Reforming the Annulment Process

Resolved:  The canonical annulment process should be scrapped and the Catholic response to divorce should be reformed following the model of the Orthodox Churches.

Fr. Peter Daly, a pastor in the DC area and a columnist for NCR, argues this point in a very powerful blog post.    He is approaching it from a pastoral, not a doctrinal point of view, and he makes clear some of the painful issues he confronts.   Some highlights:

It is pretty clear from the Gospels that Jesus did not approve of divorce and remarriage. He says it amounts to adultery, which is pretty strong language, especially coming from Jesus. But if we are his followers, we have to at least try to deal with his teaching. Our annulment process is an attempt to take his teaching seriously and still allow people a second (or third) chance.

The problem with the process in the Roman Catholic church is that it takes what ought to be a pastoral matter and turns it into a legal one. It is complicated, often unfair, and frequently unintelligible to the participants. Some tribunals are easy. Some are hard. It can be very capricious.

One place where this is of particular concern for him are couples he meets in his RCIA program:

Annulments come up every year in our RCIA program….The thornier annulments involve people who were not Catholics at the time and had absolutely no reason to get married in a Catholic church. Ironically, they have to go through a full legal process before a church tribunal.

It is painful and pointless. They have to find witnesses, get records, take statements, dig up old contacts, and open old wounds. All of our language is legal, not pastoral. We speak of petitions, tribunals, witnesses, advocates, petitioners, defendants and evidence. It is Kafkaesque. It turns pastors into bureaucrats, to no purpose.

His solution is straightforward:

If I were pope, I would leave the decision about annulments and reception of the sacraments entirely up to the parish priest. It should be resolved in the internal forum of the confessional. The emphasis should be on mercy, not law. End of story. Move on….Let divorced and remarried people make a good confession and offer sincere contrition and a firm purpose of amendment. Then let them start again. God has forgiven us much worse.

Your response?  I am sympathetic, but I can see drawbacks, particularly given the way in which secular values have permeated the Church.  Paradoxically, I think this approach might work, but only if the Church took a harder line on divorce in the process.

UPDATE:  a few hours after posting this and having read the first few comments, I realized that it would be helpful to post a thorough description of the Orthodox practice regarding divorce and remarriage.   Bishop Athenagoras Peckstadt is the assistant Bishop of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Belgium, and he gives a very detailed overview of Orthodox theology and practice in this area.

UPDATE (1/16/14):  The German bishops seem to be taking steps in this direction, despite objections from Cardinal Mueller at the Vatican.

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  • Tohor

    I don’t think you’ve really described “the Orthodox model”…though it’s popular to invoke the East speciously when what one means is “let’s liberalize on divorce.”

    One thing the West could draw from the East, and which would not threaten anything much doctrinally, is to cease recognizing Protestant marriages as full Sacraments needing an annulment merely because they were two baptized people. That would help.

    The West could simply bind canonical form on all Christians, not just Catholics, or I think it could reinterpret its “two Christians either contract the Sacrament, or nothing at all!” idea. The Orthodox understand this differently; for them, a natural marriage is prerequisite for the Sacrament, its matter as it were. Couples contract a natural marriage in the porch of the Church (or in a previous non-Church setting or life) and then that natural marriage is “sacramentalized” by being “brought into the Church” through the couple being admitted to communion (it is analogous to how the West sees pagan marriages as automatically sacramentalized if both are baptized). Protestant couples, for example, are assumed naturally married, but don’t usually have to remarry sacramentally if they convert to Orthodoxy, as their marriage can be considered sacramentalized by the very fact of admission to communion.

    Parish priest is rather local, but annulments definitely don’t require the big investigation they currently have. It could be reduced to the bishop speaking with the couple and making the call prudentially rather than as a long juridical process.

    I think your internal forum point is on the right track but goes too far. Definitely, the divorced-and-remarried should not be singled out for ACTIVE exclusion from communion, as if the fact of their civil remarriage makes them “manifest” or “public” sinners that the priest must actively withhold from. We don’t need two tiers of sinners like that. Plenty of Catholics who, say, use contraception are also supposed to confess before communion…assuming full-knowledge in conscience etc. But that’s just the thing: it’s left to the internal forum, no assumptions are made publicly, etc.

    I don’t think the Church could ever go so far as to say “confess your divorce once and you’re done!” As if after that the new marriage can be treated as valid and replacing a valid old one. But it could say “Yes, you’re supposed to live as brother and sister if you know in conscience that you were previously in a valid sacramental marriage and your old spouse is still alive…but we’ll be ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ about that, just like other private sins, and you should feel no more publicly excluded than everyone privately contracepting or masturbating or fornicating.”

