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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.



Commenting Guidelines

Geez, Rita - would suggest that you can find stories of failure on every side (not just male)???

Jim McCrea - fact; once annulled, a person can legally and officially marry in the church (because the first or second marriage never existed - talk about denial or living in some type of *thought universe*)

LIke annulments - studies indicate that fewer than 40% of all priests who left since 1965 ever approached Rome to be laicized  (so, similar to the annulment pattern).  That alone says something about what Franics/Kaspar are saying and starting.  In both annulments and laicizations, the church has built a system of criteria or causes that usually revolve around maturity (based upon being able to understand *forever*; able to live that *forever*; various psych grounds; etc.  About 20 years ago, Rome tried to get the US bishops to narrow the psych reasons and be more stringent about graning annulments (but, by then, the older, complicated system of local canon law board rules; this then has to go to the nearby archdiocesan canon lay board; and then to Rome - US petitioned to streamline this....which also says something about both this issue and the process).

The difference between laicization and annulments - priest has to have a canon lawyer to help facilitate the petition to Rome (form, etc from Rome).  There is no local board involvement, etc.  Annulments are local with Roman approval process.

George D - there are lots of reasons for why anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications are usually in the top five dispensed.  Your broad statement is really *Fox News* like - on the surface, appears to be a fact; but underneath, it conceals and ignores actual truth, reasons why, etc.  That's not to say that these medications are not over-prescribed - they are.  Secondily - to casually suggest that it is today's society, cultures, etc. that cause this over-dependence - well, that is misleading at best.  Would you rather live now or in Europe during the 100 years of religious wars in the 17th century?

It's easier to "get them to pay" for children in the picture if you're married b/c the divorce process will set child support payments, establish paternity, and make provisions for custody. 

I'm a child of divorce.  I had two step-fathers, never knew my father.  It does take a toll but I'm not sure if it's more of a toll than having parents that don't love each other or parents that hate each other or parents that beat each other, etc.   ... what does that teach children about what love relationships and marriage are supposed to be like?


It isn't Fox News and I am simply stating a fact concerning the existential reality of a large swath of the population. It can be due to the medicalization of human experience, or any number of reasons. But the fact remains:

1. These pharmaceuticals are prescribed in large numbers. They constitute a lucrative business for pharmaceuticals and institutional mental health.

My view is that the we are not seeing an epidemic of mental health illnesses (I am sympathetic to Szasz, Porter, Foucault, et al. in that regard). We are seeing a response to a society that is becoming corporatized, bureaucratized, and many people feel a loss of control over their community and their politics.

Just look at the sharp decline in membership in community groups, the development of big box stores, relationships drowned out by t.v. and the internet.

A multitude of factors, I agree, but to say all is fine with today's society is to not look deeply enough at the signs of the times. And divorce and unstable relationships are just part and parcel of a larger theme.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (fact check a LOT of unhappy people)

And a stable, life giving, relationship is a balm and support and for many people that is a far away dream and that can be nothing else than a tragedy. I am not saying that I live in any Ozzie and Harriet never never land because I don't. And I certainly understand that choice of divorce but I am pretty sure that I am on solid ground saying that if there is a way for it to be avoided, we should try. I don't know one divorced person who would say otherwise.

I think to assume the choice is between a divorce and a happy marriage is misleading - it's usually a choice between divorce and a bad marriage.  And bad marriages are bad not just for the people in them but for the kids too.  WebMD - "Bad Marriages Take A Toll On Kids" ... ...

“Our findings suggest that exposure to parental conflict in adolescence is associated with poorer academic achievement, increased substance use, and early family formation and dissolution, often in ways indistinguishable from living in a stepfather or single-mother family,” says Kelly Musick, PhD, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University.

Crystal, thank you for pointing out that it's not always the best thing for kids to live in a house with parents who hate each other - even in the absence of physical abuse.  I am the youngest of five. My parents didn't divorce until I was 17, but they separated when I was 10.  Life was far more pleasant for the kids once that happened.  It was a huge improvement over living in a home with palpable tension and dislike between the parents. There was no physical abuse and not even much verbal abuse, at least in front of the kids but a cold, unloving atmosphere is not healthy for kids either. My dad chose to travel a lot on business and that was good for all of us. The separation was even better that the breaks we got from his business trips for those of us still at home.  The oldest was in college by that time.  Divorce does not mean forever dysfunction for the children. Of the five of us, only one got divorced and there were some very unusual circumstances surrounding that marriage, as my sibling has a serious disability (from birth). . After a while, the spouse wanted out. The rest of us have been married from 40+ to 54 years.  One good parent is better for kids than two miserable adults living in the house.

