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Invalid arguments.

While Matthew Boudway and I were interviewing Cardinal Walter Kasper last month, there came a moment when we simultaneously looked away from the cardinal and at one another: Well, that's going to be trouble. We had asked him about the section of his March address to the consistory in which he asked whether we can presume "that the engaged couple shares the belief in the mystery that is signified by the sacrament and that they really understand and affirm the canonical conditions for the validity of the marriage." We knew his answer would raise a few eyebrows: "I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid." It didn't take long for the internet to seize on those remarks with something less than complete satisfaction.

Kasper and the pope are trafficking in insult, one critic claimed. Their suggestion that half of Catholic marriages are invalid constitutes "an insult to our natural human ability to marry...an insult to St. Paul, who said that the moral law is written on men's hearts...and it's an insult to God's grace to imagine that our own age is somehow different, that we cannot depend on God's help to live out the vocations He gives us." A canonist called the remark "reckless" and false. Another observer suggested the Holy See silence Kasper for his "shockingly indiscreet" remarks. But one of Kasper's more thoughtful critics is also one of the calmer: Ross Douthat of the New York Times.

In his post, "Against Kasper (I)," Douthat uses survey data to try to disprove the notion that 50 percent of Catholic marriages are sacramentally invalid. He also argues that the pope and Kasper are mistaken because the supernatural graces available to Catholic spouses are not a "one-off infusion" limited to the wedding ceremony. Going further, Douthat claims that because these graces are available to the couple throughout their marriage, even an "immature Catholic couple that doesn’t grasp the full import of their vows, and thus might be prime candidates for an annulment if they parted ways...can still grow into a valid, supernaturally-graced Catholic marriage over years of fidelity, childrearing, and mutual love."

Do the statistics Douthat marshals do the work he thinks they do? And has he correctly identified a lacuna in the pope's understanding of sacramental theology that undermines his speculation about the validity of Catholic marriages? I'm afraid the answer to both questions is no.

Let's take the data first. Douthat cites data mentioned in a Mark M. Gray post at the indispensible Nineteen Sixty-Four blog of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Bear with me as I quote from Douthat at some length:

Among ever-married U.S. adults, 36 percent have gone through a divorce. Among ever-married Catholics, however, the figure is only 28 percent....

Given these numbers, for Kasper’s “50 percent” guesstimate to be anywhere near accurate one would first have to assume that every single Catholic marriage that ended in divorce was canonically invalid from the get-go. And then one would have to further assume that that around one-third of intact (or ended-by-death) Catholic marriages are invalid as well.

Yet, as Douthat points out, that data set includes all Catholic adults who have ever gone through divorce--not necessarily all of them had Catholic weddings. So he looks at another survey to try to get at the number of Catholics whose sacramental marriages ended in divorce.

Let’s...say that 30 percent of married American Catholics have seen their marriages end in divorce. But per CARA’s numbers, only 45 percent of that total were in sacramental marriages to begin with, so (if I’m doing the math right) in the “married-in-church” category Kasper is talking about, the actual divorce-per-sacramental-marriage rate is more like 22 percent. Which in turn makes his claim of 50 percent invalidity yet more remarkable: For it to be true, the rate of sacramentally-married invalidity would be more than double the actual rate of sacramentally-married divorce (let alone the rate of divorce-and-remarriage, which is even lower still).

Later Douthat brings the notion of marital stability into the discussion: "Overall, family instability is much more pervasive in Latin America than in the U.S.A., but most of that instability is driven by the prevalence of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births, rather than by divorce and subsequent remarriage." What does that have to do with the question of sacramental validity? Earlier in the post Douthat writes that if the 50-percent speculation was true, it would mean that "the supernatural graces taken for granted in Catholic ritual and teaching are no longer nearly as efficacious as the church has traditionally assumed." It seems that for Douthat the grace received in the sacrament of marriage has a stabilizing effect on the couple. That's why he thinks Catholic divorce rates weaken Kasper's claim.

But they don't. They're rather beside the point because divorce does not prove the invalidity of a marriage any more than staying together proves its validity. For all anyone knows, any number of Catholic spouses may be humming along in nuptial bliss for decades without the benefit of a sacramentally valid marriage. Does that mean they're not receiving God's grace? Of course not. The church doesn't teach that sacraments are the only vehicle for grace. What the Catholic Church does say is that in order for a marriage to be sacramentally valid, it must meet certain criteria at the moment the man and woman exchange vows.

