Divorce, remarriage, Communion. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

Let’s make this clear from the start.

People are going to sin. Nevertheless, we must uphold doctrine.

This is what is going to happen with the divorce/remarriage Commmunion thing.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, will eventually uphold the Church’s teaching and discipline that those who “marry” again after a divorce, that is, those who live in an adulterous relationship, cannot receive Holy Communion.

I don’t see any way around that. Furthermore, one of the main duties of every Pope is to say “No!”. It shouldn’t surprise us when they do.

In the meantime, bishops and theologians and parish priests and armchair theologians and journalists will write and talk and write and talk and worry and spout and write and talk some more about “compassion” and “solutions” and so forth. There will be a tsunami of options and articles crashing around by the time the Holy Father affirms that people who are divorced and “remarried” cannot receive Communion. As a matter of fact, it may come to pass that there will be so much confusion, so much damage done in the lead up to the Pope’s affirmation of traditional teaching, that his affirmation may not make a lot of difference to people.

So, I repeat:

People are going to sin. Nevertheless, we must uphold doctrine.

That’s the way we have always done this. That’s the way Jesus did it.

Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him. [Read John 6]

So, the Church will teach the truth – something that makes liberals and writers and readers of the National Schismatic Reporter have night sweats because they think anyone should have sex with anything – and people will, in their weakness and under the pressure of today’s confused culture, sin a lot – something that makes conservatives have night sweats because they fear for the eternal souls of so many who are falling away from the Faith.

It has ever been so.

This is what happened in the lead up to and in the wake of Humanae vitae. Everyone under the sun was telling Pope Paul VI that the Church had to change its teaching about contraception. Debate raged, committees committed, newsies spun. By the time Paul VI eventually issued the definitive Humanae vitae, confusion reigned. Bishops and priests far and wide defied the Pope and Humanae vitae‘s clear teaching. They stopped teaching what the Church teaches and, instead, from behind their hand or in the confessional whispered to people “just go ahead and use it”. So they did. Priests told people to sin or at least so soft-peddled the Church’s teaching that it seemed to make no difference. And in so doing, they undermined the Church’s Christ-given authority and put the souls of millions in danger as well as, perhaps, damning themselves.

That was fused together with social upheavals outside the Church, which were welcomed by the guardians of the sheepfold, into the Church, as well as titanic changes to our sacred worship, which left people with the sense that, “If Mass can change, then everything is up for grabs.”

It looks like history is repeating itself. By the time Pope Francis affirms what we all know to be true, many will then just say … as they are saying now… “Just go ahead and receive Communion.”

But in those circumstances receiving may actually endanger their salvation.

Worth it?

In effect, there may result what Card. Kasper infamously suggested to the bishops in the extraordinary synod during his looooong and rather flimsy ramble about Communion for the “remarried”. Effectively, he said that there could/should be a “tolerated, but not accepted” solution. That is: “The Church won’t accept your new status, because you are obviously committing adultery and Christ made it clear that you couldn’t ‘marry’ again with your spouse still on this side of the grass, but – hey! – we will hold our noses and watch you go to Communion anyway. You can be a kind of pity case or second class Catholic. We will tolerate you, but not accept you.”

I wonder how that is going to go over when people figure out how condescending that uncompassionate compassionate “solution” is.

Remember: Marriage is a public act with all sorts of consequences, including juridical effects. This is why people, when they marry, must do so precisely by the book, using exact language for vows, before witnesses. This is why what happened is written down in official registers. We don’t just hold hands and jump over broomsticks. Until the Church’s proper authority determines that there was never a sacramental marriage in the first place, the marriage is presumed to be valid. It must be demonstrated, to a point of moral certainty, that there isn’t a sacramental bond. That is, a couple can’t just say, “We were never married”, and then do whatever they please. Priests can’t just say, but they do, “Wellllll…. whatever. Let’s just pretend.”

As for the so-called “internal forum” solution… let us underscore that it is internal forum, usually something explored – very rarely – in confession, with great discretion and secrecy. Moreover, just like Christ told the adulterous woman – people are expected to amend their lives. If they live together, for the sake of raising child for example, they do so as brother and sister. If they receive Communion somewhere, they do so where they are not known to others in the congregation, so as to avoid scandal. Will it happen that they might occasionally have sex during this arrangement? Sure! It could happen. Hey, we are human and we fall. We sin. Let’s call it what it is. That’s why we have a Church. Thereafter, they take up their resolve again and try to live holy lives, with the suffering that will entail.

Come to think of it, a similar thing might apply to homosexuals. If we can wrap our heads around the fact that the very concept of true “friendship” is being distorted these days (as “marriage” is), two people of the same sex who in some way are committed to each other, and who have certain inclinations, may wind up sinning together. It happens. Life is messy and people are weak. But let’s not deny the truth. We uphold and defend and teach clear Catholic doctrine. We clearly point to the natural law. But we recognize that people are sinners in need of the Church’s help and, in compassion, we help them to live better lives after they get up off the ground.

You might object that they shouldn’t be living together, because the temptation is greater. Yes, that is so. They are playing with fire. It is better to avoid occasions of sin. But, again, there is nothing in the teaching of the Church that says that friends of the same sex can’t live together and even give each other power of attorney or whatever. And if they can manage to do it, live together without committing sins that cry to heaven, well… I am sooooo tempted to say

“Who I am to judge?”

People make mistakes. We are not angels. People sin. People suffer. That doesn’t mean we lie to them about what sin is and what their state is. No. We tell them the truth and then, with great concern and compassion, help them with clear teaching, a strong and certain Catholic identity, the sacraments Christ gave us as the ordinary means of our salvation, and encouragement.

We sinners move forward, up the hard, rocky, thorny, path and we refuse the smooth, broad and seemingly easier path down to Hell.

And another thing!

All the talk about stream-lining the process for examining marriages and “annulment” must be looked on with great skepticism. Putting the marriage in the first place took a process, with obligatory steps. Showing that the marriage was defective in that process takes time, study, expertise. Should we, in our compassion, make the process go faster? Okay. We are going to need a lot more canon lawyers. Want mercy? Train canonists. But wait… no… if people don’t cooperate in the process then canonists have to wait for documents, interviews…. No matter what we do, this is going to be messy.

But let me make something clear to priests out there who may be thinking, “Well, the Church isn’t moving fast enough. I’ll just stop telling people to go through the “annulment” process. I’ll stop sending cases in. Instead, I’ll be compassionate! I’ll just tell the divorced and remarried that they are good to go. No worries. Have a great life and go to Communion whenever. We are, after all, medieval!”

I think such a priest, who may think he is well-motivated, is a candidate for eternal separation from God in Hell for leading people so astray.

I tremble for such men, I truly do.

By this time you are saying “But Father! But Father!”, while wringing your hands, “You must really hate compassion! You are mean. We know you are mean because you hate Vatican II and puppies and… and… kitties… and Vatican II!”

Lying to people about the state of their marriage and their disposition to receive the Eucharistic Lord in Holy Communion is not compassion.

It is not a “war on mercy” to insist that we get to the truth of marriage cases. It isn’t charitable to say to people who are objectively, openly, living in sin that they are not living in sin. It isn’t merciful to ditch the entirely reasonable process that the Church, in her wisdom, has put together through centuries of experience and, yes, true compassion.

