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'A Second Guilt'

I hope that Jim Pauwels, Carlo Lancellotti, and others who have questions or objections after reading the short sample of our Cardinal Kasper interview below will read the whole interview here. And if they still have questions after that, they may want to look at Cardinal Kasper's speech before the consistory in February, which is now available in English translation here.

Kasper is clearly talking about cases where an annulment is either impossible or inappropriate. He is talking about people who have repented for the failure of their sacramental marriage (if they were responsible for its failure), cannot be reconciled to their spouse, and now, years later, are in a civil marriage with another partner. For them to quit this partnership could do tremendous damage—to their new partner and to their children if they have any. This is what the cardinal means when he says that a person in this situation could not walk away from this partnership without incurring new guilt. Some will say that's not a problem as long as the remarried person and his or her partner are willing to live "as brother and sister." But, as the cardinal recognizes, unless both partners are willing to do this, the decision by one of them to do so is likely to destroy the relationship. It would also require a kind of moral heroism that the church has been very hesitant to demand in most areas of life.

Imagine a woman with small children who was married in the church and has been abandoned by her husband. She did not want a divorce; she does not want an annulment. She doesn't believe that her marriage was invalid just because her husband failed to keep his vows. She spends months, maybe years waiting and praying for reconciliation with her spouse, who does not want reconciliation and has perhaps already started a new family with someone else. Finding it very difficult to support her children alone, and knowing that they would be better off with a father figure in the home, she meets a man who is decent and faithful and wants to help her raise her family. He is not a Catholic. Eventually they marry. Years later the woman starts going back to church. She attends Mass every week; she enrolls her children in CCD and makes sure they are confirmed. She participates in the life of the parish and wants to be able to receive communion again.

What can she do? Some would say that, given her circumstances, her only option requires moral heroism. She must refuse to have sex with her new partner, whatever the consequences for her him or her children. Some will say that if he really loves her, he will accept this decision and remain faithful to her and their children, even though he himself isn't Catholic and cannot fathom the burden she has been asked to take up. Some will say that if he doesn't accept this decision, then she is better off without him, whatever the practical difficulties involved, however much heartbreak, resentment, and loneliness this causes.

Others, including the cardinal, have pointed out that the ancient church had other ways of dealing with such situations and that the Eastern Orthodox still do. Those ways do not require the dissolution of the first marriage, but they do require that we let go of a kind of perfectionism that ends up alienating many people who are eager to receive the sacraments. As Kasper points out, Pope Benedict has already suggested that someone in the situation I've just described, having confessed her sins and done penance for them, can have spiritual communion with Christ. But the same sin that is considered so grave that it prevents somone from receiving communion would premumably also prevent full spiritual communion with Christ. To say otherwise is to drive a wedge between Christ and his church. The church's power to loose and to bind is a power Christ gave it, and no servant is better than its Master.

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Jim,

A quick point of clarification. In the passage you quote, I did not mean to suggest that an annulment would be impossible or inappropriate because one of the spouses from the first marriage is now remarried. I meant that, in the kind of case Kasper is considering, there are no grounds for an annulment: the sacramental marriage failed, but not because of any defect that would justify an annulment. To repeat something I wrote earlier, the fact that someone breaks his vows does not, by itself, demonstrate that his vows were no good to begin with. When we look back at any failed relationship, it is always tempting to imagine that it was always bound to come to grief. And, of course, any relatioinship that does end up failing—whether a marriage or a friendship—will have been flawed all along because all relationship are flawed, including the ones that don't fail. A perfect relationship would require perfect human beings. And yet some imperfect human beings manage to keep their promises.

One good parent is better for kids than two miserable adults living in the house.

 

Anne:  that opens an entire new vista as to (1) single parenting and even (2) two non-miserable adults irrespective of gender.

But that's not the subject of this extended conversation, but the vista exists nonetheless.

"Ann - the covenant is forever - and yes, with the death of a spouse, it is permitted to remarry. But, that first covenant is still forever."

 

That's good Mormon theology:  marriages seal a couple for time and eternity.

My statement about Mormon theology wasn't to be in quotes.

Could someone explain why those whose marriage failed are automatically been judged as having commited a sin?  

 

Perhaps someone will explain that, but my take, which I believe is also the church's, is that getting a divorce is not a sin per se.  We live in the no-fault divorce era, so a couple can get a civil divorce for virtually any reason or no reason in particular.  The church might say that some of the grounds for divorce are amply justified, and perhaps some of them aren't.  The church would want to examine each case before reaching a judgment.  But getting a divorce isn't automatically a sin.  Thus, being divorced wouldn't bar one from receiving communion.