It looks like Douthat is confusing the natural bond of marriage with sacramental marriage. The validity of one is not the same as the validity of the other. Either the sacrament is present or it's not. If either spouse was being dishonest about her or his intentions--perhaps one didn't really want to be open to the gift of children, or another thought that divorce was an option should the partnership go south--then the union is not sacramentally valid. Same goes if either one lacked a firm grasp of what he or she was promising the other. This reality is not easily measured by social science.

If a marriage lacks sacramental validity, that doesn't mean the couple can't grow into a deeper bond of natural marriage. But can the marriage go from sacramentally invalid to sacramentally valid? No. "That's why our annulment process does not focus on post-marital breakdowns," one canon lawyer told me. "It's not our theology that a marriage can become invalid after being valid; and validity is determined as of the exchange of vows."

That's because, as another canonist pointed out, canon law is based on Roman contract law. The only way a person can enter into a legitimate contract is to do so with full knowledge, freedom, and power. They can't be too young. They must be intellectually capable of making the decision. They must really know what they're signing up for. And they must do so freely. If any of those elements is missing, the contract is null and void.

Of course, no one could be blamed for putting a foot wrong when writing about Catholic teaching on marriage. There's a built-in equivocation when it comes to the question of validity--the church holds that sacramental marriages are valid in a way that natural marriages are not. Marriage existed long before canon law took stock of it. Then there's the annulment rate, which has led many--at least in the States--to refer to it as "Catholic divorce," a forgivable error, considering the mental gymnastics involved in that aspect of the teaching. (Now free in Cleveland!) And then there's the pope's power to dissolve certain marriages--not to declare that they never existed in the first place, but to dissolve them altogether. It's a bit of a mess. But it would be a shame if the critics of Francis and Kasper gave Catholics the wrong idea about what they're actually saying by calling it "dangerous to the church," as Douthat does.

Francis and Kasper are not making a clericalist judgment about poor benighted laypeople. Rather they are drawing on their own pastoral experience, and that of the priests and canonists they know, to identify a serious catechetical problem--one conservatives have been warning us about for years. How does the ambient culture define marriage? As just another disposable good? What do men and women mean when they profess marital vows? What do Catholic men and women mean? How does the church prepare its people for this sacrament? Is it, as Kasper says, too bureaucratic? Ad hoc? Hit or miss? (I don't have very kind words for my own Catholic marriage prep.) Can't the church offer a deeper answer? That's what Francis and Kasper are asking. Not whether laypeople are smart enough to comprehend the gravity of their nuptial vows, but whether the church is doing all it can to enrich their understanding.

That too might be a vehicle for God's grace.

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When Lady Diana and Prince Charles went through the giant pageant that was their "marriage," was it a sacrament?  Was it real?  Charles was still in love with Camilla, and Diana knew it.  She told her sister she wanted to get out, but her sister said, You're already on the tea towels.

I knew another couple, ordinary people, not royal.  The young woman, marrying an older man, knew she was entering a family very different from her own.  She told me, after the divorce, that she knew, while walking down the aisle in the cathedral, that it would never work, but she was too embarrassed to turn and run.

I knew another girl, friend from high school, who married a lewzer.  Why did you marry him, I asked, after it was obvious that their union was a failure.  "Everyone else was out of town that summer," she said.

Etc.  Are 50% of marriages invalid?  Maybe.  In the good old days, 15th century, e.g., life was short.  Grow old (36) along with me.  The best is yet to be.

Francis and Kasper are not making a clericalist judgment about poor benighted laypeople. Rather they are drawing on their own pastoral experience, and that of the priests and canonists they know, to identify a serious catechetical problem

They may have experience with catechetical orthodoxy, but they have no real experience of marriage.

Having done marriage prep for over two thousand Catholic couples in the 80s and 90s , we as a couple [married 59 years]  would say Pope Francis'  50 percent is just about right. Engaged Couples are more candid with married prepers. .  Some couples learn more about the sacramental nature  as they grow older , using Marriage Encounter, Retrouvaille  plus other conversion experiences. .Why, in the 80s and 90s did the unbelievers want to get married in the Church? Grandma would not come to a secular wedding. Now grandma is living unmarried with a boyfriend and tha's why Catholic marriages are down 50%..  

However.... since  we believe that  the marriage sacrament is an ongoing action some couples  eventually receive the marriage graces they did not receive at the altar. . Maybe even the valid sacramental marriages  have a process of deteriiation and unbelief where the ongoing  sacramental process ceases to exist.. we have seen that too. and so has Pope Francis..

 Ed & Peg Gleason.  

even an "immature Catholic couple that doesn’t grasp the full import of their vows, and thus might be prime candidates for an annulment if they parted ways...can still grow into a valid, supernaturally-graced Catholic marriage over years of fidelity, childrearing, and mutual love."

