Turning the innocent into material adulterers

March 5, 2013 § 34 Comments

It is never acceptable to confuse a “subjective” error about moral good with the “objective” truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience. It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good. – Veritatis Splendour

In Catholic moral theology we distinguish between what is formal (that is, intended) and what is material (unintended).

Most of us are probably material heretics: that is, we believe certain things to be true which are in conflict with sound doctrine. We’ve all experienced that “aha!” moment when we understand a doctrine and realize that we had it wrong before. When we had it wrong, we were material heretics: we didn’t intend to dissent from sound doctrine, and as soon as we realized our error we corrected it. But the ideas we had held to be true were in fact in conflict with sound doctrine.

One of the reasons that the annulment process should be very rigorous, and should err very strongly on the side of declining to invalidate a marriage, is that if the tribunal makes a mistake – and as a juridical institution it is certainly liable to do so – the resulting annulment and ‘remarriage’ turns the parties into material adulterers. This is a gross injustice against everyone involved, and most especially against any “new” spouse not previously married.

§ 34 Responses to Turning the innocent into material adulterers

  • GKChesterton says:

    A thousand times amen. Which is one of the reasons, even though it is hurtful, I wish “bastard” would make a resurgence. If an annulment is granted to a fruitful relationship then all of the offspring are bastards. Good job parents!

  • tz says:

    The problem with “Bastard” is that it harms someone other than those responsible for the evil. We need to instead term the original couple “fornicators” or something worse, at least the one who initiated the breakup.

    Note also that it only takes one of the two for the defect, so even in this case there is only one guilty party not two. I don’t suppose the tribunals declare which or both were responsible for the lack of the marriage being valid.

  • katmandutu says:

    .”If an annulment is granted to a fruitful relationship then all of the offspring are bastards”

    This is not the case GKC.

    An annulment granted because a couple were forced or coerced to marry as the woman was pregnant (shotgun wedding) does not make the offspring a bastard. That is a social construct. Not a Catholic one. The church does not consider the child to be a bastard.

    An annulment does not change the civil nature of the marriage. The legitimacy of children, as well as rights to property, debts and other civil matters are unchanged by a degree of nullity.

    I know of one such case.The girl fell pregnant at 18. The guy did not want to marry her.. He was ONLY 18 as well. Both families put pressure on the couple to “Do the right thing” and marry

    It ended in tears. When he was older the guy sought and obtained an annulment from the Catholic Church.

    The child from that marriage was not deemed to be a bastard by the Church.This is a common misconception.

  • Zippy says:

    Right Kat, “bastard” is/was a civil category, and good riddance to it. It isn’t the child’s fault.

  • katmandutu says:

    ” I don’t suppose the tribunals declare which or both were responsible for the lack of the marriage being valid”

    My first marriage .was annulled, and yes the reason was clearly stated.

  • GKChesteron says:

    What kind of fantasy world are you people living in? It was _not_ a purely civil category. It had very real ecclesiastical penalties.

    “A man who was not legitimate could not be ordained without a dispensation. What did the English bishops in this case? It seems hardly doubtful that they continued to administer that canonical and, if we please to so cal it, Roman rule which the English barons had refused…unless then these English canonists mislead us, the old ecclesiastical rule was enforced in England until the Reformation or some yet later time. And here it may not be impertinent to ask whether the law which excluded bastards from orders has ever been definitely repealed, and whether our English bishops are actually enforcing it.” – Roman Canon Law in the Church of England: Six Essays, Fredrick William Maitland (1898)

    Lest we forget the less than perfect offspring Ishmael faced the same fate. His lesser birth was no fault of his own, and a good deal higher than a formal bastard, but he likewise was excluded from the promise which was a very formal ecclesiastical penalty with zero right of appeal. In fact while I can’t find a reference right now I have read theorists from the medieval period who related the two cases.

    God is not nice. He never has been. He is Loving and he is Just though. Both in combination have a tendency to hurt greatly even if the net outcome is good.

