Tightening the thumbscrews of kindness

March 21, 2014 § 23 Comments

In my previous post I made the contention that Cardinal Kasper’s proposed ‘pastoral exception’ (hereafter “PE”) – the proposal that the Church, as a disciplinary matter, should endorse reception of Holy Communion by (some but not all) Catholics who are engaging in regular sexual relations with someone other than their valid spouse – is cruelty, not kindness.

(I’ll reiterate that what is proposed is that the Church should endorse some Catholics – those on a special list meeting certain criteria, I suppose – both engaging in regular sexual relations with someone other than their valid spouse and receiving Communion.  Nobody is required to show ID and walk through a naked body scanner before reception of the Eucharist).

I might have left the impression that I think that adopting the PE would be cruel and vicious toward some people but merciful toward others, and I would like to correct that (possible) false impression.  Adopting the PE would be cruel and vicious toward literally everyone.

It is obvious that the PE would be cruel and vicious toward Catholics who are in irregular situations and are putting forth the effort to try to do what is right.  This is not merely theoretical.  Implementing this proposal would kick the most vulnerable of penitents — those who are leaning heavily on the Sacraments and the unchanging doctrine of the Church to remain continent in the face of overwhelming pressure to do otherwise — right where it hurts.  The PE would completely undermine all of the support that they have.  These are real people we are talking about, not policy abstractions, and they are among the most spiritually vulnerable of the Christian faithful.

It is also obvious that this would be cruel and vicious toward any Catholics who are “on the fence” and depend on the steadfastness of the Church in order to choose what is right.  This is true even of those on the fence who ‘break bad’, for many reasons.  One reason is that it leaves them with the false impression that morality is a matter of arbitrary rules, as opposed to a calling to do what is good and loving for themselves and others.  Another is that it leaves them with no concrete picture of the road home.

Another group of people toward whom this is cruel and vicious is those who are ignorant; and really, the whole spectrum from those who are invincibly ignorant to those who willfully reject sound doctrine.  These fall into many subcategories.  For example, Catholics who are ignorant and not yet married are presented, through praxis, with ideas about marriage (and in particular indissolubility) that are false and misleading — possibly to the point where, when they attempt “marriage,” it will be invalid.

It would be easy to get lost in the weeds of casuistry by looking at particular kinds of cases here, but one consideration overwhelms all others: that the only cure for ignorance is truth, and that the longer ignorance (or willful rejection of the truth) persists the deeper into the trap of sin people fall.  Every ‘irregular’ union has a beginning and an ending (in death if not before); and the longer it goes on the more entangled and difficult it becomes for the persons involved.  Even someone who stumbled into a difficult situation out of invincible ignorance is better off knowing the truth, and knowing it sooner rather than later; because only the truth can set you free.  The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are a unity.  Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Objectively evil behaviors are chosen because of defects of knowledge and/or defects of will.  But even in those cases where the defects are of knowledge, the person is better off coming to know the truth – the sooner the better, in every sense of the word “better” – rather than remaining enslaved to ignorance.

Then there are those Catholics who are not involved in irregular relationships themselves but are looking on and possibly adopting various ‘pastoral’ positions.  The PE is cruel and vicious toward them too, again for a whole variety of reasons.  Just one is that it encourages an egotism-of-kindness, the attitude that we are good people because we hide sometimes painful truths from “those people” who are so much lesser than we are and cannot handle the fullness of truth.  It encourages the same sort of self-centered attitude of “kindness” that is involved in endorsing euthanasia: the idea that if I, hypothetically, were suffering or radically disabled I would desire the “kindness” of death for myself, administered by a “merciful” murderer at the cost of his own soul.

Finally, we come to non-Catholics.  The PE is manifestly vicious and cruel toward them, because it encourages false ideas about the Faith through praxis.  The ramifications of this deception are (like all deceptions) diverse.  But the PE is perhaps most acutely cruel toward those who are drawn to the Faith, because it is a bait and switch. Evangelism and ecumenism are real goods, but it is not kind to deliberately cultivate false beliefs in people as a way of – supposedly – drawing them to Christ, as if Christ were Pepsi to mohammedan Coke.

§ 23 Responses to Tightening the thumbscrews of kindness

  • jf12 says:

    In addition to adulterers being freely Communicated, there is the other matter of abortionists.
    Because dereliction of duty is inexcusable, indeed excommunicable under common circumstance, the fact that some Catholics pretend ignorance that birth control causes abortion is inexcusable. We all know every woman on the Pill, every enabling husband, and every enabling priest, are all automatically excommunicated. We *know*.

