Saturday, June 18, 2016

What to do about Catholic marriages

Pope Francis' words about 'the great majority' of Catholic marriages being invalid have, it appears, been redacted, in the official transcript of his press conference at the Lateran on Thursday, to read 'some' Catholic marriages. Assuming that the Holy Father had a hand in this, or at least allowed it to happen, we should understand it as his second thoughts. He acknowledges, in some sense, that what he said the first time was not right, or not wise. This ought to mean that the people criticising us for disagreeing with the Pope should now eat their words, since he agrees with us in disagreeing with what he said, but I don't suppose many of them will look at it that way.

What we can all agree about is that there is a crisis of marriage. I would also like to draw out one aspect of what the Pope said, or implied, which I also agree with: that the problem is not that people simply don't know, intellectually, what marriage is, but that, deep down, that understanding is not part of them. 'They say it', the Pope says. But in some sense, they don't grasp it. The problem, then, is not, as many people have suggested, a deficiency of marriage preparation. A course of talks could catechise couples; it cannot give them a culture or virtue.

The problem is one of formation, not knowledge. That problem manifests itself not in the nullity of marriages, but in their failure.

Of course good marriage preparation would be a good idea. What would make even more difference would be if the couples made a good confession immediately before the wedding. Getting married in a state of grace is necessary to receiving the graces of the sacrament, in marriage as with Holy Communion and Holy Orders. Perhaps bringing couples to confession should be a priority for marriage preparation. What that means, of course, in the context of couples who are mostly cohabiting before marriage, is that the marriage prep. should not be about catechesis so much as about bringing about a conversion of life. Not patting them on the back and saying, we don't condemn, and anyway you are getting married now, but rather saying: if you are to form a Catholic family, you need to straighten your lives out.

Something else worth saying is that if we suspect there is a crisis of invalidity in marriage, the Church must react as she would to a crisis of invalidity with Holy Orders or Baptism: not by bewailing the problem, but by making the sacrament valid. Call in the couples and get them to go through a conditional form of marriage with the right intentions; don't just wait for them to divorce and say, oh well it was probably invalid. The fact that this option is not being discussed suggests to me that the idea of invalidity is not being used, in this debate, in a serious way, to mean what it actually means. Invalidity is not just a handy excuse to get remarried. It is a defect in a sacrament which means that it hasn't worked. If it's not worked, it's not had its good effects. In that case it should be - and could easily be - sorted out. If, that is, we care about Catholics' marriages.

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  1. "we should understand it as his second thoughts"

    Should we? Really? Is this how business at the Vatican should be conducted? A pope says something outrageous, scandalous, blasphemous and heretical, he undermines the sanctity of marriage, discourages the faithful and reinforces his changes to canon law to create de facto "Catholic divorce" and we "should understand it" as him having second thoughts? Why, exactly "should" we understand it this way?

    Why should we understand it as innocent that it is standard practice at the Vatican for his press handlers to routinely attempt - and in the most hamfisted way possible - to cover up his scandalous and blasphemous utterances?

    When a public figure mis-speaks and then honestly repents of his error, he doesn't instruct his media people to slyly change the record and then pretend there was never anything scandalous in the first place. That's the work of the Ministry of Truth, not the work of an honest man.

    We teach children (we used to teach children) that if yom make a mistake, you own up. You admit it. You don't take the evidence and hide it under the mattress and the lie about it.

    This pope and his nest of scorpions has failed to grasp the moral standards of a six year-old.

    Don't try to whitewash it.

    1. I don't disagree, but that's not the issue I was focusing on. The Pope allows this massaging of his words in the direction of clear orthodoxy because he wants (or wants to allow others to create) a somewhat more clearly orthodox public record. What he said first is of significance; that he allowed it to be changed also is of significance. He's very deliberatly not making this and similar statements authoritative.

      What would be bizarre to conclude from this process is that what he said the first time was not scandalous (in the technical sense) and wrong.

  2. I read something the other day which set me thinking. Someone was comparing the attitude towards Catholics today to those 1500 years ago.

    The Catholics then didn't need marriage preparation courses for their marriages to be valid. They just needed to understand that marriage was an unbreakable bond.

    I think that it is important for the Church to understand its complicity in the current situation. I believe part of the reason many Catholics don't believe in the permanency of the marriage bond is false mercy. All the talk at the last two synods of accepting couples in "irregular unions" is part of the problem. The talk about admitting couples who are divorced and civilly remarried to Holy Communion is part of the problem.