 

Jim P, purely anecdotal, but I have read and heard that there are sometimes serious obstacles to people who seek an annulment. Some are financial, some are due to an uncooperative ex-spouse, and some are strictly personal because washing one's dirty laundry and having to speak of incredibly intimate aspects of a failed marriage in front of a group of (usually) celibate strangers whose main concern is canon law and finding a "defect" that renders the marriage 'invalid" is an exercise in humiliation that many don't wish to undergo. The requirement for witnesses can be another obstacle and also humiliating.  Many also feel it's hypocritical to participate in a process that declares a marriage that was once a very valid marriage, invalid throughout. It seems dishonest.

This is getting to be a very long thread, and there is another one on the top page of dotCom, too,  but for the sake of anyone who hasn't plowed through all the comments: my basic recommendation for reform would be to reform the way that annulments are handled, and Anne, I think you name a number of areas that would be candidates for reform.  Certainly, money should never be an obstacle.  Fwiw, one year, our parish offered to pay for annulments.  I think we had about 10 people who took us up on it.  And perhaps there are ways that are more pastoral and less intrusive to gather the necessary facts and reach a judgment.  

 

in the kind of case Kasper is considering, there are no grounds for an annulment

Matthew, thanks for that clarification.  If we set up the hypothetical such that we assume there are no grounds for an annulment, then - as I commented earlier, I don't know what can be done.  (Needless to say, "I don't know what can be done" is not the same as saying, "Nothing can be done.")

 

One good parent is better for kids than two miserable adults living in the house.

 

The statistics dont bear this out.

Bruce,

You are pointing to overall probabilities for kids whose parents are married versus kids whose parents are divorced while what matters is the conditional probabilities for kids in a family that is considering divorce.

Divorce is like an amputation. Amputees probably have worse outcomes than non-amputees, but we shouldn't infer from this that we should never amputate a limb even when someone has gangrene.

We have to deal with people in the situations that they are in, not in an idealized situation.

Thank you Ryan,   There are generalities and there are particular cases. 

I know from personal experienace and that of others I know that sometimes children are better off in a home with one parent than with two.  Bruce does not want to look at individuals nor does he want to look at the nuances that may be found in the statistics, especially those related to demographic and socio-economic factors. 

I will no longer comment as I have already stated my argument more than once, and clearly Bruce has no respect for the individual, personal experiences described by a couple of us in this thread for whom the separation and subsequent divorces of our parents were an improvement over living with both of them in the same household.  Some children  would be better off if the parents don't divorce. Perhaps a majority would be better off in that case. But not all.

Some children are not better off in homes with two miserable parents, and children are definitely not better off in a home where they witness or personally experience physical, verbal or emotional abuse. 

Sorry for the fast edits  that created a redundancy.

There was no canon law and no marriage tribunals for well more than a thousand years. Marriage was not clearly acknowledged to be a sacrament until the 13th century. It has been only a few hundred years since Catholics would even think of looking to "The Vatican" for a solution to the practical problems which arose in the course of the everyday life of the church. We are talking about "rules" that the leaders of the church have established to regulate marriages. A church law states that baptized Catholics (they could be heathens in terms of practice) can only enter a valid (canonlawspeak for real) marriage by having it witnessed before a priest and two witnesses. More recently the law was modified to give the bishop permission to permit someone other than a priest as the church's official witness. Another church law states that any marriage between two non-Catholics is presumed to be valid. The presumption is that such laws serve to preserve and uphold the teachings of Jesus on marriage and divorce. Where is the conversation about what those teachings mean and how they are to be applied in a culture which has redefined the meaning of sexual activity and the meaning of marriage? Any ordinary Catholic (one who just goes to Mass some Sundays) happening upon this forum would be in a quandary as to what this whole discussion is about.

Why are focused on law and only on one teaching of Jesus. The NT is full of teachings. There's this woman caught in the act of adultery. The Law calls for stoning her to death. Jesus finds just the right thing to say to get the stoners to drop their stones. Then he forgives the woman and bids her to sin no more. His mercy was an invitation to her to live in the kingdom of God. There's a young man who grievously insulted his father by demanding his share of the inheritance, who dishonors his father by leaving home for a far away place in which he squanders the inheritance. Broke and hungry he rehearses a confession so he can get a job on his father's ranch. The father ignores the confession and restores him as a son. Would he not have been justified by the law to turn his back on the son? Pope Francis desires to rebuild the church on a foundation of mercy as rooted in the NT. There are people in great pain whose marriages have failed. Some of them are coming to the pastors of the church and asking for something to eat. Shall we offer them the scorpions of "The Law", or shall we find a way to invite them to live more fully in the kingdom of God?

 

 

Anne, basically I think you have a very valid point: not all spouses involved in a divorce have sinned.  There are those cases, such as abandonment and abuse where there is undoubtedly an innocent party, and according to Matthew's gospel Jesus himself made an exception for adultery (or literally, sexual indecency).  Traditionally, the churches have had to call divorce a sin because Jesus referred to it as adultery, even though the act he actually talked about was a two-step affair, i.e., getting a divorce and then remarrying, or as some interpret his words today, divorcing *in order to* remarry.