    But do we *know* that divorced and remarried Catholics “are engaging in regular sexual relations”? How do we know?

  • Zippy says:

    As I point out in the OP, what we know or don’t know doesn’t matter because it is not enforced or enforceable anyway. The only real question on the table is what the Church will endorse as open practice.

    This is similar to the odd inversion of the notion of “privacy” in the modern liberal order, which isn’t actually about privacy at all. Privacy is inherently “in the closet” already, by its very nature. What “privacy” has become about is its opposite, that is, publicity: it is about society (in this case the Church) making a (proposed) policy of protecting public (that is, decidedly non-private) acts and expression.

    A couple in an ‘irregular’ relationship can already receive Communion, not only in the sense of getting past the rigorous security of the Communion line (hah!) but with the full approval and endorsement of the Church — simply by refraining from sex with not-one’s-spouse, confessing mortal sins beforehand in the sacrament of penance, etc.

    None of these things are ‘verifiable’ or enforceable, of course, by anyone other than God. So it isn’t really a question of what is allowed. It is a question of what is endorsed and underwritten.

  • jf12 says:

    “A couple in an ‘irregular’ relationship can already receive Communion, not only in the sense of getting past the rigorous security of the Communion line (hah!) but with the full approval and endorsement of the Church — simply by refraining from sex with not-one’s-spouse, confessing mortal sins beforehand in the sacrament of penance, etc.”

    This is what I meant “How do we know?”; you unpack better than I do. By doling out Communion to a couple *known* to be in an irregular relationship, the Church is not only passively tacitly endorsing them, but actively propagating the deception that the Church *knows* them to have been reconciled through Penance. Because otherwise the Church is traveling la via ignorosa as the royal road to forgiveness, leaning on the broken reed of trusting in the power of weakness.

    It’s the same reasoning used by a woman (or couple) using abortive contraception.

  • Karl says:

    Your post is way too long for my present attention span but I remain a strugglingly practicing Catholic because some of our children hold me accountable for their remaing Catholic because in the face of the decades of public, scandalous support for my wife’s more than to decades of public flaunting adultery I have struggled to observe our vows.

    I will refrain from saying what I truly think of Pope Francis but I would love to see him face to face to tell him personally……

    The Catholic Church will reap what it sews. Thanks be to God.

    BTW I am still waiting to hear from the second instance tribunal at Dunwoodie, NY regarding my darling’s second annulment petition, ten years after the twelve year marathon battle I waged, and won, eleven years after her first petition in 1991, with the ink still wet on our no fault divorce decree. If I lose this one I have demanded a PAPAL HEARING IN PERSON or I walk from the process.

    This is outrageously scandalous and still people think I would lie to misrepresent what I have experienced and because I have no degree in Canon Law or wear a Roman Collar that my experiences are exceedingly rare or simply misinterpreted.

  • […] Catholic has written an important piece explaining why the “pastoral exception” of communion for the divorced and remarried, as […]

  • Dad of 10 says:

    Ah, Karl, my Friend…please know you are still in my prayers as you continue in your defense of your marriage. God will certainly reward you, if not on earth then most certainly at your Judgement. Remember that God is Faithful and won’t permit you to be tempted beyond your strength, as it is written…I think you have been a worthy example of that. Courage!, My Friend…you are living your vocation, especially as regards your children. A better example you could not be giving.

  • Chris says:

    Karl, that is another circle of the divorce hell that I have not considered. I hope you don’t mind that this Prod had a quick prayer for you. Being on the recieving end of a divorce is diffiult enough on my side of the Tiber, without he causistist (is that a word?) annulling the marriage.
    Your witness to your children speaks volumes about your character.

    On the OP, Zippy, it seems to me that the progressive / liberals always go for the hard cases — the extreme ones — to promote that which is against morality. This misses the point — for example you can generally control pain (there is a medical specailty that does this — it is needed in surgery, for instance). But the pain has to be unremitting to make their case.

    In the same manner, the extremists try to find the most hard and biological issues They forget that we forbid cousins marrying, or underage, or many other things for good and proper reasons. And they also forget the most common violation is serial monagamy — living in sin, at times for years — because most of us do pair bond, and most of us are heterosexual.

    It is the post modern silence on these moral issues that worries me. And, Karl, it is not merely Francis, the Bishop of Rome, and not merely the Roman Church where there are problems.