    How can we expect Catholics to understand that marriage is a lifelong bond when the Church is talking about all the ways to deal with it not being a life long bond?

    To compound things we now have the Holy Father talking about couples who are co-habiting being in effective marriages with the graces of marriage. I can't quite reconcile that with what the Church teaches.

    This is all the more puzzling when Our Lord's teaching on marriage is among the clearest we have. 1500 years ago Catholics knew this, it was simple, they didn't have problems with catechisis. Unfortunately the likes of Kasper, and unfortunately the Holy Father as well, are not helping anyone in their words which only undermine marriage.

  3. I believe MPs have the right to correct Hansard before publication as to what they said in the House. Obviously such can be put to cynical misuse so as to fly a kite as you suggest but it can be used innocently. I remember our briefing an aged Catholic peer to speak on a particular point on a rating bill concerning presbyteries. To our horror he said the complete opposite to what he was supposed to say. However our Parliamentary Agent said it would be quite alright as the Minister had been briefed as to what our Peer was actually supposed to have said! I cannot remember whether Hansard was duly corrected.

  4. To correct, yes, fine. But there is a video recording of him saying the first thing.

  5. The fact that this option is not being discussed suggests to me that the idea of invalidity is not being used, in this debate, in a serious way, to mean what it actually means.

    It's astounding. This Pope, and those Catholics who over the past 48 hours have been sharing his dire assessment of the state of sacramental marriage (and catechesis!), react to what should be a full-scale DEFCON 1 ecclesiastical crisis like a saddened American watching a CNN report about a typhoon hitting Bangladesh. There is no sense of clerical responsibility, nor any plan of action. A guy who really believes this would call for an immediate moratorium on church marriages--for a start.

    But no one is doing that. We sigh and lament that catechesis isn't better. And then we go back to talking about something else. People, from the top on down, are simply not acting like they actually believe what they're saying. There's zero sense of urgency. None.

  6. I think what you say is good advise. But formation alone probably won't be sufficient. What I am thinking here is that marriages are also likely to fail because

    1) the two spouses just aren't compatible
    2) there is no support network from immediate family and friends
    3) the life within the family is disordered (both spouses are just tiring away at getting ahead in their jobs)
    4) both spouses have developed habits and beliefs that are incompatible with marriage
    5) culture does nothing to prevent ways in which the marriage might go wrong and instead lends itself to giving occasion for things to go wrong (how men and women interact in our present culture, how they dress, how they speak of divorce and second marriages, how society views promiscuity etc.)

    Those things cannot unfortunately be fixed with proper formation for marriage alone. But as long as these problems persist, many marriages are still going to end up in divorce.

    The question of validity though.... if such a problem even exists, then formation would do the job I guess.

    1. It istrue that marriage is being attacked from every direction. You could mention SSM and the welfare and tax systems. However, most of things you list I would actually call issues of formation: having the wong expectations, ambitions, committments and habits.

  7. Anonymous9:31 am

    I myself am in cohabitation. It's not hard to see how I got here. After a short life of debauchery I suddenly stumbled into a girl that I couldn't leave as soon as I got what I wanted. She's different from everybody else, and I can't understand how someone like her was raised in a country like mine. All girls here, Catholic or not, are the same. She's not, though, but even if she was I'd be afraid of marrying her because she might one day leave and I'll be stuck believing in our vow. Added to that I can't get work that pays more than £350 a month and my savings are steadily being eaten away unless I move back with my parents. At 25 I can't support even myself. I shouldn't get married. I'm not even sure marriage is for me. Yet, I am afraid of losing her by keeping my distance, and here we are. She's in the bed behind me and I am typing out my troubles to strangers on the Internet for no good reason. It's funny sometimes. All I want to say is, I'm not tricked into thinking that what we have is valid in any sense, no matter who says it.

  8. Some fraternal advice given to you in any case - but most especially if you are a baptised Catholic:

    Your primary duties are to love God and to save your own soul. Right now, if I read you correctly, you almost certainly seem to be in mortal sin. This is not a judgment (God will do that). It is simply what appears to be the truth stated with blunt clarity. If I’m correct and if you also accept that you are in mortal sin, then you also must know that if you fell under the proverbial No.72 bus tomorrow - or today for that matter - your eternal fate will be sealed by the state of your soul upon your last earthly breath. You say that you do not wish to risk losing a great richness, i.e. this girl. Yet you seem prepared to sacrifice an even greater prize - eternal bliss with God - in doing so. What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his own soul?