The fact that we sin doesn’t make the Church wrong.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "But Father! But Father!", Hard-Identity Catholicism, New Evangelization, One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity, Wherein Fr. Z Rants. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Theodore says:

    This is your bestest post. Ever. Thanks for a very clear, thoughtful and merciful expostulation on this problem and what should be done.

  2. chantgirl says:

    Fr. Z, you are so right about the night sweats of faithful Catholics. So many family members, so many friends, are living in objectively grave sin. I do not badger them because they already know what I think and are annoyed by it. They can’t stop me from begging God’s grace for each of them by name during the offertory of every Mass, though.

  3. Mike says:

    [T]itanic changes to our sacred worship . . . left people with the sense that, “If Mass can change, then everything is up for grabs.”

    Or, as occasionally stated here and elsewhere, lex orandi, lex credendi. Notwithstanding the fact that much of the damage done both to worship and to Christian life in the postconciliar decades is not susceptible to patchwork repairs by mortal men and means, one prays the Church and Her servants (and we in the pews) will in the current case apply the lessons learned from the recent generational cataclysms that resulted from spiritually slothful “pastoral” approaches.

  4. Magpie says:

    I think the living as brother and sister thing is just ridiculous. Any normal person would fall A LOT. And only truly heroic souls could even begin to endure the temptation – and those are the very same people who wouldn’t put themselves or their ‘mistress’ in that position in the first place. It’s just ridiculous. What Pope Francis should have done is clearly restate the Church Doctrine. Simple. He then could have used the Synod (is it even necessary???) to work towards perfecting the annulment process and also to look at how the Church teaching is, or is not, taught and how this can be improved. But then, I am not the Pope!

    [Sorry. It is not ridiculous.]

  5. Cafea Fruor says:

    “Remember: Marriage is a public act with all sorts of consequences, including juridical effects. This is why people, when they marry, must do so precisely by the book, using exact language for vows, before witnesses.”

    This is the reason I did not attend my sister’s “wedding” and the reason why everyone in my family was upset with me. She and her husband are both non-practicing, fallen away Catholics who chose to get married outside the Church and used a J.P. (and definitely had no dispensations for doing so), so at least objectively, the act was sinful and basically said, “Forget you, Church. We have no need for you.” Because marriage is a public act, how could I in good conscience attend such a ceremony and by my presence give what amounts to public approval of something sinful? I of course love my sister, but I can’t tell you how many people in my family thought I was being selfish and too focused on “rules”. Sigh.

    People said, “Can’t you just attend the ceremony for the sake of supporting your sister? After all, you’ve told her already how you feel, so you’ve made your point.” This makes about as much sense as going with someone while they rob a bank or commit some other grave sin for the sake of ‘supporting them’, i.e. no sense at all. Besides, while my sister knew my opinion, she had guests who did not but who did know that I’m a practicing Catholic. Had I been present, I would have been giving the message that what the Church teaches doesn’t matter.

    Other people said, “Why can’t you attend with the hope that maybe your sister and her husband will eventually get married in the Church?” Excuse me? How is supporting something sinful going to convince anyone to come back to the Church? It’s only going to convince them that the Church doesn’t matter enough for them to bother coming back.

    But, what I did learn from the experience is that it’s really, really hard to stand up for truth and for the Church. Harder than I expected, and had it not been for grace and for the support of some very good priests who had advised me, I came close to giving in because I am weak. I thought, pridefully, I could be so strong in standing up for the faith, but when everyone in my family was angry with me, it was tempting to given just so that I could avoid causing a family rift. (Thank God for the priest who pointed out that if any rift formed in the family, it was not my doing but would actually be my sister’s, as she was the one who put her family in a position to choose between truth and herself — even if she didn’t realize what she was doing.) Almost giving in reminded me just how weak I am, and thus how weak we all are in facing temptation, and it was a good reminder to pray for all parties — for those who marry outside the Church, who divorce and remarry sans annulment, etc., but also for priests and family members who have failed to stand up for the truth or who have blatantly told them to sin, and so on.

  6. Cafea Fruor says:

    Sorry, my brain is mush today! “…it was tempting to given” should be “it was tempting to give in…”

  7. jacobi says:

    When Paul VI upheld Catholic teaching with Humanae Vitae there was widespread dissent – but the Church was silent, and inherently sinful dissent became common practise.

    This disaster has led to the chaos prevalent in the Church today. The Vatican and bishops failed abysmally to understand and react to this crisis, hence the “mess”, to put it mildly, that we have in the Church today. A habit of dissent.
    Yet there was a solution. Natural planning based methods are reported now as 99.6 % + effective, more so than condoms et al. But the Church was silent on this!

    The danger now is that this will be repeated with divorce. So much expectation has been aroused. A re-statement of the Church’s position will just lead to further dissent and confusion. Already we see that the situation is being badly mismanaged and that reaction will probably be inadequate, but coming on top of the earlier confusion and dissent, we have a very real possibility of schism or continuing general decay.

    It has been a difficult 50 years, has it not?

  8. Ben Kenobi says:

    Fantastic, Father Z.

    “Marriage is a public act”

    This needs to be repeated. For all of the ‘night sweats’ by conservatives, go to any conservative board, and you’ll hear the mantra that, “it’s not worth fighting for”, and that the “Church should be kept separate from the State”, and that, “Marriage shouldn’t require solemnization from the State.”

    The fact is that many who say they support ‘traditional marriage’, do not believe that ‘marriage is a public act’. They believe that Marriage should be kept private. I wonder why, Father. It has always bothered me. Why are so many who are already married wanting to throw the rest of us under the bus? I don’t get it. Maybe you do because you’ve been in confessionals.

    Marriage is a public act, and the Church has an obligation to stand up for the hard truth of marriage, just as Christ did. If so many when they were 19, 20, 21, 22, actually stopped to think about the implications as to what they were doing, they would have *so* much less suffering later on when they stumble on the truth.

    Thank you for this, Father and keep up the good work!

  9. ChristoetEcclesiae says:

    @Cafea Fruor
    Yes, situations like the one you describe are quite challenging. We must not only talk the talk but walk the walk, and there is often a cost we must be willing to pay. The right thing is not always the easy thing, is it? That’s a good lesson to have learned.

    I was in a similar situation a few years ago when a much cherished niece decided not to marry in the Church. I did not attend the ceremony, but spoke to her long beforehand about my decision and the reasons for it, as well as my deep love for her. She knew then and knows now that my decision not to attend was motivated by love and faith. She and I have lengthy phone calls to this day and are great mutual supporters. Ironically, it is the rest of the family that does not yet forgive my familial “sin” of nonattendance, but I can live with that. When in doubt, obedience to the Church is an excellent rule of thumb.

    Please know that prayer to Our Lady has been offered for you, your sister, and your family.

  10. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    I am broken-hearted. My daughter has decided to get married in a civil ceremony. She stopped going to church in college (secular). No one in my family can believe I am thinking of standing in the back at the service…my own attempt at compromise. Another family member is in the “gay” lifestyle, and already other family members have decided to attend any wedding he might have. It is hard to surrender all this to the Lord. I am not trolling for sympathy (too much) but realize fully now how much families are under attack these days. For myself, I am having Masses said that Our Blessed Mother somehow intervenes and restores peace. That, and rosaries.

  11. marcusjosephus says:

    Fr. Z writes <<>> Reminds me of a great Shakespeare quote… “Shall I lose my Doctor ? No. he gives me the potions and the notions. Shall I lose my Cleric? NO! He give me the Pro words and the NO WORDS”.

