Cardinal O’Malley: The Church Won’t Change Its Teaching on Marriage

Cardinal O’Malley, who is a member of the Papal G8 that Pope Francis appointed to consider reforms in the Church, says that the Catholic Church is not going to change its 2,000-year-old teachings on marriage.

The Church will not change her teaching on the dissolubility of marriage, he said in an interview with Joan Frawley Desmond of the National Catholic Register. 

He goes on to say that there may be a simplification of the annulment process, which he says “would be a wonderful first step for addressing a crucial pastoral problem for the Church.”

 

If You Build It, They Won’t Necessarily Come.

 

St Patrick went to Ireland.

St Paul went to most of the Roman world.

The apostles traversed the known world bringing the message of eternal salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ everywhere they went. With the exception of St John, they paid for their fealty with their lives.

Not today’s Catholics.

Somewhere along the line, the missionary paradigm shifted to the build-it-and-wait-for-them-to-come-to-us paradigm. Today’s discussions of evangelizing the world revolve around how to shape our catechesis of the people who show up for regular meetings at our churches. “How can we change our catechesis so that we catechize them into faithfulness?” is the question we ask ourselves.

In other words, we’ve abandoned the Gospel call to convert a lost world that is dying for lack of the saving grace of Christ. We’ve gotten so far away from it that we’ve even lost the ability to effectively convert the people who are sent to us or who come to us of their own volition, actively seeking conversion.

The working Catholic paradigm of converting the world is that we may — or most likely may not — build a church to house the people we already have, and if anybody else wants Jesus, it’s up to them to come to us. Worse, we turn people away for not qualifying, or in the case of our serpentine annulment process, because they can’t find everyone they need from their misspent pasts to fill out the right paperwork.

The miracle in all this is that, in spite of everything, the Church is growing. Year after year, our cathedral in my archdiocese is jam-packed through one mass after the other for the Rite of Election.

We are growing, not due to our missionary fervor, but due to the great hunger for God that runs throughout our lost world. People are hungry for the words that lead to eternal life. They want meaning and love in their lives. Most of all, they want to belong to somebody or something bigger than themselves. They want, they hunger for, Jesus Christ.

People are weary of the no-hope nihilism that our society offers them. They want a way out.

And we have the Way. We are not saved just for ourselves and our families. We have the only Way there is, and it’s our job to lead people to it.

Despite the full cathedrals at the Rite of Election, there are vast fields of lost humanity ready to harvest for the Lord that we ignore. They are, to be specific, everyone who does not come to us, requesting entrance, which, to be even more specific, is everyone who has not found some way to partly Catechize themselves.

Everything we do, from our indifference to converting people, to our diffident refusal to ruffle the feathers of those who oppose Jesus by talking about Him, says that Jesus is our private little g god and that there’s nothing about Him that other people need trouble themselves to find.

Sitting around and waiting for people to convert themselves and then beg us for entrance into our Church is the exact opposite of what Jesus told us to do. It eschews the example of the many saints that we quote at one another in our endless arguments during our internecine battles about nothing much.

The Catholic Patheosi have recently discussed Catechesis in depth and with their deep understanding of churchy things. Now, I am discussing, in my usual backwards way, what I think catechesis truly is. Catechesis is conversion, or it should be. As such, it is not limited to specific periods of formal instruction.

The base problem with our Catechesis is simply that it is not converting people. It is not even converting people who come and ask to be converted and who faithfully attend meetings in an effort to become converted. There are many reasons for this, and I’m not expert enough in this area to have ideas about the specifics.

But I can say from quite a bit of first-hand experience that when it comes to most of the world outside our church doors, we not only aren’t catechizing anybody, we aren’t even trying. We do not go to these people and talk to them about Jesus. We simply ignore them, as we ignore everybody else who doesn’t come to us first.

We need to forget the paradigm of build a church and wait for the world to come to us. Because more and more, even if we build it, they won’t necessarily come.