    You simply have to trust God, and His Divine Graces in all of this and perhaps accept a cross of pain and self denial (the loss of this girl). You must first do one thing, and thereafter make one of two choices: first, go to Confession as soon as you possibly can with full contrition; secondly, you must either become engaged to her and in so doing then maintain chastity until you marry –– or finish your relationship with her and accept the inevitable pain (a long but finite night accompanying Christ in Gethsemane, which would be nothing in comparison with the infinite agony of losing your eternal reward). All of the other conditions you cite are secondary and indeed irrelevant in the eternal scheme of things, however jarring that may sound. I would advise you to act without delay: cease physical relationships with the girl immediately; resolve to go to Confession at your very first available opportunity; and then explore the question of marriage. If it transpires that marriage to you is not something that this girl is agreeable to, then break your relationship with her immediately. The advice is brutal, I know - but it is offered in true brotherly charity. Break it off cleanly. If, however, she is agreeable to marrying you, well, just great! Do not concern yourself with whether she may one day leave or whether you are cut out to be a husband (by God’s graces I hope to celebrate 24 years of marriage this weekend, so I speak from experience); just seek out some solid spiritual, preferably Traditional, guidance; manfully trust in God’s graces, indeed pray for His Divine Graces in your marriage, and entrust yourselves as a couple to God. Be the leader to take yourself and your wife to God daily. He will get you through it all if it’s what He wills for you.

    There is a hint that residual graces may be working in your basic reasoning anyway (e.g. you know debauchery when you see it, you are cognisant enough to know that your situation has no validity despite the tiring sophistry of our age from quarters that "frankly" should know better…and you have somehow found this rare place and felt moved to comment). Do not presume on the possible beneficial effects of gradualism (though I’m not getting into that one) to solve your situation. You may, indeed, be blessed enough to live many years and finally convert; that is God’s business. But, as stated, you could instead drop down dead within the hour.

    Man-to-man, this is serious talk, straight talk. Your eternal life is at stake. So either accept this advice or don’t. If you do, then act without delay. Be assured of prayers.

  9. The above was obviously addressed to "khkcomments".

    1. Undoubtedly but it contrasts somewhat with what Pope Francis said. If I remember correctly he said that a Priest should not ask "Why do you not marry?" but he should accompany the sinner whatever that means. Oh and now he is reported as saying that one should not talk of genocide of Christians in the Middle East. Plainly there is something wrong with all this. What is a Catholic who tries to practice his religion supposed to do? Okay one can pray for clarity. But beyond that? Does one just grit one's teeth and ignore everything this Pope says? Or do we protest and how? In general the clergy seem to be acting as if there is no problem as the faith of many is undermined with doubts which the Pope also says we must have if we are to be a good Catholic? Many will be querying whether their marriage is valid; others will be querying whether the annulment they got was really valid and therefore whether their second marriage is valid etc etc. One might just have well dropped the Church into a bath of acid.

    2. I know, Nicolas. I know. Sigh. Though I do think Rorate Caeli called things correctly yesterday: we actually do deserve Francis (all of us, deep down we all know it); we surely have to resign ourselves to collective justice and punishment.

      We’re being chastised, there is now no doubt.

      The only perverse positive to emerge from this latest insult is that the Traditional movement now seems to be in unified agreement that the Franciscan papacy is toxic and its end can’t come soon enough. It’s no good. That’s putting it mildly and politely. I keep in mind that St Matthew has Christ calling Peter “Satan” just four verses after promising him the Keys of the Kingdom. Heavens! 

      So, ++Francis? Before God acts, what can we really do? More than we think. But it’s hard remembering it.

      In weakness, I tend to despair that, by and large, it’s the Traditional laity that is left to (publicly) call this dreadful situation for what it is. It’s also tedious that we’re almost certainly in another predictable cycle that we’ve seen countless times since 2013: a Francis-bomb; followed by justified cyber-storm; then relative calm; and finally, a month or so later, one or both of the only two clerical voices seemingly ever prepared to speak out, i.e. Cardinal Burke (perhaps) and Archbishop Schneider (most likely) will do so via a Traditional channel with a nuanced critical response; and then restart the whole unblessed circular caper again. 

