Monday, February 27, 2012

The path to chaos

(Sigh.) Should I bother apologizing for yet another late Monday blog post, or should we just agree that Mondays are impossible and go from there?

Mondays may not be impossible for all Catholic bloggers, though. The latest in the Catholic blogosphere: a battle over whether or not the Pope has indicated that there might be a way for divorced and "remarried" (e.g., not annulled) Catholics to return to Communion.

Deacon Greg Kandra kicked it off with a provocative post here, in which he quotes German theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff who claims that admittance to the sacraments for divorced Catholics who attempt a second "marriage" outside the Church is an open question.

Not so fast, says Dr. Ed Peters:

The latest in a long line of calls for divorced and remarried (outside the Church) Catholics to be formally readmitted to holy Communion, this one from Austria, is an example of the proclivity of some to take the pope’s thinking-out-loud about a topic as some sort of papal ipse dixit on that topic. Here, the pope is portrayed as having opened the door (twice in fact) to Catholics in irregular marriages being formally admitted to holy Communion—first in his remarks to the priests of the diocese of Aosta (2005) and again in one of his annual addresses to the Roman Rota (2006).

We may dispatch with the Rota claim forthwith: It’s not there. At all. The pope’s comments to priests in Aosta are more complex, I grant, but they do not, I think, signal a papal rethinking of Eucharistic discipline; rather, they show his interesting openness to rethinking an aspect of matrimonial law.

In his Aosta comments the pope recognized the pain of Catholics disallowed reception of holy Communion based on their irregular marriage situation, but his ideas toward alleviating that pain did not run toward changing the rules on admission to holy Communion. When he was Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope “wrote the book” (actually, it was a letter) on the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to holy Communion. His letter was a beautiful tapestry of pastoral solicitude, fidelity to Church teaching on marriage and the Eucharist, and appreciation for how canon law serves the Church and her members. Nothing in it suggests that any good comes from winking at the truth for, as everyone knows, the truth cannot set us free if it is not the truth. Parlaying papal remarks to diocesan priests into an abrogation of that dicasterial latter would be, to put it mildly, a stretch. [All links in original--E.M.]

Read the rest here.

The Curt Jester weighs in to agree strongly with Dr. Peters.

I may have had my differences in the past with Dr. Peters, but when someone's right, the fact that I've disagreed at other times doesn't stop me from emphatically agreeing. This is the case here. I may not be a theologian, a canon lawyer, or anybody but an opinionated redheaded Catholic laywoman, but the idea that people who are divorced and remarried outside the Church can be readmitted to the sacraments without either an annulment or the death of the spouse to whom they are putatively validly married would seem, to put it plainly, not even remotely possible.

Why? Because while the Church has the power to bind and to loosen, that power does not permit her to make morally good or even morally neutral that which is intrinsically evil. Adultery is one of those sins that just can't be defined as anything but evil; it is an offense against both chastity and justice to give the sexual gift to someone other than one's valid spouse. This is why a Church annulment is not a divorce, not at all--it is a pronouncement after an investigation by the Church which declares that what may have appeared to be a valid marriage was not one at all.

Any theological speculation as to how to deal with the very real pain of Catholics who are no longer in valid marriages but have contracted subsequent invalid ones will ultimately run up against the question: are those in invalid marriages, objectively speaking, committing adultery in their relations with each other, or are they not (assuming they are not living as brother and sister in an attempt to reconcile with the Church, of course)? If they are, then they can't receive Communion. If they are not--why, then, what is adultery, and why does this sin exist only in some who engage in sex outside of their valid marriages, but not all?

While I have great sympathy for people caught "outside" the Church's marriage laws, I think that the path to chaos is the one that starts by trying to come up with some version of "Catholic divorce" that would stop seeing marriage as an indissoluble union of two baptized persons. We have seen the wreckage of that path in other Christian churches, and should be even more wary of arguments in favor of it in our own.


Anonymous said...

Yes, the teachings are the teachings. So be it.

Here is what I am starting to think lately, and maybe it is because we have just had such a deluge of debate on these topics of marriage and sex as of late with the HHS mandate, the primaries, etc.

A thought experiment....Let's say, that starting this Sunday, every single RC priest in the country gets up at the homily and says exactly what the conditions are to receive Communion. Lays it all out. Birth control, divorced people, gay people, remarried people, abortion, the whole nine yards. Everything. And then gives the path back for each of these things [Confession and then of course changing or otherwise rectifying the situation]. And says don't present yourself for Communion until then.

How many people would walk out?

And of course, there would also be people who would walk out even though they don't fall into any of those categories, they would know some situation in their family that would make them sympathetic.

Ok, so what would happen? What percentage of people would be left in the pews? I venture to guess very few. It would be the end of the RC church in America as we know it.

Ann Marie

Rebecca in ID said...

I agree with you one hundred percent. It seems to me that asking the question of whether people remarried outside the Church should be admitted to communion, confuses the primary question, whether the Church should consider sacramental marriage indissoluble or not. That question is not open for discussion, as far as I understand the teaching of the church passed down through two thousand years. Or the other surrounding questions, whether Catholics should wait for the approval of the Church before living with someone as their spouse, etc. The answers would be more obvious then and would address the sins themselves, rather than making the issues look like this is about barring people from receiving. I know individual cases are complicated but Deacon Kandra's proposal seems to want to throw the very principles out the window. Maybe people are more confused because of no-fault divorce, so it's difficult to see as illegitimate, something declared to be a marriage by the state?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I won't attempt to weight in on canon law, or on what the Bishop of Rome may or may not have meant. I'm not Catholic, so I have no position to hold an opinion.

I will note, from outside the Church, that it seems to me that for every sin, there is some path to forgiveness and renewed communion. There is a certain logic to saying, but first you must abandon the sin, and in this case, that means abandoning an adulterous union.

However, if one has been married (outside the church) for many years, abandoning that "spouse" might be as great a sin, even a greater sin, particularly if legally married and undeceased spouse has no intention or desire to take back the divorced (outside the church) spouse in question.

Also, with regard to anullment, from outside the church, that is being handled in a manner which makes a laughingstock of the entire notion. Don't call it a divorce, call it an anullment. No, the marriage was not dissolved, it never existed, no matter what ceremony was held, no matter how many times it was consummated, no matter how many children resulted (and let's not get into whether this illegitimates said children...)

It seems that the church wants to recognize that charity requires a path back to communion for those who erred, without demanding the greater sin of abandoning the second "spouse," but to uphold the formality of canon law, it is done in a manner that weaves a more tangled web.

How about, require the lapsed spouse to obtain a written statement from the first spouse that s/he has no intention of taking them back, impose some suitable penance, require an affirmation that the current marriage really is for life, and then take back the straying sheep for God's sake?

Scott W. said...

Ok, so what would happen? What percentage of people would be left in the pews? I venture to guess very few. It would be the end of the RC church in America as we know it.

My guess is there would be a large exodus, but perhaps not as big as we think. Believe it or not, people actually respond to well-defined boundaries and might rise to the occasion. In any case, even if the worst happens and there is a mass exodus, there would be little doubt that those remaining were faithful (not perfect of course, but committed to living up to the demands of the Faith) as opposed to huge numbers of secular-Leftists running around in Catholic drag. Also, I think the "build it and they will come" effect will take place. The true faith will be a beacon to many to come in. So yeah, perhaps it would be the end of the Church as we know, but that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Did Blogger eat my comment again?