishops could participate as observers and advisors (on ecclesial protocols as well as canonical and theological questions.)
  • While certain facets of professional secrecy and the seal of confession would have to be respected, there should be no secret agreements and a general transparency in the process.
  • There would need to be collaboration with the Holy See, not only to modify certain canons of the Church (returning to the explicit language of the 1917 code), but to create an independent canonical board and to facilitate canonical trials.
  • This review board should also become a clearing house for charges against clergy, especially bishops; priests would be able to share what they know without fear of reprisal in their dioceses.
  • There should be a general purge of those in the upper hierarchy who have tolerated homosexuality or who have failed in their duty to protect vulnerable persons and the young from predator priests (through either silence or shuffling clergy elsewhere).
  • There should be a bill of rights for priests to insure justice and due process in determining innocence or guilt along with a provision for legal representation (an innocent priest should not be reduced to bankruptcy in trying to defend his good name while Church lawyers defend bishops).
  • Continue to insure that those who have abused or harmed minors should be permanently removed from Church ministries.
  • Insure that all programs of priestly formation also include regular psychological evaluation from a therapist who assents to Church teaching on human sexuality, not minimizing issues like consensual heterosexual relations (fornication), homosexual acts, masturbation, pornography and a general discomfort around women.
  • Forbid seminary formation to anyone who has committed homosexual acts and permanently remove any priests from ministry who violate their celibacy in committing them.
  • Suspend a priest from active ministry who has violated his celibacy with heterosexual acts, requiring either his laicization or that he spend five years doing penance in a monastic environment along with appropriate counseling prior to returning to ministry in another (arch)diocese.
  • Reparation for victims that brings some degree of healing and help to those harmed while not destroying the resources that rightly belong to those in the pews and to those assisted by our charity and justice initiatives. (Do we have to review the “corporate sole” model?)
  • Promote policies that both protect vulnerable persons and yet insure fair and just treatment for those accused.
  • As witnessed by Pope Francis, bishops should be required in all cases to live a very modest lifestyle with no more perks than those given to the poorest priest.
  • A penitential reform within the Church that would restore the Friday fasting and abstinence practices of the past for everyone and add particular acts of penance (over and above this) for all bishops and priests.
  • A daily campaign of praying the Rosary and/or the Liturgy of the Hours for the sanctification of priests, the fidelity of the Church and the conversion of sinners.
  • Restore the Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel to the liturgy, either at the end of the bidding prayers or at the conclusion of the Mass (Satan needs to be uprooted).

The Faithful Laity Can Save the Church

This is one of those situations where the good suffer along with the bad.  The true “sensus fidelium” is not with dissenters, but with the faithful laity and they are the ones through their prayers and intervention who will now make a difference.  Pray for the Church and dialogue with the bishops and priests.  This is not a situation the bishops can fix.  As one person said to me, “Their credibility is shot!”

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I noticed online that a few of the Hollywood celebrities have added their two cents (mostly negative) to this crisis in the Church.  It would seem to me that when it comes to scandal they should be the last ones to talk, but I suppose it makes good fodder for deflection.  Pointing to the sins of others takes the attention off our own. Years ago when these scandals first broke, I asked an elderly priest (who has since gone to God) about such matters.  He explained that he was surprised about the child abuse but that the problem of errant priests was not new.  However, he explained, the Church treated transgressions (as when a priest fell with a woman) entirely as moral ones, not focusing on psychological issues or any kind of pathology beyond the man’s control.  It was presumed that after a reprimand, going to confession, a retreat and a verbal assurance of repentance— that a priest might be returned to ministry.  Evidently, when it came to some of them, and particularly regarding disordered urges and an attraction to youth, no such assurances could be trusted.

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There has been a great deal in the news about allegations of misconduct by Cardinal McCarrick.  He has resigned from the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis has ordered him to pursue a “life of prayer and penance.” There is not much more that I can say about what has come out about Cardinal McCarrick.  He was a great communicator and extremely charismatic.  We clashed years ago when I openly opposed the practice of giving Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians.  I am still deeply troubled about such policies, although the scope seems to be expanding to include invitations for those in adulterous unions to take the sacrament and even to receive absolution.  How can the mortal sins of enabling murder or committing marital infidelity properly dispose one for the divine mysteries?  I shake my head.  Maybe I am too stupid to understand?  I promised him years ago that I would pray for him daily.  Now, more than before, I am dedicated to keeping that promise.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church was hard to read.  I became overwhelmed by grief and wept.  How could this happen?  Priests are called “Father” and fathers are supposed to protect, nurture and heal their children.  My next emotion was anger.  Men broke their promises and they lied about it.  Others were so afraid of scandal and litigation that they apparently kept silent.  Was this the Church for which I sought to be a priest by entering the seminary 40 years ago?  Our faith is ultimately not in weak men but in Jesus who is God come down from heaven to save us.  Given all the negativity and the painful stories, how is it affecting the people in the pews?  (I am planning a monthly parish program on the saints.  That is where we find the real legacy of the Church.  We will focus on those who faithfully ran the race and won their crowns.)