Correction - there was no verbal abuse in front of the kids.  The fighting must have taken place behind closed doors most of the time, but we sure didn't miss the emotions involved even if we were mostly spared witnessing the words.


That was my experience too.  My first stepfather molested me so it was a relief to see him go.  And when my second stepfather and mother divorced when I was a teen, that too was a  a good thing because they argued so much.  That second stepfather disappeared from our lives after the divorce, but all these years later we have reconnected and go out to lunch every now and then  :)  I'm divorced but my sister has been happily married for many years.

"We are seeing a response to a society that is becoming corporatized, bureaucratized, and many people feel a loss of control over their community and their politics."

George D. --

The "crunch con" movement holds that the best solution is to live a simple life in a small town.  But do small towns have less divorce than large ones?  And living such a life means giving up the materialism that is now the American preferred way of life.  Even Rod Dreher, who invented the term "crunch con" admits that it isn't practical for many, many people.  He recommends chosing to live in one place and forming your own community there.  In oher words, it's commit to one place and one community.  (But isn't that a similar problem to marriage -- a commitment to one person?)


Oops --  that should be "crunchy con" (meaning "crunchy conservative" -- think granola, etc.:-)

Oops --  that should be "crunchy con" (meaning "crunchy conservative" -- think granola, etc.:-)

Hey Ann

 I am not familar with crunchy conservative, but am VERY familiar with granola, etc., people LOL. I guess I  could be described as a fellow traveller in that movement. I would be conservative if by conservative you mean moderate, stable, no quick emotional swings, good, solid work ethic - yes i value all of those things. But almost none of the cruncy con types I know would vote conservative and few are Catholic. Mostly various forms of spirituality, yoga and so on. Health food and that kind of thing. Most Green party and/or NDP. Of course the Green party is kind of conservative I find actually. They don't link environment to economic policy so have some issue with that.

I realize this is drift but I do actually go to the Farmers Market when I can, I try to live as simply as I am able to.

I don't think it is so much moving to country and raising free range chickens and eggs, gardening, and composting as it is just living simply. Not that I am anywhere near that.

Yes, there is the issue of divorce of course and all the subsequent drama (can I still be friends with both without feeling torn loyalties and so on). 

Crystal, thank you for pointing out that it's not always the best thing for kids to live in a house with parents who hate each other - even in the absence of physical abuse


The statistics dont show that to be the case.  While you may feel that way about your individual situation you 1) dont know how the outcome might be different if they had stayed together so 2) you cant say your actual situation was better.  Regardless, in the absence of physical violence, the statistics show children raised by their natural married parents do better than those whose parents are divorced or never married.

It seems to me that perhaps rather than focusing on the 6-12 months of marriage prep, or how to handle those post divorce, we should be focusing on providing help and support during the (hoped for many) years of marriage.

 He recommends choosing to live in one place and forming your own community there.  In oher words, it's commit to one place and one community.  (But isn't that a similar problem to marriage -- a commitment to one person?)

The trend is in the opposite direction. Change jobs, be flexible. Comparies will send you wherever your work is needed at the time, and that can change every year. In the US people are advised to be always on the go, ready to change jobs as soon as an opportunity arises, so as to have a variety of experiences. Occupations evolve rapidly and you have to constantly adjust to the progress of technology or the changing needs. In Europe now students are asked to embrace internationalism, they do many internships abroad and do not spend much time in the same place. The story, on the faculty side, is that we must always pressure them to fight their tendency to narrow-minded attachment to a single place, and put in various rules to force them to travel a lot and discover many different places. Sometimes it seems that stability is equalled to provincialism, and there is an effort to promote an organization of the studies that develops instability. 

George D. --

Yep, you're a crunchy con.  Try Dreher's blog.  Nice guy.  A character.  Has pet chickens, but very bright and concerned abou being a good parent and a good citizen.  He also makes me wonder about the current definitions of "liberal" and "conservative".  I think the definitions need to be shuffled somewhat (e.g., "anti-corporation" no longer seems a characteristic of liberals only, and "pro-green" is no longer exclusively liberal --  both libs and cons go to Whole Food these days).   Maybe we need three new  basic classifications -- far right, far left and in-the-middle.  But we digress.

"It seems to me that perhaps rather than focusing on the 6-12 months of marriage prep, or how to handle those post divorce, we should be focusing on providing help and support during the (hoped for many) years of marriage."


