Last week I posted a reply to Fr. Gerald E. Murray’s condemnation of Cathleen Kaveny and Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., for their remarks at a recent conference on Amoris laetitia. Yesterday Edward Peters came to Murray’s defense in a blog post titled “Boudway vs. Murray is not even close.” Peters and Murray are both canon lawyers, and Peters is indignant that I, who am not a canon lawyer, presumed to challenge Murray on a point of canon law: “The nonchalance with which some non-canonists try to argue canon law with canon lawyers these days verges on the remarkable. But, folks, these aren’t fair fights; they are scarcely even interesting.” It’s usually a bad sign when someone begins his argument by pointing out his opponent’s lack of credentials. If the argument is good, pulling rank adds nothing to it. And if it isn’t good, pulling rank does not make it better. So it is in this case.
Peters’s main concern is to offer a helpful point of information. He points out that, contrary what I had written, “the Catholic Church does not teach that ‘all valid marriages are indissoluble.’” Instead, the Church teaches that some indissoluble marriage cannot be dissolved while others can be. Here’s how Peters explains it.
She [the Church] teaches, more precisely than Boudway grasps, that all valid marriages are ‘intrinsically indissoluble’ (not a happy adjective, but one that trained canonists understand in this context) meaning that the parties to a valid marriage (be it natural, merely sacramental, or sacramental and consummated) cannot dissolve it. There are no exceptions to the intrinsic indissolubility of marriage. None.
The notion of intrinsic indissolubility leaves open the possibility, however, that an ‘extrinsic’ power might, might, under certain, unusual-to-rare, circumstances be able to dissolve a valid marriage (say by ‘Petrine privilege’ with regard to non-sacramental marriage between a baptized and a non-baptized party); that a subsequent marriage might dissolve a non-sacramental marriage between two non-baptized persons (the Pauline Privilege); or even that a sacramental but non-consummated marriage could be dissolved by papal act. But these cases are not “exceptions” to some ‘rule’ whereby all valid marriages are supposedly ‘extrinsically’ indissoluble because such a rule does not exist.
To summarize: All valid marriages are intrinsically indissoluble, but not all intrinsically indissoluble marriages are also extrinsically indissoluble, and only marriages that are both are absolutely indissoluble, whereas marriages that are intrinsically but not extrinsically indissoluble may be dissoluble in “unusual-to-rare” cases. Got that?