I wasn't taught that all divorcees are guilty of something, and therefore all divorcees have to repent.  (I think that is a presumption of the Orthodox Church and maybe the Anglican one, not the Roman one.)  

As I learned it, sometimes the problem is a matter of an honest mistake, and honest mistakes aren't sins, though they can invalidate some marriages.  For instance, if a husband has been reported dead, his wife remarries, but he really is alive, then her second marriage is an invalid one, but she is not guilty of anything.

Once more it seems that people in different parts of the country are taught different things.

What I've been trying to get at re Jesus and what he may have actually been condemning with regard to divorce and remarriage may be seen in an old Coen brothers movie called “A Serious Man.“  In the film, the Job-like main character is informed one day by his wife that she has fallen in love with his best friend Saul.  Saul, the “serious man“ referred to in the title, is a very religious man and has no interest in “hanky panky.“  Instead, he demands his friend get a “git“ (a bill of divorce via the rabbi) so that he can marry his wife, and all will be “on the up and up“ with God.  I suspect this kind of thing may be what Jesus was talking about, not what gentiles later came to understand.  At least it's the kind of hypocritical behavior he tended to condemn even as he forgave the marginalized sinner.

 

 

We need to be careful about leaning too heavily on the guilty/innocent framework. While it can be useful to show the injustice of the current system, we mustn't try to fit every divorce into it. My understanding that this is how many Evangelical organizations operate, which leads to a competition to see who can badmouth their ex-spouse the most in order to be the one who is allowed to stay.

I think Beverly is right that Jesus was more concerned about the suffering experienced by a divorced wife than about some metaphysical sin. To use this to force those who wish to divorce to suffer is a cruel irony.

I think Catholic  churchmen today, like  Cardinal Kasper, are more likely to refer to divorced spouses needing to admit their “sin“ and seek reconciliation with the Church simply because that kind of talk is in the air.  Ironically, it's very “today.“  In the old days, we were all more precise because we went to Confession a lot and we knew sins when we'd see them.  No mincing or hyperbole allowed.

Why is that hypocritical?

I think Beverly is right that Jesus was more concerned about the suffering experienced by a divorced wife than about some metaphysical sin

This is kind of what I was getting at earlier: where is the evidence for this? 

Ryan --

You raise an important point.  If all is left to the individual to decide whether or not a marriage is dead, then I daresay that there will be individuals who manipulate that system.  Consider what would happen if the Church OKed no-fault divorce whenever one spouse claims the marriage is over.  There would undoubtedly be, for instance,  men who. being in mid-life crisis, would claim that their marriages are totally dead.  Some of the wives might not agree, but, with no-fault divorce he'd get one, even though she  and their children in high school and college would likely suffer greatly financially. In other words, some marriages might be saved if it weren' so easy to get a divorce as it is now.

This is tangential, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren (an expert on the subject) has just posted some figures about the grim financial facts women in the workplace face, including especially single mothers.  Our culture needs desperately to face some facts about how the system does and doesn't work, and then do something(s) about it.  We need some threads on the subject. 

(4) Elizabeth Warren Fan Club (TM)

Ann Olivier,

My main concern about making divorce harder is my belief that no fault divorces have had a major impact in reducing the levels of domestic abuse.

some marriages might be saved if it weren' so easy to get a divorce as it is now.

 

Ann:  but what kind of marriage would be saved ... a de facto marriage or one that is truly a marriage that both parties value and treasure?  Why is the form better than the substance in way too many cases?

I had friends who fought viciously for 35 years but kept their marriage together "for the sake of kids."  Then they divorced and at least one of them went on to have a very happy marriage, stopped drinking and basically learned how to live and love again.  The kids, btw, appear to resent mightily the kind of household in which they were raised.

Ann

The problem with that logic is that women are more likely to initiate a divorce than men (66% to 41%) according to AARP. That finding has been replicated before.  Also many more men than women stay for the sake of the children (58% to 37%). It is true that women have to prepare more financially than men. Another study found that women were more likely to blame their spouse for the dissolution than men who were more likely to blame themselves or jointly.

Bottom line is that the Vatican should consider women, social scientists, and people with pastoral experience if it is to be a good outcome at the upcoming synod.

 

http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/divorce.pdf

Ryan --

I don't think the case of the woman living in adultery is relevant here -- it's not a question of divorce and remarriage.  The point of the adulterous womans case is that we must forgive but  must also honor marriage committments.  He's not saying, "Poor thing, you're so frustrated and miserable I'm going to forgive you, and it's OK to go and live with your married boyfriend."

Look at it this way.  When women divorced they are left wih less earning power and the children to attend to day and night and day.  If a woman thinks she'd and her children would be better off with the husband at home, then I say they have a great big case.  Why should they have the harder life if he's the guilty one?  

