Inextricable

As happens most days, I received a circular e-mail with a link to A Possibility of Continuity? on the interminable discussion on Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) issued last April. Before beginning this posting, I resolved to read the text myself. My reaction was the same as finding something interesting in a shop but with a disproportionate price tag. In this case it is free but there are 264 pages to wade through. For someone who has been out of touch (apart from reading a few news articles) with the Roman Catholic Church, I didn’t have the courage. Therefore I can’t say whether it is right or wrong. I can only go on some of the things written about it. The linked article seems a good introduction to this pastoral and moral problem.

The real issue is the question of allowing divorced and civilly (invalidly) married people access to the Sacraments. Technically, sacramental marriage is absolutely indissoluble and any new union beyond civil divorce constitutes adultery. The Church I belong to, the ACC maintains this position which is that of the Roman Catholic Church. The situation of someone who is divorced (no canonical annulment) and civilly remarried (because a sacramental wedding in these conditions would be impossible) is inextricable. To return to the Sacraments, the person would have to separate from the new partner until an annulment has been obtained from a canonical tribunal that takes pleasure in taking its time and leaving people to suffer and die spiritually – or say To hell with the Church. The same happens with the delict of schism and ordination, though even that situation can be solved by a dispensation from the rigour of the law.

On one hand, we have a Roman Catholic hierarchy that is intransigent on this question, and on the other hand we have calls for re-marriage and same-sex marriage. The political dimension is staring us in the face. Let go of the absolute ban of access to the Sacraments of someone in an irregular situation and you have to open the window completely and let in everything else. It is easier to clam up. The “politically correct” media is waiting for the slightest crack so that it can move in and feast.

Amoris laetitia was perhaps a blunder on the part of the Pope, because it is all being brought out and discussed in black-and-white, all-or-nothing, terms. Pope Francis tried the approach of advising people in this situation privately, but it didn’t remain private. The press got hold of it, and now entire Episcopal Conferences are trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

As someone outside this hubbub, I will venture to give an opinion. Whilst adhering to the principles my Church and Rome have in common, the indissolubility of marriage, there are tragic situations with which we are all familiar once we get out of the various priests’ residences in Rome and libraries. The most frequent and tragic case is the victim of emotional and physical abuse by a partner with personality issues. Frankly, such a situation reveals an “error on the person” which can constitute a diriment impediment to the initial validity of the marriage. But, for such a nullity to be found, it has to go through a diocesan or curial marriage tribunal. Efforts have been made to quicken up the sluggishness of the system that shows its lack of pastoral or any kind of care for human beings. I got out of the RC Church in the John Paul II days, so I haven’t bothered finding out what is done these days.

Even in the absence of a canonically judged annulment, I do believe that there are many cases where pastoral care outweighs the literal observance of the law, where the original marriage is nothing more than something on paper. It no longer means anything in terms of a human community or a family in which children are safe and protected. Why do people want to remarry? I wouldn’t, but I cope well with solitude. Loneliness, being burdened with children and financial problems. Perhaps simply love…

There are many moral situations that are far from ideal, but are justified by the promotion of a higher good. An extreme example is the decision to trick the enemy in wartime to bomb a city to protect another that is producing the means to stop the war by winning it. This was the case with Coventry to save the armaments factories in Birmingham. Perhaps England should have surrendered to Hitler! Then more people would have been shipped off to concentration camps and an even greater sin of omission would have been committed. I can’t remember from academic moral theology whether this kind of thinking is justified, but it seems right to common sense. I can say that if I had a divorced person living with a new partner asking for the Sacraments nicely, privately and for the purposes of that person’s spiritual life, I would trust that person to be in good conscience. If the person asks for guidance, I would have to inform him or her of what the Church teaches, but that no soul may be forsaken by the Church or the channels of grace. Theoretically, I should distinguish between those who are having sexual relations with their post-marriage partners and those who are not. What a damned impertinent question! Since when is such a thing my business, unless the person wants to talk about it voluntarily?

A lot of this subject seems so artificial when so many people receiving the Sacraments are committing heinous sins of hypocrisy, doing the things politicians and sadistic lawyers or psychiatrists do. I only give an example among an infinite range of perverted human nature, not excluding the clergy. This alone is a sobering thought. The real problem in academic moral theology is adultery / fornication: having sex to someone you’re not married to. People get so steamed up about these things, and commit worse sins against other commandments and principles of God and humanity.

For once, I sympathise with the Pope deciding to circumvent the bishops and tell people over the phone what their parish priest might say in private. The trouble is that a pope can’t say anything in private to a person, and he even has to be careful that he is not being recorded in the confessional. It has happened in the days of Humanae Vitae! The seed of the Pharisees is much more perverse and iniquitous than questions of the flesh.

Pope Francis clearly wanted to change the Church’s practice on the admission of the divorced and civilly remarried to holy Communion, but could not get the synod of bishops to agree. It was an example of the Holy Spirit guiding the magisterium of the Church through the bishops against their head rather than in concert with him.

I think we ought to note this for when the same bishops try to hide behind their papal magisterium! Where are we going? Gallicanism or sedevacantism? They squirm about development of doctrine, and some way out of the cognitive dissonance. I feel sorry for them, and I note their blunders whilst someone like Richard Dawkins proposes another solution – do away with all religion and God and enjoy the freedom! More than for the divorced and civilly remarried person (or for that matter someone in simple concubinage), the situation for that Church is inextricable. The slightest contradiction of anything causes the whole to lose credibility. We need to revise the notion of truth: it is far beyond and above simple human epistemology.

