“How to be a better father” is a talk I gave to men last night. It’s based on St. Peter’s first letter to his own men.
…”to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.”—Luke 1:17
I know this isn’t the most romantic question on father’s day, but as a spiritual father to biological fathers, I think you’ll find this very encouraging by the end of the article.
First, we must understand that it is God who forms the bond of a sacramental marriage when two people in freedom say “I do” and consummate the sacrament that night.
Secondly, what is often called “an annulment” among Catholics is actually better described as a “declaration of nullity.” When a forlorn couple asks their diocese to investigate if they were ever married, the diocese may find real problems and declare it “null.” These problems have to be pre-existent (before the wedding) because a declaration of nullity is basically when the diocese says to the couple: “In our best guess, you never had the ability at the altar on your wedding day needed to consent in freedom to a sacrament.” Notice that this is not an efficacious act, since Jesus said: “What man has put together, let no man put asunder.”—Mark 10:9. Rather, it’s a “best guess.” So, the couple is free to go marry someone else in good conscience, provided they were honest in the investigation.
I once heard that the USA has 25% of the world’s annulments, and I am only slightly less sure that the great majority of these fall under a little code in the Catholic Church Code of Canon Law called “lack of due discretion.” Other reasons are in this footnote here:1
But it was surely to the tune of “lack of due discretion” that Pope Francis recently said that our post-modern “culture of the provisional” means that a “great majority of our sacramental marriages are null, because [the couples] say, ‘yes, for my whole life,’ but they don’t know what they’re saying.”
Now, in defense of Pope Francis, Canon Law 1066 states: “Before a marriage is celebrated, it must be evident that nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration.” We priests are responsible for this preparation, but few of us do anything but the wedding Mass. So, maybe Pope Francis is correct: Post-modern man is too much of a clown interiorly to be able to choose a size of coffee at Starbucks much less a spouse.
If a marital bond is harder to form these days, then annulments should be easier to obtain. Thus, Pope Francis is consistent with his September decision to make annulments easier. It would only make sense to have a high bar theologically to marriage (easy annulments) if he were to couple this to a high bar anthropologically…that no one can meet, hence…his new statement that “a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null, because…they don’t know what they’re saying.” (italics mine)
But this is pure conjecture, and Pope John Paul II saw where this excessively high bar of marriage would take the Church in the West: A world where every married person lives in fear a few years into marriage that he or she did not form a valid marital bond, especially when suffering arrives. “Were my words true at the altar?” We are all broken people with mixed motives and imperfect love as we approach our vocation (single-consecrated, religious life, priesthood, marriage.) In short, we all have “lack of due discretion” as we approach any vocation. Where is the threshold for the extreme cases?
Happily, Pope John Paul II gave very clear parameters on determining “lack of due discretion.” On 25 February 1987, JPII wrote that a “real incapacity is to be considered only when an anomaly of a serious nature is present.”
“[A] real incapacity is to be considered only when an anomaly of a serious nature is present.”
What is an anomaly of serious nature? In Familiaris Consortio, JPII writes that this is only found when “engaged couples show that they reject explicitly and formally what the Church intends to do…[Otherwise, we] admit to the celebration of marriage those who are imperfectly disposed.”— Familiaris Consortio 68. “Imperfectly disposed” are the keywords here. Everyone is imperfectly disposed but still validly married unless there is an explicit and formal rejection of the two goods of marriage: children and unity.
What would an explicit and formal rejection of the Church’s teachings be?
1) People who purposefully planned on zero children. Nada. Zilch.
2) People who never planned on staying married to the same person until death.
Even contraception on the wedding day would not be grounds for annulment, since contraception in marriage does not constitute a formal rejection of the Church. Don’t get me wrong: Contraception inside or outside marriage is still a mortal sin. This is first because “the Pill” is an abortifacient that kills nearly half a billion children a year. Even for less serious methods that were around in the 13th century, St. Catherine of Siena was given a mystical vision of married couples in hell who had simply used the barrier method and not confessed it. So, I’m not saying contraception makes a holy marriage. But it does allow a sacramental and valid marriage. Many of these people have conversions along the way. I praise God: They move from having a valid marriage to a valid+holy marriage.