Very nice. The idea that it's not all black and white, one moment this and the next moment that, but that there is a growth "into a valid Catholic marriage" is very useful and could be applied to so many other things. For example, the fertilized egg can grow into a person over time during the pregnancy. The teenager who was confirmed in church and promptly stopped practicing can still grow into the sacrament afterwards. If there is no sharp divide between the "before" and "after", there is a lot of room for thought.

What the Catholic Church does say is that in order for a marriage to be sacramentally valid, it must meet certain criteria at the moment the man and woman exchange vow.

Interesting. When Raber and I went through RCIA, our civil marriage was deemed valid. And outside of proving we had a marriage license, no one asked any questions about whether our marriage  met certain criteria at the moment of our vows. Now I wonder why not and whether that might not, to pick up on Grant's last point, have opened up some interesting lines of discussion for us married converts.

Actually, the unit on marriage was sort of jokey in a nervous way, mostly a review of the rules (no abortions, no divorce, annulment is not the same, you can separate and live celibately if you really can't stand it, but don't drag third and fourth parties in without an annulment, and that's not divorce). One of the RCIA ladies said, "Well, once you turn Catholic, you're stuck with each other, ha ha." I think the folks who run these things are sort of stumped about how to speak to people who come into the church who've been married 20 years already. 

Nothing about the grace bestowed through a sacramental marriage was offered. Maybe that type of thing is covered in Marriage Encounter, but what I read about it in the Diocesan magazine made it sound incredibly lame and mostly about putting the zing! back in your love life with candles and "date nights," and both of us couldn't imagine doing anything there at our age besides cringing.

We were urged to have our marriage blessed sometime after mystagogia, but we never did because Father always does them as part of a regular Sunday Mass, and people gripe because it means having to sit there for an extra 10 minutes.

Marriage is already hard enough work--30 years for us next month--and the Church simply seems to do little but throw on more layers of duty and obligation, never mind Douthat's statistical averages and Kasper's belief that half of us aren't truly married anyway.

Grant ==

 

Your main point -- that validity of sacramental marriage is determined at the time of the wedding commitment is exactly what my generation was taught in the '40s and '50s, and so far as I know that has been Church teaching for eons.  Sadly, younger Catholics don't seem to have been taught what validity meant and why such a strong committment (acceptance of obligations) was necessary. 

 

We were taught explicitly that if you don't really understand what Church teaching is about marriage, you can't possibly marry sacramentally, even if you go through a Catholic wedding ceremony and truly intend to be a good wife and husband.  You can be a good wife and husband, but not one bound by the demands of Holy Matrimony.  And there's no such thing as retro-active validity.  Private  committments can't bind because the committments must be made publicly (with at least some official witnesses) to be effective.  

 

I sometimes think that the reason the Good Lord made Rome the first "capitol" of the Church was so it could take advantage of Roman law, which was so highly developed in some ways at the time, though far from perfect.  It's notions of rights and obligations has been a boon, and that includes the notion that marriage partners have rights and duties relative to eech other and their children and that the institution of marriage is not a purely private matter but has civil importance as well.

 

Also ISTM that assuming that that 22% represents equally the sacramentally-married-and-divorced Catholics of each and all the generations, including the ancients, the boomers, millenials, and X-ers, is not justified.   In my experience the understanding of marriage of my very old generation is quite, quite different from that of the younger ones (60s and later  --  just look at the other comments in the thread).  We do believe that matrimony is till death do us part, but I suspect that a great many of the young and middle-aged Catholics marrried "in the Church" don't agree.

 

Grant ==

 

Your main point -- that validity of sacramental marriage is determined at the time of the wedding commitment is exactly what my generation was taught in the '40s and '50s, and so far as I know that has been Church teaching for eons.  Sadly, younger Catholics don't seem to have been taught what validity meant and why such a strong committment (acceptance of obligations) was necessary. 

 

We were taught explicitly that if you don't really understand what Church teaching is about marriage, you can't possibly marry sacramentally, even if you go through a Catholic wedding ceremony and truly intend to be a good wife and husband.  You can be a good wife and husband, but not one bound by the demands of Holy Matrimony.  And there's no such thing as retro-active validity.  Private  committments can't bind because the committments must be made publicly (with at least some official witnesses) to be effective.  

 

I sometimes think that the reason the Good Lord made Rome the first "capitol" of the Church was so it could take advantage of Roman law, which was so highly developed in some ways at the time, though far from perfect.  It's notions of rights and obligations has been a boon, and that includes the notion that marriage partners have rights and duties relative to eech other and their children and that the institution of marriage is not a purely private matter but has civil importance as well.