I confess I'm very much influenced in my thinking by the Updike Maples stories, which are a fictionalization of his own adultery and divorce.  Updike (to his credit) NEVER claims that he is not guilty for the aduletry AND for divorcing his wife and leaving his children.  (He was not an otherwise abusive husband or father.)  Maybe we should have a thread on the Maples stories. (No, I haven't read them all.)  But then I guess we'd also have to read the new biography of him that's just out.  (He went on to even more adultery in his second marriage, but his second wife also played around.  They stuck it out.)  What I have to think is grossly unfair is when the first wife and kids end up worse off than the second family.

Not for a second do I doubt the complexity of all marriages, but that doesn't mean that  that the old divorce laws didn't have some advantages for the injured wives and children.

Somewhere way back I posted a comment about Jesus' absolute prohibition against divorce and how that was altered by Paul and Matthew to allow exceptions.  In that post I referred to an article by Fr. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. that exlained the  Matthean exception in terms of the rabbinc debate on the causes for divorce, as evidenced in the schools of Hillel and Shammai.  His argument places Matthew's exception squarely in the Jewish context of his day and indirectly supports those comments here that stress that we must understand the NT teaching on divorce in the context of the first century CE.  At the end of his article Fr. Fitzmyer raised the question of why the Church could not follow Paul and Matthew and change its understanding of divorce..  In view of John Feehily's excellent comments on how late the Church got into the regulation of marriage @5:02p, I am grateful for his reminder that there is much in the NT worth considering in sddition to one text prohibiting divorce, and one which I would add was re-interpreted by Paul and Matthew, and that the NT teaching on mercy should prevail.  I stand with Fr. Fitzmyer.  If Paul and Matthew could alter the teaching of Jesus on divorce, why can't the Church of today find a way to do the same?

"What people are saying here if he is still a priest then he should still be bound by whatever a priest is bound to. As a married person, according to Canon Law is still bound to whatever a married person is bound."

 

Jim P,

I did explain where you were wrong in the above statment. The priest does not get a bye because he is a priest forever (by your logic.) If a married person is still not allowed to remarry, neither should the priest be dispensed from his vows. 

Alan - I just want you to know that I've read your comments and really appreciate the reference to the Fitzmyer article.  It seems to be available online here, and I am reading through it as I am able to find time.  (It is a pleasure for a non-scholar like me to read accessible and well-reasoned biblical scholarship like Fitzmyer's article.)

You've noted that even in NT times the church seems to have been adapting Jesus' seemingly absolute prohibition on divorce to situations that arose in the early Christian communities, and suggest that the church could follow this precedent by enacting Cardinal Kasper's merciful suggestion.  I don't argue with Fitzmyer's interpretation.  I would add that the church authorities themselves seem to more or less see themselves as acting in the interpretive tradition that Fitzmyer notes; cf the preface to the 2001 Norms on the Preparation of the Process for the Dissolution of the Marriage Bond in Favour of the Faith. The preface contains a historical synopsis (as interpreted by the CDF, at that time under Cardinal Ratzinger's leadership) of how the church has adapted the core NT teachings to changing circumstances in different historical periods.  So I think it is a hopeful sign that the church authorities see themselves as standing in a tradition of interpreting and adapting NT marriage and divorce precepts to concrete situations.  

That said: I am not sure how to get from what church sees itself as able to do, as described in that  2001 instruction, to where Cardinal Kasper would like it to go.  From what I can tell, all the interpreting and adapting has been done within the constraints of what is permitted by the pauline privilege.  I suppose the so-called Petrine privilege can be viewed as a modification of the pauline privilege.  But both of those 'privileges' pertain to marriages in which one or both spouses was unbaptized at the time of consent.  The scenarios to which Cardinal Kasper's merciful exception would be applied seem very different; the baptimsal status of the spouses doesn't seem applicable.  I don't know what specific biblical warrant there would be for such a merciful exception.  

Bill M - according to the logic of the church, when a priest is laicized, he is released from priestly ministry and the promises he made (including the promise not to marry), but he retains the 'character' of a priest.  The changes wrought in his being by the sacrament of ordination cannot be undone.

Also according to the logic of the church, when a couple declares their consent on their wedding day, if all the elements of consent are present, then each spouse is bound by their consent for as long as both spouses live.   Even if they separate, even if they get a civil divorce, even if one or both of them remarries, the original marriage bond remains intact.   In that narrow sense, these two different things - the effects of the sacrament of ordination, and the validity of the marriage bond - are somewhat similar: neither can be undone by a mere legal declaration.  

But as I said previously, despite that point of (sorta) similarity, they really are apples and oranges.  Ordination is a sacrament, whereas a marriage may or may not be a sacrament, and it is not the sacrament or its effects that make marriage permanent, but rather the integrity of the consent and its subjection to divine law as recorded in sacred scripture.

It's not a very apt comparison - that's all I'm saying.