    “No Words” are not negative but as any truly uttered word that is TRUE, it is life giving.

  12. Supertradmum says:

    Superb rant….should be in every bulletin in every church in the States. There is so much unnecessary confusion on this.

  13. HeatherPA says:

    Thank you Father. Hopefully, because of all the publicity this issue is getting, when the Pope says what needs to be said loud and clear, the people who are clueless or who want to pretend they are good to go will get their houses in order, so to speak.

  14. Robbie says:

    Boom!!! I endorse 100%.

  15. lampada says:

    Just thought I’d jump in and mention that many of the marriages being processed at the Tribunals are not sacramental to begin with but are presumed valid unless proven otherwise. Marriages between the unbaptized, and between an unbaptized person and baptized person are natural, not sacramental. We need to ditch the idea that Tribunals only exist to investigate the “sacramentality” of marriages because that’s really not the point. They are there to determine the “validity”.

  16. Gail F says:

    Last year I read Graham Greene’s novel “Brighton Rock,” which was a strange and unpleasant book in many ways (though it has one of the best final or near-final lines ever). Part of what’s odd about is that though it was written in 1938 a major plot point is nearly incomprehensible to today’s reader. I was kind of shocked by it, because I have never met anyone who believes it, much less who would ever say it: The protagonist gets a young girl to marry him for legal reasons she does not know about, and they get married by the British version of a Justice of the Peace. The two characters, who are Catholic, do this on purpose and knowing it’s an extremely sinful act, because they know they are NOT MARRIED. That is, though they get legally married by English law, as Catholics they consider themselves to be fornicating — and worse than fornicating, because they had a “fake” marriage first.

    This is a major plot point that Greene assumes the reader understands even if he/she doesn’t agree: a “Catholic thing” that is integral to the story, which is about corruption and salvation. The “marriage” is a corruption of real marriage, and of the two characters. When I read the book it struck me how differently we have come to think about marriage, and how little we take such things as sinful, much less seriously sinful. Greene’s novels are all about how sin is bad even when your life is awful, and how sin matters even when you think it shouldn’t.

  17. This is a really good post. I really can’t add much to it.

  18. aegsemje says:

    I agree, best post ever! Your common sense is refreshing.

    When I am feeling discouraged due to being surrounded by liberal Catholics who just don’t get it, I come here and by reading your posts, I receive the courage to go on.

  19. Many Catholics are having night sweats. But Pope Francis is always * about* to do something, never quite causing the disaster they fear. I do not se the wisdom in this Synod, but I am just a large, hairy omnivore.

  20. Pingback: Pope Francis, Divorce, Remarriage, Holy Communion - BigPulpit.com

  21. frRobertM says:

    I’d like to expand, if I may, a bit on the “internal forum: in order to resort to the “internal forum” and have it be valid, one must 1) exhaust the external forum and 2) there must not be any chance of scandal in the parish. Even with those met, it is important to realize that one will still not be considered married in the eyes of the Church. Additionally, the “internal forum” cannot oppose the “external forum,” canon law, or magisterial teachings.

    Under the papacy of Pope Paul VI, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s on April 11, 1973, addressed the Diocesan Bishops, stating in the final paragraph: “With regard to admission to the sacraments, the local ordinaries will also please, on the one hand, stress the observance of the current discipline of the church while, on the other hand, take care that pastors of souls follow up with particular solicitude those who are living in an irregular union and, in addition to other correct means, use the approved practice of the Church in the internal forum.”

    On March 21, 1975, the same Sacred Congregation further clarified the phrase “the approved practice of the Church in the internal forum”: “The couples may be allowed to receive the sacraments on two conditions, that they try to live according to the demands of Christian moral principles and that they receive the sacraments in churches in which they are not known so that they will not create any scandal.”

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger stated, as prefect of the CDF, In the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful”, September 14, 1994 (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_14091994_rec-holy-comm-by-divorced_en.html)

    “The faithful who persist in such a situation [divorced and remarried, without annulment] may receive Holy Communion only after obtaining sacramental absolution [internal forum], which may be given only “to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples'”. In such a case they may receive Holy Communion as long as they respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal.” This is in concord (and quotes) Pope John Paul II’s 1982 Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris Consortio”.

    The teachings on this are quite clear, however, sadly, I fear that the application is misused all too regularly.

  22. jameeka says:

    Father Z, this is very…fatherly.

  23. Ichabod says:

    A very thoughtful post. Several months from now, please re-post it as we near the synod. It is my hope and prayer that your insights, Fr. Z, will somehow make their way to Rome in the fall.

    Thank you, Fr. Z

  24. Priam1184 says:

    I would like to do something rare for myself and add a positive note: this is not Humanae Vitae redux. I wasn’t alive then but from what I know of those days I feel entirely safe in saying that the Church and the world are in an entirely different place in 2014 than they were in 1968. Things have changed. First of all the Church doesn’t appear a monolith of authority like it did in ’68. The revolt against Humanae Vitae destroyed that and it hasn’t yet come back. In truth there is nothing to destroy now. I mean politicians who publicly support and praise the murder of children in the womb by their own mothers routinely present themselves to receive Holy Communion and are not denied, so do we think that the divorced, unanulled, and remarried haven’t already been doing likewise for a long time now. And “whispers in the Confessional” are not a problem since the Confessionals have largely been empty for the last generation. (I think there may be an uptick in Confessions now finally though) Priests deny the Faith and preach open heresy in their homilies and have for a couple of generations now, and bishops just shrug their shoulders. What is their to rebel against now? The rebels of ’68 have been running the show in the Western Church for a long time. The potential for any greater damage being done to the Church and to the souls of the faithful is minimal now. After all of this time and carnage those who would abandon the Faith have already done so and those who would be faithful will not be deterred by these liberal antics. The road is always perilous, but these devious attempts to create confusion over the issue of divorce and remarriage and Holy Communion will not have the same effect as they once did. It ain’t 1968 anymore.

  25. CharleyCOllins says:

    Heartily agree, but do think some thought may be given to what “gives scandal” in today’s world. Especially in the United States, with the large parishes and quite active annulment industry, I think most people do not really know the “status” of the marriages of their neighbors in the pews. Frankly, in today’s world the only people scandalized by the actions of others in this situation are those who wish to be scandalized, and unless a couple is truly flaunting their status, their neighbors should assume that they have either regularized their situation, or are living according to the moral rules of the Church under the guidance of their confessor.

    It would be helpful, I think, if confessors applied the same standards to those trying to live as “brother and sister” as they do to other sinners who incline to sins of sexual nature: including those prone to self-abuse, viewing pornography, and promiscuity. Often, a confessor will tell Johnny-accidentally-slept-with-the-girl-at-the-nightclup-again-on-Friday-night to try harder, absolve him, and see him again next week (which is the right thing to do if Johnny makes a proper confession), but will tell the civilly married couple to not approach the sacrament at all if they had an “oops” moment six months earlier.

    And a third point, the traditional just cause for the “brother and sister” solution is the good of any children of the union. I think an expansion of the reasons, including the psychological, should be allowed. Father Z made the point about the homosexual roommates. I am troubled by much of the anthropology and theology surrounding the “New Homophiles” as Austin Ruse calls them, but I think the efforts to live according to Church teaching should be commended, and this includes those in heterosexual civil unions.

