This weekend the untiring Mgr Basil Loftus (The Catholic Times, 9th Feb 2014) is making some perfectly innocuous remarks of Pope Francis in his address to the Roman Rota into a call for some kind of revolution. I don't think the judges of the Roman Rota will be too shocked to hear that justice has to be 'adapted to the needs of the concrete reality', and I certainly don't think the needs of the concrete reality are for annulments on dubious grounds. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI made it abundantly clear, in fact, that the opposite is the case. The culture of easy divorce and poor marriage preparation is a concrete reality calling for great vigilance in protecting the sanctity of marriage, when the matter comes before Catholic Marriage Tribunals.
|Watch out: Mercy at work.|
Joking aside, there is a problem here which often arises in ethics: the contrast between identifiable (potential) victims and non-identifiable ones. We can all think of people who would, personally, welcome a relaxation of the Church's laws. People who are divorced and remarried, who might like to be told that they can receive Communion. People who are divorced, who might like to be told they can marry again in church. These people suffer for the Church's discipline: there is no denying it. The people who would suffer from a relaxation are not so easy to identify. They are the spouses who would be abandoned, because not even a Catholic husband or wife any longer really regards marriage as inviolable. It is the children whose parents would separate, for the same reason. Lives shattered, children abandoned: we have seen these consequences with the Divorce Reform Act in the UK; do we really want to take the Church further down this road? The people who might be victims should the last vestiges of respect for marriage be loosened, because the last institution (beside the Mormons) on the planet which takes marriage seriously, has decided to throw in the towel, these victims of course will never write in to the papers on appear in a TV interview, because we don't know who they are going to be. Does this mean we can ignore them? Does that mean that protecting them doesn't count as a work of Mercy?
To sacrifice people we don't know, people we can't readily identify, for the sake of people we do know, people we've met and who have campaigns in the papers and get wheeled out to talk on the radio, without bothering even to consider how many there might be of each: this is not Mercy, it is self-indulgence. It is an indulgence of our sentimental feelings towards our chums, or to those who have made a favourable impression on us, which is merciless to those we don't know, people who are voiceless, not just, like the unborn, because they are too young, but because we won't know who they are going to be until it is too late. It is because they are unidentifiable, and therefore can't defend themselves as a group in advance, that they need our special protection.
But here is another question. What exactly do people like Basil Loftus want to see happen? What does he imagine can be changed, to make things 'easier', more 'Merciful'?
I am going to explore this in a couple of posts: first, the 'Orthodox option', and secondly, the 'relaxation of discipline' option.
Just for the record, Loftus once again displays his contempt for his superiors by attacking Archbishop Müller.
"The Mercy of the Lord is, then, my merit." Try telling that to Archbishop Müller. For him it does not seem to be true that because of God's Mercy, "where sin abounds, grace abounded all the more", certainly not within the confines of an invalid marriage... Is it not Müller who misses the mark?
This is the same Archbishop Müller whose appointment filled Loftus with such joy. Oh yes: back on the 8 July 2012, he gave his assessment of where the Archbishop's critics were going wrong. ‘Quite simply, he [Archbishop Müller] is profoundly scholarly and spiritual, and they [his critics] are not.’
This kind of misapprehension of a person's character might even be grounds for an annulment. But if Loftus can be wrong about this, what can we rely on?