 

 

Jim P.

I think there is much the Church can do.  It is not a question of just applying the Pauline, Petrine, or Matthean exceptions in the current situation.  Fitzmyer's point is that once later individuals changed Jesus' absolute prohibition against divorce it ceased to be absolute.  Therefore today the Church can create further exceptions depending on current needs.  I think he is suggesting that the theology of marriage needs to be re-thought and there is nothing stopping the Church from re-formuating it, except the will to do so.  The ability of the Church to make further exceptions does not rest on biblical warrant because there is an evolving tradition in the Church regarding marriage as John Feehily has pointed out.

It's odd to claim that Jesus (some real person) said X about divorce, and then other people changed it. I think it's fair to say that Mark's Jesus says X about divorce, and then Matthew changes that, but it's not as if there is some ur-statement spoken by Jesus that is subsequently adjusted by a series of texts. Rather, when it comes to the NT, you have some texts interacting with one another with respect to divorce (e.g., the Synoptics), and then other texts (e.g., certain Pauline material) dealing with the same subject, but not in interaction with the other texts (which are later anyway). I suspect that things would be less fraught if people ditched the idea that the balancing pin of the discussion is "things Jesus taught."

Jim Pauwels said:  " I am not sure how to get from what church sees itself as able to do, as described in that  2001 instruction, to where Cardinal Kasper would like it to go.  From what I can tell, all the interpreting and adapting has been done within the constraints of what is permitted by the pauline privilege.  I suppose the so-called Petrine privilege can be viewed as a modification of the pauline privilege.  But both of those 'privileges' pertain to marriages in which one or both spouses was unbaptized at the time of consent.  The scenarios to which Cardinal Kasper's merciful exception would be applied seem very different; the baptimsal status of the spouses doesn't seem applicable.  I don't know what specific biblical warrant there would be for such a merciful exception.  "

It seems to me the possibility of movement is not to create expansive permission to divorce and remarry but possibly to create a process where a divorced and remarried person can get their confessor's permission to receive the sacraments under some circumstances.  A similar change has already occurred with respect to suicide.  There was a time when it was taken for granted that we were 100% certain a suicide was in Hell, so a suicide was denied a Catholic funeral and denied burial in consecrated ground unless there was proof of insanity.  Today that is no longer the case.  The church understands that most suicides are driven by factors such as severe clinical depression or PTSD, and though the act is objectively a mortal sin, most suicides are not subjectively in a state of mortal sin.

The church implicitly acts as though not every person irregularly married after divorce is in a state of mortal sin, as we do not deny a Catholic funeral to those in that situation.  (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had a Catholic funeral, though she was living with a separated man still legally married to another woman.)  It does not seem an impossible stretch to allow the irregularly remarried to receive communion.

Abe Rosenzweig

It's odd to claim that Jesus (some real person) said X about divorce, and then other people changed it.

Actually, it is not so odd.  You can read why Fitzmyer believes the absolute prohibition goes back to Jesus here.  Now what you propose is not implausible, Mark may have created the absolute prohibition.  That could explain why Luke repeats it.  The difficult part come when Paul replicates it in 1 Cor 7:10-11 where he claims it comes from Jesus, thus distinguishing it from the exception he makes in 7:12-16.  This phenomenon is called "multiple attestation," which some NT scholars think is a reliable criterion for determining whether a saying comes from Jesus.  Obviously, how much of what Jesus actually said is difficult to determine in the Gospels with certitude, but there are ways to determine reasonably what may be reliable Jesus tradition.  

It seems to me the possibility of movement is not to create expansive permission to divorce and remarry but possibly to create a process where a divorced and remarried person can get their confessor's permission to receive the sacraments under some circumstances.

Anne E - thanks for that comment.  Fwiw, I think such an exception could be problematic, both from the point of view of the integrity of matrimonial consent, and from the point of view of the integrity of the sacrament of reconciliation.  (And, I'm sure some peope would argue by extension also the integrity of the sacrament of the Eucharist.)  I do see that this probably reads as a rather curmudgeonly opinion - sort of ant-merciful; but really, can mercy, as holy as it is, just ignore the integrity of the sacraments?  Mercy at the expense of the church's sacramental life doesn't seem very genuine to me.  But maybe someone can devise a clever approach that doesn't put sacramental life at risk.

I agree with folks who have noted that it is good for the church to grapple honestly and openly(!) about these real-life, difficult pastoral problems.   A solution such as what you're describing here would certainly be merciful, and I can see how it would appeal to Francis.  He's full of surprises.  We'll see what happens.

 

Jim P.

Without mercy the Sacraments are empty, as mercy is a constitutive part of Catholic sacramental theology.  What is Baptism without mercy? What is the Sacrament of Reconciliation without mercy?  Who can receive the very life of God were it not for God's mercy?  You draw too sharp a dichotomy when you marginalize mercy.  Why do you place "sacramental integrity" over mercy?  It sounds awfully legalistic.  And what is sacramental integrity if the "sign instituted by Christ to give grace" does not include mercy.  What is your theology of grace?  