Bruce --


Indeed.  But it seems to me that the help kids need most is what they get during the many years of parenting the get prior to their even thinking of getting married.  Yes, the example parents give is terribly important, but  I was astonished today by a Pew report that says that the average American mother spends only 1.4 MINUTES per day speaking to and listening to her children, and the average father speaks only .4 minutes per day.  How in the world can kids learn to articulate their values with such little discussion as that??  But these days Americans are money rich and time poor, especially mothers.  Parents don't have enough time to do what they need and want to do.  What the solution is, I have no idea.

Claire --

I fear you're right.  Really scary.  And is such an economic system actually very "practical" in the long run?  Can people live like that and not be turned off eventually against such a system?

But, yes, such a system does offer the new as always the best value.  Hmph.  (Yes, I'm turning conservative in my very old age.)   And this affirming of the new does tend to favor dumping unsatisfactory spouses in favor of untried ones.

I think we keep coming back to the question:  how does a young person tell the difference between momentary attraction and long-term love?  IS there such a test?

The trend is in the opposite direction. 


Yes. Gobalization, corporatization, "free" trade. Adapt to the new reality. Don't question, don't change. Any politician who dares to question the orthodoxy of the new order is marginalized, made irrelevant, and rolled over.

I have seen the impact in how changes in local economy impact family. Some communities where the mill was the major employer are shut down. Families had very nice home, lovely cottages on beautiful lakes, nice quality of life. Partners now have to relocate and work far away sending cheques back to partners at home. Not unlike long deployments in the military. And if you have studied at all the impact of lengthy deployments on the families of service men and women, you can see what all of this is doing.

Pope Francis and church officials have inspiring speeches about this. Even UN officials speak similarly? The need for the economy to serve the person and family. Is anyone really listenting?

So when we are talking about marriage and divorce, the reality is that there are many factors. And if we want to support the family, there are economic and social policy implications.




George D - don't want to sidetrack the discussion (altho, what can one say when Dreher is recommended?)

Work for the largest behavioral health company in the world - we have more MHSA data that even the federal government.  Some items you are leaving out:

- mental health and substance abuse are medical conditions 90% of the time

- we need to continue to de-stigmatize treatment of mental health and substance abuse

- to this point, lots of the increase in those medications has to do with de-stigmatization; the realization by PCPs that these are medical conditions; etc.

- the medical community has year in and year out continued to increase their ability to identify and treat conditions such as cardiac attacks (60% of heart attack victims will become depressed - if you don't treat the depression, the risk of more attacks elevates);  diabetes (40% of all diabetics become depressed - same phenomenon - oh, and diabetes is increasing by 100s of percentage points in the US alone).

- could go on and on with actual facts and data

Your points might be a conclusion but, in fact, believe that they only lead to continued stigmatization and some type of belief that they have no connection to medical conditions.

Yes, data indicates that 20% of the time these medications are not prescribed appropriately nor are they used in conjunction with other therapies that would allow for better outcomes.  BTW - more than 50% of all depressives are in this state for genetic or family history reasons - they will have repeated depressive episodes which means that for most of these folks, evidence suggests that they will have to remain on a low dose of anti-depressants for years.


i have worked in mental health for over 20 years and so hardly want to support stigmatization. I am not anti-med but framing mental health as a medical condition treatable with medication is troubling. There are array of psychological and even psychospiritual method that are as effective, if not more, than medication. Just look at the research around mindfulness and improved mental health status of people who meditate regularly.

And there are many people who are prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxieties without meeting the clinical criteria for these disorders under the DSM. It is symptom managment and I am just suggesting that there are far better and more cost effective alternatives.

As for medical conditions, obesity is now considered a disease by the AMA notwithstanding concerns over defining it in that fashion. So much for rigour around classification and definition of disease!

Current levels of spending on health care are not sustainable. I support a publicly funded, accessible system but we should aim at prevention and promotion as most medical conditions including mental health are preventable through lifestyle and diet changes.

Sorry for drift....last word yours.


Agree with you - guess we just each fall on a different focus on the same continuum and we both understand and value the context, treatment, etc.

BTW - I spend most of my time supporting EAP and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to support any type of medication - we try to enforce a two pronged approach (not medication only).  But, this can be an uphill climb with PCPs.

Next month we begin a new enhancement - we will start to use computerized cognitive behavioral therapy via EAP access; PCPs; or triggered by prescriptions.  It is our hope that this will improve outcomes and decrease over-reliance on medication only.