    If these are the concerns spoken about at the Synod, I think much good can be done. Of course, this depends on the formation and availability of good priest-confessors. Yet much of the “noise” coming as we approach the Synod is coming from areas of the world where the practice of confession has fallen by the wayside, and a regular (and illegitimage) recourse to general absolution has become the norm. A solution depending upon personal meetings of couples with a priest, and one-on-one guidance in the confessional will never seem “pastoral” enough to those who are suspicious of the role of the clergy, and disdainful of aucular confession.

  26. Pingback: PopeWatch: Father Z | The American Catholic

  27. I don’t have night sweats, but I do have a track record of a broken engagement, some 3 months before the wedding, for which I AM ETERNALLY GRATEFUL.

    More broken engagements may lead to fewer broken marriages. Priests have a golden opportunity to counsel engaged couples really, really, really seriously, and take the time to do so.

    *Make sure that the couple is spending plenty of time with married couples with large families.
    *Make sure they really know each other’s family well.
    * Ask the hard questions about ‘So, how often will you visit the in-laws?’ and ‘So, what about money?’ and ‘Hey, contraception – bad idea, kids. Best way to ruin your marriage’, and ‘I couldn’t help but notice that you both have the same residential address?’

    But then again, this would involve having to spend a lot more time with them, and you might not be very popular at the end of it, and the young couple might get all uppity with you, and you will have to sit down the very back at the reception with all the drunk singles, instead of on the bridal party table. And no one will say afterwards, ‘Awww, that priest was SO NICE’ when you give the sermon on how hard marriage is going to be for them.

  28. Peg Demetris says:

    Father Z – This is what our Lord did for me! Before the full fire of my conversion took hold of me, it was December of 2008. At Holy Mass, just before going up to receive our Lord, just after praying, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed, I heard in my heart, very distinctly “DO NOT receive me.” So I didn’t. I cried. Tears ran down my cheeks.

    I understood that moment that I needed to take care of my sin, repent and do what is right and just. I shook at the thought of telling my, the man who I called my husband for three years. Would he understand? Would he leave me? I brought this up to my confessor who reassured me, DO NOT receive our Lord because I had been married outside of the Church, after divorcing my first husband. Thus the annulment process began and the 4 years of deep repentance, and CHASTITY (my current husband and I living as brother & sister) began.

    I was able to receive our Lord after a time of not having relations with my, the man I called my husband and grew through our Lords grace, to understand it truly IS Him in the Eucharist, after many years “thinking” maybe it was Him. In that time, I fell in love with our Lord.

    During the time I could not receive, I attended Holy Mass daily anyway, and when it came time to receive Him, it was as if I was chained to the pillar, receiving my lashes for my sin against Him. It was very painful and He shared this with me, so I would grow closer to Him.

    It’s VERY important NOT to be in a state of Mortal sin when receiving Him. Straight couples, or homosexual. We are ALL called to chastity and when we refuse to use that grace of His, we are refusing Him. When you refuse Him in “Spirit”, please don’t receive Him in the flesh.

    I am posting this for all souls today, cohabitation before marriage, engaging in sexual relations before marriage and for all homosexual relations as to when NOT to receive our Lord in Holy Communion. To receive our Lord in a state of Mortal Sin is receiving death.

    Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. – Proverbs 8:34 http://pegponderingagain.com/2013/08/19/cohabitation-and-holy-communion/

  29. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Excellently said, Father, and not a whit overdone.
    A lot of this so-called ‘Mercy’ that some bishops and priests are preaching is just an old-fashioned lack of moral courage, a wish to be ‘nice’ to everyone for a quiet life (and a fuller collection plate), and a fear of awakening the consciences (or the egos) of all the nice people who live in sin and think nothing of it.
    Since when was the Gospel about ‘Being Nice’?

  30. Vecchio di Londra says:

    I see there’s also a forthright post about this same subject on Fr Hugh’s blog over at Dominus mihi adjutor – He certainly seems to have stirred up some sleeping consciences – a perfect example of what the faithfully teaching clergy have to contend with!
    (For for those who don’t know the blog, Fr Hugh is a Benedictine monk at Douai Abbey, England).

  31. robtbrown says:

    The main question before the promulgation of Humanae Vitae was not whether the ban on contraception should be ended. Rather, it was whether chemically induced infertility (the Pill) was contraception.

  32. teejay329 says:

    “We sinners move forward, up the hard, rocky, thorny, path and we refuse the smooth, broad and seemingly easier path down to Hell.”
    Wow Fr. Z…that really hits home. I think that is the most eloquent and poignant phrase I’ve read in a long time.
    As an annulled 45 year old female, I was drawn to this post. An annulment is a part of that hard rocky thorny path. It is not quick. It is not met without hardship. A civil divorce is devoid of anything spiritual. An annulment is not. It is a cleansing and healing process and not something that provides immediate gratification. This “Walmart” mentality that Americans have today is debilitating. We want it all now, we want a lot of it and we want it cheap. Matters off the soul are definitely not available on a store shelve or available for drone delivery from Amazon.
    When I started my annulment process, I had no intentions of remarrying, but I felt it was necessary for my spiritual future. The permanent Deacon assigned to my case was with me every step of the way. He always told me this is something you cannot do alone. Well, a few months later he is put on administrative leave for some accusations of impropriety and was absent from the understaffed parish. Now I was forced to go it alone and was fearful. With the help of a woman who worked in the Diocesan office and was the liaison for the candidates, we managed to get the case sent to the Cannon court. She was my angel. A few years and much paperwork later, the annulment was granted.
    The mere mention that the clergy in this country are discouraging the annulment process saddens me tremendously.

  33. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I am broken-hearted. My daughter has decided to get married in a civil ceremony. She stopped going to church in college (secular).”

    You have my profound sympathies. I have seen this loss of faith happen over and over in colleges and I suspect it is, largely, due to sexual issues. The nearness of males and females on college campuses makes me yearn for the days of segregated education (thanks for nothing, Supreme Court).

    The Divorce, Remarriage, Communion problem, on the other hand, is, primarily, a problem of supposedly mature people. Young kids get turned around and often marry in haste, but the problem with divorce can really only be said to pertain to people who have been around the block. They have more life experiences than young people and this can tend to harden the heart. Although it can be done, it is harder for an older person to join a religious Order than a younger one precisely because older people have a harder time adapting to obedience. Something like this might be a factor in divorced people wanting Communion.

    Without going into my life story (which, really, cannot be done without a chorus of violins accompanying in the background), let me say that I am unconvinced with most of the shenanigans being played, here. People know they are doing wrong. I am not inclined to be tolerant in 95% of these sorts of cases. They knew getting re-married was a sin. This is fifth-grade catechism class stuff. No, they simply want someone to, “tickle their ears,” with false doctrines of, “compassion,” and, “mercy”.

    We don’t need more compassion. We need more discipline and better Catechetics. Hasn’t the Holy See ever seen John Wayne movies? He comes into a company of screw-offs and turns them around not by bring compassionate, but by kicking their rear ends. I know of no movie where compassion turned these people around. Until Catholicism becomes something hard and solid, again, these deviations will not cease.

