My friend Fr. Gerald Murray has again offered some insights over at The Catholic Thing about…
The False and Dangerous Coccopalmerio Gambit
Ready for some casuistry? [which is the use of clever but unsound reasoning, especially in relation to moral questions; sophistry. synonyms: sophistry, specious reasoning, speciousness, sophism, equivocation
… ] Should the Catholic Church allow a man and a woman to receive the sacraments in the following case? A woman living with a married but divorced man tells him that she no longer wants to live in sin; the man threatens to kill himself, and she, following her confessor’s advice, stays with him?
Think of a woman who lives with a married man. She has three little children. She has already been with this man for ten years. Now the children think of her as a mother. He, the partner, is very much anchored to this woman, as a lover, as a woman. If this woman were to say: “I am leaving this mistaken union because I want to correct my life, but if I did this, I would harm the children and the partner,” then she might say: “I would like to, but I cannot.” In precisely these cases, based on one’s intention to change and the impossibility of changing, [See the fatal flaw?] I can give that person the sacraments, in the expectation that the situation is definitively clarified. [Fail.]
What’s the harm to the partner in her departure? “But how can she leave the union? He [her civilly married spouse] will kill himself. The children, who will take care of them? They will be without a mother. Therefore, she has to stay there.”
He even states that the woman who desires to end the adulterous relationship would be guilty of killing her partner by leaving: “But if someone says: ‘I want to change, but in this moment I cannot, because if I do it, I will kill people,’ I can say to them, ‘Stop there. When you can, I will give you absolution and Communion.’”
The argument posed here is a quintessential “hard case” being used to establish a premise in favor of treating publicly known adultery as no longer an obstacle to the lawful reception of Holy Communion. But this premise sanctions emotionally manipulative coercion [Right!] and victimizes the woman further by treating her desire to live a virtuous life as the cause of harm to another.
How can that be? Obedience to God’s law is the cause of good in the life of the woman in question and that good radiates out to those around her. Her departure might shock the man into realizing how abusive his behavior has been toward her. His children are his responsibility, along with their mother, assuming she is still alive and involved in their lives. Her decision to follow God’s law will bring the children sadness, but more importantly gives a living witness of the Christian duty always to obey God’s law. [One of the things that continues to shock me and other sensible people is the assumption that any sticky situation people get themselves into can be “fixed”. Sometimes people get themselves into jams that can’t be fixed with some solution masked as “compassion” or “mercy”. True mercy usually means helping the person through the suffering their self-created situation has gotten them into and then finding God in the redemptive suffering. Happiness in this short life is not the ultimate goal. Happiness in the next life, for eternity, is the goal.]
The man in question uses the threat of suicide to coerce this woman, not simply to remain in his household to raise his children, as would be the case if he agreed to live in a chaste, brother and sister relationship for the sake of the children; he is coercing her into committing acts of adultery. He is sinning gravely on two counts. She is conscious of her objectively sinful behavior and wants to conform her life to the demands of the Gospel.
Her culpability is mitigated by the force and fear imposed upon her by this man’s threat. [Yes.] Nonetheless, [NB] when grace moves a person to reject sin, the Church must never tell that believer that she need not worry about her sinful situation because the man she is civilly married to is somehow entitled to adulterous relations, lest he kill himself. [That’s it, isn’t it? Think about what the promoters of the Kasperite position claim: the matrimonial state is an ideal that some people can’t attain… people who get themselves into sticky situations shouldn’t have to reach for an ideal that they can’t attain. Isn’t this a denial of God’s grace? Isn’t it a denial of something that Church teaches definitively? cf an anathema of the Council of Trent. Keeping God’s law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. HERE]
Is it an authentically Christian pastoral approach to allow a deadly threat by the man to go unchallenged? Could the threat of suicide likewise be invoked to allow other gravely sinful situations to continue? [“If you don’t let me get that dress for the party at Danny’s place I’LL KILL MYSELF!”] If he were sexually abusing his children, and threatened to kill himself if they were removed from the house, would anyone think they should be left there? Why should his demand to continue in adulterous acts with a reluctant woman be treated differently?
An underlying assumption here may be that once the woman agreed to live with this man more uxorio, she somehow lost her right to refuse pseudo-conjugal rights, and that such a refusal would harm him, if not kill him. This is a backwards way of looking at the plight of a woman who, moved by God’s grace, wants to live faithful to the Sixth Commandment.
[Watch this…] By allowing this “suicide exception,” the Church would be tolerating the woman’s exploitation and reinforcing the man’s mistaken notion that he can, without any consequences, manipulate another person, until such time “that the situation is definitively clarified” (whatever that means).
The role of the priest confessor in this case is to help this man and woman to live virtuous lives, which means abandoning threats to commit suicide and giving good example to the children by living a chaste life together. If that is not possible, the priest should advise the repentant woman to live in accordance with her upright conscience by departing. [HEY WAIT! Surely the role of the confessor is to affirm people just as they are!!?!]
Sad to say, Cardinal Coccopalmerio believes it is impossible (emphasis added) for some Christians to change their situation: “I say in the book, it’s necessary to instruct the faithful that when they see two divorced and remarried that go to the Eucharist, they ought not to say the Church now says that condition is good, therefore marriage is no longer indissoluble. They ought to say these people will have reasons examined by the ecclesial authorities on account of which they cannot change their condition, and in the expectation that they change, the Church has placed importance on their desire, their intention to change with the impossibility of doing so.” [impossibility]
Sed contra: “With God all things are possible.” Mt 19:26
Right. Fr. Z kudos.
A reading from the the Council of Trent.
Mind you, the what the Council of Trent is still true. Right? Even though it was a few centuries ago, it is still true what that Council taught and we Catholics are obliged to accept what that Council taught.
Celebrated on the thirteenth day of the month of January, 1547.
On keeping the Commandments, and on the necessity and possibility thereof.
But no one, how much soever justified, ought to think himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one ought to make use of that rash saying, one prohibited by the Fathers under an anathema,- that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified. For God commands not impossibilities, but, by commanding, both admonishes thee to do what thou are able, and to pray for what thou art not able (to do), and aids thee that thou mayest be able; whose commandments are not heavy; whose yoke is sweet and whose burthen light. [That, dear readers, is true compassion.] For, whoso are the sons of God, love Christ; but they who love him, keep his commandments, as Himself testifies; which, assuredly, with the divine help, they can do. For, although, during this mortal life, men, how holy and just soever, at times fall into at least light and daily sins, which are also called venial, not therefore do they cease to be just. For that cry of the just, Forgive us our trespasses, is both humble and true. And for this cause, the just themselves ought to feel themselves the more obligated to walk in the way of justice, in that, being already freed from sins, but made servants of God, they are able, living soberly, justly, and godly, to proceed onwards through Jesus Christ, by whom they have had access unto this grace.
CANON XVIII.-If any one saith, that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to keep; let him be anathema.