We are exactly on the same page....appreciate both your comments and your 20 years of ministry in this field (whether it is work or not; it is a ministry).

Bruce, the statistics show many things - among them that in some cases, children fare poorly after divorce. But there are nuances to those findings, many related to demographic characteristics.

So there are also cases where the children do better in a home without significant tension.  I know that in my family, we younger kids were way better off once our father was no longer around very much. We did not have "poor"outcomes. All of us were top-notch students and winners of academic scholarships who went on to earn graduate and professional degrees. The boys were also top athletes.  These "successes" were the result of the discipline, sense of responsibility etc instilled in us by our mother.  If there is one "good" parent, children are better off than in homes where there are two "weak" parents or where the parents are so consumed in their own anger and misery that there is little positive energy left for the kids. All in my family have had successful marriages (except the one with unusual circumstances) and all have achieved worldly "success" also in our chosen professions.  The destructiveness of our father's general coldness and rejection of his children would have been worse had he been around more. Please let generalities be generalities and let the couples involved try to make the best choices for themselves AND for their children. Sometimes that means ending the marriage. If done in a responsible way, it can be the least harmful course for all.  I don't think that outsiders can make the decision for those who are living in the particular marriage and family. 

There is no possible way to fully prepare couples for the challenges that they will meet in marriage.. What can be done is to encourage young adults to complete their educations and defer marriage until they are a bit older, and have developed at least a bit of mature self-knowledge and self-understanding.  Studies (for Bruce and others) show a strong correlation between education level and age at marriage and divorce. I have lived my entire adult life in what are essentially self-selected micro-communites where almost everyone I know well had at least a college education, had waited at least until after college to marry (usually several years after college), and, as a result of their educations, achieved a reasonable level of financial security.  In these somewhat self-selected communities, including neighborhood, profession, church community (usually a function of neighborhood), and family, I have personally known well only a tiny handful of people who divorced.  Two friends married young (right out of college) and divorced before there were any children.  Both second marriages have lasted 35+ years now.  One friend dropped out of college and married and later divorced. She had two children and never remarried. In my neighborhood and community (where christians are the minority) only one neighbor in 40 years got divorced. Another neighbor was divorced before marrying the man we knew (they moved in next door the year they married). She and her second husband had a beautiful marriage until he died a couple of years ago. She had married at 19 the first time and divorced a couple of years later. There were no children from the first marriage. Divorce is obviously easier when there are no children. Studies (there they are again) also show that the divorce rate is higher in second marriages which try to "blend" families than in first marriages and is higher than for second  where there are no children from earlier marriages.  Step-parent issues can be significant and perhaps some should defer entering another marriage until children are out of high school.  Those who divorce with children face some hard choices when it comes to deciding whether or not to remarry.  The common denominators in all of these very long marriages of my family, neighbors, work colleagues and general community are not religion, but age at marriage, educational background, and employment that provided enough financial security that money problems are not an enormous stress.   Divorce rates are highest in the "bible" belt states and lowest in the northeast. These figures do not correlate with religious participation but with age at marriage and education. And, probably, also with median income and unemployment rates.  I'm sure there are studies on the relationship of those factors with divorce rates also.

Not all marriages can or even should be saved. But I agree with whomever above said that there needs to be something more than pre-Cana to support marriages. I've made this point many times, but perhaps it bears repeating for parishes to see how they might better support Retrouvaille. These sessions are not offered very frequently in some areas (once or twice a year in my diocese), and they require a considerable time commitment on the part of troubled couples. They are supposed to be low-cost, but $50 can be difficult for strapped couples to cough up.

Parishes can help out not only with costs, but by urging the diocese to offer more frequent sessions, and can help couples by offering to help with child care.

It would also be good for parishes who have marriage support staff (usually deacons) to advertise its availability in the church bulletin. 

Finally, the parish might want to think generally about what it does to help couples with the stresses that wear on marriages. Money, substance abuse, stress caused by "baby blues"--all these are big factors in split-ups that parishes might try to help address creatively. 

I also think there's a perception that single parents are not welcome in Catholic churches, and strengthening single-parent families might be another effort to look at.

Finally, divorce is on the rise among middle-aged couples (mid 50s to mid 60s). Studies about why are thin on the ground, but this can be an incredibly stressful time of life, sandwiched between the kids going off to college and needing help getting started in life and elderly sick parents. Respite programs can help here.