It’s hard to get into the Catholic Church today. You not only have to be the one to convert yourself, you’ve got to be the one to take all the initiative about joining. Then, you’ve got to jump through all sorts of hoops.

If you have a complicated past involving messy marriages — as so many people in this post-Christian age do — you may very well end up having to go through preparation for what amounts to a court proceeding to have your past legally expunged. If you can’t be a good enough lawyer for yourself in this court to get it done, you are not welcome at Christ’s table.

I have a suggestion on this, which I know will offend a lot of people. But perhaps the Church could begin the annulment process for converts by establishing a sort of triage system. If it was a common law marriage, or the person was married by a judge or in a church that worships satan or trees or whatever, then there’s no real reason for them to take the full canonical dose to get an annulment. Those marriages are invalid on their face. We also need a process for people who can’t go back decades and find everyone, or if they do find them, are physically afraid of them.

I’m not talking about Catholic marriages here. I am talking about marriages in the pre-conversion lives of converts; marriages outside the Church.

Ditto for things like baptismal certificates. A lot of protestant churches do not keep the extensive records that Catholics do. Many of them stay in business for a few years then close up and go away. If there’s a doubt in the pastor’s mind, then he should just give the convert a provisional baptism. Keeping people out of the Church over things like this is wrong.

The world is changing. We are going to be dealing more and more with people who have never heard the name Jesus; people who have been fully catechized, but not as we mean it. They are fully catechized in the nihilism of hook-up sex, do-unto-others-before-they-do-it-to-you-first, anything-goes post-Christian cultural dissolution.

It’s going to take more than the old build-it-and-wait-for-them-to-come-to-us paradigm if we seriously want to evangelize this new world. It will require the Apostolic fervor that built the Church in the first place.

My thoughts on what the Church needs to do in the New Evangelization are quite simple. Preach Christ. To everybody. And take down the No Room at the Inn sign.

When Home is Hell

Comments on this post about divorce have, as these things usually do, veered off into the subject of abusive relationships in marriage. Here, just for the record is my two cents on that topic.

Never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep.

John Milton, Paradise Lost

I chose the quote above because of it’s origin. It comes from Paradise Lost, which is the tale of Satan, cast out of heaven and down to hell because of his hatred.

People who beat and batter their own families seem like that to me. Ditto for the monsters who sexually abuse their own loved ones.

I am talking about people so cowardly that they spend their frustrations on the people who trust them and who deserve their protection because they, unlike the rest of the world, are unwilling or unable to fight back against their real problems.

What kind of monster would hit or batter their own spouse? Don’t they know that their husband or wife is their own self?

You can not harm you’re life’s companion, the person you create other people with, the only one who will be there beside you throughout your days in this life, without also harming yourself.

I repeat: What kind of monster attacks his or her own wife or husband, his or her own children?

Home is refuge, one that, in these increasingly traumatic times, we all need. Home is, as Robert Frost said, “where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” Home is that last place on earth where you can go, where you will be safe, even when the rest of the world is perilous.

Home is also the last place on earth anyone should defile with their violence and abuse of other people.

If batterers are so brave, let them take their rages to the world and try yelling at their boss or talking back to the cop who writes them a ticket. See who lets them in the house later when they’ve been fired, or who empties the piggy bank to pay their bail.

It will be those people no one should ever attack: Their family.

Manly men do not beat up women. Manly men do not rape children.

Womanly women do not batter their kids. Womanly women do not berate and belittle their husbands.

To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, home is meant to be the closest thing to heaven we will know in this life. But, with our propensity to evil, many of us turn our homes into all we need to know of hell.

What should a Christian do when they’ve married what they thought was a good person and find later that they have yoked themselves to a monster?

If there is violence or sexual abuse, you must divorce them. If you have to go to a shelter or take out restraining orders, do it. If they are violating your children, send them to prison. You owe that to the rest of society, so that they won’t do it again to other children.

