“Catholic divorce does not exist. Nullity is granted if the union never existed. But if it did, it is indissoluble,” - Pope Francis
What is the real point of issue between those who are called "conservative" and those who have been called "liberal"? (I prefer to call both groups "Catholics") In this post, I wish to show that the so-called "conservatives" are very clear on Catholic Doctrine and believe, quite simply, that loyal Catholics should not allow any other consideration to interfere with its practical consequences when judging particular cases. On the other hand, the so-called "liberals" also accept Catholic Doctrine - the Pope made this quite plain, but it was ignored both by the secular press that had its own agenda and by the "conservatives" who, it seems to me, were unable to grasp the "liberal" argument.
The thought of the "conservatives" is completely deductive, arguing from Catholic doctrines and applying them to particular situations. The "liberals", on the other hand, argue that there are two, equally valid approaches to any human situation: the deductive approach, and on that they are in full agreement with the "conservatives", and the inductive approach which looks at and interprets the particular situation by asking what the Good Shepherd is doing in this new, irregular so-called marriage and, with that in mind, how the Gospel can be introduced to these people in their concrete situation, in harmony with what Christ is already doing there, so that the couple can hear and recognise the Good News for what it is. Thus, although they accept the conclusions to the deductive method, they do not believe that it is the only criterion for deciding what to do pastorally. They must take account of what the country priest discovered in "A Diary of a Country Priest" that grace is everywhere.
The distinction between these two approaches they have borrowed from Orthodox pastoral theology. They distinguish between akribia, which is following the strict letter of the law, and oikonomia which is defined as a discretionary deviation from the letter of the law in order to keep the spirit of the law or in favour of charity in a concrete set of circumstances. It is based on the idea that the law is made for man, not man for the law. Sometimes the law is impossible to keep or keeping it is detrimental to particular people. It is the bishops' job to decide whether oikonomia or akribia is to be used
The secular press muddies the waters by interpreting the disagreement as though it were a contest between those with traditional Christian values and those Christians who accept secular values in spite of being Christians. Conservatives are often too ready to agree here with the secularists. Nothing could be further from the truth: both "conservatives" and "liberals" are God-centred.
Hence, both conservatives and liberals agree that two Christians who commit themselves to Christian marriage have become one in an indissoluble union. Should they subsequently separate and enter into another "matrimonial" union, this is adultery and against the will of God. There is no quarrel, no disagreement there; and there is nothing conservative or liberal about it either: it is straight, down the line Catholicism. Both Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis are in total agreement on this matter; but, when Pope Francis has said as much, neither the "conservatives" nor much of the secular press listened. Again, Pope Francis does not deny the Church's teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. As he said in this regard, "I am a son of the Church." However, the homosexual is still a human being for whom Christ died, and there may well be something in him that springs from Christ's love, something that the canon lawyer hasn't noticed.
Before going on, let us listen to the protagonists. First let us listen to Cardinal Burke:
Before going on, let us listen to the protagonists. First let us listen to Cardinal Burke:
They want the Church to recognise some second, non-canonical marriages with the same kind of recognition that is given to Protestant ecclesial communities when the evidence exists that Christ is using them as units of grace. Christ is not a prisoner of his own system. They would say that, if you really know people in second marriages, you will know that, in spite of their irregular origin, many are units of grace. Then, they ask, what are we going to do about it?
There are two ways of looking at an ecclesial community, and both are correct. You can look at it from the point of view of Catholic self-understanding, from the point of view of revealed truth as found in Scripture and Tradition and formulated by the Fathers of the Church and by the Council of Trent. This way of looking at them shows them to be highly deficient. They are without apostolic succession, so their ministers are not Catholic priests, their communion services are not the Mass; therefore, they are not churches in the full sense of the word. All that hasn't changed since the ecumenical movement and Vatican II.