Aquinas held that mercy is the greatest of the virtues.  He distinguishes two parts of it: first, the unhappy feeling we feel when we see another in misery and, second, the actually helping to relieve the misery of the other person.  The latter is most important.

ISTM that the big question we've been asking about the divorce-remarriage and reception of Communion problem has been:  what will truly help *all*  of the people involved in the break-up of marriages? But that is an ambiguous question --  we're talking about many marriages, so *maybe there is no one answer*.  Maybe the answers should differ as the individuals and their situations differ.  In other words, much of this has to be a matter of prudence.

On the other hand, given that we're dealing with shared human nature, maybe there are some things that all divorce problems share, and some universal statements might need to be made, or at least some *generalizations* need to be made.  (Generalizations are statements which are true of most cases, though not necessarily all cases.  Universal statements are true of all.)  

Maybe mercy, the relief of suffering, cannot be equal in all cases.    

You draw too sharp a dichotomy when you marginalize mercy.  Why do you place "sacramental integrity" over mercy?  It sounds awfully legalistic.

Alan - if you perceive that I'm trying to marginalize mercy, you misunderstand me.  I've been trying to give it its due throughout this conversation.  I've also been trying to give due weight to a church practice that is rooted in a teaching by Jesus that is about as legal in character as anything he ever said.   I hope we can talk about divine law and our obligations to it without being accused of being legalistic.  

If the only way to refrain from marginalizing mercy is to rip inconvenient pages out of the bible, then maybe our standard of what constitutes marginalizing needs some revisiting? 

From our point of view, it might seem even more merciful if God would just redeem all of us, hey presto, without imposing any obligations of discipleship on us such as requiring that we change our lives or embrace the cross.  But for whatever reason, that doesn't seem to be what the plan calls for.  Do we therefore rail at God for his lack of mercy?

It doesn't seem completely impossible to me that God's plan for some people, given their free choices and the promises they've made, could be very difficult.  It also doesn't seem completely impossible that the fullness of his mercy may not be made manifest to us in this life.

 

Jim, marriage was not considered to be "sacramental" for more than half of the church's existence.  It is a "recent" development.  Even with my limited understanding of the church's position on divorce and remarriage, it seems to me that you are conflating (if not confusing) what Jesus said about divorce, which would really apply with equal force to annulments, and the Church's position on annulment, which is related to but hardly draws a direct line back to Jesus's statements in the NT.  There are other equally "extreme" statements by Jesus that have not been interpreted legalistically at all, such as, selling everything you have and abandoning your family if you want to be a true disciple.  We see this in the context of an intent to instill a radical rethinking of one's relationship to God versus earthly things.  Why would Jesus's statements on divorce not be intended in the same context, to instill a radical rethinking of one's relationship to one's spouse; not as an injunction against divorce where one spouse has already been subject to marital abandonment or cruelty by the other.  Heck, even "I changed my mind, I didn't realize what I was doing" ought to be good enough, at least in the absence of children, for just unwinding the relationship.  In my view any divorce within the first three years in the absence of children should just automatically entitle the parties to a do over.

And in any event, in situations where one spouse "proves" to be inadequate, I don't think you need a lot of inquiry into whether a marriage was ever valid.  Somebody who made a valid marriage wouldn't do those things.  The Church should take a page from the uniform law on the termination of parental rights and come up with a list of things that are simply inimical to a valid marriage, and when a divorce is sought and one of those factors is present, there should be no need for special pleading for annulment.  

The process is never going to be perfect -- there will always be people who see others as getting undeserved mercy, but the point of mercy is that it is largely undeserved.  Erring on the side of mercy is the better result.  And in any event, at least in the U.S., for all the claims that annulment is a serious inquiry, something like 90% of requests are granted, so why make people go through such a protracted process if the standard for mercy is actually pretty low?

Since the Catholic Church believes that the evangelists (editors, etc.) were inspired, aren't the words of Jesus reported by Matthew to be accepted as the words of Jesus, whether Jesus actually uttered them or not? 

Also, wasn't Jesus himself weighing in on a controversy about Jewish Law? Unless we imagine him as thinking ahead to the thirteenth century, it is difficult to argue that he was talking about "sacramental marriage." 

It seems ironic to me that much of what Jesus said had to do with Jewish Law, and yet only a tiny, tiny minority of Christians feel obligated by anything in Jewish Law. Nobody even takes seriously the dietary prohibitions left intact in Acts 15, "namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals . . . ." 