    Or hey, you could just go here:
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P43.HTM

    Your gloss also invalidates sacramental theology. Sacraments confer grace to the participants of the sacrament. In the case of matrimony that includes the _progeny_ of the marriage (for which the rite specifically asks for blessings). Now the most common theme, and one that does agree theologically, in the various church laws is that bastards who have parents that then marry receive some sort of blessing and are therefore legitimized.

  • Zippy says:

    GKC:
    I should have said “juridical” not “civil”, because it used to be a category in administrative Church law also. It isn’t anymore, and good riddance.

    Attempting to elevate “bastard” to a sacramental state would I believe be heretical.

  • langobard says:

    Perhaps we’d rather say ‘illegitimate’ than ‘bastard’ to remove the slur, but I don’t see how a child of two individuals who were not married is anything other than an illegitimate child. Can someone link me to the argument to the contrary?

  • Zippy says:

    langobard:
    Nobody is denying the existence of illegitimate children.

    At issue is whether it is a state with specific juridical consequences in the Church. (Right now, under current Church administrative law, it isn’t). There was also a proposal that it is some sort of (anti?) sacramental state. I think that is probably heresy.

  • GKChesteron says:

    Are you saying no grace is conferred by the matrimony to any individual other than the two being married? How would it be heretical?

  • GKChesteron says:

    And besides my questions, the idea that “bastardy is a social construct” which is not recognized by Scripture or the Church per Kat is completely and absolutely wrong. Care of St. Paul: “But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” Hebrews 12:8 KJV. In order for that verse to have meaning there is some at least tacit admission that bastardy is a bad thing.

  • Zippy says:

    GKC:
    Gods grace abounds. We are bound by the sacraments, as the ordinary means He has ordained of receiving His grace.

    He is not bound, and can do whatever extraordinary thing He chooses (though for us to presume that He will do so for us, refusing the grace He offers normatively through the sacraments, would be … well, it is difficult to even state how ludicrous, selfish, hubristic, and presumptuous that would be).

    Goods and evils (both material and spiritual) possessed by parents often have consequences for their children.

    But you seem to be suggesting a kind of eighth sacrament, or an anti-sacrament, as something inhering in children born to unmarried parents, like a kind of anti-baptism or spiritual curse. If that is what you are suggesting, then yes, that would definitely be heresy.

  • Zippy says:

    GKC:
    If you are interpreting Kat to have said that the term “bastard” literally has no meaning whatsoever, you are pulling meaning from her words that I don’t see.

    Clearly it is a fact about some peoples’ history that they were born of unmarried parents. But so what? That isn’t their fault.

    I take St. Paul to be saying that the unrepentant are rejecting God’s adoptive parentage. I have no idea what that has to do with whether or not “bastard” is a quasi-sacramental state implying some sort of spiritual curse.

    As an aside, it might be interesting to return to the actual subject, since the post isn’t even slightly about a proposal that the intrinsic spiritual state of illegitimate children is something ontologically distinct from the spiritual state of legitimate children.

  • GKChesteron says:

    Goods and evils (both material and spiritual) possessed by parents often have consequences for their children.

    Indeed God can bless and curse through long sweeps of history. Sinning can result in long term negative affects. These negative effects can last generations. For example the good little children of Edom likely weren’t to blame for the fact that there aren’t a bunch of Edomites around anymore. Same for the paltry lot of Samaritans.

    Clearly it is a fact about some peoples’ history that they were born of unmarried parents. But so what? That isn’t their fault.

    Is it the fault of a man with same sex attraction that he has it and is led towards sin? Whether or not it is “his fault” has little or nothing to do with it.

    I take St. Paul to be saying that the unrepentant are rejecting God’s adoptive parentage. I have no idea what that has to do with whether or not “bastard” is a quasi-sacramental state implying some sort of spiritual curse.