However, we have learnt to look at them with new eyes. By examining them without prejudice, indeed, with love, we have become aware of what God is doing in these ecclesial communities, even though they were invented by men rather than by God. They are still our brothers, and there are many signs that they are still united to us in Christ. The Ugandan martyrs were both Catholics and Anglicans, and all are saints. We have discovered the richness of their baptismal life, the strong communion with Christ they have received in and through the Word of God, the wonderful witness to Christ that so many give in their lives etc. Their ministers are our colleagues in many projects, even though, should they become Catholics, they would be received as lay people and would have to be ordained to become priests. The second way of looking at them has not cancelled out the first: the first has simply ceased to be the centre of our attention. Discovering God at work within these communities and acting on our discovery is simply a more productive approach.
Hence, those who were against ecumenism in Vatican II and those who were in favour agreed with the Council if Tent and Vatican I on the nature of the Church; but one group believed that, in present circumstances, there is a more profound, more productive way of understanding both Catholic churches and non-Catholic ecclesial communities, the "conservatives" denied the legitimacy of the new way. Vatican II sided with the reformers.
Once more we see these two ways of thinking in opposition, this time over second marriages. But, before we continue with the argument, let us listen to the late Orthodox Father Thomas Hopko on
click on title:
We know that marriage is a sacrament that symbolises the relationship between Christ and his Church. Therefore, if we have a more profound insight into the nature of the Church and of its union with Christ, then this ought to lead us to a more profound insight into marriage.
Before Vatican II, the chief paradigm that we used to understand the Church was that of the "perfect society". This understanding was particularly useful when trying to defend the church over and against the state. For Pope Leo XIII the Church
"is a perfect society of its own kind and their own right, since it everything for their existence and their effectiveness is necessary, in accordance with the will and power of the grace of their Founder in and of itself owns. As the goal of the Church is more sublime, its power is always far superior [to that of the state], and it can therefore not be considered less than the Civil state, as to not be in a state of subordination." On relations between Church and State, ".The one responsible for the care of the divine dimension, the other for the human. Each one is in the highest of its kind: each has certain limits within which it moves, borders that emerged from the nature and purpose of each of the next two forces showed." (Leo XIII, in his encyclical Immortale Dei)
Paul VI, in his 1969 motu proprio Solicitudo omnium says:
"It cannot be disputed that the duties of Church and State belong to different orders. Church and state are in their own area perfect societies. That means: They have their own legal system and all necessary resources. They are also, within their respective jurisdiction, entitled to apply its laws. On the other hand, it must not be overlooked that they are both aiming at a similar welfare, namely that the people of God is to obtain eternal salvation."
The dogmas of Vatican I on papal jurisdiction and papal infallibility are based on the Church as a perfect society in which it has its "own legal system and all necessary resources."
Although this "perfect society" model is adequate to show the Church's relationship with the state, it is highly inadequate as an in-depth understanding of the Church as expressed in Revelation. From it you could never arrive at the Eucharist as constitution of the Church (Pope Benedict XVI); nor have an adequate concept of the local church, both in communion with and outside communion with the Roman See; nor could it show us that, in the words of Pope Francis, the only authority the Church has is an authority of service, and the only power it has is that of the Cross. For these insights, we had to go to eucharistic ecclesiology. This revealed to us that, behind the links of jurisdiction, there is the unity of communion which is the deeper reality, even though tne Church needs a system of law in order to function. However, communion is nothing less than our sharing in the life of the Trinity, a unity in the Holy Spirit of which our unity as a legal body, brought about by sharing in a common system of jurisdiction which is a consequence and a merely pallid reflection of the deeper mystery. If you really want a definition of what the Church is, it is contained in the doxology at the end of the our eucharistic prayers:
"Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever."
The Father is the source of the unity in Christ and his glory brought about by unity with him is the goal, and the Holy Spirit is the means which brings it about.
