October 7, 2014 § 17 Comments

I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a while.

It isn’t ‘mercy’ to send someone down the road to Hell

October 6, 2014 § 21 Comments

As the Extraordinary Synod gets underway I expect to hear lots of Orwellian talk about ‘justice versus mercy’, as if they were 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 Hell by treating ignorance as the eighth sacrament isn’t ‘mercy’.  As soon as a person knows that his objectively adulterous acts are grave matter, he must seek the grace to cease choosing to engage in objectively adulterous acts. And the longer things go on without him learning the truth, the more difficult his situation becomes.

Pastoral ‘solutions’ which propose to reduce objectively adulterous acts to the status of venial sin (a prerequisite to receiving the Eucharist without that reception itself involving mortally sinful sacrilege) therefore depend on keeping people in difficult marital situations ignorant.  They necessarily involve hiding the truth, out of a fear that once told the truth these people will go away sad. Furthermore, to be sustainable this hiding of the truth must persist over time: as soon as the person actually learns the truth the game is up.  So the truth not only must remain unspoken: it must be actively hidden and suppressed.

These ‘pastoral solutions,’ then, are necessarily plans from the Father of Lies. It isn’t ‘mercy’ to send people down the path to eternal torment, or to pat them (and ourselves) on the back paternalistically while lying to them, telling them that they will be just fine even if they continue to choose gravely immoral behaviors.  Pastors will have to lie and persist in the lie – to actively hide the fact that objectively adulterous behaviors are grave matter – in order for this to ‘work’.

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”(180)

Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.

By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth. At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner.

With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity.Familias Consortio

An annulment mill straw man, or, turning ignorance into the eighth sacrament redux

October 4, 2014 § 25 Comments

Catherine Harmon quotes Ed Peters:

No, the objections of the first group to the number of annulments being declared is, I suggest, not to the annulment process but to the people running that process. Tribunal officers are, it is alleged, too naive, too heterodox, or just too lazy to reach sound decisions on nullity petitions; they treat annulments as tickets to a second chance at happiness owed to people who care enough to fill out the forms. How exactly members of this first group can reach their conclusion without extended experience in tribunal work and without adverting to the cascade of evidence that five decades of social collapse in the West and a concomitant collapse of catechetical and canonical work in the Church is wreaking exactly the disastrous effects on real people trying to enter real marriages that the Church has always warned about, escapes me. Nevertheless that is essentially their claim: the process needs no major reform, processors do.

Peters in effect asserts a reverse ad hominem, suggesting that opponents of the annulment mill are attacking the character of the people carrying out the process rather than attacking the process itself.

There is a another view, which is that the process needs to be reformed because the ‘internal forum’ criteria for defective consent are inherently subjective. On this view, attempting to judge the majority of ‘internal forum’ annulments is like attempting to judge whether a particular confession was valid or not, based on the testimony of the penitent — who, by the time the issue comes up juridically years later, may not be certain himself.

In the case of a bad confession there is a simple sacramental solution: go make a good, valid confession and don’t leave anything involving ‘grave matter’ out, including the possible invalid confession.

In the case of uncertain consent to marriage there is also a simple sacramental solution: convalidation.  This is how the Church has always consistently treated epistemic doubt about the validity of sacraments, to wit, conditional baptism.  When in doubt because of inherently subjective factors or other uncertainties, the way forward is to insure that the sacrament is confected validly and licitly.

Modern annulment practice is unique in the history of the Church, inasmuch as it treats a possible sacramental irregularity – based on purely subjective considerations – as a two way street.  It doesn’t provide a way forward, it provides a way backward, in the name of a false ‘mercy’. This is terribly unfair in a way in which carrying out the death penalty without objective third-party evidence would be terribly unfair.  Errors in death penalty cases result in killing the innocent; errors in ‘internal forum’ annulment cases turn various people (including innocent ‘spouses’, past and future) into material adulterers.  This is just the very modern phenomenon of turning doubt or ignorance into an eighth sacrament: it pretends that mercy means letting people stew in objective evil with no real way out.

It is quite human for the sinner to acknowledge his weakness and to ask mercy for his failings; what is unacceptable is the attitude of one who makes his own weakness the criterion of the truth about the good, so that he can feel self-justified, without even the need to have recourse to God and his mercy. An attitude of this sort corrupts the morality of society as a whole, since it encourages doubt about the objectivity of the moral law in general and a rejection of the absoluteness of moral prohibitions regarding specific human acts, and it ends up by confusing all judgments about values. – Veritatis Splendour

I’ll cite the documents of one American diocese just to give flavor on the sort of criteria which are actually being employed in the actual current process to annul marriages.  Of course examples can be multiplied, and I’ve seen many more egregious examples than these.  If someone doubts that, we can hold a contest to come up with more examples.  This just happened to be what I grabbed with a quick Google:

Error Concerning a Quality of the Person: (canon 1097, §2) Defect of consent due to error concerning a quality of the other person, directly and principally intended in a spouse. If one party intended to marry someone who possessed a certain quality (perhaps of a moral, social, physical, religious, psychological or legal nature), and the primary reason for entering the marriage was the erroneous belief the intended spouse possessed that quality, the marriage may be invalid. The intended quality must be of such a magnitude that, without it, the person would not have married the other, and the discovery of the truth must have had a serious effect on the nature of the marriage.

Conditioned Consent – Past and Present Condition (c. 1101, §2) Defect of consent when a person entered a marriage based on a past or present condition of the existence or non-existence of a fact, typically concerning the spouse’s or his/her past (e.g., citizenship, criminality) or present state (e.g., pregnancy, a medical condition, career, a character or trait). Placing such a condition on the marriage raises serious questions, and it invalidates marriage when it is proven the condition, upon which the marriage decision depended, was not fulfilled at the time of marriage. This ground may be considered when one or both spouses entered the marriage with an expressed condition based on something from the past or present

Notice that, in addition to relying on wholly subjective testimony about peoples’ expectations going into marriage, these two criteria basically contradict each other. If you married expecting your spouse to have a certain quality and your spouse doesn’t turn out to have that quality, the marriage is null because your spouse didn’t have that quality. But if you married expecting your spouse to have a certain quality at all, that too casts doubt on the validity of the marriage.

This sort of jurisprudence makes the very idea of validly consenting to marriage into a joke.

Now reforming the process to basically close off the way backward represented by ‘internal forum’ annulments still leaves ‘external forum’ cases open to adjudication, and I would use the term broadly to include cases where objective third-party evidence of defective consent prior to the wedding is admissible: e.g. bragging to friends about the mistress at the bachelor party, as attested by third party witnesses.

But closing the door on all ‘purely subjective’ and even self-contradictory internal forum cases – whatever one thinks of it – would (contra Peters) be a process reform, would be consistent with the way the Church treats cases of possible invalidity when it comes to other sacraments, and would preach to the world by walking our talk – unlike current practice – that the Catholic Church is serious about the indissolubility of sacramental marriage.

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