    The Chicken

  34. EoinOBolguidhir says:

    You touch very nearly on what I believe to be the best possible explanation of Papal Infallibility. In contradistinction from every other bishop who may espouse heresy and be rehabilitated (and remain a bishop forever because if effects an Ontologic Change), the successor of Peter, should he admit heresy instantiously would not be the Pope, nor could be again without a either a synod (conclave) of the Cardinals or an Ecumenical Council. So he must remain without fault in teaching what has been believed always and everywhere. It is not a power, it is a restraint.

  35. Blas says:

    Sorry Fr. Z, I see you very sure that Francis will not do what Kasper wants. What IF Francis does what Kasper wants? Do you have a plan B? Please let me know which is your alternative plan if you have. I´m looking for one, and do not find any.

  36. benedetta says:

    Nice rant, Father. I have heard others describe it this way, the Church aims high in expectations of the faithful, with good reason, but, when we fall, infinite mercy may be applied.

    I think we have to be honest about what the ease of divorce has wrought in our times in the west, in terms of the horrific effects on children in those situations. Even kids brought up wholly secular and with all the finest that the social sciences can bear acknowledge that the hurt from divorce is a scar that interferes on about every level of their ability to have appropriate relationships. Not good. And, divorce itself has become such an industry, institution, rite of passage and system unto itself socially, culturally, even with a profit aspect (but not of course for mothers on the lower and lowest places on the American socioeconomic scale) that the ease with which it is enabled is really so much more appealing to couples as compared with the long, uphill climb towards a better, even transfigured, marriage.

    Priests would be better advised pastorally to try to encourage in whatever ways at their disposal that people tough it out a bit more and longer than the current culture may require, and, perhaps even, shockingly, point out the children’s well being, as a short term incentive to attempt to reconcile, with all that may require that a couple especially in our times would really rather not endure. Something like a “it gets better” campaign for marriage. And, pay no mind to whatever the culture barks, just concentrate on the Catholics in the pews who may need this support. Additionally, many young people are being honest about the damage internet pornography has wrought. In some places, people are speaking out on it and admitting that the damage to younger and younger people is something at national levels must be addressed. If other places can do it, surely so can we. Marriage is worth our Church fighting for. So while some may require extra pastoral care in terms of the broken marriages and remarriages, at the same time, an acknowledgement should be made pastorally that the next generation need not continue down the same road. There is a popular internet meme going around, wholly secular that says “Because we came from a generation that instead of just throwing out, we fixed it…” Young people are very interested in this whole notion right now.

  37. Bosco says:

    Psalm 137

    Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem

    1 By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
    2 On the willows[a] there
    we hung up our harps.
    3 For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
    and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
    4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
    5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand wither!
    6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
    if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy.
    7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
    the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
    how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
    Down to its foundations!”
    8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator![b]
    Happy shall they be who pay you back
    what you have done to us!
    9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
    and dash them against the rock!

  38. bourgja says:

    Plan B would have to be something that (to my knowledge) has never occurred before, namely that the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, possibly with the support of other cardinals, would need to declare the pope to be in error. Cardinal Mueller has already issued a pre-emptive statement on this matter so we will have to wait and see if the pope will abide by it, when the time for him to make a decisive statement comes. The reason I am worried is that: the pope has already shown himself to be contemptuous and impatient with “little things” (such as the mozetta) and “big things” (such as waiting for a confirmed second miracle before infallibly declaring a controversial pope to be a saint)….

  39. The Cobbler says:

    It’s worth noting, also, that the good or ill of “streamlining” the annulment tribunals depends greatly on what “streamlining” means. A couple obvious, probably non-exhaustive possibilities:
    A) Let’s not look so closely at the details, making it easier for people to get declarations of nullity than it was before even though that seemed impossible given the “annulment factories” we’ve had for decades as it is.
    B) Let’s throw out the obviously frivolous annulment requests without a second thought and/or raise the bar for appealing the tribunal’s judgement so we have more time to spend on the cases where there’s real doubt.

    One of those would be little more than a step toward the whole “internal forum”/”pastoral” non-solution. The other would probably help get Catholic culture back on track by holding many people to their marriages instead of treating annulments like just a Catholic divorce, *and* would probably get more legitimate cases through to boot. There are, for better or for worse, probably other possibilities to consider, one of which may very well end up being what happens.

    It’s also worth mentioning that more needs to be done here than just uphold Church teaching and/or streamline the tribunals. What we really need better pastoral support for is helping married people live their lives according to the Church’s teaching — helping troubled couples in valid marriages reconcile, for instance. As it is we can point to various dioceses and parishes that have programs in place for such things, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if having programs for things of that nature was mandated (if not necessarily run) at the same level that the annulment tribunals are established?

    The Masked Chicken says, “I have seen this loss of faith happen over and over in colleges and I suspect it is, largely, due to sexual issues. The nearness of males and females on college campuses makes me yearn for the days of segregated education (thanks for nothing, Supreme Court).”

    Personally, I believe I have a better solution — but of course, it requires almost completely restructuring society. (Short, largely unexplained/undefended version: teenagers should be allowed/required to actually grow into adult responsibility, and if that were done then I suspect they’d be ready for college from a moral/social standpoint by the time they are college age.)

    bourgja, I could be wrong, but I believe when we’re talking about moral doctrines of the Church having a second confirmed miracle for canonizing a Saint would be counted among the “little things”.

  40. robtbrown says:

    I have a bit of a different take.

    What do we know of Papa Bergoglio’s history?

    1. He is a man of prayer and favors simplicity of life.

    2. He says he is a loyal son of the Church. I have no reason to doubt him.

    3. He tries to avoid confrontation and maintain a certain spiritual neutrality.

    4. He favors de-centralization of the Church. My impression is that he takes a more extreme approach to it, which is no surprise. Jesuits are known for being extreme rather than balanced.

    3 and 4 mean to me that he will make no serious move without a consensus.

    5. His approach is more personal than it is doctrinal–and definitely not liturgical.

    6. He was ordained in 1969, which means his intellectual formation was heavily influenced by the thought of Karl Rahner. This is not to insinuate that he has the typical doctrinal problems of Rahner. Rather, it needs to be noted that Rahner said he realized during Vat II that the Latin culture was dead, which has much in common with Luther (and Bultmann), who wanted to eliminate any Scriptural text that seemed Hellenistic. In addition to Rahner’s work being a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is anything but a coincidence that he promotes German existentialism.

    The obvious consequence is that approach to the apostolate should be the same in the West as it is in missionary areas–without any reliance on intellectual give and take.

    7. Consequently: He will make no serious move without a consensus.

    IMHO, any document that comes out of synods on marriage will both affirm the Catholic position and then say something like bishops and priests should keep this doctrine in mind when they deal with this pastoral problem.

  41. lizaanne says:

    Blog perfection. Excellent post!!

  42. bourgja says:

    I disagree. The canonization of a saint is an act of papal infallibility, and to do so without confirmation from heaven by two miracles, and without a sufficient time to evaluate the saint’s life (usually hundreds of years in the case of an equivalent canonization), especially when their legacy is controversial, is not a small thing.

  43. Aspie says:

    Maybe the Pope is talking about the number of people who can get an annulment. For example, maybe one of the people getting married believed the marriage they were getting into was just temporary (not permanent). That’s grounds for a decree of nullity.

  44. Oneros says:

    I would agree, first of all, that any reform will not touch the three principles: 1) that those who are conscious of mortal sin should not approach communion without confession, 2) that adultery is objectively a mortal sin/grave matter, 3) that sex with a new partner when your spouse from a validly ratified and consummated sacramental marriage is still living…is adultery by definition with no way out of it.