 

Also ISTM that assuming that that 22% represents equally the sacramentally-married-and-divorced Catholics of each and all the generations, including the ancients, the boomers, millenials, and X-ers, is not justified.   In my experience the understanding of marriage of my very old generation is quite, quite different from that of the younger ones (60s and later  --  just look at the other comments in the thread).  We do believe that matrimony is till death do us part, but I suspect that a great many of the young and middle-aged Catholics marrried "in the Church" don't agree.

 

Sorry about that duplicate.  But I still get that message about Try again to sent you post, so I hit Send again.

A theologian in Italy who argued that by the same logic many promises of celibacy and many priestly ordinates should be annulled because of the same considerations, saw his book suppressed!

"Can't we do better as a church? Can't we offer a better, deeper answer? That's what Francis and Kasper are asking... whether the church is doing all she can to support that understanding."

This seems perfectly correct. In one of his (gazillion) interviews (don't remember which), Kasper said when the pope asked him to give a speech at the February consistory, he told the pope that there would be disagreements. To which the pope responded by telling him, basically, "That's okay. But don't give them answers. Instead, ask them questions. Make them think."

And it looks like Cardinal Kasper has done his job well.

 

Also, doesn't anybody remember? "The 50-percent speculation," that isn't even Francis's original thought. At the press conference during his return flight from Rio, the pope said: 

"Cardinal Quarracino, my predecessor, used to say that as far as he was concerned, half of all marriages are null. But why did he say this? Because people get married lacking maturity, they get married without realizing that it is a life-long commitment, they get married because society tells them they have to get married. And this is where the pastoral care of marriage also comes in. And then there is the legal problem of matrimonial nullity, this has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this. It is complex, the problem of the pastoral care of marriage."

So really, Kasper was simply quoting the pope quoting Quarracino who, by all accounts, is anything but like Kasper in his thinking on, well, pretty much everything. 

 

 But I still get that message about Try again to sent you post

Hi, Ann, my experience has been that when that message pops up, your comment already has been received by the blog site.   If you refresh your screen, you should see that your comment is posted. That's how it's been for me, anyway.

 

Grant, thanks for this post, and particularly for the links you provided to some thoughtful objections to Cardinal Kasper's statement.  Ed Peters' blog always seems interesting - which, considering he's writing about canon law, is no mean feat :-).  Peters makes some interesting comments in that post about annulments granted because of problems with canonical form.  That strikes me as something that could be food for thought for the upcoming Synod.

 

It seems to be the natural conclusion from the rate of anullments. Sometimes I wonder whether there are any sacramentally valid marriages.

Marriage is already hard enough work--30 years for us next month--and the Church simply seems to do little but throw on more layers of duty and obligation, never mind Douthat's statistical averages and Kasper's belief that half of us aren't truly married anyway.

Jean:  many congratulations to you and "Raber" (as you always refer to him).

Just think what it is like to keep a relationship together for a long time (I have 42 years as of this past May with my partner) without benefit/support of either church or state.  Thank God the "state" part is changing rapidly.  The church, though ....  as the kids say:  whatever.

When Jesus talked about this subject he was concerned that women were very unequal in the divorce allowed up to that point. The ideal is that this should not be put asunder. Except for adultery. One can also argue that abandonment, alcoholism and the like are worse then adultery. Therefore.....

No doubt when people work out a loving, caring relationship, it is God joining together. But when one person goes astray the other person should not be bound. What is hard to understand about that? To unilaterally choose to get out of a commitment can be truly questioned. After all you made a promise to another. 

While, especially since the 60's, people have rightly gotten out of abusive or abandoned marriage and married again, the thrust of commitment must remain. If one person refuses to honor, to love and to serve, why should the other be punished?

It is amazing to me how those words of Jesus have been turned into an absolute demand, while the Sermon on the Mount is presented as an ideal. It should be the other way around. Marriage is the ideal. The beatitudes are a command.  In marriage there are mitigating circumstances. No such thing with the beatitudes. 

Jim, congratulations to you. A lawyer friend of ours counsels gay couples in Michigan who want to protect their assets and rights as much as possible, at least until the state provides more equitable solutions. However, I am not now and never have truly lived within marriage as a Catholic, and this poses difficulties for Raber, who is quite devout. I have offered to consider annulment (I'm sure there are grounds given my having fallen away) that would leave him free to find someone more in line with the Church's ideas. So far, we maintain a kind of religious detente.