    If he had meant that one wonders why he didn’t say it. It can be just as concise, “you reject your adoption,” works from what I can piece together of my near non-existent Greek. He however doesn’t. Like St. Paul is wont to do in many cases he calls his opponents some truly mean names (he follows Jesus’ pattern here). Mean names that some above seem to want to strike from the record. Being a bastard is a bad thing. It means something terrible happened. It means a mortal sin has taken place. God makes a blessing out of such things as he always does, but that doesn’t change the fact that the child bears a negative mark from his parents actions.

    In fact your comments about bastards along with Kat’s seem to imply St. Paul was wrong. _If_ being a bastard should not be seen as some sort of evil thing then St. Paul commits some kind of calumny here. After all he’s attributing an unjust comment to these quasi-Christians. Not only that he perpetuates hate mongering of all such falsely called bastards. Bastard doesn’t mean just “illegitimate”. It means “bastard” (if I am allowed at least one tautology).

    As an aside, it might be interesting to return to the actual subject

    It has everything to do with the OP. You just don’t follow the ripple effect out. Material adulterers have a chance of producing bastards. Bastards have a high statistical tendency to be unsound children (from fatherless boys to children of step-households such children fair poorly even if they aren’t always failures). Unsound children tend to repeat the mistakes of their progenitors. Death through death.

    Failure to rule correctly on one marriage doesn’t just potentially damn the couple. It potentially damns generations. The presumption of validity is therefore _essential_. Which is why sin is always likened to a corrupting/spreading agent in Scripture. It is the leaven that allows sin to enter through one man. The Israelites are required to keep social purity because if they don’t they will quite literally be infected.

    God offers correctives for this. Marriages as sacraments bless and remove the weight of sin. This is one of the reasons I think the Church has historically believed that bastards cease being such (as if by magic) when their parents marry. A child that knows he was not the rift of a marriage but the impetus for one is likely to do much better than the opposite and we now have budding flower of civilization (which as a total aside is why “manning up” is as important at some level as “MGTOW” is bad).

  • Zippy says:

    GKC:
    If all you are saying is that having children out of wedlock harms the children, well, sure. But why would we want to be judgmental bastards about it toward the kids who are the ones harmed?

  • GKChesteron says:

    For the same reason calling something a spade is always helpful. Shaming language works; against pretty much everyone. A mother who has a shamed child is less likely to engage in behavior that produces more and is more likely to act to legitimize her offspring. A bastard who is indifferent to his lot in life is more likely to repeat the creation of bastards. After all no one cares.

    There is a pastoral need for the _specific_ case. If John the Bastard is a genuinely good guy and tries hard then I should go out of my way to offer social protection. However, the abstract case is where the full weight of social censure should fall. Not mentioning how bad bastards are and how dangerous they are to us is like not mentioning the Holocaust in the hope that by being silent we make things better.

    God when he treated with Israel didn’t hold back and neither should we. We shouldn’t because holding back actually harms and does not love those that we should care most for. We have to hold this in tension in the pastoral _specific_ case with our injunction to not harm a bruised reed. Remember Augustine’s and Lewis’ surgeon and act like his assistant.

    You don’t get fewer bastards by not calling them out. And if you don’t call out the possibility of creating them you get priests that blithely do so through the annulment process.

  • Zippy says:

    OK. I think shaming children for the sins of their parents is a despicable act of despicable people, and I’ll have no part in it.

  • katmandutu says:

    “and I’ll have no part in it.”

    Me either!

    “If you are interpreting Kat to have said that the term “bastard” literally has no meaning whatsoever, you are pulling meaning from her words that I don’t see.

    Clearly it is a fact about some peoples’ history that they were born of unmarried parents. But so what? That isn’t their fault”

    Thankyou Zippy.

    Innocent children born out of wedlock have become saints.
    Illegitimacy is no barrier to sainthood.