As for the unitive side of marriage: What if a man thinks of an old lover on his wedding day? Five years later can he look back on his family and tell his wife he had big-time “lack of due discretion”? Not according to Pope John Paul II. Even a whole nest of butterflies in the stomach on your wedding day does not constitute “a formal and explicit” rejection of the Catholic Church’s tenant of monogamy.
If anyone is to blame for all these annulments, it is us priests. We were the first to tell lay people to start doubting the Church’s teaching on contraception in the 1960s. Even nowadays, few priests give the couples any investment in teaching and discipleship. However, my first pastor taught me to never marry anyone I haven’t met with five times, and I still follow this. This isn’t perfectionism. It’s just that most people will follow the Truth in love when they hear it for the first time, even if it means a conversion. Maybe half of the young couples convert. The other half just plays me like a fool since grandma likes the look of a nice old Catholic Church. I try to get these people to be honest with themselves and go find a good justice of the peace or a priest that doesn’t care about them.
But for those who are even willing to try the Church’s teachings with me, I remind them: Jesus favored the bond for His Church as He died for her, even as He saw through time all of the unfaithful family members (and faithful ones), bad priests (and good ones), honest Tribunals and dishonest ones, the Pope-martyrs and even the 5-10 heretical Popes. Jesus loves His messy Church through an equally messy crucifixion. This is His example of marriage.
Thus, imperfectly married Catholic couples: Rejoice! You’re still married despite the debate in the news today. Really, folks, if you’re married, you should consider it great news that you don’t have to be perfect to be married, at least according to John Paul II (and his teachings on this are magisterial, where Pope Francis’ here are off-the-cuff.) All I mean in this post is this: FIGHT FOR YOUR LOVE INSTEAD OF DOUBTING IT (especially based on one comment from one single Pope who was speaking with no infallibility at that moment.) 2
If you got an annulment, I’m not saying you should look back in doubt. The Church has accurately declared many putative-bonds to be null, based on this code “lack of due discretion.” So, I’m not declaring null all declarations of nullity! I’m simply saying that currently married people should not look back and think too much about a possible annulment. This is because on your wedding day you were never made to know all the crosses that would come. Jesus didn’t promise all the answers to the problems of marriage, but He did promise to walk with you through them all. Even if it has been a hard marriage: Be confident that God is with you and that your spouse is with you in a real, sacramental bond. 3
Consanguinity (being of the same blood line)
Not being old enough
Lacking sufficient reason
Coercion, violence, force or grave fear
Previous marriage or religious vows or ordination
Simulation, fraud or deceit on who a person is.
Opposition to monogamy
Opposition to children (absolute opposition, not only the use of contraception. Although it’s a mortal sin, premeditated use of contraception is not enough for a declaration of nullity unless there was an unrevealed and unreversed sterilization.)
Ratam non consummatum (vows at altar but no intercourse ever.)
Conditions on the future (pre-nups)
Refraining from vows or Catholic sacramental procedures. ↩
As for the errors in Amoris Laetitia, this is a stickier problem for us since it is magisterial but non infallible. I agree with Bishop Schneider that parts of Amoris Laetitia are “objectively erroneous.” In theology, a little poison ruins the whole batch. ↩
Crosses are one thing, but the Catholic Church allows for immediate separation when there is danger or violence to one spouse or children. This should happen long before an annulment gets discussed. Code of Canon Law #1153 says “If either of the spouses causes grave danger in soul or body to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving.” They do remain married however, in God’s eyes and the Church’s eyes, unless/until that bond is declared null, and even that must be due to pre-existing violence, simulation, addiction or one of the topics discussed above. Otherwise, they must remain celibate in their separated state. ↩
Surprisingly, the best description on the Vatican’s recent “Synod on the Family” comes from New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, Ross Douthat. Here it is:
The Vatican always seems to have the secrets and intrigues of a Renaissance court — which, in a way, is what it still remains. The ostentatious humility of Pope Francis, his scoldings of high-ranking prelates, have changed this not at all; if anything, the pontiff’s ambitions have encouraged plotters and counterplotters to work with greater vigor.