  • Mike T says:

    I will refrain from saying what I truly think of Pope Francis but I would love to see him face to face to tell him personally……

    A lot of what he’s done reminds me of the “seeker sensitive” movement among evangelical churches. Many of his comments to the press seem designed to take attention off of hard teachings to bring in “the seekers” and then keep them there. The end result is a church that is filled with “believers” who only believe in the crudest and simplest form of Christianity–raw belief in Jesus Christ and whatever doesn’t offend them beyond that. That’s not really doing anyone a service. It’s like building an army that is composed heavily of slaves captured from a foreign people and wondering why they lack the will to fight.

  • Zippy says:


    …that my experiences are exceedingly rare or simply misinterpreted.

    My completely uninformed guess is that the main things that are rare about your experiences are related to your personal qualities, and in particular your cussed stubborn refusal to just capitulate (and I mean that in a good way). Most people aren’t that strong and will ultimately just cave and jump back into a life of sin themselves.

  • Karl says:

    I am not strong, but I am stubborn and I am stuck with the understanding that our vows were for a lifetime. The strong ones are those who have had their vows “negated” by nullity, yet who persist
    in fidelity in the face of that. These are living saints.

    I am grateful for any prayers as my faith has always been perilous.

    I am simply in disbelief that it is not obvious that accomodation undermines fidelity, which undermines marriage. This results in an anything goes view of relationships and will destroy civilization as it has come to develop, thus far. It is discipline and practice that breeds success. Cushioning failure reinforces mediocrity. It is not love at all to undermine marriage through annulments, even if they are valid. Nor do I think Iit is rational to think those who participated in invalid marriages have learned anything. It would be MORE rational for those folks, who have children and who claim to be Catholic, to want to choose, for the good of those children, not only to not want to sleep with someone else but to want to work things out with the other. parent of their children…..that IS LOVE…..putting the good of the most innocent over one’s libido!!

    What the HELL are all these people thinking about? AND, if there is infidelity which results in a child from an affair, why should the CHURCH encourage living as brother and sister when the SPOUSES should be working to provide a home for THAT child with THEIR family, not a new one…..and then it is ok for the kids from the first family to be forced into another?

    What the HELL are the hierarchy thinking? WHAT was Ratzinger thinking with his letter of 1994 when he totally undermined family life with his scandalous support of living as brother and sister? And why is John Paul going to become a saint when he supported it?

    And why does NO ONE EVER DISCUSS the limited nature of this debacle in its application? I HAVE NEVER ONCE HEARD A SCHOLARLY, DISCIPLINED PRESENTATION OF IT YET EVERY TOM, DICK, HARRY AND TERESA have heard of living as brother and sister butactualy know, diddlysquat, about it and this abomination is used pastorally to justify damn near every cohabitation outside of a valid marriage, as it totally guts and undermines the valid marriage and scandalizes everyone…ESPECIALLY THE KIDS OF THE VALID MARRIAGE!

    Sorry, Z, I just got on a roll.

    These bishops and clergy are trying to “control” an inferno of their own making. SORRY, I have to say it. Pope Francis is either an idiot or a very, very evil man. It is one or the other. How much I want to meet him so that if he did not greet me on his knees, with tears in his eyes, his clothes rented and his profound apology and promise to resign the Papacy immediately burning his lips to be said, I could ask him which one he is?


  • Novaseeker says:

    On Francis, I have two perspectives (as an Orthodox, mind you).

    The first is that it is early days — he needs to be observed more before we can really understand what his pontificate will be about.

    The second is that he clearly has a huge emphasis, so far, on trying to reach out to, to evangelize, disaffected Catholics. I do not think he is simple (or an idiot, for that matter). I also don’t think this is a cynical “damage control” exercise — I don’t sense that in his manner or approach. He is genuinely trying to engage the disaffected in a way that will at least make them consider returning to the church. The stuff about divorce fits into this, as does the recent talk about studying civil unions, the stuff he has said about gay people and so on. He’s actually quite careful never to undermine the actual teaching of the church on any of these issues, but he also (from where I am sitting) words things deliberately in a certain way as to convey the notion that the concerns of the disaffected are being taken seriously — which I think he, in turn, hopes will build more credibility of the church in the eyes of the disaffected.

    It’s a bit of a gamble, really — it’s not clear that the disaffected will be satisfied with a change in tone rather than a change in substance (which Francis has never indicated he is inclined to do). But I suspect he sees the downside risk as being small in the sense that if the gesture were not made, the disaffected would still remain alienated from/by the church, and so any incremental evangelistic “gain” is a positive, even if a majority of the disaffected remains so.