 

Alan, it is a very good article and provides a thicker context for understanding divorce in that period/region that challenges the overly simplified representation that one often encounters. As for multiple attestation, well, I am not so sure that the attestation for a discernible "authentic" Jesus statement on divorce is so mutlple or clear. In the decades since Fitzmeyer's article, the citeria of historical Jesus scholarship have been interrogated pretty thoroughly, and that goes for multiple attestation, as well. (Goodacre observed not that long ago how strange it was that a unit might be accorded the air of historicity when it was seen as somehow satisfying both the criterion of embarrassment and multiple attestation--and I'm not sure if the statement under question doesn't evoke that strangeness). My own take is that any presentation of a teaching of jesus is so deeply embedded in the rhetorical strategy of its current textual context that to push the literary away in search for the historical is probably to miss the point.

 

An additional note: Obviously, the Matthean Jesus provides an exception, whereas the Markan jesus does not. I'm not sure, though, why this provision necessarily should be interpreted as stemming from "mercy." The same goes for the Pauline qualification in 1 Cor 7.

Jim P.

I must have misunderstood you because your response to my post does not square with what you wrote on May 13 @ 5:45 pm

I do see that this probably reads as a rather curmudgeonly opinion - sort of ant-merciful; but really, can mercy, as holy as it is, just ignore the integrity of the sacraments?  Mercy at the expense of the church's sacramental life doesn't seem very genuine to me.  But maybe someone can devise a clever approach that doesn't put sacramental life at risk.

And do you really believe that it is God's plan for some people to live difficult lives, and who must wait for the afterlife to experience the mercy of God?

I don't think Pope Francis sees it that way.  Rather he seems to be saying quite frequently that the Church should administer mercy at all times -- you know, the field hospital metaphor.

 

 

 

Alan - yes, I do think you misunderstood me.  I noted in my May 13 5:45 comment that my view, which is one of skepticism that the church has carte blanche to just do whatever seems the most merciful thing imaginable for a person who has invalidly remarried, unconstrained by any sacramental or biblical considerations - I noted that my view could come across as somehow lacking in mercy.  (I don't think it's lacking in mercy; I just think it's rooted in reality.)  And your subsequent comments have pretty much fulfilled my prediction :-), as it seems you do think my views are notably lacking in mercy.  

And do you really believe that it is God's plan for some people to live difficult lives, and who must wait for the afterlife to experience the mercy of God?

Well, what I wrote is that "it doesn't seem completely impossible to me" that God may not reveal the fullness of his mercy to all his believers in this life.  I wouldn't be so bold as to claim to know God's plan for other people, or even myself, with certainty.  Yet as we look about us, we see quite a bit of sinfulness and suffering going on, with no mercy in sight.  Why does God permit that?  Is God lacking in mercy?  (These aren't rhetorical questions, btw.)  One possibility is that the fullness of that mercy isn't made known in this lifetime.  I hope that's true: that a merciful fate awaits both sinners and sufferers in the next life.

I don't think Pope Francis sees it that way.  Rather he seems to be saying quite frequently that the Church should administer mercy at all times -- you know, the field hospital metaphor.

My view is that Pope Francis also is constrained in this matter: by divine revelation, by the sacramental economy, by facts and circumstances.  Mercy can be administered in many ways, not all of which involve offering communion to those who are not disposed, nor claiming the authority to unbind what the church seems to lack the authority to unbind.  

 

Obviously, the Matthean Jesus provides an exception, whereas the Markan jesus does not. I'm not sure, though, why this provision necessarily should be interpreted as stemming from "mercy." The same goes for the Pauline qualification in 1 Cor 7.

Abe - I agree.  

Earlier, I linked to a Roman document that notes that the church, in the 16th century, tried to figure out what to do about the existing marriages of polygamist converts.  It seemed that it figured out a way to invalidate the multiple marriages (it would be interesting to know more details, but the doc doesn't provide any).  But I wouldn't characterize that as stemming from "mercy", either.  More like problem-solving.

 

The Bible often reveals the truth via the tension between two positions rather than laying out a systematic theology in a single voice. Finding the truth requires looking at the whole rather than choosing the anchor of one of its guy-wires.

Abe Rosenzweig

As an historical scholar I do not push the literary aside in my exegesis, but the rhetorical character of a New Testament text does not make it impossible to read it historically.  So on that I think we will have to disagree.  You might find Fitzmyer's book, The Intepretation of Scripture: In Defense of the Historical Critical Method interesting.  

I don't believe I linked the Matthean and Pauline exceptions to mercy.  My point was if they could alter the teaching of Jesus, for whatever reason, then the Church can do that today, i.e. find exceptions that respond to the contemporary situation of married Catholics. 