    St Louise de Marillac was born out of wedlock.. Never knew her mother.

    http://www.miraculousmedalchurch.org/SaintLouisedeMarillac.htm

    St Martin de Porres, too, was another illegitimate child.

    http://www.martindeporres.org/about.htm

    God does not shame innocent children. God is (also) a loving and caring Father. We are ALL God’s children. And he wants us to love him in return.We do this by keeping his commandments. Loving him above all else, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

    The Old Testament was superseded by the New Testament.. Christ came to set the record straight. Many things such as divorce were allowed, back then in the time of the O.T

  • langobard says:

    Ah I see. I thought I read someone denying that children born in marriages that did not exist were illegitimate at all.

    I agree that the fact of having been born illegitimate should have no legal consequences for the individual (secular or canonical). I would be hesitant to condemn outright laws that took note of it in very different ages, but I think we can safely say that there would be no purpose served by any such law in our time. Judging men on their merits is a good thing.

  • outis says:

    Zippy: “OK. I think shaming children for the sins of their parents is a despicable act of despicable people, and I’ll have no part in it.”

    Ezekiel 18:1-3: “The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.”

    Thank you, Zippy. I was sort of horrified that a Christian — qua Christian — could argue for the practice of shaming illegitimate children, and relieved to read your responses to that argument. Actually, the entire discussion is irrelevant to the original post, since canon 1137, which was linked by GKC (how I wish he’d adopt another pseudonym), stipulates that children of “putative” (as defined in canon 1061, section 3) marriages are to be regarded as “legitimate.”

    It’s a shame that the comment thread started this way. I agree entirely with the original post.

  • Zippy says:

    Kat:
    St Martin de Porres, too, was another illegitimate child.

    One of my favorite saints. Or perhaps I should say that he has favored me.

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  • Tarl says:

    For the same reason calling something a spade is always helpful. Shaming language works; against pretty much everyone. A mother who has a shamed child is less likely to engage in behavior that produces more and is more likely to act to legitimize her offspring. A bastard who is indifferent to his lot in life is more likely to repeat the creation of bastards. After all no one cares.

    Bingo. Exactly right.

    I think shaming children for the sins of their parents is a despicable act of despicable people, and I’ll have no part in it.

    What then of God Himself, who shames all the children of Adam for the sins of Adam?

    What then of the Popes who repeatedly affirmed the canon law that illegitimate children should not be ordained? Do you despise every Pope who upheld this law for 1000 years?

  • Zippy says:

    Tarl:
    What then of God Himself, who shames all the children of Adam for the sins of Adam?

    It is always edifying to have commenters who believe they are just like God, as the serpent promised Eve.

    What then of the Popes who repeatedly affirmed the canon law that illegitimate children should not be ordained? Do you despise every Pope who upheld this law for 1000 years?

    An administrative law requiring additional scrutiny and a dispensation, or even outright prohibition based on stereotypical tendencies, isn’t the same thing as shaming individuals. Though modern liberals can’t tell the difference.

  • Vanessa says:

    Illegitimate children are painfully aware of being illegitimate, I think. The absence of a father might tip them off.

  • Morticia says:

    I figured it out when I was 7 years old and the 2nd grade teacher told us to make Fathers Day cards.

  • Vanessa says:

    Yes, at some point they become socially aware and realize what is missing from their life. Children aren’t stupid or oblivious.

    Even my rather sheltered son came home last week and said, “Mom, did you know that there are actually people who don’t believe in God? Isn’t that weird?” There goes childhood.

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  • […] evidence of defective consent at the time of the wedding. The loose way things are run now makes material adulterers out of some unknown number of poor souls based on intrinsically faulty, question-begging appeals to […]

  • […] of sacramental marriage commits sacrilege, fails to actually marry, and instead creates a state of ongoing moral atrocity from which recovery becomes more difficult with each passing […]

  • […] and the people they attempt to “marry” in a “second marriage” – into adulterers. Sacramental “deportation” from a “second marriage” isn’t something […]

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  • […] The same kind of reasoning applies to declarations of nullity, it seems to me.  A wrong declaration of nullity  turns the parties into material adulterers. […]

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