Walking the Tightrope of Marriage Discipline

Here’s the problem I have as a parish priest.  The Holy Father hints that we need to be more pastoral when dealing with Catholics in illicit marriages. Some Catholic pastors say, “that divorced and re-married Catholic needs the nourishment and strength of the sacrament! They should not be excluded from communion!”

Now I want to be a nice guy as much as the next fellow. I like to be liked. More than that, I agree with the Pope. I want to present a merciful Church, a loving, open and accepting church. I don’t want anyone to be excluded. I sympathize with the wife whose husband has cheated on her then walked out on a twenty year old marriage for a twenty year old. I sympathize with the man whose wife has kicked him out, hired a bulldog lawyer and taken him to the cleaners because she “needs to find herself.” I’m aware of the difficulties and complexities of marriage in our modern world. I realize that the whole marriage thing is in a state of chaos due to many complex pressures.

I want to be nice, kind, welcoming and embracing to all. However, I’m also aware that I am a Catholic priest. I don’t have the authority to teach anything but the Catholic faith. I don’t have the authority to knowingly welcome a person to communion whom the church excludes. If I start this where will it end? If the divorced and re-married person should come to communion, then what about the person who is divorced and re-married two or three times? What about the co-habiting couple, the same sex couple and the serial fornicator? I’m stuck. Is there a church discipline or not? Is the discipline simply what every parish priest chooses to do?

Furthermore, in trying to be nice and warm and welcoming to people and taking it upon myself to change the rules aren’t I doing much more harm than good? Here are a few examples: Let’s say Fr. Feelgood says to a potential convert who is waiting for his decree of nullity before he is received into the church, “There, we don’t need to bother about all that. I’ll receive you into the church now.” Fr Feelgood thinks he’s being real nice to that person, but I’ve met potential converts from Protestantism to whom that has been said and their reply was, “I was shocked that a Catholic priest should take the rules of his church so lightly and that he took the situation of my previous marriage so lightly. Who does he think he is? Doesn’t he respect the rules of his own church? Doesn’t he respect me and my decisions? Are all Catholic priests so arrogant and hypocritical?”

See? Things don’t always pan out the way you thought. What I might think is an act of mercy and kindness will be interpreted by a clear thinking person as hubris and hypocrisy. Too often though, Fr Feelgood won’t be aware of any of that because he’s not only infatuated with his own nice guy image, but he probably carries a heavy agenda about how “legalistic, harsh and out of touch that hierarchical  Church establishment is.”

Here’s another example: Read More.


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