When I heard that Cardinal Wuerl was coming to Washington I was delighted as I had been a fan of his catechism, The Teaching of Christ, going back to my college seminary days.  His little book, The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition, authored with Mike Aquilina, is a real gem and a useful tool in teaching about the Eucharistic liturgy.  As one of his priests, it is hard to hear all the criticism from his time in Pittsburgh.  It seems to me that he did so very much to make a positive difference in protecting children.  Did he stumble at some point?  I am certain that there are many families and victims appreciative for what he tried to do for them.  There has been some talk that the Grand Jury Report got a number of particulars wrong.  I am not in possession of all the facts and so I will leave it up to others to figure out.  I will keep him in my prayers, especially in the Mass, and urge our good people in the pews not to despair.

I am reminded of John Cardinal Newman’s work on the Arian crisis and St. Athanasius when so many of the bishops had fallen into heresy. He concluded that in the fourth century the laity were the heroes who had saved the day for the true faith. Separating the weeds from the wheat or the goats from the lambs, we need to trust our good lay men and women today.  I am not talking about dissenters but the homeschooling family, the teacher in the parish school, the volunteers running the bible study, the Blue Army lady always rattling off her beads in the lonely church, the teenager eager to serve Mass, the Knights of Columbus men who live out charity in our parishes and communities, the virtuous souls who march for life and stand outside abortion clinics praying for the unborn and their parents, the reader faithful to his service, the altar guild ladies who help set up for the liturgy, etc. This may be hard for bishops as it seems to be a surrender of their authority; however, in truth this is precisely the kind of humiliation that may restore their moral jurisdiction as servants of the Most High God.

Statement from the Archdiocese of Washington to Pastors

Many of you have addressed the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, as well as the Archbishop McCarrick matter in homilies or comments to your parishioners.  Cardinal Wuerl requests that you not shy away from addressing these matters again in a spirit and manner that you feel appropriate. He also requests that you include in your Prayers of the Faithful the following intercession:

“For young people and our most vulnerable that they remain safe and protected, and for those survivors of abuse whether by power or violence, especially by the clergy who have not lived up to their call to holiness. Let us pray to the Lord.”

Finally, as a concluding prayer after the Prayers of the Faithful, he requests the following Prayer for Healing Victims of Abuse from the USCCB:

God of endless love,
ever caring, ever strong,
always present, always just:
You gave your only Son
to save us by the blood of his cross.

Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,
join to your own suffering
the pain of all who have been hurt
in body, mind, and spirit
by those who betrayed the trust placed in them

Hear our cries as we agonize
over the harm done to our brothers and sisters.
Breathe wisdom into our prayers,
soothe restless hearts with hope,
steady shaken spirits with faith.
Show us the way to justice and wholeness,
enlightened by truth and enfolded in your mercy.

Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, 
heal your people’s wounds
and transform our brokenness.
Grant us courage and wisdom, humility and grace,
so that we may act with justice
and find peace in you.

We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

FROM CARDINAL WUERL:

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Episcopal Support as Pope Carries Out Reform

Statement Regarding Archbishop McCarrick

Statement on PA Grand Jury Report

Statement in Response to Grand Jury Report (in full)

But Judging Credibility in Abuse Cases Is a Tough Call

“I Met with Every Victim” (TV Interview)

FROM OTHER SOURCES:

Scapegoating Cardinal Wuerl

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Debunked

Pope Francis is on the Side of the Victims of Pennsylvania Abuse

The Good Ole Shepherds Club

Bishops will Have to Sacrifice Power & Privilege to Resolve the Abuse Crisis

Bishop Morlino: ‘Homosexual Subculture’ a Source of Devastation

After PA Grand Jury Report, Will Laws Change to Better Protect Children?

US Bishops Express Anguish Over Abuse Reports

Active Homosexuality in the Priesthood Helped Cause This Crisis

Janet Smith to Bishops: ‘Save the Church — Tell Everything’

 

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.