So, Jim, why woiuld you as a gay man expect the Church to support your marriage if it doesn't really support anyone else's? Just lays down groundrules you have to obey even when they seem senseless.

(Sorry for the P.S.; I hit "send" while my kid was trying to talk to me about some involved rigmarole having to do with driving to another town to make copies of stuff.)

Grant, are you distinguishing between the legal validity of a marriage and the love commitment that is associated with grace?   The first is a public function; the second personal. The factors of knowledge and free consent are common to both. Is the problem that the Church insists that you can't have one without the other when it is demonstrable that you can have the second without the first and you can have the first without the second.  There must have been a rationale for the Church's position that God does not grace a union that is not legally valid.  Whether the Church controls what God graces is another question.  Thanks for the analysis.

 

Based on the conversations I've had with a very limited number of those who have been granted annulments, it sounds like one of the big reasons that annulments are granted is some variation of "We had no idea what we were getting into when we married."  Therefore, they could not give full consent, even if they weren't aware of that at the time.  If this is, in fact, grounds for annulment, than it seems to me that the Pope and/or Kasper are being very conservative in their estimations of the number of invalid marriages.

But I think that Douthat's fundamental instinct is pretty good here even if, as Grant well points out, his arguments about "growing into validity" simply are not Catholic teaching.  But shouldn't they be?  Doesn't that make much more sense than the possiblity that a couple happily married for 60 years may never have been married at all simply because at the moment of their vows there was some kind of subconscious doubt or immaturity, regardless of what happens later?  That that long, happy, and holy union was somehow the result of graces other than the matrimonial or sacramental, as if God had to put his jar of "Marriage Grace" back on the shelf and pout out--I don't know what, "Really Good Friends Grace"?  Because by the logic of annulments, those couples that I know who got one because they didn't know what they were getting into--even if they had been able to work through their problems and live happily ever after (and certainly many couples in similar situations have) were still never married, whether this was know by them or not.  Ergo the riches and struggles of their union for themselves and those around them were not the result of sacramentla grace but......what?  This really doesn't make a lot of sense.

Though I strongly support Kasper's move for some more pastoral sensitivity, it really does seem to be placing a band-aid on what is a rather superficial theology of marriage.  Perhaps thinking of these matters in terms of ancient Roman law isn't really the way to go about it.  Douthat and the other conservatives seem right to me in their sensibility that something is very wrong with our thinking here, but they don't seem to go nearly far enough in figuring out what it is. 

And Joseph O'Leary, James Alison claims in an interview published in Commonweal that his vow of celibacy as a priest on similar grounds as the marriage ones I mentioned above is null, though his overall ordination is not.  He says that this has been confirmed to him by officials of Roman congregations as well.  I have immense respect for him as a theolgian, priest and man, but this doesn't  make a ton of sense to me either.

Jean: I don't expect, nor really care (quite frankly) if this or any other church supports our relationship. My parish does; our families and friends do; more and more of the states do. My parish is the only connection with Catholicism that I care to maintain.

Interestingly enough, the Archdiocese of SF changes pastors as of 1 July each year. This year we are getting 2 (yes, 2 ... for a parish of 400 people) Precious Blood priests assigned ... pastor and associate. We found out that their community has a special outreach to the LGBT communities: http://www.kcprovince.org/sent-by-the-blood-2/

Specifically:

"LGBT Ministry

The Precious Blood LGBT Ministry is a collaboration of lay associates and members of the various Precious Blood communities. Founded by a line of prophetic voices and guided by Jesus’ example of inclusion, we are called to be compassionate healers and a life giving presence to an alienated and broken world. We bring a radical love to the world through service that affirms LGBT people and works for changes in institutions that cause oppression. In that spirit, the Precious Blood LGBT ministry was developed to foster dialogue and maintain relationships for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Motivated by the Gospel’s call to justice and rooted in a spirituality of reconciliation, we follow Jesus’ example of inclusion by ensuring that people who are lesibian, gay, bisexual, or transgender have a place at the table."

I find it quote (pleasantly) odd that, under the watchful eyes of Salvatore Cordileone, this kind of an appointment was made. We have NEVER had pastors other than local secular priests. Why the involvement of this community now? Why 2 of their priests? What is the story behind the story?

Stay tuned.

not "quote (pleasantly) off " but "quite (pleasantly) odd"

But you had figured that out by now anyway.

Jean, re: religious detente; there's nothing wrong with that. A lot better than a cold war, or a hot war. We were in a state of religious detente for the first 10 years of our marriage.  Even after we were both Catholic, we have often found ourselves at different places spiritually. It keeps life interesting.  "Detente" implies having enough mutual respect to give each other spiritual space.  And that's a good thing (at least I feel that it is!)