    We should also remember what the Apostolic Penitentiary said: “Sacramental absolution is not to be denied to those who, repentant after having gravely sinned against conjugal chastity, demonstrate the desire to strive to abstain from sinning again, notwithstanding relapses. In accordance with the approved doctrine and practice followed by the holy Doctors and confessors with regard to habitual penitents, the confessor is to avoid demonstrating lack of trust either in the grace of God or in the dispositions of the penitent by exacting humanly impossible absolute guarantees of an irreproachable future conduct.”

    One root of the divorced-and-remarried being denied communion is the assumption that they can’t even validly be absolved until they make some sort of firm commitment to live as brother and sister. However, this seems a double standard. There are people, as many priests know, who habitually masturbate or have premarital sex week after week…and they are not treated as if their resolve of amendment is insincere; the presumption seems to be on a liberal interpretation of sincere intent, something like merely “no specifically formulated intent at this time to do anything in particular.” But the divorced-and-remarried are treated like…the fact of being in the new marriage is a perpetual “state” that they can’t be absolved for unless they get out of it, even though it’s really only the individual sex acts (however occasional) that are strictly speaking the intrinsic problem. There’s no reason, even if the sex of divorced and remarried couples is considered a sin, it couldn’t be treated like the sex of the habitual fornicator who confesses and receives communion occasionally (even if inevitably resuming sex with his girlfriend soon after). Grace often works at people slowly, piecemeal.

    Finally, there is the question of personal judgment. Not that annulments shouldn’t be sought to regularized marriages in the public forum if possible, but I mean more like: it seems sort of absurd to tell a couple they must wait and are excluded UNTIL an annulment comes through, but then once it does say, “Oh, well it turns out you were right: you weren’t married all along, so the new one isn’t the problem we thought it might be.” If after the annulment there is a “realization” that the new sex with the new spouse really wasn’t objectively adulterous “all along”…this fact isn’t CAUSED by the annulment. The annulment is supposed to merely recognize it in the public forum. But that means every time an annulment is granted, it means that the couple would not have been wrong, “in hindsight,” to have privately reached that conclusion about the old marriage’s validity. And even if a public annulment is not granted, annulments are not infallible.

    Combined with the Orthodox idea mentioned above that two Christians can contract a valid natural marriage even prior to the sacrament, and we might even give advice to couples who have not gotten an annulment something like leaving it ambiguous: “if the old marriage was valid, then you should live as brother and sister, but were not going to pry, and if you slip up, just confess. If it was invalid, and in conscience you approach communion, then even without public recognition your new marriage may be automatically sacramentalized by that very fact.” And let people navigate this “if” situation themselves.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      With regards to the Orthodox practice, see the link I posted in the update to the original post. Their practice (as I understand this article) is to accept remarriage as yielding valid marriages. So in some sense, yes, the Orthodox do in some sense ask people to “confess it once and move on.”

    • Jordan

      Tohor — Wow, quite exhaustive! I have a few points to make though.

      As you probably know, in the Extraordinary Form nuptials the couple (if both are Catholic) profess the vows before the Mass while standing within the rails. The Mass which follows, the missa pro sponso et sponsa, is technically a votive (albeit a long votive with all the exhortations). To sum up, in the Tridentine liturgy the natural marriage is celebrated first and then “sealed” with the communion, just as with the Orthodox. The new Mass for marriage blurs the separation of the vows and communion to some degree, but the theological intent is the same.

      I respect your reticence about the possibility of a pastor to make the primary call in an annulment. However, the alternative of placing a couple in a perpetual state of unresolved and unresolvable sinfulness is also undesirable. The juxtaposition that Christ has given us the ideal of marital indissolubility and the possibility that that fornication among the remarried but not annuled is a mortal sin but not an impediment to the sacraments given regular confession presents a difficult challenge.

      I read your post as a grappling with the confessional Lutheran “law/gospel” synergistic opposition. In this view, the law is ideal and binding, but the human heart and action cannot fulfill these injunctions perfectly given that persons are mired in sin and deponent before grace. If Catholicism teaches that the waters of baptism wash away all sin except concupiscence, which is the tendency to sin, then at no time can the Church say that sin which follows from concupiscence is somehow more or less able to be excused according to the type of sin committed. Sin is particular to the person, and not evaluated on a sliding scale based on temptation, cause, and effect as extrinsic variables. This is why I find your comparisons to masturbation and fornication somewhat puzzling, as one might well argue that remarriage without annulment is a situation to which the couple is powerless or resigned to the potential to sin and the commission to sin. This logical chain could, but not necessarily, lead towards a view that the tendency to sin is actually sin, and that the sacraments exist for any person with feelings of contrition and not necessarily a shriven person.