And right now the chief plotter is the pope himself.
Francis’s purpose is simple: He favors the proposal, put forward by the church’s liberal cardinals, that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion without having their first marriage declared null.
Thanks to the pope’s tacit support, this proposal became a central controversy in last year’s synod on the family and the larger follow-up, ongoing in Rome right now..
But if his purpose is clear, his path is decidedly murky. Procedurally, the pope’s powers are near-absolute: If Francis decided tomorrow to endorse communion for the remarried, there is no Catholic Supreme Court that could strike his ruling down.
At the same time, though, the pope is supposed to have no power to change Catholic doctrine. This rule has no official enforcement mechanism (the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the crucial check and balance), but custom, modesty, fear of God and fear of schism all restrain popes who might find a doctrinal rewrite tempting.
And a change of doctrine is what conservative Catholics, quite reasonably, believe that the communion proposal favored by Francis essentially implies.
There’s probably a fascinating secular political science tome to be written on how the combination of absolute and absolutely-limited power shapes the papal office. In such a book, Francis’s recent maneuvers would deserve a chapter, because he’s clearly looking for a mechanism that would let him exercise his powers without undercutting his authority.
The key to this search has been the synods, which have no official doctrinal role but which can project an image of ecclesiastical consensus. So a strong synodal statement endorsing communion for the remarried as a merely “pastoral” change, not a doctrinal alteration, would make Francis’s task far easier.
Unfortunately such a statement has proven difficult to extract — because the ranks of Catholic bishops include so many Benedict XVI and John Paul II-appointed conservatives, and also because the “pastoral” argument is basically just rubbish. The church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble has already been pushed close to the breaking point by this pope’s new expedited annulment process; going all the way to communion without annulment would just break it.
So to overcome resistance from bishops who grasp this obvious point, first last year’s synod and now this one have been, to borrow from the Vatican journalist Edward Pentin’s recent investigative book, “rigged” by the papal-appointed organizers in favor of the pope’s preferred outcome.
The documents guiding the synod have been written with that goal in mind. The pope has made appointments to the synod’s ranks with that goal in mind, not hesitating to add even aged cardinals tainted by the sex abuse scandal if they are allied to the cause of change. The Vatican press office has filtered the synod’s closed-door (per the pope’s directive) debates to the media with that goal in mind. The churchmen charged with writing the final synod report have been selected with that goal in mind. And Francis himself, in his daily homilies, has consistently criticized Catholicism’s “doctors of the law,” its modern legalists and Pharisees — a not-even-thinly-veiled signal of his views.
(Though of course, in the New Testament the Pharisees allowed divorce; it was Jesus who rejected it.)
And yet his plan is not necessarily succeeding. There reportedly still isn’t anything like a majority for the proposal within the synod, which is probably why the organizers hedged their bets for a while about whether there would even be a final document. And the conservatives — African, Polish, American, Australian — have been less surprised than last fall, and quicker to draw public lines and try to box the pontiff in with private appeals.
The entire situation abounds with ironies. Aging progressives are seizing a moment they thought had slipped away, trying to outmaneuver younger conservatives who recently thought they owned the Catholic future. The African bishops are defending the faith of the European past against Germans and Italians weary of their own patrimony. A Jesuit pope is effectively at war with his own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the erstwhile Inquisition — a situation that would make 16th century heads spin.
For a Catholic journalist, for any journalist, it’s a fascinating story, and speaking strictly as a journalist, I have no idea how it will end.
Speaking as a Catholic, I expect the plot to ultimately fail; where the pope and the historic faith seem to be in tension, my bet is on the faith.