I recently read a wonderful text by Augustine on how to read Scripture, in his Confessions, book 12. For example, in chapter 18, after proposing a variety of possible interpretations of the same sentence: 

Since, therefore, each person endeavours to understand in the Holy Scriptures that which the writer understood, what hurt is it if a man understand what Thou, the light of all true-speaking minds, dost show him to be true although he whom he reads understood not this, seeing that he also understood a Truth, not, however, this Truth?

or a little later:

But which of us, amid so many truths which occur to inquirers in these words, understood as they are in different ways, shall so discover that one interpretation as to confidently say that Moses thought this,and that in that narrative he wished this to be understood, as confidently as he says that this is true,whether he thought this thing or the other? ... 

Let no one now trouble me by saying, Moses thought not as you say, but as I say. For should he ask me, Whence do you know that Moses thought this which you deduce from his words? I ought to take it contentedly, and reply perhaps as I have before, or somewhat more fully should he be obstinate. But when he says, Moses meant not what you say, but what I say, and yet denies not what each of us says, and that both are true, O my God, life of the poor, in whose bosom there is no contradiction, pour down into my heart Your soothings, that I may patiently bear with such as say this to me; not because they are divine, and because they have seen in the heart of Your servant what they say, but because they are proud, and have not known the opinion of Moses, but love their own—not because it is true, but because it is their own. Otherwise they would equally love another true opinion, as I love what they say when they speak what is true; not because it is theirs, but because it is true, and therefore now not theirs because true.

 

Jim P.

Thank you for your response to my post.  I think I understand your take on mercy now.  All I can say is that we do not believe in the same God.

Maybe nobody is still reading, but after catching up, I will add one more comment.

I see this discussion continued for a long time. In re-reading it, it makes me wonder why we human beings so complicate things in a way.  Our evangelical friends are known for the lovely acronym WWJD that really asks the right question -  What Would Jesus Do?

Maybe it would be good to get away from the heavy burden of centuries of  sacramental theology and canon law and the always somewhat ambiguous interpretations of scriptures that were written long after Jesus lived by people who were not eye-witnesses.

Not only should scriptural interpretation be considered, along with the culture and marriage customs of the times, but also a bigger picture.   We know that marriages were arranged in that era primarily as a way to cement family alliances and safeguard whatever family wealth existed. Marriages were common with close biological family members - first cousins often and Jesus said not a word about that. Marriage then was undertaken at a time in history when lifespans (especially for women who, if they survived childhood diseases often died in childbirth) were decades shorter than now and so also was the duration of many marriages "until death".  Expectations of marriage on the part of the brides and grooms were totally different than the expectations now in most of the world. Jesus' words on divorce then simply cannot be strictly applied to marriage in the 21st century.

In looking at the big picture of what Jesus taught through words and actions instead of isolated passages we meet a pretty nice guy - he could be blunt about how we should try to live, but also very forgiving, very merciful.  Somehow I don't think Jesus would want couples who marry to live in sheer misery for their whole lives because they changed as people throughout their lives, or discovered that their personalities really just didn't match in day to day close contact (maybe the church should encourage cohabitation before marriage?)  nor would he want their children to grow up in homes where the parents really don't like each other.   It seems to be men, men full of their own authority and pride and who are not even married who make demands on ordinary people that Jesus himself might not make. Jesus was kind. 

The church gives little support to marriage. Basically it says not to live together in order to get to know one another - which really means do not have sex - before getting married, then start out on a lifetime together where you will be expected to have children at the church's demand that your marriage be "open" to children even though some individuals are not interested in being parents nor well-suited to be parents etc.  The church places a lot of demands on couples but once they're married the best they can do is say "don't use modern birth control".  Maybe the church should offer a series of temporary vows so marriage compatibility can be tested just as the church allow priests and religious to enter those vocations in stages in order to decide if they really can make a permanent vow. 

The church puts most couples through a lot of hoops in order to marry in the church.  There are lead times of 6-12 months after getting engaged, marriage prep courses, mandatory NFP courses, pre-Cana weekends etc. But while there is a good and needed attempt to identify potentially serious problems that could arise after the marriage, there is no attempt at all to see if the couple really should be pushed into agreeing to have children if physcially able to.  The church should prepare couples for the demands that parenthood bring. It should tell them how having children will dramatically change the nature of their relationship and, while children bring joy, they also create a lot of stress. The first spike in divorce rates comes about one year after the birth of the first child.  It spikes again after children have left home, perhaps because those couples who stayed together for the children are so worn out from the effort that there are no emotional reserves left for one another.  The church should not demand that all couples wishing to marry agree to have children.  They reduce marriage to a utilitarian function in doing that instead of celebrating the love relationship of the couples themselves as being good and holy in and of itself.

There should also be support for families that have divorced - for the spouses and for the kids, instead of just treating them as pariahs and sinners. They need even more support than do those in good marriages.

The official Catholic church is so cold and heartless in so many ways even though there are millions of kind, generous, loving and merciful people in its ranks. Unfortunately, they aren't the same people who make the laws. Perhaps Francis and Kaspar will be able to introduce a more loving, Christ-like way of handling these difficult issues.

Thank you, Anne.

This makes comment #200.

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