If your faith really supports marriage, it seems to me that doing one or two things on this list would be a step in the right direction.

I've read that young people don't date anymore.  That's a pity -- it's a way to get to know not only a variety of people of the opposite sex, but yourself as well.  Maybe the lack of dating is also a factor in the divorce rate.

Ann, I guess it depends on how you define dating.  I see young people now going out in mixed groups a lot.  Also they are more likely to have platonic relationships with the opposite sex than previous generations.  My mom used to say there was no such thing as a purely platonic relationship; I still haven't figured out if she was right or not. When I was young the priests and sisters used to tell us that "going steady" was an occasion of sin (it didn't keep us from doing it, though.)  Maybe what has declined is formal courtship. There is a mentality that a girl "owes" a guy sex for dinner and a movie. Which seems a really good argument for Dutch treat.

Katherine --

What I meant by "dating" was going out with one fellow or girl at a time in order to get to know each other better.  It usually meant at least a movie, maybe dinner and maybe dancing at a night club, or going to a ball game or the museum, whatever.  It was non-exclusive -- if you went out with a guy one evening, then the next evening you might go out with a different.  I knew an extremely popular young woman who regularly had dates Saturday afternoons and evenings and Sunday afternoons and evenings.  She really had her pick :-)  Exclusive company keeping was "going steady" or being engaged.  So there were steps and stages before marriage with a good bit of looking around for the right one.  Where I come from going steady was not discouraged.  

These days there's a lot of group get togethers (complete with hooking up in some circles).  But while I think it's good to meet a lot of people in groups, you really don't get to know people that well at a party with all the distractions there.  At least that was how it was when I was young, a very long time ago.


 It was non-exclusive -- if you went out with a guy one evening, then the next evening you might go out with a different.

Currently referred to as "hooking up". Dinner, movie, dancing....but usually centred on sex.

Hi, folks, I've been away for a few days, so sorry if this comment is somewhat late.  I see that several commenters have noted that, whereas marriage is permanent in the eyes of the church, a priest can be laicized, and this seems unfair and maybe even hypocritical.  I want to suggest that the two cases are not as parallel as they seem at first sight.

Let me preface these comments by noting that I'm not an expert in sacramental theology.  What follows is my understanding, but I'd welcome correction if anything I say here is not right.

In the eyes of a church, when a man is ordained into holy orders, the 'character' that is conferred upon him - whatever it is that changes by the conferral of the sacrament - is permanent.  "You are a priest forever".  Thus, even when a priest leaves active ministry, is laicized and marries, he still remains, in a very real sense, a priest.  If I'm not mistaken, canon law provides that he can exercise some presbyteral ministry in extreme/emergency situations.  

Now, a lot of what comes to mind when we picture a parish priest actually is non-essential / disciplinary:  he works for the church, he lives on the parish grounds, he lives a celibate life, the diocese pays him his salary and benefits and is responsible for supporting him in his retirement, and so on.  All of those things are subject to change.  And those disciplinary practices are the things from which a priest is dispensed when he is laicizied. 

But here's the thing: in an important sense, if a laicization is an apple, a decree of nullity is an orange.  A decree of nullity doesn't pertain to discipline - it pertains to the validity of the marriage itself.  A decree of nullity states that there was something defective at the time of the couple's consent that makes the validity of the marriage itself defective.  The parallel for priestly ordination would be if the church were to investigate a priest's ordination and decree that there was something defective at the time of the ordination.  (Perhaps this has happened, although I've never heard of it.  Maybe the church would even issue a "decree of nullity" for an ordination.   That wouldn't be same as a laicization, though.)

The church doesn't have the authority to just dispense of any marriage it feels like.  The church is the steward of our spiritual patrimony, but it is not the Master.  Still, the church does what it is able.  And what it is able to do is identify that subset of marriages in which there was an issue *at the time of consent*.  We might think of this as the church mercifully doing what is possible, while also recognizing that there are limits to mercy in this instance, because there are limitations on what the church is able to do.  

Bottom line, divorce is more common today because how people view both marriage and women has changed.  To paraphrase Christ, was marriage made for man and woman, or were they made for marriage?  Today, people say marriage needs to serve the good of the couple, or forget it...unless there are children involved, then some arbitration may be required.  Jesus, of, course, said marriage was meant to be a lifelong bond, and that a man getting a divorce certificate to get rid of a wife and another man colluding with the situation to acquire the woman he'd divorced -- the very situation the Herods had been involved  in that earned the wrath of John the Baptist -- amounted to nothing more than adultery itself, a sin righteous Jews feared.  But of course, he said the same of merely looking at a woman with lust.