    However, I think that the reform might come more in the area of “pastoral approach.” And yet “pastoral approach” can also mean a development of doctrine (albeit not a reversal of dogmas, such as the above) inasmuch as pastoral approach always “teaches” or has some theoretical foundation.

    I think specifically a few “double standards” need to be addressed:

    First, the distinction between “public” or manifest sinners, and private sinners. This idea causes no end of Phariseeism and hypocrisy in the Church and needs to be phased out of Catholic thought. Unless someone is a vocal heretic or is explicitly publicly excommunicated (no more automatic excommunications either; even Ed Peters supports getting rid of THAT vague and slippery category)…we shouldn’t be presuming anything about their soul.

    Yes marriage is a public act. But that’s not exactly a dogmatic reality: Trent put a stop to clandestine marriages, but it didn’t say that previous clandestine marriages were invalid. So there IS room in theology for “broomstick marriages” because ultimately it is the consent of the man and woman that make a natural marriage. How much we want sacramental marriage/canon law to require beyond that is another question. But ultimately the bare minimum theologically (changeable canon law aside) is the consent of a man and a woman, even in private.

    But either way, remarried couples aren’t having sex in public! Therefore, they should get the benefit of the doubt that they are, in fact, living “as brother and sister” and should not be actively denied communion (refraining oneself, and active denial or withholding by the priest, being of course two different things in the Church’s pastoral policies). “Scandal” is an odd thing to claim: I’ve never known how someone else’s sin is scandalizing me, given that scandal means “to cause someone else to sin.” Mere knowledge of someone else’s sin doesn’t cause me to sin, and it is especially true if I am merely presuming they are sinning. Further, the theology of scandal puts the blame on the original scandalous ACT, not on the knowledge of it. Emphasis on the latter (such as asking couples to receive in another parish where they are unknown)…well, that’s what led to priest abuse cover-ups and such: thinking that even though the scandal had already taken place (the act of molestation itself), that things were somehow made “less scandalous” by containing the spread of the knowledge OF it. That’s just bad moral theology, that’s not how scandal works (see Catholic Encyclopedia), it’s never about “keeping up appearances” (though that’s an unfortunate recent misconception).

    Lots of Catholic couples contracept, etc…the idea that a civilly remarried couple is somehow “manifesting” private acts isn’t applied equally across the board either, as “boyfriends and girlfriends” (though often probably having premarital sex) are given the benefit of the doubt even though their premarital couplehood is manifest (that is, unless, oddly, they move in together/”cohabitate”; another odd distinction from a previous age: I know plenty of couples who live together/share a domicile for economic reasons but are waiting until marriage for sex, and certainly plenty who fornicate who don’t live together! Sharing an apartment isn’t a declaration of sexual activity or even “aping marriage.” Some people are just room-mates, some are room-mates who happen to be “dating.” Modern life is not made up of easy clear-cut social scripts.)

    This leads into the second double standard which I think is the real “meat” of the current problem and the contradictions many people perceive: the distinction between “living in sin” and plain old sinning (which is certainly no dogma!) Many people have noticed the spiritual/moral contradiction that a man who cheats on his wife, repents, confesses and receives communion time after time is just “struggling” and “a sinner like all of us”…but that if people actually have the realism and maturity to formally separate from the relationship that isn’t working, and institutionalize the new one as something stable and responsible…then they’re “living in sin” and unable not just to receive communion, but even unable to be absolved!

    This is one area where I think there is room in Church teaching for some “development of doctrine” with pastoral effects: in the question of what exactly the “resolve to amend” necessary for a valid confession is. What practically does that have to look like, how must it be formulated? The Eastern Christian view sees sanctification as an ongoing “medicinal” process, not a toggle-switch of sanctifying grace; there is a gradualism to it. At the same time, they see confession as very much a prerequisite for communion in general, so there is no sense of letting people receive in a state of sin.

    Most people with any spiritual sense would say that, for example, a loving cohabiting couple are in a better place spiritually than the guy who goes out and hires prostitutes each weekend, feels guilty, swears it off, tries to abstain, only to “slip up” again and again in the guilt-repentance cycle that simply compartmentalizes rather than trying to move towards integration. And yet under current widespread thought in the Church, he can receive communion each week after he confesses, whereas the loving couple is “living in sin” and don’t even have valid intention to be absolved unless they totally rearrange their life and make firm positive acts of “resolve” to do things different with lasting consequences (whereas the habitual sinner’s “resolve” on the other hand, can be merely theoretical and disappear days or even hours later as long as it was “sincere” AT the moment of confession).

    And yet the Apostolic Penitentiary released a vademecum saying, “Sacramental absolution is not to be denied to those who, repentant after having gravely sinned against conjugal chastity, demonstrate the desire to strive to abstain from sinning again, notwithstanding relapses. In accordance with the approved doctrine and practice followed by the holy Doctors and confessors with regard to habitual penitents, the confessor is to avoid demonstrating lack of trust either in the grace of God or in the dispositions of the penitent by exacting humanly impossible absolute guarantees of an irreproachable future conduct.”

    Perhaps, then, remarried couples need merely to uphold the idea that abstinence and living as brother and sister is the ideal, but then as often as they “slip up” just come to confession and mention it like every other sinner, without needing to provide “humanly impossible absolute guarantees.” I’ve seen too many people in a delusional cycle of “this is the last time!” (confess, commune, sin-again, repeat). Maybe the standard for intent to amend in confession need not be so strict or based on unrealistic (and often bad faith) expectations on the part of habitual sinners. A couple who has sex after remarriage can’t be absolved time after time unless they separate or rearrange their whole lives, but no such burdens are really put on the habitual porn user. This double standard needs to be addressed.

    And there could perhaps also be a greater emphasis on the spiritual life as, often, a series of “lesser of two evil” negotiations (also a very Eastern Christian view).

    Finally, there is also the question of internal versus external forum. The interesting thing about the Church’s teaching on annulments is…they are supposed to merely determine, in the external forum, that a marriage was ALREADY invalid. Which means that when a couple remarries and then seeks an annulment…in hindsight, they weren’t actually committing objective adultery ALL ALONG. So there are very real questions as to why a couple who, in conscience, believes they have personal moral certitude (in the internal forum) that their first marriage was invalid…should have to “wait” for the annulment in the external forum. It takes three years only to declare “Oh, well, you weren’t married all along, so you really WERE free to remarry this whole time!” Perhaps the Church could pastorally tolerate couples “anticipating” annulments like this. And even if the annulment comes back negative, annulments are not infallible. There is a tension between internal and external forum here, but one that gives individual souls and pastors room to negotiate, though there would be no public recognition (internal has to remain internal).

    Perhaps the Church could even enshrine in canon law a sort of “automatic conditional radical sanation” of remarriages after an invalid first marriage (even if annulment has not yet been determined in the external forum). In other words, declare that IF a first marriage was in fact invalid in the eyes of God (whether annulled or not), then a second marriage is automatically sanated even if it lacks canonical form (though this would not be established as a public fact unless a public determination was made). That way a couple anticipating annulment won’t be fornicating in the meantime (only to find out, “Oh, guess what, you really were free to marry all along. Sorry for making you wait”) and won’t have to time the sacramental status of their marriage from a later convalidation.