Where does this leave marriage? St Paul famously says that there is a parallel between the relationship of husband and wife and that of Christ and his Church (Eph. 5, 22 - 32):
22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.Pope St John Paul II said:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church [a]in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
2. If—as has been said—this analogy illuminates the mystery, it in its turn is illuminated by that mystery. The conjugal relationship which unites husband and wife should help us—according to the author of the Letter to the Ephesians—to understand the love which unites Christ to the Church, that reciprocal love between Christ and the Church in which the divine eternal plan for the salvation of man is realized. Yet the content of meaning of the analogy does not end here. The analogy used in Ephesians, illuminating the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, contemporaneously unveils the essential truth about marriage. Marriage corresponds to the vocation of Christians only when it reflects the love which Christ the Bridegroom gives to the Church his Bride, and which the Church (resembling the "subject" wife, that is, completely given) attempts to return to Christ. This is redeeming love, love as salvation, the love with which man from eternity has been loved by God in Christ: "...even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him..." (Eph 1:4).Christian marriage reflects " that reciprocal love between Christ and the Church in which the divine eternal plan for the salvation of man is realized." St Paul is saying that the reciprocal love between man and wife should reflect the reciprocal love between Christ and his Church. The accent is on love, not on law. He is not saying anything about the legal marriage contract but about the relationship between man and wife as a parallel with, a participation in the relationship between Christ and the Church. It is the function of the legal contract to initiate this relationship within a legally binding context that will help to preserve it. However, the canon law and the Church's teaching are not one and the same thing. Before the Council of Trent, people who were poor and without inheritance married without a legal contract or any kind of ceremony; but it was still the sacrament of matrimony, binding until death.
Father Hopko says there is a difference between Catholic and Orthodox teaching on marriage. Catholic marriage is the forging of a marriage contract in God's presence and is, primarily, a legal act. In contrast, the legal contract is made on behalf of the state in Orthodox marriage often before the marriage service, and the actual Orthodox marriage service, in itself, has no marriage vows, no legal element at all. In Orthodoxy, the couple offers up its mutual love to Christ, and the Father sends his Spirit through the blessing of the priest so that this union becomes eternal, a reflection of the union between Christ and the Church. The minister of matrimony is the priest, not the couple.
Typically of many Orthodox, Father Hopko says that there are arguments within Orthodoxy, so he can only give us his version; but he is absolutely sure that the Catholic position is wrong. However, they recognise marriages between Protestants as Christian marriages, even without a priest. Moreover, the necessity for a priest is difficult to uphold because the majority of people in the Middle Ages married simply by co-habiting rather than by a marriage service. Nevertheless, the Orthodox can contribute to our discussion because they make a distinction between the marriage contract and the union between two people that is made in heaven and is the kind of marriage about which Christ speaks.
It seems to me that, if behind and underpinning the Church as an organization, there is the Church as Communion, then it follows that, if the family is the domestic church, and there is a direct connection between the relation of Christ with the Church and Christ with the family, then, if the Church is, first of all, Communion, then the family is communion too; and, when Jesus is talking about what God has joined together let no man put asunder, then he is talking principally about the relationship between the spouses.
This means that, if the relationship breaks down due to sin, the couple has already separated what God has joined together. The sin has already been committed. Like all sin, this can be absolved only when the person repents; but it can be absolved. The legal force that the marriage contract still possesses is a witness to the obligation that both husband and wife have to restore that relationship: it is their vocation.
However, what happens if, in spite of all this, one or both go their separate ways, and each forms another family, sometimes more stable than the last one? We now have a natural family, with parents and children who, perhaps because of the New Evangelisation, return to the practice of the faith.
Although unable to go to communion because one or both adults were married before, they go regularly to Sunday Mass, their children are baptised and are reared in the Catholic faith, while the parents participate in the life of the parish as far as they are allowed. The parish priest has no doubt that this family is a unit of faith and grace. It would be a human tragedy to break up this family; and, if difficulties were to present themselves, the priest would have no doubt that his pastoral task would be to help them to keep together.