I do not fully understand the nuances of the Church’s teaching in this regard and I am speaking here entirely for myself. But you and your children have a right to life, the same as everyone else. Physical violence or sexual abuse are threats to that right to life. They are an abrogation of your dignity as human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

There can be no marriage with a monster and people who do things like this to their own families are monsters. I do not know how the Church treats these things, but as far as I am concerned, a person who is so morally deficient that he or she will physically attack their own family is incapable of entering into a sacramental marriage in the first place. They are too morally blighted for the words of their vows to have meaning.

In short, get yourself safe and sort out the finer points later.

As for those readers who actually batter their wives or husbands, you need to go to a priest and, after confession, ask for referrals where you can get help. You also need to move out of the family home until you are safe for them. If you never are safe for them, then realize that you are not worthy of having a family of your own.

If, on the other hand, you have sexually abused your children, you need to turn yourself in to the police. I mean that. You can get counseling and whatever in prison. But you do not belong free.

I don’t know that people who commit these kinds of crimes against their own families ever turn themselves into the police. I have never personally heard of it. However, I do know people who have gone to prison for sexually abusing their children.

That is just the beginning for the children who have been through this. If they do not get immediate help, they will suffer the consequences of what was done to them all the days of their lives.

If your spouse has done this to your kids, you need to consider the best ways to get your children the therapy they need. As always, the Church is a great resource. Here in my archdiocese, the Church offers all sorts of help for families and children in distress, and most of it is free.

If you are the victim of battering or abuse yourself, you need to take care of yourself by getting therapy and assistance for you.

In the midst of all this, do not forget your spiritual healing. A kind priest can do wonders about helping you through times like this. If you should run into one of the occasional bad priests who are unsympathetic or who try to get you to stay in a situation that is violent and dangerous, just find another priest. You can talk to your bishop about this bad guy later, when you are stronger.

Many times, families who have an abusive member are isolated from other people. You may not have been attending church. Or, if you have, you may not have been able to participate in the guilds and groups that help you meet people and form friendships. Don’t let this stop you from seeking their help now. I would not hesitate to call the parish altar society or Knights of Columbus, and ask them for support and help.

If you’re lonely, say so. If you need a job, ask them for leads. You will probably be astonished by the help they give you and how much it enables you to move forward with your life.

If, for some reason, they don’t respond, try another parish.

Above all, pray, pray, pray. The Rosary is a wonderful prayer for bad times for the simple reason that you don’t have to come up with the words. When you are distraught and can’t think what to say, the Rosary will pray for you.

Ruth Graham once said that if two people are married and never disagree, then one of them is unnecessary. All marriages, even the best of them, have their times when the spouses are at loggerheads over something or other.

In a good marriage, this usually lasts only a few hours at most, then the love the two of them have for one another works its magic. But even the best marriages have times when one spouse is in their private misery over work or feelings of failure or grief and the other spouse cannot reach them. These are tough times. But they are not a reason for divorce.

Love perseveres.

But when a marriage descends into the hell of violence and abuse, that is a sure sign that there is no love there to persevere. Some things are not negotiable. One of them is that anyone who harms their family in this way does not deserve to have a family.

It’s as simple as that: They don’t deserve you.

Do Easy Annulments Degrade the Value of Marriage? The Pope Says Yes.

Some people call it the “Catholic Divorce.”
It is often treated as a pro forma ritual that divorced people go through to “normalize” their relationship with the Church.

It requires a lot of paperwork, but it doesn’t cost much money. In fact, the Church will waive any fees if they would prevent people seeking it.

The “it” I’m talking about is annulment. Annulment is the somewhat lengthy process Catholics go through when they want the Church to “invalidate” their marriage.

As I understand it, the whole process is predicated on the fact that marriage is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ. This is the same Jesus who did away with divorce with the statement “What God has put together, let not man put asunder.”

Marriage is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman. It involves, among other things, a willingness to create life through the bodily union of these two people. Marriage is the nest, so to speak, in which young human beings are nurtured and shaped into responsible and productive adults who can then repeat the cycle with their own marriages and children.