From this teaching, the Western church has come through a couple millenia of theologizing to believe a Christian couple create a marriage bond or sacrament that amounts to an invisible bond, separate from the actual relationship, that cannot be broken or set aside by anyone, including the church.  While the Eastern church believes such marriages are sacraments, they don't see the bond as separate from the relationship itself, which clearly can be broken, even though to do so is a serious sin.  There's a big difference there, and it explains why the West has a lot bigger problem on the pastoral level than the East.


Try as churchmen will in the West to deal with this, I don't see how any satisfactory pastoral solution can be found until the theology is addressed...and reformed.




Matthew, I realize that we all expect the Church to operate at glacial speed, but the situation you describe is pretty close to what I saw happening aroundme when I was a teenager, 40 years ago.  A family of 7 kids moved into my neighborhood, range of ages between 6 months and 14, their mother working a part time job and their father having left.  Just left.  No note, no nothing -- waited for mom and kids to visit her family for a few days and when they came back he and all of his stuff were gone.  He would call every year or so from undiscslosed locations, and eventually, they figured out that he had remarried without getting divorced (which would have led to proceedings and discovery of his whereabouts and support orders).  So he was a bigamist.   He was also an alcoholic.  I was struck, and even the most Catholic of my neighbors were struck, by how Mrs. M refused to take any steps to get divorced even though being married made it harder for the "system" to impose and carry out support orders, authorize benefits, and so on.  I am convinced now that she just never wanted to confront the issue of remarriage.  Her kids were scarred in numerous ways, from having an alcoholic father, some, and no father within living memory, others, and being raised in serious hardship and continuing conflict (three oldest girls, in particular).  I can't say whether they were better off with or without their biological father, but the notion that she had made her bed and had to lie in it forever however discouraging or unhappy the consequences is not something I accepted even then, and now that most of the culture has moved on, eventually, if not already, not many people really care what the Catholic Church thinks about marriage and divorce anymore. 

To understand what Jesus was talking about regarding divorce requires understanding marriage laws, women's place and the meaning of adultery in first-century Israel.  For one thing, men could not commit adultery unless it was with another man's wife.  Adultery was considered a form of injustice like stealing (literally his greatest possession, his wife) against another man.  Betrayal of the wife didn't have anything to do with it.


We assume Jesus was most concerned about the impact on women, and that may be.  But he spoke within the ,Jewish context, and seemed to be pointing out hypocrisy, as was so often the case, saying acting on the desire for a new wife -- the only purpose of divorce in that culture -- was adultery, plain and simple.  The formality of first obtaining a “git“ or divorce didn't change that.  To interpret this as meaning the marriages of his followers (and them primarily) constituted an invisible bond that could never be broken seems a stretch...and one that took centuries and some heavy doses of Greek philosophy mulled over to create.



I wonder how people come to be so confident about marriage practices in the first quarter of the first century of the Common Era in Palestine.

I'm  struck by how dissonant my comments seem from the de facto hard cases being discussed at the moment.  But in many ways that's the point -- what Jesus taught seems woefully out of whack  with where the Church went with it over time.


How do people get to know about first-century Judaism?  Study the sources.  Or do you think everybody just makes these things up?

In Matthew's gospel, Jesus says, "I want mercy, not sacrifice."  In other gospel passages, Jesus tells his followers to forgive without limit.  In Luke 15, it is God in the persons of the shepherd, the woman, and the father who initiate pursuing the "lost" to find and bring them back to where they belong.  Jesus elsewhere tells his disciples not to hinder the children wanting to approach him.  Jesus identifies himself as a physician for sinners. Jesus approaches those who are not considered by "righteous" folk to be worthy of being approached.  All of us are children of God.  All of us are sinners.  We cannot heal ourselves.  When we repent, we are expressing God's prior healing.  If a divorced and remarried Catholic sees no reason to say "I'm sorry," perhaps it's because the person's otherwise responsible lifestyle in a second marriage has been all along a sign of God's healing.  The exchanges between Mr. Lancellotti, on the one hand, and fellow bloggers, on the other hand, exemplify for me the Church of Law vs. the Church of Love.  I think the Orthodox have it right with their concern for oeconomia.

How do people get to know about first-century Judaism?  Study the sources.  Or do you think everybody just makes these things up?

These sources are? (And I mean the ones that let us know about early 1st century marriage practices.)