I have known many families like that. So often I have found myself supporting a relationship which appears every bit as positive as the previous marriage while not being able to give the couple communion for persisting in exactly the same relationship that I support.
Of course, there are variations: like the woman who cannot seek an annulment of the previous marriage because her second husband won't let her and who is bringing up their kids as Catholics in spite of his opposition, even though they both love each other. Any talk of living as brother and sister would break up the family, and she has too much at stake for herself and her children.
Of course, it is recognised that the original marriage vows, which were till death, still prevent the divorced Catholic from taking up another union on the same terms. However, the relationship by which God formed them into one flesh has been destroyed by sin: it simply does not exist anymore, and it is beyond their powers to restore it. Within the context of their conversion to Christ, an irretrievably dead relationship should not be allowed to stand in the way of their coming to Christ. Christ came to set captives free. For this reason, the Church that can loose on earth what it knows can be loosed in heaven, can grant absolution.
The situation seems to demand that we ask the same question that we asked of Protestant ecclesial communities in spite of their irregularity, "Is this family unit also a unit of faith and grace?" If it is - and I hold that it is often easy to discern this - then in harmony with what Christ is doing in their 'marriage', we allow them to go to confession and receive absolution for their past sins, allowing them to resume participating in the life of the Church as communicant members to communion.; However, this should be within the context of real conversion; and I think that this should not happen for several years, during which the constancy of their conversion would be tested, as would the stability of the new family as a natural unit and as a means of grace.
It is clear from the Synod that such an arrangement is favoured by the German bishops and opposed by the bishops of Africa. It is also clear that the Church in Africa is a highly successful missionary church that preaches the Gospel in the face of Islam and paganism. It is clear that it wishes to give to Africa the very best of Catholicism; and that it is impatient with any form of compromise. On the other hand, the Catholic Church in Germany is a church of post-Christian Europe which, by the New Evangelisation, wishes to win people back to the faith. A very large percentage of those it wishes to re-evangelise have been baptised and, therefore are treated under Canon Law as Christians, even though their levels of Christian life have varied considerably, and there are as many divorces among so-called Christians as there are among declared non-believers. The German church, then, wants to catch as many people within the net as possible and to build up their Christian life from there. Although the Africans and the Germans have the same teaching on marriage and sexuality, their tasks are very different, and this means they have different priorities. I hope they get to know one another.
Unfortunately, in the reports on the Synod, there was much talk of plot and counterplot. In this, it reminded me strongly of what happened in Vatican II. The columns of Sandro Magister, who has always been one of my favourite commentators, were filled with the skullduggery of the "liberals", including, he hinted, Pope Francis. It seemed that, on both sides, there has been an intolerance and a reluctance to face issues on their own merits. More emphasis is made by insinuations about the authentic catholicity of their opponents and their underhand ways. This is not confined to "conservatives" like Sandro Magister. Bishop Robert Barron talks about one reaction by a group of Catholic academics to a journalist (here) whose views do not suit them.
I would love to see an even moderate amount of humility on the part of protagonists. Humility and charity should be the context in which arguments can be expressed with clarity and without sneering at anybody, without wasting time with personal accusations. The commandment, "Do not judge," is being broken all over the place. However, if charity were the rule, some of the blogs I have read would simply dry up for lack of material.
The Byzantine rite gives the kiss of peace before the recitation of the Creed. God is asked that they may love one another so that they can proclaim the Creed with one mind and one voice. True Orthodoxy is the product of ecclesial love. As one of the Greek fathers said, "Orthodoxy without love is the religion of the Devil." John Wesley, echoing this father of the Church, said, "You can be as orthodox as the devil, and just as wicked!" Where there is division, there we find Satan, not necessarily identifying with one particular side, but taking advantage in any way he can of the limitations of both. He is much more dangerous than any "liberal" or "conservative" Catholic, but I see little attention is paid to him in this war between "conservatives" and "liberals". He must be having a hell of a time!!