But for an institution that measures its life span in millennia, “ultimately” can take a long time to arrive.—Ross Douthat, 17 October 2015, New York Times op-ed
NB Fr. Nix writing now. Certain professors from my alma of Boston College and other Universities wish to silence Ross Douthat in their letter to the editor of the NYT. Notice that they sound like Glavlit, the group that was in charge of censoring all publications and broadcasting for state secrets in the former USSR. Of course the ultra-elite friends of Pope Francis want to keep Ross Douthat’s secular prophesies at bay, considering how they want to slowly snow the whole Catholic world. Best not to alarm the stupid sheep until liberal totalitarianism has fully taken hold of Our Catholic Faith.
I’m on the traditional calendar with an older “Divine Office.” But today, Pope Francis and every synod bishop in Rome should have read Malachi chapter one in their new Divine Office. It’s the Scripture readings that every priest has promised to pray on the day of his ordination. In Malachi 1, God Himself tells what He thinks about the priesthood, the worthiness of a sacrifice, divorce, and false-mercy becoming a mockery of God. If everyone at the synod has their mind made up (for better or for worse) then perhaps this is a last offer of unity…or even a last offer of mercy for those who would tamper with Scripture, timed impeccably by God, as always:
The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi: And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name? ’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you? ’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations…And this second thing you do: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
—Malachi 1:1-14, 2:13-16
God said “My name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised,” and “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence.” Combine these two and you have a clear injunction against sacrileging the altar of sacrifice with divorce-and-remarriage. And yet Pope Francis’ men are promoting open communion with the sole restriction being a false understanding of conscience. 1
But I mention Malachi 1 because I imagine God is still merciful to Pope Francis and the synod Fathers “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” But if they don’t listen, what would justice look like? Of course, God only wills the good of His children, but if we, His beloved children reject His hand, we also reject His protection. Justice entails losing God’s protection. Primarily, this would mean the loss of souls to Satan, especially if the Pope’s moral theology statements remain purposefully vague.
But there is something at the physical level, too. I am reminded that the number one goal of ISIS is not the destruction of the USA but the physical destruction of Rome. This is not some ultra-conservative doomsday prophesy. In fact, the best article I read on ISIS comes from the left-leaning Atlantic Magazine. Graeme Wood’s What Isis Really Wants has over half-million FB likes. Do a quick search for the word “Rome” in this article, and you will see that Rome appears 10 times. ISIS wants to destroy Rome. We need God’s protection. Now is no time to mock His doctrine or discipline on marriage. 2
No Pope or bishop can ever change God’s Word. Their job is to aid in the interpretation of Scripture in concert with Sacred Tradition. So when bishops conceal heresy with mercy, or give the theological wink-and-nod to kill consciences, Divine Justice is being tested. How are these men more merciful than Jesus who died for sinners like me? They’re not. They have overlooked the fact that there is no mercy without repentance. In a Vatican-approved apparition called Our Lady of La Salette, Mary said in 1846 to the French children: “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist.” Pope Pius IX approved and promoted this apparition.
I’m not saying we’re there yet. But I do know that Mary’s call to the faithful transcends this silly synod…just as timeless and infallible Catholic teaching transcends this synod, too. There will always be good bishops and bad bishops. We worship neither. That’s why it’s still awesome to be Catholic, regardless of certain bishops trying in vain to change Church teaching. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not worth reading any more news on the synod. Why get flustered? God will protect us from evil or from this evil He will bring good (and open schism would indeed be better than the current silent-smiley-schism.) Either way, Our Lady of La Salette showed us the way to Her Son:
Finally, I call on the Apostles of the Last Days, the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, who have lived in scorn for the world and for themselves, in poverty and in humility, in scorn and in silence, in prayer and in mortification, in chastity and in union with God, in suffering and unknown to the world. It is time they came out and filled the world with light. Go and reveal yourselves to be my cherished children. I am at your side and within you, provided that your faith is the light which shines upon you in these unhappy days. May your zeal make you famished for the glory and the honor of Jesus Christ. Fight, children of the light, you, the few who can see.