JIm P. --

Does "refresh" mean "reload page"?

Thanks.

Ann O.

Growing up , I had a few friends who got married because they were pregnant ;they divorced when they were older. Would that be an invalid marriage? Where they only married because they were pregnant?

Jean,

Silly, in my view, that one should not stay with a spouse because of differences within the Christian commmunity. Bernard Haring would be outraged by that view. The bvarometer of a marriage is gauged by tenderness and consideration for each other. Anything else is religious ignorance.Which I guess should be respected. But hopefully prevailed against. As you may be doing. 

Otherwise, give Raber my number. I'll straighten him out. Smile.

To answer the question about people who married only because the bride was pregnant, I think most tribunals today would rule for invalidity, although it's not a forgone conclusion unless a shotgun or some moral equivalent was involved.  Shame or some other moral equivalent of coercion militates against a couple giving free and full Content.

Oops.  That “content“ was supposed to read “consent.“

Bill M., I completely agree with you that "The barometer of a marriage is gauged by tenderness and consideration for each other."

We are worrying way too much about the sacramentality of intact, functional marriages in which the people involved had the intention of contracting a Christian marriage, whether or not they understood all the theological ramifications.

Ann - yes, "reload page".  Hope it works for you.

The truth is that leaders in the church have helped countless people in their marriages. On the other hand too many were scared because of the leadership to get out of an abusive relationsip and felt compelled not to engage  a spouse again because of that leadership. So the Kennedys et alii were not only allowed annullments and permission to remarry. But were even feted. 

Maybe it is too soon for Francis. But one day a pope should apologize to those couples who were forced to stay in terrible marriages.

A great statement of Martin Luther King was that we can not isolate ourselves in our issues. Thus a civil rights leader had to be concerned about the Vietnam War and the treatment of people in the third world. 

I Believe we all have responsibility to reduce allowed  cruelty and killing of women in places like African and India. I really think we should send all the priests from any underveloped country back to it to help the people there. There is not the need for them here,

Here's a question raised by this discussion: Deacons, sometimes priests. often do marriage counseling. If they suspect the couple wasn't married validly (perhaps because they married for frivolous reasons, or reasons of convenience), should the deacon be counseling them to stay together at all? Wouldn't living together in an invalid marriage be a sin abetted by the deacon? Oughtn't he to counsel them that they should have the marriage tested for annulment? 

If a marriage is either valid or invalid at the very moment of the vows, and cannot lose or gain validity after that point, isn't where all this is tending? Is the Church moving toward a position of better fewer, purer marriages than all these sham marriages?

Isn't the same thing true of all the sacraments? If you go to confession and lie, the absolution is invalid. If you weren't really a believer when you were baptized, the sacrament is invalid. If you receive and are knowingly not in a state of grace, the sacrament is invalid. And like that.

 

Jean asks a very interesting question - I will be interested in the responses.

I would also be interested in learning what makes a marriage "sacramental".  Is it only sacramental when it takes place in a church and is witnessed by a priest?  I was taught that the couple confer the sacrament on one another, and that the priest is only a witness.  I also believe that the "sacramentality" (is that a word?) is rooted in the love relationship between the partners, not in canon law or in a promise to be open to having children. It is partly a legal contract, but the "sacrament" is not found in the business aspects of marriage.   A marriage between two people who do not wish to have children is just as "sacramental" and holy as is one in which the couple does wish to have children. 

If the "sacrament" is rooted in the love relaionship and committment of the spouses, isn't Jim's partnership of 42 years just as much a "sacramental" relationship as my in-the-church marriage which took place the same year he and his partner committed to one another (our 42nd anniversary is coming up)?  

I have known people - many in my parents' generation and a couple in my own - whose marriages "died", but they stayed together because of convention or convenience. In my parents' generation, it was primarily fear of condemnation by both the church and the culture at large - plus few women could support themselves on their own at that time, and divorce was also very difficult to obtain. So couples lived under the same roof in a sort of cold war-cease fire relationship (if they were lucky - my parents in law fought all the time - they were miserable to be around - all the way till death did them part after 57 or so years), or simply separated without getting divorced.  A close friend of mine is in a similar situation today.  Her marriage "died" about 15 years in. She stayed married for purely practical reasons having to do with a child with special needs and the related financial considerations.. It will be 50 years next year since they married, but the "sacramental" part of it, if rooted in the love relationship (as BIll noted - tenderness is part of that) died 35 years ago.