More bureaucracy, more meetings, more corporate rationalism! It all makes me sick, and I am happy that it isn’t a single issue drum to be beaten, or an obsession or a cracked record, at every possible opportunity by my Church. Meetings and more meetings… Someone is having to pay for the hotel and food expenses of all those old men. What a damned waste!

These questions need to be dealt with in private. The Church has to maintain the indissolubility of marriage, and the teaching is clear. Perhaps the no-sex-outside-marriage can be treated as a matter of conscience, if the trust and confidentiality are not abused. It is akin to homosexuality. It isn’t my way, and the Church and Scriptures teach against it, but I would be merciful in the confessional. I oppose so-called “same-sex marriage” and militant flaunting, as for the so-called “gender” question, on which I have written quite unorthodoxly. People live in such a diversity of situations in life, and there just isn’t a law for all. We have to be in an order of things above law. I discussed Oscar Wilde a few days ago. I can’t condone his having gone with rent boys and ruined his family life, wife and children, but mercy and love is all such a man could relate to, certainly not repressive laws and inhumanity hiding behind them. Had I been his judge, I would have probably decided on a suspended sentence and advice to take his family to France – go and sin no more. There’s the difference…

This world is too full of claptrap and hype to be able to reason with the mass. One might as well try it with a crowd of football supporters or Sturmabteilung gangs in the 1930’s! Journalists with politically correct or dystopian agendas are no more rational or human.

Forget guidelines. Stick to principles, but be merciful in their application and judge the person as a human being. There is no point in discussing it in the street. Indeed, there are so many reasons why marriages break down, and mostly because of abuse and failure to communicate meaningfully. There may be fault on both sides to unequal degrees, or a clear case of unprovoked abuse.

I think Pope Francis has pulled a number a stupid stunts like the phone call to Argentina and trying to break the gravitas of the Papacy. He may be well-intentioned pastorally, but he fails to command my respect. He is the Pope! He can talk with his old faithful in Argentina and say what he wants, but in private. What good – cui bono – does it do? That Church seems to be utterly “screwed” and run by men who are as “pastoral” as priests as others are as psychiatrists and lawyers. It’s all their lousy careers and money.

I think I have been long-winded enough on the question. I have no hard and fast answers. The ideal is that a victim of a failed marriage should assume single life and manage with the children, the mortgage, a job and all the rest. They won’t come to me as a priest for spiritual advice before finding another partner, so we are presented with a fait accompli. It either stinks of something cheap and sordid – or arouses our instincts of compassion and empathy. No law can decide in every case how we are to make the best of a defective situation where nothing is ideal.

He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone…

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3 Responses to Inextricable

  1. ed pacht says:

    No law can decide in every case how we are to make the best of a defective situation where nothing is ideal.

    Wise words. The Law is the Law. Christ did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it — as in the extreme strictures of the Sermon on the Mount. The Law, seen in its fullness, is beyond the capacity of humans to keep, and thus we all (whether we judge one to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’) stand under condemnation. God’s remedy was not to change or eliminate the Law, neither was it to practice strict enforcement, but to send His Son to bring Grace and forgiveness on the Cross, to absorb the contradiction into Himself and declare us clean and free. It is not the Law that saves us, but the non-logical answer of the Cross, and of a continuous cleansing by the Holy Spirit. The Law does not lose its force and authority, but it is grace, through faith, that saves us, without (outside) the works of the Law. The pronouncement is, “Go, and sin no more,” but the reality, it would seem, always remains, “Repeat as needed.”

    It’s as it is in many things, and as I’m always declaring: Christians live at the intersection of contradictory realities – paradoxes that are only resolved in the infinite mind of God.

  2. Father Anthony,

    What you have written starting with the words ‘As someone outside the hubub’ opening your fifth paragraph, is the opinion held by very many ordinary laity across different catholic jurisdictions.

    I would say that this articulates the views similarly of many priests validly ordained to Holy Orders.

    Without hunting around for survey stats I can say that I have come across similar opinion in many a published article over recent years.

    Regardless of any hard line attitudes from ultra conservative bishops, priests personally known to me hold similar beliefs to those you have expressed in your careful analysis.

    I agree 100% with what you have written on this subject. Visitors to your blog may wish to know that as I am incapable of sycophancy I have, over the years written quite a few constructively critical observations about your posts.

  3. J.D. says:

    Mr. Pacht-

    What you say deeply resonates with me. I had never thought of grace and the law the way you have described but it makes a lot of sense. The Law is absolutely impossible to fulfill, and so Christ comes along to save us. It’s so simple and yet profound. This idea (provided I understand it correctly) shatters the inner pharisee within us, or has the potential to.

    I don’t know if this has anything to do with it but for me even the notion of a strict line between nature and grace, and concepts like a “state of grace” I find depressing. Perhaps if we look at law and grace in the manner you describe it frees us to stop worrying and nitpicking about “states of grace” and rules and just do the best we can while trusting in God’s mercy.

    Again I may be misunderstanding this but I feel like some of the Reformers were getting at this sort of idea over and above the nitpicking and legalism of scholastic Catholicism.

    Father Anthony-

    Excellent reflection, and one that honestly tries to face this issue.

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