The Archbishop of Chicago is theologically correct in his statement that conscience is “inviolable.” But if conscience itself can self-absolve from the grave sins he discussed in that link, then there is no longer a need for a Magisterium nor the sacrament of confession. Archbishop Cupich is not a party-crasher. He said: “I came here at the request of the Holy Father. In fact, I was not elected. I was appointed by the Pope to come here.” Although open communion will probably not be promoted explicitly next year by Pope Francis, the notion of “inviolable conscience” seems well on its way to replace (at least at the level of discipline if not doctrine) both the Scriptures and the Magisterium. It’s important to note that a post-synod statement is not to be considered ex-cathedra infallible nor considered to be articulated faith and morals of the ordinary Magisterium. Thus, although Pope Francis’ continued errors would not overturn the indefectibility promised by Christ to Peter in Matthew 16 regarding the Catholic Church, this would lead to an unprecedented loss of souls. We must pray for nothing short of conversion or intervention. Error has indeed been spoken. In May of 2013, Pope Francis preached at the Domus Santae Martae. While speaking of atheists at Mass, Pope Francis said: “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” By “there,” Pope Francis meant heaven. Hebrews 11:6 is very clear on belief and salvation. ↩
A faithful bishop from Poland attending the synod said: “Practically all are repeating that there will be no doctrinal change, but this is understood in different ways. For if you add to this first group that disciplinary changes are possible, this means, in practice, that doctrinal stability is being nullified. In my opinion one cannot speak of the separation of the practice of the Church from her doctrine, from her teachings. The two are inseparable. I have the impression that many supporters of this modernity, are in fact thinking about changing doctrine, yet calling it a change in Church discipline. It is a disturbing point in these discussions, for it is strongly emphasized: “we accept the entire doctrine”, but there immediately follows a suggestion that doctrine has nothing to do with it. This is greatly worrying me, for one and the other are saying that they want no change in doctrine. From where then, are arising these practices opposed to doctrine?”—Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, translation from Toronto Catholic Witness. ↩
The basics of annulments can teach us a lot about the beauty of marriage. The first thing to realize about an annulment is that it is not a Catholic divorce. The starting point for why divorce does not exist in the Catholic Church is simple: Jesus said: But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. ’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. ’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.—Mark 10:6-9. No man (not even a priest or bishop or the Pope) can break up what God has put together at a sacramental marriage since an unbreakable bond of love was formed at the words of the altar and at the consummation of the bed.
This means that neither adultery, nor fighting, nor “divorce,” nor even the Catholic Church can break what God has put together. The only thing that can break the bond of marriage is the death of one of the two members. Set me as a seal upon your heart,as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death.—Song of Songs 8:6.
Imagine a man whose body and soul is represented by a 2 x 4 piece of wood. Imagine a woman whose body and soul is represented by another 2 x 4 piece of wood. They can only become one flesh by forming a bond, represented below by superglue. In the Catholic West, the unbreakable bond is formed by the couple at their wedding in the presence of a priest who must witness it to make it sacramental:
In the Catholic East and the Orthodox East, the unbreakable bond is formed by the priest:
Notice that in both cases, two become one via an invisible and invincible bond. (In real life, they’re happily married to each other and pregnant with their fourth.) In any case, the superglue bond is a bond that is essentially not formed by the couple nor the priest, but by God Himself. The only thing that dissolves the superglue is death, for God is the author of life and death. That means that neither a big argument, nor a cute secretary, nor a priest of the Catholic Church can break this bond:
Essentially, in the eyes of both God and the Catholic Church, a “divorce” is a modern myth, for divorce doesn’t exist. This is why Jesus Christ said such shocking words: And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for adultery 1 and marries another, commits adultery.”—Mt 19:7-9.
If a Catholic couple gets married without a priest (or not in a Catholic Church without prior permission from the bishop of their diocese) then this situation is called a “lack of form” in getting married. The diocese’s ecclesiastical court is called a Tribunal. The Tribunal will always admit that two Catholics married outside of the Catholic Church (without a dispensation from the bishop) never actually formed a sacramental bond in the first place. Thus, they declare in about two weeks that there was a “lack of form.” After the necessary paperwork, the couple can marry each other (convalidation ceremony) or they are free to marry someone else because there never was a marriage in the first place. This is one type of annulment process.
But what happens when a Catholic couple got married by a priest and they are not happy with each other 5 years into marriage?