I have to wonder about the whole idea of sacramental marriage.  The Lutherans, for example, don't see marriage as a sacrament because it wasn't instituted by Jesus, but they still think marriage is a Holy Matrimony, a union acknowledging the grace of God in a couple's lives.  It seems to me that the worth of a marriage can only be determined by the couple themselves and by God (even if God isn't conciously acknowledged as part of the equation).  I know of many happy marriages that are not even overtly Chrsitian.  The idea that only some never-married celibates in the Catholic church can recognize validity in a marriage seems hard to believe.

A couple, both 92 years of age and married 70 years went to a priest seeking a separartion and even divorce.. "i can't beleive you want to call it quits after 70 years ;so when did the trouble come to pass? the priest asks..

'we have been miserable for 65 years' they answer.... 'we just hung on and waited for the children to die'

(-:

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That's cute, Ed. A reporter goes to visit the Murphys on their 50th wedding anniversary. "Have you ever contemplated divorce," asks the reporter. "Never!" cries Mrs. Murphy. Then she whispered, "Now, murder ..."

But I'd be more interested in how many couples, if any, you nixed as unready for marriage during your years as a marriage prepper. Probably a lot if you feel that 50 percent is about right. What was the criteria on which you determined fitness for marriage? Did you discourage these couples from contemplating marriage? Did the priest decide not to marry them on your recommendation, or did he discuss things with them himself? What was said about the sacramentality of marriage? 

Two thousand couples! You must have some stories, and doubtless insights the rest of us don't have. Give!

To Bill Mazzella: I agree with much of what you said.  But I'm curious about that assertion about the Kennedys getting annulments

.  There was certainly that one famous case involving a son of RFK, after which the wife wrote a book in protest.  Very embarrassing for everybody all the way around.  But was this some sort of ongoing Kennedy “thing“?  As I recall, Ted Kennedy's petition for annulment was actually denied.

I'm no theologian, but I grew up Catholic back when we learned the nuances as a matter of course, so I think it safe to assert the Church teaches that the sacrament is part and parcel of the marital bond uniting two Christians (i.e., husband and wife).  If a valid marital bond exists, and the couple is Christian, it is a sacrament, i.e., a sign symbolizing and mysteriously participating in the bond between Christ and the Church.  According to current canon law, if a couple does not consent to this exclusive and indissoluble union for the purpose of having and educating children, the marriage is not valid and therefore not a sacrament.  As of now, the consensus is there can be no such thing as a valid marriage between two baptized people that isn't a sacrament, although some theologian have been trying to argue that a baptized person who no longer believes cannot be said to enter into a sacramental bond simply by entering a valid marriage.

 

 

Re: Jean's comment @10:03 am: in our archdiocese it is not possible to apply for an annulment before a civil divorce has been finalized; there is no way that one could pre-test for an annulment.  My husband is a deacon, and when he was in formation classes they were told that unless they were trained as therapists or marriage counselors, they were pretty much limited to listening to people and talking with them; and knowing when to refer them to qualified professionals. Acquiring a familiarity with the professional resources available in their communities was part of their training.  The priest who taught the sessions on marriage said that marriage is a canonical right.  If the conditions such as not being married to someone else, not being under any kind of coercion, going through the steps required by the diocese for marriage prep, etc. have been met, the priest can't refuse the couple marriage based on based on his subjective feelings  He went on to say that he had married some couples whose chances of having a successful marriage he considered to be pretty sketchy. He had also married a lot of people who seemed to have everything going for them. Some of the sketchy ones were still married and had overcome daunting obstacles. Others whose chances seemed better had bailed out at the first sign of a problem.  Go figure.  There is what one would call a preferential presumption of validity if the objective requirements have been met.  A deacon would not be counseling anyone to leave a marriage because it "might" not be valid. Things such as abuse, crime, substance abuse, etc. are of course another story.  I believe it is possible to be overly scrupulous over the validity of sacraments; why not just assume they are valid unless proven otherwise?

" Is it only sacramental when it takes place in a church and is witnessed by a priest?"

Anne --

in the very olden days when the Cajuns in remote bayou land might no  see priest for a year or more, the Church permitted couples to marry, but there had to be witnesses and a distinctive ceremony that was clearly meant to say "We're getting married".  The ceremony used there was called "jumping over the broomstick". The couple would join hands and jump over a broomstick on the ground as the sign which bound themselves in marriage.  Theses days philosophers call jumping over the brookstick a "performative utterance".  That is, it not only says something it does something:  it says "we are marrying" and the very act seals the agreement.

That the ritual was such an odd one actually makes very good sense -- you don't want couples stumbling into an apparent committment by accident.  The very weirdness no doubt accounts for the weird rituals of marriage ceremonies throughout the world.  