      Set your calendar now for +Schneider to speak out (*spins Rolodex*) circa July 15th.

      I understand why so few orthodox priests are prepared to speak. It’s because so few orthodox bishops are inclined to do so, most probably because so few orthodox cardinals will. Deferral upwards. We need Princes and Bishops to speak. But they won’t. In any case, we have a situation here where +Nichols would like the word “indissolubility” banished (on the bewildering basis, he says, that married Catholic couples don’t pray for the “gift of indissolubility” in their marriage!).

      Against all that, my lame attempts to focus on the transcendent tells me that in fact we actually can protest, of course we can. For we know the ancient enemy and what he hates: defence of the Truth - however much it jars against the world (especially when we see a brother in need, such as "khkcomments” above); our Faith; our prayers - the Rosary especially; our fasting (even keeping the Ember Days would add another, easily achievable, 12 annual days of denial for those who don’t currently observe); our witness (the Trad blogosphere must be a pain in the enemy’s left side); and most of all the Traditional Mass. We have the spiritual weapons of mass (and Mass!) protest at hand to implore untold graces to pour down and cleanse this mess. We also have the saints (*) and the angelic powers onside. So all we can do, militantly, is indeed resign ourselves, as Rorate says  – but powerfully – to redouble our armoury (e.g. there are enough months left in this Fatima Centenary Year to complete the Five First Saturdays twice over before the 100th anniversary on May 13th).

      I share your exasperation. Truth be told, I’d had my fill of ++Francis after a week; it wasn’t just the early warnings from Rorate and others, or that I was rash, but chiefly because I was alarmed to hear the same type of “Project False Humility” noises - Marxism on tap - that I’d heard emanating from returning priests involved, since the mid-1970s, in +Worlock’s “Liverpool Archdiocesan Missionary Project [LAMP; chiefly Peru]”. I just knew we were headed for disaster; it was uncanny how many Bergoglian-type soundbites I’d already heard from the lips (and pens) of many Liverpool priests throughout the 80s and 90s. 

      I, too, yearn for the satisfaction of signal protest. But every now and again – i.e. nowhere near as much as I should – I remember that God knows not only and exactly what is happening but also why.

      That both terrifies and soothes me.

      To our knees, then...and keyboards! ;-)

      (*) Strikes me that St Catherine of Siena might be a good one to turn to now.

  10. According to La Stampa Pope Francis is reported as follows at:

    'What is going on in the Middle East is persecution, not “genocide”

    Francis is not keen on the use of the word “genocide” to describe the situation faced by Christians in the Middle East: “I don’t like it - I wish to make this very clear -,” Francis said adopting a very serious tone, “when some refer to what is happening to Christians in the Middle East as a genocide. This is reductionism.” “Let us not turn a mystery of the faith, a form of martyrdom, into sociological reductionism,” he warned. '

    He may be right in emphasising the point that we should recognise these people first and foremost as martyrs rather than just victims of genocide. But does he not realise that the campaign to get what is going on in the Middle East labelled as genocide has a very important motive? Namely that if it can be defined as such by the UN then much more has to be done to prevent it under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Is Pope Francis really ignorant of that or what?

    1. Well it seems that Fr Lombardi has seen the point saying that Pope Francis was talking about the spiritual aspect and not the political one. Unfortunately he was speaking about the political aspect in saying that he did not like calling the persecution 'genocide'. Talking of martyrdom is a matter of faith but surely using the word genocide in the hope that something be done to stop it surely comes under the heading of good works.

    2. Sandro Magister has now come up with an explanation of why Pope Francis has eschewed the use of the word 'genocide'. It is all to do with being nice to the Turks after having accused them of committing genocide on the Armenians. Apparently some other people than Armenians were killed at the same time in 1916 so it was not genocide.

      Last summer, prior to Pope Francis's visit to certain states in South America, Catholic Voices organised a meeting where the relevant ambassadors were asked about what would be most important for them in respect of the visit. The Paraguayan Ambassador said the most important issue would be whether Pope Francis would condemn the massacre of their men by adjoining countries in 1866 as being genocide!

  11. But now Sandro Magister has confirmed that Pope Francis ex tempore added the forbidden word 'genocide' to his speech in Armenia. Are the Vatican diplomats chewing the carpet? One thing is certain and that is that the chief characteristic of this papacy is inconsistency.