Thursday, February 26, 2015

Till death do us part--the scandal of Catholic divorce

Recently I’ve been seeing various things sent around in preparation for this year’s ordinary Synod of Bishops, at which event the continuation of the discussion on topics of marriage and family is planned.  Many of the things I’m seeing are petitions and letters begging the Holy Father not to change Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.  Which is not even on the table, actually--there are no plans whatsoever, from anything I’ve heard or read from any reliable source, to tinker with ancient Church teachings or settled doctrines at this or any synod.

What is possible (though it has yet to happen in any way at all) is that the pope and the bishops with him might agree that there could be better pastoral ways of handing the many situations of divorced and (civilly) remarried Catholics than to continue to use a one-size-fits-all annulment process that made sense in a world (not so long ago, alas) where even the secular world agreed that marriage was intended to be a sacred and binding union between a man and a woman that was supposed to be lifelong and ordered toward the good of the natural family, both the begetting of children and the raising of them in enduring and stable homes.  In the world we have today where most civil marriage or civil partnership laws philosophically presuppose that marriage is a the legal recognition of a temporary adult sex partnership based solely on the feelings of happiness and satisfaction each partner experiences, and dissolvable at any time either partner no longer feels happy or satisfied (without any reference to children or the stability of their homes whatsoever), it makes a certain amount of sense for the Church to consider whether the presumption of a validity based on the natural human elements of marriage (regardless of considerations of the sacramental element) can no longer be made for the vast majority of marriages taking place outside the Church’s own auspices.

These are complicated questions, and they are made more complicated by the unevenness of the pastoral reality on the ground in many countries; in some countries, even a “no-brainer” annulment of a first “marriage” between a baptized Catholic who never set foot in a Church after his Confirmation (and precious few times before it) and his Wiccan girlfriend conducted on a beach by a New Age priestess reading from her “Book O’ Wedding Platitudes” and concluding with the words, “I now pronounce you soul-mates!” or something can take hundreds of dollars and many years to complete, while in other countries such an annulment takes little time or money at all (as it shouldn’t--there’s more lacking there than mere dispensation paperwork, to put it lightly).

I am not worried that the Church is suddenly going to declare that every person who is divorced and remarried outside the Church can just ignore that first marriage and do whatever they want, because the Church isn’t like that.  The thing I do find worrisome--and not in a sense of wondering what the synod might do about it--is the worse scandal: the scandal of Catholic divorce.

To be clear, when I use the term “Catholic divorce” I don’t mean any baptized Catholic person who has ever divorced, or any Catholic person who divorced and was granted an annulment and went on to marry in the Church, or anything like that.  What I mean is the scandal of people who are solid, orthodox Catholics, who went through marriage preparation correcting the instructor’s occasional lapses into heresy, who made firm promises to avoid the evils of contraception, who had beautiful Catholic weddings and lovely Catholic baptisms for their babies and who were pillars of their parish churches--and who still ended up divorcing, often bitterly, often with an injured and innocent spouse on one side and a definitely guilty and reckless one on the other.  The case of Bud and Bai Macfarlane has always seemed to me to be a model of this sort of situation, where a seemingly happy Catholic family is destroyed when one spouse decides to lob the “divorce” bomb into the midst of it all.

I have a feeling that when many people start worrying about the divorced and remarried being admitted to Communion en masse, this is the sort of situation they’re thinking about--because I know few adult Catholics who have never encountered this sort of situation in their own or extended families or among friends or acquaintances.  The idea that people who know what marriage is, understand its earthly and heavenly significance, and who ought of all people to be committed and dedicated to building it up, “Till death do us part,” are instead actively seeking to destroy their own marriages is shocking and terrible.  Adultery is often involved, as are the whole host of usual problems (but, as I hope is clear, I’m not speaking of situations where an innocent person has to separate from his or her spouse due to abuse, including criminal behavior--such situations are obviously evil on the part of the abuser, but in those cases the spouse who leaves usually has little choice, and is trying to protect himself or herself and the children, which the Church fully supports and encourages).  At the root of most such divorces is an almost incomprehensible selfishness (especially when children are involved).

The Church, through the synods, is working to call back to the fold people who don’t have to remain separate from it, people whose first marriages were clearly invalid for excellent reasons and who may believe erroneously that none of that matters.  If I have any particular hope for the ultimate results of the Church’s present focus on marriage and family, it is that the scandal of validly married, active Catholics destroying their own families for no good reason at all is firmly and solidly addressed.


David Sharples said...

I have never known a married couple who have used NFP for serious reasons to divorce, never. I have known Catholics who just had "as many children as God -would send them" to divorce and I have known many many many Catholics who used contraception to divorce, but never anyone who used NFP for serious reasons.

Christ was tempted by the devil in the same manner as we are with sex and contraception:
1. "turn these stones into bread" - take this pill and you can have as much sex as you want, never mind following God's Design.
2. "throw yourself off this cliff, God will save you" - have as much sex as you want never mind being aware of fertility and praying for guidance, God will take care of you-
3. "All the kingdoms of the world" - use contraception, and you will not have the burden of children, don't follow the Church (Christ).

The question I have is why, oh why, is not the Synod first and foremost focused on NFP and treating the root cause of the problem of widespread Divorce??

Red Cardigan said...

Interesting comment, David, and I agree with you for the most part. But I have known some “NFP” Catholics also who divorced, so even that’s not a proof against it.

Apart from heartbreaking situations involving actual abuses, I think that the reason people divorce is even simpler: it’s selfishness. And when the Devil tempted Christ, he tempted Him to choose the selfishness of the world, the selfishness of the flesh, and the selfishness of the Devil himself (via false worship) over the Christian way of dying to self and taking up the Cross.

That’s why in much of her language to divorced people the Church has often spoke of the “innocent” spouse, the one who wanted to preserve the marriage. But when the guilty spouse is guilty enough to choose the selfishness of repeated infidelity, abandonment, the pursuit of a “new” love, etc. ahead of the good of his or her spouse and children he or she often frames those things to himself or herself as “happiness” or “love.” “I have the right to be happy!” he or she insists while plunging the innocent spouse and children into the horror of misery his or her actions cause. There is something really Hellish about divorce, in that the guilty party is so wrapped up in his or her own justifications that he or she becomes completely blind to the other person--and not just any other person, but The Other to whom he or she has sworn lifelong fidelity.

It is a mess.

Bai Macfarlane said...

Will you please share this

U.S. Diocese Upholds Marriage Against Abandonment
by Bai Macfarlane

Sentence Issued in Canon Law Legal Case - Catholics appear hypocritical when the Church teaches about the indissolubility of marriage, but remains silent when professed Catholic spouses abandon marriage… Mary’s Advocates has been given access by an abandoned husband to a formal decree issued by his Catholic diocese which defended the husband’s marriage against marital abandonment.