Notice that the bond still remains in this couple’s [feigned] unhappiness. This is why it is so important to really be sure about the person you marry: There’s no take-backs, no “prenups,” no re-dos with another potential spouse in the Catholic Church. The only way the couple can even think about an annulment is by proving that one of them did not have the freedom of will to form a sacramental bond on the very day of their wedding.
When this happens, the Tribunal looks retrospectively (back through time) to see if they had all the ingredients of the glue (especially mental capacity) in their engagement time leading up to the wedding and on the wedding day itself:
If they did not, then perhaps the bond will be retroactively declared null. But this is only a “best guess” about the past. This process is not an assessment of who is currently happy in their marriage. If an unhappy Catholic Couple looks back through their common life together and honestly believes that one of them was not free to marry the other because of mental incapacity, then they can petition that the Tribunal declare their bond to be null (nothing.) “Declaration of nullity” is more accurate than “annulment” because the Church looks back through time at that putative bond and says: “In our best guess, you didn’t have the freedom to consent to a lifetime commitment, so we don’t think there ever was a bond:”
A person is not annulled. A couple is not annulled. A marriage is not annulled. A bond is declared null…sometimes, and even this is a best-guess. It is not an infallible or efficacious act of the Church. It’s not even a privilege-granted. The diocese’s null-paperwork basically says: “We think one or both of you had freedom missing at the altar.” 2
When the Tribunal’s “best guess” on an annulment is objectively wrong in God’s eyes, then we can conclude that God still views the original marital bond as real, even when the annulment paperwork has declared the opposite. Such a declaration from a Tribunal is not an infallible binding of the Church. 3 However, the couple can still still remarry since they were obedient to the Catholic Church that God established (provided they were honest in the paperwork.) But the members of a tribunal will answer to God for denigrating the sacrament of marriage if they handed out annulments carelessly, literally putting asunder what God has put together. In fact, without vigilance and prayer in Catholic Tribunals, the Eastern Orthodox would be justified in calling our Catholic annulment discipline practically the same as the Orthodox concession for divorce, even while Catholic doctrine remains theoretically untouched.
In a “declaration of nullity,” when a bond is thought to have never existed, this is often done under the title of Canon Law number 1095 which is “incapacity for consent.” Perhaps on the day of the wedding there was an unrevealed addiction or a lack of sufficient reason. Or, perhaps it was a lack of prudent discretion or a psychological instability. Is anyone getting married in their right mind? No. (Nor ordained. Vocations are hard.) Thus, there had to be an extraordinary incapacity to form a marital bond (more than cold-feet at a wedding) to start the annulment process. St. John Paul II said of the annulment proceedings that “real incapacity is to be considered only when an anomaly of a serious nature is present.”—St. JPII on 25 Feb 1987.
Canon Lawyers have a term and it is “to favor the bond.” It means that a bond of marriage is given the benefit of the doubt. It seems merciful not to “favor the bond” when assessing if a couple who has applied for annulment should have their bond declared null when they have “moved on” and “moved in” with a new partner of civil marriage. The million dollar question in Rome today essentially boils down to: Is it best for the Tribunal to issue a declaration of nullity just to legalistically get them out of the imputation of sin?
Well, the actual bond on the day of the wedding has to be honestly assessed in view of finding an extraordinary anomaly, not ordinary lack-of-due-discretion. If not, the bond will never be favored in that diocese. When the leanings of a Tribunal are not towards the original bond of marriage, but rather towards a legalistic avoidance of the imputation of sin for new civil bonds to be given free-license, then the opposite effect of mercy starts to take place in a diocese: Couples begin to wonder if anyone has a real mental capability to get married.
Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Roman Rota in 2009:
First of all, there is a need for a new and positive appreciation of the capacity to marry belonging in principle to every human person by virtue of his or her very nature as a man or a woman. We tend in fact to risk falling into a kind of anthropological pessimism which, in the light of today’s cultural context, would consider marriage as practically impossible. Apart from the fact that this context is not uniform in the various parts of the world, genuine incapacity to consent cannot be confused with the real difficulties facing many people, especially the young, which lead them to conclude that marital union is, as a rule, inconceivable and impracticable. Rather, a reaffirmation of the innate human capacity for marriage is itself the starting point for enabling couples to discover the natural reality of marriage and its importance for salvation. Ultimately, what is at stake is the truth about marriage itself and its intrinsic juridical nature…which is an indispensable premise for the ability to understand and evaluate the capacity required to marry.—Pope Benedict XVI’s Address to the Roman Rota on 29 January 2009, 8th paragraph.
In other words, you don’t have to be St. Anne and St. Joachim to form a valid marriage bond. Children deserve Tribunals to favor the bond. Why? Because the souls of children are permanent, so they need a permanent structure of love in which to grow up, even when times get hard. 4 What happens when you start to wonder if your diocese would give you a quick annulment without sufficient reason? At the end of the day, it’s a matter of the marriage covenant in the shadow of God’s covenant. If you know that you’re still married after a big argument—that is, if you know you’re not going to go to the Tribunal for an annulment after a big argument—then you know that God’s love must be something like that: Unbreakable. This is because even a broken man and broken woman’s love are capable of maintaining a dim but real reflection Christ’s unbreakable love on the cross for His bride:
So, do you see why it’s so important who you choose to marry? In the eyes of God, you only get one bond your whole life, one shot at getting your whole family to heaven. Who is the person most likely to do that? The blog ucatholic had a tremendously moving post here.
Perhaps the only practical solution to the endless annulment game is to have priests actually meet with their engaged couples. Yes, priests may actually have to sacrifice time for their spiritual children. My first pastor told me that I should not witness the sacramental marriage of any couple unless I had given them 5 one-hour meetings. A good layman I knew once said that any priest who stacked up more than two annulments a year should be “tried for pastoral malpractice.”
Time to start marriage prep…
Don’t they look excited for my Bible Study on marriage?
But really, here’s the truth: If I’m going to take seven years and six-figures of the laity’s money for my vocation (seven years in seminary, not my annual income!) then I think I can give back five short hours for the laity’s vocation. After all, they do make the promise “til death do us part:”
Here, Jesus is talking about is a separation due to adultery and even in the case of adultery, the Church teaches that a person cannot remarry until the death of one or the other spouse because the marriage bond still exists. Reasons for annulment will be discussed in the next footnote.↩
Other reasons the Church would consider declaring the bond null would include:
- Consanguinity (being of the same blood line)
- Not being old enough
- Lacking sufficient reason
- Coercion, violence, force or grave fear
- Previous marriage or religious vows or ordination
- Simulation, fraud or deceit on who a person is.
- Opposition to monogamy
- Opposition to children (absolute opposition, not only the use of contraception. Although it’s a mortal sin, premeditated use of contraception is not enough for a declaration of nullity unless there was an unrevealed and unreversed sterilization.)
- Absolute impotence
- Ratam non consummatum (vows at altar but no intercourse ever.)
- Conditions on the future (pre-nups)
- Refraining from vows or Catholic sacramental procedures
Before publication, I checked this with a Roman-educated exorcist. He confirmed: “Tribunals bear a tenuous relationship with the ‘power of the keys’ given to the Church. Diocesan tribunals are exercises of a bishop’s particular magisterium, not that of the Church authority as a whole. This means that their decisions do not share the charism of infallibility. So by definition their binding and loosing is not automatically guaranteed to be in line with the Mind of Christ.” ↩
The Catholic Church allows for immediate separation when there is danger or violence to one spouse or children. This should happen long before an annulment gets discussed. Code of Canon Law #1153 says “If either of the spouses causes grave danger in soul or body to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving.” ↩
This is today’s homily, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost in the TLM calendar, preached in Steamboat Springs for this new groom and bride, Keenan Fitzpatrick and Brianna Fitzpatrick (née Lawson.)