    I think the discussion about the PE has to be seen in this broader context. I honestly doubt Francis is on the verge of making any major changes — certainly not in doctrine, but also not in praxis. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s where he’s going with this. I think he is more focused on generating the impression that the church is approaching the concerns of the disaffected (such as Catholics like these) with seriousness and compassion — even if it ultimately decides not to change the current praxis (which, as Zippy notes, is primarily a formal issue, as the Catholics do not police the chalice — they couldn’t as a practical matter even if they wanted to do so given the size of the parishes in general).

  • Karl says:

    Francis has deliberately and calleously insulted the faithfulness of all abandoned spouses. It is WE who are disaffected. It is our spouses who are sleeping around. WE are the ones who the Catholic Church has abandoned. Only an idiot or an evil man condones what happens to us and he has not mentioned, not once that I have heard, the need for our spouses to do justice and to restore what they have destroyed. No he comforts people actively engaged and completely unrepentant, as they filet, alive, their spouses.

    Francis, if he was raised properly or if he was truly a man, would have, long ago, seen the harm he has been about, for what appears to be most of his priesthood. But he does not seem to care.

    He presumes, to his and my peril, evidently, that my soul is securely in Gods hands. He could not be more mistaken!

    No, he must be an idiot, not evil.

  • […] Francis has deliberately and calleously insulted the faithfulness of all abandoned spouses. It is WE who are disaffected. It is our spouses who are sleeping around. WE are the ones who the Catholic Church has abandoned. Only an idiot or an evil man condones what happens to us and he has not mentioned, not once that I have heard, the need for our spouses to do justice and to restore what they have destroyed. No he comforts people actively engaged and completely unrepentant, as they filet, alive, their spouses. […]

  • Mike T says:

    As I said, “seeker sensitive.” The Pope should only look at the state of those Protestant churches to realize what it means to be anything like a “seeker sensitive” church. Those disaffected by the hard teachings are unfortunately likely to already be well outside of God’s graces and no baptism or formal proclamation of faith in the past is sufficient to overcome that.

  • Zippy says:

    Like Novaseeker I think it is clearly too soon to evaluate Pope Francis, and there are certainly multiple possible interpretations at present. I’m still fond of “we are all Argentinians now” among the speculations. (I know that if, God forbid, I were Pope, I would suffer from first world and uniquely American provincialisms).

    Cardinal Kasper and the German bishops have made it clear where they stand, however.

  • Blogmaster says:

    I don’t quite understand how anyone who has been following the trajectory of modernist hobby-horses in the Church since the 1970s, and who has read and studied the language of Pope Francis, can believe that he isn’t a dangerous and open enemy of Christian marriage. That he is merely indifferent or ambivalent, and not an enemy, seems wholly implausible at this point. He has certainly launched an open attack on the traditional presumption of validity, the importance of which cannot be overstated. Without the presumption of validity there is no legal security for any marriage in today’s climate. Every Christian marriage is threatened. My marriage is threatened – yes, threatened by the pope himself. I am convinced that he called this Synod precisely for the purpose of destroying Catholic marriage discipline. Pope Francis should be treated by married Catholics the same way anyone else would be treated who attacked the validity of their marriages. And because he is the pope, opposing him is all the more urgent because of the potential for harm he wields.

  • […] since it is obvious that the Vatican is reading here, and has possibly gotten the message that the proposed Kasperite exception is actually viciously cruel to everyone, I’d add in my two cents on two other pastoral questions.  The first question is what […]

  • […] But the only way forward, the only possibility for a ‘sacramentally illegal alien’ in a ‘second marriage’, is perfect continence or reconciliation with one’s valid spouse. “Deportation” isn’t just automatic: they never really left the home country to begin with. Pastoral practices contrary to this sacramental reality are unspeakably cruel. […]

  • […] opposites.  This is just a rhetorical trick, because it attempts to frame ‘pastorally’ sending vulnerable people down the road to Hell as ‘mercy’.  Even if we accepted the false dichotomy, deliberately leading souls to […]

  • […] do what they want?  A libertine approach to the laws that applied to Jews was really a form of cruelty toward them, as is true of libertine legalism in general.  It was also a good way to cultivate […]

  • GJ says:

    Construing euthanasia as ‘giving choice to the patient’ or ‘kindness’ has been brilliant misdirection.

    The essence of euthanasia is to grant to medical authorities the power to judge who is worthy to be killed, and the end is them killing patients without a by-your-leave — which is already happening in Belgium.

  • […] actually love Him very much.  Allowing people to hate God and His onerous commandments would be terribly non-inclusive and unmerciful, not to mention grossly impractical; so of course what God really wants is for everyone to remain […]

  • […] father of lies. And it is no accident that spiritual ‘mercy’ killing requires that its victims be cut off from the fullness of […]

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