I bring this up because there is a tendency in scholarship (or perhaps the popular reiteration of scholarship) to promote the apparent progressive nature of Jesus' teachings vis-a-vis a less-enlightened contemporaneous Judaism, e.g., Jesus does right by women where Judaism had previously wronged them. Now, I am not proposing that Jewish marriage practices were especially fair with respect to women, but I am suggesting a) that we should be more cautious than people here are being when it comes to making claims about what those practices actually were, and b) that there is nothing in the NT source material that actually suggests that Jesus is arguing on behalf of women's needs. 

Beverly, thank you for your comments.

Jim Pauwels, the distinction you make between releasing priests from the vows of celibacy and releasing married couples from vows of staying married "till death" seems to be a way of trying to make it OK for priests to break their lifelong vows (because celibacy is only a "discipline")  while insisting that there was a "defect" in a couple's marriage that meant there never was a marriage in the first place. Most divorced people disagree. There was a valid marriage, but the bond is broken.

Some go through the annullment process and all the hoops the church imposes because they are caught in a bind. They do not actually believe their marriage was not valid or was defective on their wedding day, but if they wish to remarry and stay in the church they are essentially forced to go along with what many believe (rightly) is a procedure based on a lie. Some simply refuse because they see it as a lie and do not wish to be hypocrites. 

I doubt that anybody in a long-lived marriage could not find something that the church could somehow call a "defect" on their wedding day which meant there was never a "real" marriage. Nobody who gets married truly understands what they are promising for a lifetime.  That fact that so many marriages do last almost seems like a miracle, but as pointed out earlier, success seems largely correlated with age at marriage and on education.  So, immaturity at marriage may be a "defect" and unrealistic expectations may be a "defect" (probably present to some degree when every couple makes vows).  How often do people truly reveal themselves before they have lived together for a fairly long time?  How well do most people even know themselves in their youth and young adult years?  How long are the masks of the "good" self that attracted a spouse kept in place before they start to slip?  How does one know how resilient they and their spouses are before they've hit the rough patches, faced the tragedies and challenges that enter all marriages?   Some would say that men who make a lifelong vow of celibacy long before they've actually been tested, had a "defect" present at the time of their vows also.

Splitting canonical hairs or even theological hairs does not help.  The church does not treat priests who wish to become laicized with kid gloves, but from what little I know, they are not forced into the humiliating process that too many annullments become, from what I have been told.  And once they are laicized, they are free to violate the "lifelong" vow they took while remaining permanently "marked" as a priest. Why does the church make it so much harder for the divorced?  It says a priest is permanently marked and any "defects" present at ordination don't change that. But it has to humiliate married couples involved in divorce by insisting that the marriage was never valid in the first place due to "defects". These distinctions seem like semantic theological/canonical games and  simply another example of clericalism at work in the eyes of many.

That tendency among scholars to elevate the teaching of Jesus especially with regard to women while denigrating the Judaism of his time was indeed unfortunate, but more widespread in the past than today.  Jewish and biblical historians have gone a ways to set the record straight.  I'm thinking of folks like Raymond Collins, Paula Fredriksen, William Loader, Amy-Jill Levine, not to mention Geza Vermes, Jacob Neusner, David Stern, etc., etc.  I never meant to imply Jesus was completely out of line with other first-century Jewish teachers, although all Christians clearly consider him special.

Barbara's story of the bigamist and his family points out what's wrong with church communities generally. Why didn't someone in the parish try to help make this woman's life more bearable instead of, apparently, commenting on what she ought or ought not to have done?


"In the eyes of a church, when a man is ordained into holy orders, the 'character' that is conferred upon him - whatever it is that changes by the conferral of the sacrament - is permanent.  "You are a priest forever".  Thus, even when a priest leaves active ministry, is laicized and marries, he still remains, in a very real sense, a priest.  If I'm not mistaken, canon law provides that he can exercise some presbyteral ministry in extreme/emergency situations."

Jim P, With all due respect you presume that they are apples and oranges. only to write some serious nonsense. 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. 

To say your reasoning  is feeble would be a compliment since there is zero reason in your comparison. Spare us. 

Beverley --

Although the official Church might not make things up, it does conveniently forget the very sort of facts you're remembering for us.  This dis-remembering is embedded in Vaticanese == using the old sounds and marks (e.g., "adultery" and "marriage"), but assigning somewhat different meanings or even radically changing the meanings over time.