    As a final point, I think the Church could also restore something like “fraternatio” or “adelphepoeisis” to recognizes partnerships that are not marriage. This would apply to remarried couples after divorce, but the logic would seemingly extend seamlessly to same-sex pairs. The idea would be that even if the Church can’t recognize a relationship AS marriage, ie even if it can’t sanction it as sexually active, it nevertheless can recognize and celebrate the relationship/partnership/friendship itself (apart from the sex question) and therefore not leave these people feeling like they are second-class citizens or “merely tolerated.” The official teaching would be that such relationships are supposed to be celibate “like siblings,” but then there is always confession if people “slip up,” and in the case of remarriages, always the possibility (discussed above) that the first marriage really was invalid and so (if the conditional automatic sanation is in place) is a sacramental marriage even if not recognized as such in the external forum, even if in the external forum it is only recognized as this brother/sister non-marital partnership.

    I’ve spoken with Orthodox folk, and it turns out that their biggest guff over us re: marriage isn’t solvable merely some idea that their divorces could be interpreted as annulments. They actually are most concerned over the idea that we think the first marriage simply didn’t exist. I would therefore also add the following as an ecumenical gesture to the Orthodox: the current Catholic thought is that a marriage between two Christians is always the Sacrament, or else “nothing at all” (except a “putative” marriage). The Orthodox, on the other hand, have a view that seems more holistic which says that sacramental marriage starts as a natural marriage (such as exists between two pagans, etc) in the porch of the church, and then is “sacramentalized” by being brought into the Church.

    Perhaps then there is some room here to investigate the possibility (for the sake of reaching out to the East) that even if a marriage is found to not reach the level of an indissoluble sacrament (ie, an annulment), it might still have been a natural marriage (if there was no natural impediment) rather than “nothing at all” and so a subsequent remarriage would be under the Petrine privilege and have a “penitential” tone, recognizing the first relationship that tragically failed as something more than a mere non-entity. It would have to be explored how changeable the “either a sacrament or nothing at all” principle is; Eastern theology certainly doesn’t seem to see it that way, it sees natural marriage as the “matter” of the sacramental version.

    Perhaps the system would look like this: actual annulments in the external forum allowing for a second full-on wedding would be rare (for very basic reasons like first spouse still alive, consanguinity/incest, etc). The existence of invalidity on account of more nebulous psychological reasons wouldn’t be denied, but in such possible cases, it would be more of a private negotiation: remarried couples would only celebrate a “fraternatio” penitential in tone with a caveat something like “IF your first marriage was valid, you’re supposed to live as brother and sister…but of course confession is available. On the other hand, if it was invalid, sacramentally at least if not naturally, then the new marriage is automatically radically sanated, but unless there were an external-forum annulment that determination has to remain a private matter of conscience for you and you can’t act as if the Church is publicly sanctioning your sex life.”

    Anyway, those are my thoughts.

  45. The Cobbler says:

    Oneros, I’m not sure where you get your idea of what most people with any spiritual sense would say is a good spiritual place in which to be, but I’ll say this: if a man swears his life to a woman, then attempting afterward to swear it to another and act consistently with only the second isn’t more honest — let alone spiritually healthier — than simply behaving as though he hadn’t sworn it to the first, it’s merely more consistent in its deception (possibly including any self-deception involved, but deception nonetheless).

    As for the rest, that sounds to me like an extraordinarily complex theory to achieve the effect that people can do more or less whatever they want and the Church will just do her best to sanctify it if it happens to be sanctifiable, but I suppose I should get out of the way and wait for somebody who knows where our “double-standard” canons come from to weigh in.

  46. Mike says:

    As at least one commenter would have it, “enter ye in at the narrow gate” should yield to “‘development of doctrine’ with pastoral effects.”

    I didn’t bother to count the number of theses in that post to see whether they added up to 95, but a similar logical endpoint is foreseeable.

  47. Oneros says:

    But that’s how life works already, Cobbler: people do what they want, the Church does her best to sanctify it if it’s sanctifiable and to the degree it’s sanctifiable, and in the process hopefully gradually change what people want.

    There is no widening of the gate, Mike. The Church’s standards morally remain just as strict in this case. It’s just that following those standards is left (as with most moral rules already) to the grappling of the individual conscience instead of public authorities.

    In some ways the gate is actually narrowed: as I said, actual annulments and second full-on weddings would be vastly reduced because the “psychological” impediment (by far the most common) would be removed from the internal forum, so in terms of public action the Church would look MORE strict on remarriage. Additionally, I think there can be argued the idea that the current system actually allows people to disavow agency and put it onto the Tribunal; “hey, they gave me an annulment, I’m free to go!” even if they’re not particularly convinced. Leaving the decision to the internal forum would mean no more “fooling God”: people claiming moral certitude of the invalidity of their first marriage and acting on that would have no more way of passing the blame (ie, “but the tribunal said so!”) if their judgment is wrong or cynical.

    Either way, I think the public determination of the “psychological” impediment is a sort of mixing of categories that shouldn’t be mixed. It doesn’t really make sense to have internal forum realities being given an external forum determination. Actual external forum annulments should be for external forum reasons. Invalidity for internal reasons (ie, psychology/intent) may exist, but that should remain internal. Otherwise you do this long process that amounts to tribunals acting as psychoanalysts.

  48. Oneros says:

    *removed from the EXternal forum

  49. The Masked Chicken says:

    Let’s look at some sobering statistics. In the U. S., as of 2008, according to the USCCB:

    1. 2/3 of married Catholics are married in the Church

    2. 23% of Catholics have divorced

    3. 11% are divorces and remarried

    Pre-Vatican II married couples and those married, but born after 1981, acknowledge the Churches teachings on marriage more than those married between 1965 and 1980.

    According to the University of Virgina’s on-going study of marriage: The State of Our Unions (2011 edition):

    ““if you are a reasonably well-educated person with a decent income, come from an intact family and are religious, and marry after the age of 25 without having a baby first, your chances of divorce are very low indeed.” (The State of Our Unions 2011, 69, 73)

    What are we to make of all of this?

    First of all, this is lousy statistical gathering. If there were two states in the Union and one state has a 100% divorce rate and the other had a 0% divorce rate, the divorce rate would show up as 50%. Of those 23% of catholics who got divorced, how many got married in a Church? Certainly, no more than 2/3 of the 23% who were divorced or 15.5%. How many got to Mass each week or each day? How many go to confession once a month? How many were adequately told what the Church expects of marriage? How many are from the Bible Belt (a notoriously bad place for a marriage to survive, paradoxically)? How many are from rich towns? How many from rich families? How many from poor families? How much education do they have? How much did they understand Church teachings, etc? One cannot even begin to do a proper study of the Catholic phenomenon of divorce, much less remarriage, until this data has been collected.

    Guess what, it hasn’t been. Having a synod on the family without this data is like having a meeting on stars without having used a telescope.

    The idea that one must be rich to have a stable marriage is belied by the many saints from poor families, such as St. Bernadette. The idea that one must be well-educated is belied by fact that many of the immigrants to the U. S. had next to no education, but very stable marriages. The idea of a late marriage helping is belied by the fact that, in 1960, the average age for marriage was 20 for the woman and 23 for the man, but the divorce rate was half of what it is, today.