My first blog post ever was called Family Roles and the Sacrifice of the Mass. In it, I show that the Sacrifice of the Mass or the Divine Liturgy is actually a complimentary male-female microcosm of the temple, the family, and even the universe. The complimentarity of man and woman is so vital to life (both natural and supernatural), that no species on this planet is either recognizable nor sustainable without the physical, genetic and even psychological differences that amount to the wholeness of life via these complimentary structures. This is true in the spiritual as much as the physical.
Satan’s whole plan will be the opposite of God’s plan. He will oppose Natural Law after he has denigrated Divine Law. Satan’s penultimate attack against humanity may be horizoned upon androgyny, as seen in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, where Satan is essentially transgender, equalizing the field of the life-giving aspect of humanity:
Those who are truly born androgynous have a beautiful and heavy cross which—if carried heroically—will conform them fully to Christ-crucified and bring them to share His glory (Rom 8:17.) So, let me repeat: There’s no moral evil to being born androgynous.
But recently I came across a picture of “Caitlyn Jenner” and his mutilated men who the media described as “beautiful women”:
Still, I didn’t feel any anger. I didn’t feel any judgment towards them. I promise you that I only felt compassion. I felt similar compassion in my first encounter with a transgender patient when I was a Denver Paramedic. He was a small hispanic teen, just off Colorado Boulevard with his friends about 12 years ago. He had overdosed on cocaine sometime after midnight. I took care of him as best as I had been trained. He lived.
But, I saw both times that Satan had tricked humanity to hurt themselves and deny their life giving powers, because Satan himself is death. I’m no saint, but saying “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” is very easy to pray when people truly have been so terribly deceived into harming their own bodies. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a patient person, that I’m no Mother Teresa, but I really only feel Divine Mercy for these poor people.
But I feel less palpable compassion for the Catholic priests who encourage girls to play “dress up” at Mass as men:
1. The Church has held that putting on a cassock (above in red, but you can see girls in the black cassock in almost every diocese of the USA except Lincoln, NE) was exclusively for the priest, with the one exception before Vatican II being an extremely limited use (within the Church building ) to male acolytes and sacristans who had been highly trained in the Traditional Latin Mass (which takes more memorization to serve than does the Novus Ordo a priest to offer.) Every day after I shave, the cassock is what I wear on the streets. It is not just “to dress up to play Mass” like most Americans treat the idea of a priest who would dare to prohibit altar girls. The cassock is the most ancient sign of a priest, of a man. How is it sexist to say girls shouldn’t play “man”? If fact, the opposite seems highly sexist—to assume we priests have cornered the market of holiness. I’m pretty sure the priest scandals of 2001 disproved that.
2. The male-exclusive calling to the altar shouldn’t ruffle so many feathers, since the contemplative role of women as human beings is higher than being human doings, as seen in the squabble of Martha and Mary 1
3. How many of you would let your son go to Mass dressed up like a nun? These girls are literally dressed up like men at the most sacred event that takes place in the world every Sunday. I’m serious: How many of you would let your son go to Mass dressed up like a nun?
I don’t blame the girls. I blame the men who begged the Vatican 20 years ago to allow cross-dressing on the altar of God. Is that too extreme? I’ll stick by that sentence based on the three part apologia above.
This has enormous bearing upon current events. As we brace for the Vatican’s upcoming “Synod on the Family,” the German bishops have a new webpage called “Love Counts” which is simply a promotion of gay-marriage for the Catholic Church. We should not be surprised at this, considering how male and female have been conflated in the Mass for 50 years, as seen in the above picture. Pope Francis has promoted the anti-marriage bishops in the synod (See above posts) so it will take a miracle at this point.
The only surprising thing to me in all this mess is to hear of socially conservative priests who preach against transgender surgeries, but then turn around and allow altar girls at Mass. It’s no wonder the critics of the Catholic Church call us “hypocrites.”
How can we expect the world to live the physical outplaying of the reality of man and woman if we as Catholic priests are promoting the termination of the life-giving complimentary spiritual-outplaying within the most important thing that happens every day? That is, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If we can’t get this right, we then have no right to judge the world, the flesh, or even the devil.
There’s only one way to win this spiritual war:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”—Luke 10:38-42↩