As such, marriage is of premier importance, not just to the two people who marry, but to the whole of society. Without responsible, productive adults who can marry and raise their own children to be productive and responsible adults, our society and indeed, all of civilization will founder.

Marriage is not only essential to the good of society, it is also holy.

This holiness is where annulments come in. Since marriage is a sacrament instituted by Our Lord, it is not possible for people — including priests, bishops and popes — to undo it or, to phrase it as Jesus did, “put it asunder.” Our Lord told us we can not do this. Not, notice that we may not, we can not, for the simple reason that marriage is created by God.

What God creates in this deep sacramental fashion, no one can uncreate.

However, there can be instances in which no marriage actually took place. For instance, the infamous “shot gun weddings” in which one partner or the other was forced into the marriage would not be a sacramental marriage because at least one of the parties involved did not consent to it.

There can be many ways in which consent or understanding or an intention to be married in the full sacramental sense was not present at the time of the marriage vows. I am not a canon lawyer, so I would not and could not begin to discuss them in depth. This is the purview of the marriage tribunals of the Church who, on the request of the couple, review the marriage in question to determine if it is a sacramental marriage, or, as they put it, if it is “valid.”

The process is called an “annulment.” It has become something of a scandal in the Church because of the easy way these annulments are granted.

This is complicated by the many converts who come into the Church with matrimonial baggage. There are other people who should be granted an annulment but can’t get through the paperwork for some reason. If the former spouse and the marriage witnesses are violent, dangerous, out of pocket or simply uncooperative, they can exercise what amounts to veto power on the annulment process.

This happened to a friend of mine who was a refugee from a violent and troubled past before attempting to convert to the Catholic Church.

The whole process appears, at least on the outside, to be fraught with troubles. One of the many problems is that it can seem that these same tribunals who sometimes refuse a just annulment over an inability to fill out the paperwork also sometimes grant annulments almost like slot machines for those who can wend their way through the process successfully.

I don’t think for a minute that there is any deliberate desire to harm people or to cheapen marriage by any of this. I believe that the priests who do this work want to help people. I believe they grant annulments more easily out of compassion for the people involved. On the other hand, the intransigence over paper work in situations that are life-threatening confuses me. I honestly don’t understand it.

Pope Benedict has weighed in on all this, echoing the thoughts of Pope John Paul II on the same subject. They both came down on the side of greater discretion in granting annulments. One of the reasons Pope Benedict  gave was that the practice of granting annulments too easily created pessimism in the public mind about our ability to “engage in lifelong commitments to love another person.”

I agree with the Holy Father about this. I think our divorce culture has damaged us in deep and difficult to heal ways, including teaching many of our young people that marriage is a futile and hopeless enterprise.

As a woman who has been married to her only husband for 30 years, I can tell you that this is untrue. I can also say that marriage is a wonderful, sustaining and nurturing lifestyle that enhances your life in ways that you cannot imagine until you partake of them.

Unfortunately, we have damaged many of our young people so badly with our serial marriages and serial monogamies that they don’t value stable relationships, and don’t know how to form them even if they want to.

We have a lot of things to answer for from our excesses and self-indulgences, and this destruction of the ability to marry for life and raise children who will become stable, productive adults in our young people is one of the most serious.

A CNS article describing Pope Benedict’s recent statement about too-easy annulment says in part:

Pope cautions tribunals against granting annulments too easily

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Granting marriage annulments too easily and without real cause plays into a modern form of pessimism that basically says human beings are not able to make lifelong commitments to loving another person, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“We run the risk of falling into an anthropological pessimism which, in the light of today’s cultural situation, considers it almost impossible to marry,” the pope said in a speech Jan. 29 to members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

The tribunal mainly deals with appeals filed in marriage annulment cases.

Pope Benedict said there is still a need to deal with a problem Pope John Paul II pointed out in a 1987 speech to the Roman Rota, that of saving the church community from “the scandal of seeing the value of Christian marriage destroyed in practice by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity.”(Read more here.)


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