At any rate, the Church here allowed those couples to contract a valid marriage without a priest being an official witness.

Beverly, I'm not a theologian, either. Can a marriage be valid but not sacramental? Is this why the Church accepts Christian and civil marriages of converts?

Katherine, I guess assuming marriages are valid unless proven otherwise is a prudent course of action; anything else might seem rather intrusive--even inquisitorial. But the notion that about half of all marriages are invalid ... well, that should be cause for concern and response.

The response would depend on what the Church is concerned about. If it's concerned that 50 percent of people ought not to be married to each other, which makes the sacrament a sham half the time, one response should be to tighten up criteria for marriage prep and to bar some couples from marriage. Another response could be to require a couple to live in a civil marriage for five years, the period during which most marriages break up, before allowing the couple to go through the sacramental form. Though it strikes me that these measures might break other canon laws.

If, on the other hand, the Church is concerned about preserving marriages, it could make counseling such as Retrouvaille more readily available and in a format that would accommodate couples in trouble. By the time people get to Retrouvaille, many of them are already at the end of their tether. Telling them they have to wait six months before the next Retrouvaille is offered in their area (or to drive hours away for the earliest session), and then requiring them to rearrange work schedules and hire baby sitters may be more than they feel they can take.

I have to say just hearing a bishop and a veteran marriage prepper like Ed say that half of all marriages are likely invalid must be deeply discouraging to folks who are struggling to keep it together. What's the point of trying if the marriage doesn't exist anyway.

We did the prep for about 25 couples per 'tranch' in San Francisco where the average age was high. Only a very few were under 25. well educated and not very Catholic. about a third were mixed marriages'. It was done in 4 evenings or a weekend Engaged Encounter.  We learned from doing Retrouvaille in the 80s that the prep time was not to engage in happy talk and my wife and I  used a good cop=bad cop approach. [guess who was bad cop?] We started out saying that the 'happy talk' was to be given by the catter or best man toasting.

We only intervened a few times when we saw a truly disfunctional couple. 9one caught physically fighting in the church parking lot after a session.   We also had couples report us to their priest but because of the couples'  religious ignorance we were never had clerical admonishment.

we were thanked by some individuals  who never went thru with the wedding..

Our bettersession is dividing couples into groups of 5 and put the question 'Part of Christian marriage is to pass on the Faith to your children.....  so how are you going to do that.'

When the anwser was sometimes 'we will let the nuns do it' we would say there are no more nuns doing that anymore''

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Ed, your experiences would make fascinating article or book-length reading! It would also be interesting to know how some of your former "students" used what they were learned from your "wake up and die right" realism. 

(Total side point on semantics: I'm always interested when people talk about others who are "not very Catholic." It implies that there are degrees of Catholicity. I prefer the more black-and-white "good" and "bad" Catholic. I know this irritates others however.)

Jean, I agree with you that "By the time people get to Retrouvaille, many of them are already at the end of their tether."  From what I have heard, Retrouvaille is a good program.  But in most areas it is only available a couple times of year, if that.  I have suggested it to a few people who were venting about their marital problems to me.  But no one has ever taken me up on it.  One lady said, "I'm not even sure I care enough any more to try something like that." Another said, "It's four months away, by that time we'll either cure ourselves, or you'll read about it in the divorce filings."  One couple, actually the one who said she didn't know if she cared enough to try, went to a financial counselor, who helped them get their finances on track. When they were no longer staring bankruptcy in the face they were able to work out their other issues. I realize that to put on something like Retrouvaille there has to be presenters, a venue, and enough people signed up to cover expenses; so it probably can't happen more often. But something is needed to help couples in crisis more immediately.  Maybe parishes could subsidize the cost of a private counselor, or have a therapist on retainer in order to help couples who couldn't afford the full fee (which tends to be pretty high). There is also the philosophy of the therapists to be considered; you would hope to have one who sees a marriage as something worth saving.  I would much rather have the Church try to help people stay married, than to just say, "The few, the pure, the strong" and only marry people who are already saints.

I think the basic problem is the strange way a marriage becomes a sacrament. a) Take two baptized people. It doesn't matter whether they accepted their baptism or how deeply they know or live their faith. b) Consciously exchange their vow. c) Have sexual relations. d) An invisible bond suddenly appears that cannot be broken without the complicated anulment process, because it is a symbol of the love between Christ and his church. e) It does not matter whether the couple ever manages to be that symbol. Violence, infidelity, or whatever cannot touch that bond, which is visible only in the eyes of the canonists and metaphysicians who concocted the theory.

Solemn nonsense.