In a way this is understandable because it's also true, I think, that many people find it impossible to consider new ideas/definitions to meet new circumstances, while many others will leap to change the meaning of a word in order to justify their own inclinations. And then  there are the people who say that all lanaguage is arbitrary and all rules are arbitrary, so anything goes. It seems we're all susceptible to fooling ourselves.  Sigh.

 if a laicization is an apple, a decree of nullity is an orange.

Ok. Then what's the apple for marriage? Or, if there is no apple for marriage, why not?


Jean, at that time, there was a Catholic support group for divorced and separated spouses.  She actually went out with a few men, but she was adamant about no divorce, and the men moved on.  Our neighborhood was very tight, and there were acts of kindness and mercy shown to this family, by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  Everything from including one or more of the kids (i.e., friends of their own children) in trips to get ice cream or going to the zoo, getting them to little league games, and in one case, making sure that the younger ones had bicycles.   My mother drove them around to activities a lot. 

My point, I guess, is that there should be some kind of "no fault" divorce/annulment that doesn't require a lot of special pleading.  She should not have needed to feel like her life was over, at least until her husband died (which he eventually did, after kids were all grown, and she did remarry).  Father abandoned his wife and 7 kids and they didn't even know where he was and she's the one who needs to beg for mercy?  Who cares whether the marriage was originally valid?

If anyone is interested, Cyrus Adler's book, Jewish Marriage Traditions, is helpful re the Hebrew point of view.

Ok. Then what's the apple for marriage?

Claire - I suppose it would be a mutually-agreed-upon separation.  I.e. still married but no longer observing the "disciplines" of marriage.  If that doesn't seem like a perfect parallel to laicization, it's because the original comparison, of an annulment to a laicization, isn't apt, for the reasons I attempted to spell out.

The bottom line in all this is that there is no "Catholic divorce".  My view, and my prediction, is that this upcoming synod won't invent it.  



Sheesh, Bill M, if that's the most due respect you can show, I'd hate to see what you'd say to someone from whom you're withholding it.  At least show me the respect of showing me where I'm wrong. 



If the synod remains pastoral with no call for re-evaluating Catholic assumptions about the sacramental bond, I'd guess the only hope for mercy would be in how the annulment process proceeds.  It could hypothetically be left up to the couple, or at least the faithful Catholic involved to make the ultimate call on whether or not the first marriage was valid. That would likely result in more widespread abuse -- and scandal-- and yet bring justice to many who cannot find it today.  Which would Jesus hate the most, the potential for abuse or injustice?  I think the gospels made that fairly clear.

From Matthew's original post:

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. 

It's not clear to me why an annulment would be either inappropriate or impossible in the scenario being described.   Certainly it wouldn't be impossible.  An annulment proceeding can be opened after the person has remarried.  

I do understand that it could be awkward, from a family/social point of view, because the person already is remarried, is settled in a new family who may not be aware of the prior "irrugularities", and so why rock the boat?  Well, one reason is that sin is real, it matters, the implications could be dreadful - much worse than a difficult conversation with one's current spouse and children - and so it might be worth taking action to solve the problem.

Just trying to look at it objectively, the person already has remarried, so in a sense, the problem already exists.  Pursuing an annulment isn't going to make the problem any worse than it already is, and conceivably it could actually solve the problem.  The worst that can happen is that the petition is denied - but then she is right back where she is already.   If she is trying to do things right by the church, she should be living as brother and sister with her new spouse already, whether or not she pursues an annulment of the previous marriage.  So why not try for the annulment and live like a married person again?  To me, it seems like all upside and very little downside to going after the annulment.  Nothing ventured, etc.


Jim McCrea - fact; once annulled, a person can legally and officially marry in the church (because the first or second marriage never existed - talk about denial or living in some type of *thought universe*)


Bill deH:  as I understand it, getting an annullment requires also having obtained a civil divorce ... is that true?  So one has to commit a sin in order to have a non-marriage declared non existent.

Yes, that "thought universe" is wierder each time I think about it.

This just proves to me why most gays and lesbians are not remotely interested in church marriages.  Too wierd all the way around.  Besides, what fun is a church marriage if one of the partners can't pretend to be eligible to wear virginal white?  And who would place the bridal bouquet at the statue of the BVM?

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

Basic personality incompatibility discovered too late in the relationship (after the marriage) is not a sin.  Certainly some marriages fail because of sins - those who are unfaithful while married, or who lie to their spouses in other ways, etc, but not all marriages fail because of the "sins" of the partners. That's one reason the civil authorities had the wisdom to pass no-fault divorce laws.

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.