    What do education, church attendance, waiting for sexual activity, marrying later have in common? They all represent, in one way or another, different types of self-control directed towards an end. This is exactly the sort of thing that marriage is supposed to be about, so, the recent stabilization in marriage is a form of self-selection, whereby those with goal-directedness expressed as self-control form long-lasting marriages.

    Hello, Captain Obvious!

    Good grief! There is no mystery, here. There is no need for a synod. Very simply, let’s face it: world-wide, self-control directed towards a remote end is breaking down. Let me make that point loud and clearly, your eminences:


    After WWI, when the youth returned form the War, experimentation and a youth culture began to manifest with a resultant decrease in self-restraint. Divorce rates doubled from 8.8% in 1910 to 16.5% in 1928, (even without no-fault divorce – see, “Only Yesterday: an informal history of the 1920’s,” by Frederick Lewis Allen, Chapter V, pg. 87 – the entire chapter is well-worth reading for how closely it matches the developments of the 1960’s).

    In the period and aftermath of the Great Depression, when self-control was high, divorces were lower and stable.

    After WWII, the same phenomenon as in the 1920’s began to occur, with a rise in feminism, experimentation in areas of sex, drugs, music, art, morality, the development of chemical birth-control, etc. Again, the divorce rate began to rapidly climb. Then, in 1969, with the advent of no-fault divorce in California (not the first state, but the most famous), there is no longer a stable basis on which to gather consistent data because the process of divorce changed. it is known that the base rate sky-rocketed to a high of 22.6 per 1000, compared to 9.2 per 1000 in 1960.

    Over and over and over again, not only is there a direct correlation between self-control and stability of marriage, but one can make an easy hypothesis that there is a direct causation.

    Giving the divorced and remarriage sacramental recognition is exactly the wrong thing to do. This sort of removing of the stigma was what happened in the 1920’s and the 1960’s. It only encourages the freedom to indulge in divorce and remarriage.

    What needs to be done is to encourage better self-discipline and accountability within the Church. How much more can one say to the Bishops? Before Vatican II, Catholics were known for their self-control and divorce was almost unheard of (it was a colossal failure before God). After the mess of Vatican II, Catholics moved up rapidly to parity with non-Catholics in terms of divorce because there was no accountability before God or the Church. It was the direct turning away from corporate responsibility (morality by the book) to personalist responsibility (represented by morality being determined by ones conscience) coming at exactly the wrong time (early 1960’s) that has put the Church in the marriage mess it is in, today. Vatican II did not change any of the teachings of the Church, but that is a red herring. It did, at least in its implementations, in a most profound way, change the disciplines of the Church. That was enough. I will go so far as to say that even though a Church Council may be an infallible act of the Holy Spirit, there is no guarantee that its implementations will be. So Vatican II was a harmless and relatively ineffectual Council as history goes, but it was a train-wreck in its effects. One must consider the effects of Vatican II (but not the Council, itself) to be a failure – a dismal failure. Until the Bishops own up to this fact, there will be no real change for the better in the Church.

    Let them canonize Vatican II, the Council, but no papal canonization will ever make up for the sin of its implementation. If there needs to be a synod, let it be a synod of penance for the unholy daring of self-indulgence after Vatican II.

    The Chicken

  50. The Masked Chicken says:

    Oneros wrote:

    “So there are very real questions as to why a couple who, in conscience, believes they have personal moral certitude (in the internal forum) that their first marriage was invalid…should have to “wait” for the annulment in the external forum. It takes three years only to declare “Oh, well, you weren’t married all along, so you really WERE free to remarry this whole time!” Perhaps the Church could pastorally tolerate couples “anticipating” annulments like this. And even if the annulment comes back negative, annulments are not infallible. There is a tension between internal and external forum here, but one that gives individual souls and pastors room to negotiate, though there would be no public recognition (internal has to remain internal).”

    Personally, I think the use of the internal forum solution should be practically non-existent. The idea that a person can reach an unbiased state of conscience of their own acts from purely internal sources is highly problematic. Highly. In mystical theology, if one has a locution, even if one is morally certain that it is from an angel, the Church’s counsel, from such doctors of the Church as Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, is that one must not act on the them until the contents of the locution has been manifested and examine, publicly (usually, to a spiritual director or a bishop, etc.). This is to prevent self-deception and to manifest humility. In moral theology, following ones conscience pre-supposes that the conscience is formed from an external source – usually, the Church’s Magisterium. Why should one have the right to assess ones own marriage in conscience without the benefit of an impartial witness? As Richard Feynman once wrote on scientific observations – and it applies to personal ones, as well: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.”

    That is why I do not want to see an over-use of the internal forum.

    The Chicken

  51. The Masked Chicken says:

    One final thing…with regards to psychological impairments to marriage, short of outright psychosis on the day of the wedding, given the state-of-the-art with regards to modern psychology, I would be very hesitant to declare any sort of psychological impediment capable of rendering a marriage invalid on the wedding day.

    Psychologists do not know enough, given the state-of-the-art, of how the interplay of psyche and the assumption of obligations in a marriage really works. In my opinion, they have been taken too seriously by tribunals since the late 1950’s. We used to think x in 1980, now we think y, but psychologist n was formed in 1980 and has not kept up with the latest research. Who, but an expert can? So, psychologist n gives a forensic opinion about the state of mind of a person on the day of their wedding and their ability to fulfill the marriage obligation, taken to be that of an expert, which is really nothing but out-of-date information, but taken, nevertheless, as an expert opinion. Psychological knowledge is changing too rapidly to have really settled opinions on many things (and a lot of it is not even based on replicated results, as all good science should be). It is not even an objective science (witness the homosexual definition debacle). Given this, the finding of a psychological impairment, is highly subjective and open to question, so much so, that it should be rarely, if ever, appealed to, in my opinion.

    The Chicken

    P. S. Sorry for commenting so much on a Sunday (I never comment on Sundays because I consider Internet use a function of work). After almost every comment I make on blogs, I walk away thinking that I have been imprudent or prideful in my remarks. Now is that a matter of the internal or external forum :)

  52. Oneros says:

    Maybe the use of the internal forum solution should be rare, chicken. But that’s just the thing: it’s something people will decide for themselves. Trying to “legislate” it (making rules circumscribing it, requiring consultation with a priest, etc) misses the point that that solution would be private before God. Might lots of people fool themselves or be cynical with it? Sure. But that’s on THEIR conscience.

    It seems to me that the best the Church can do is enable it for cases where it really is true (ie, implement that “conditional automatic sanation”) and then let people figure it out in fear and trembling for themselves. More scrupulous souls might still wait for external forum annulments, people who knew for sure they had a non-subjective impediment (consanguinity etc) might anticipate one, others would claim “wrong intent” and be right, others would claim “wrong intent” and be fooling themselves. The Church wouldn’t be performing second weddings without an annulment, but there would be a mechanism whereby people could proceed privately in conscience if they so chose “at their own risk.”

  53. KateD says:

    Well put, Father Z, especially on the points of mercy, upholding church teaching and the concern for the souls of priests who dismiss church teaching in the name of false-charity.

    Magpie, God can bring good out of anything/anyone. The Great Magadlens by Rev. Mgsr. Hugh Francis Blunt published by TAN is full of stories about the worst sinners who become heroically virtuous souls. It’s speaks to the nature of conversion and penance and brings to mind the forgiven debtor who owed more. Today’s Magdalens, with the help of God’s Grace, can come to a point of conversion and the exercise heroic virtues.

Comments are closed.