  • J Bass

    Why should divorce and remarriage be more serious sins than murder? Currently, a Catholic can take a human life, confess the sin, and return to communion. But a Catholic who remarries? No way – unless he or she goes through the annulment process, and if the outcome is successful. One major obstacle in the annulment process is that there is no default judgment equivalent. In other words, if a person needs to annul a marriage that was dissolved 40 years, but cannot find the ex-spouse, well, that’s too bad. No annulment for you. Of course, had the marriage ended because one of the spouses killed the other, well, that’s no problem. Confess and move on.

  • Milton E. Lopes

    As one who works with adults seeking annulments, I concur with Fr. Daly’s comments. I see considerable merit in his reference to the approach taken by our Orthodox brothers. Much pain could be avoided if at least in the first instance, the pastor is able to make the call.

  • Jordan

    I’m all for Fr. Daly’s call for annulment reform. I’ve met people like the ones he describes in his article. Some people make rash decisions when young, only to later form a stable marriage. I agree with Fr. Daly that a loving and stable second marriage is reason enough to liberate remarried Catholics from the ecclesiastical strictures which accompany persons who have wed a second time outside the Church.

    I’m trying to understand why the Church persists with judicial annulment. The often well-meaning vocation of canon lawyer primarily exists because of the marriage tribunal. It’s important to note that canon lawyers also render opinion on other ecclesiastical issues, but often canon lawyers devote their vocation to annulments. What will happen to the canon lawyers who are perhaps deprived of a living if the Church reserves formal annulment for difficult cases (e.g. dissolution of a previous marriage at a bishop’s discretion?)

    Also, there’s the question of “pastor shopping”. Let’s say that a couple’s pastor says ‘no’ to an annulment and refuses to forward his assent to the diocese. At this point, the couple could request an annulment trial as a second resort. However, another pastor down the road willingly rubber-stamps petitions for annulment. Now, one might say that the second pastor is not acting according to the mens of the Church, and requires a reprimand from the bishop. Still, wouldn’t it be tempting for a couple to go to a more lenient pastor for annulment?

    I suspect that the Vatican would place time stipulations for annulments outside of tribunals (i.e. a couple must have been registered with a parish for a year or more before meeting with that parish’s pastor about annulments). I’d like to know how various Orthodox synods deal with the question of clergy who liberally grant dissolution of previous marriages.

  • wjmwilson

    As someone who received an annulment about thirty years ago, I can appreciate your comments on the annulment process. That said, I must say that the judicial panel who heard my testimony was far more pastoral than legalistic and the $200 or so I was asked to contribute certainly did not create a situation where I could claim that I was being forced to buy the annulment. (Ironically, the Monsignor who chaired the panel shot himself several years later when he was accused of abusing a teenage boy.)

    I agree that, under the principle of subsidiarity, annulments, GLBT marriages, family planning issues (birth control! artificial insemination, surrogacy, etc.) should be handled in the internal forum by the local priest. Since Vatican I, Rome has been engaged in a power grab which reflects very poorly on the gospel mandate of love and openness. It’s about time we got a pope who realizes that the “church” is the community of believers SERVED by the clergy. “I am among you as one who serves.”

  • wjmwilson

    As someone who received an annulment thirty or so years ago, I can appreciate your concern about how annulments are presently handled. That said, I must point out that the panel that heard my testimony was far more pastoral than judicial and the $200 I was asked to contribute–voluntarily–was hardly large enough to justify the conclusion that I was buying my annulment. (Ironically, the Monsignor who chaired the tribunal later shot himself when he was accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy.)

    I agree that annulments should be handled locally in the internal forum by the parish priest. So should other matters, including family planning, artificial insemination, GLBT marriage, surrogacy, etc. Ever since Vatican I, the Vatican has been engaged in a power grab that poorly–if at all–images the gospel message of love and inclusiveness. It’s encouraging that we finally have a pope who realizes that the church is the community of believers ministered to by a servant clergy. “I am among you as one who serves.” I have long believed that the rigid control and legalism imposed by Rome reflects a deep lack of trust in the guidance of the Spirit promised by Jesus and radically undermines the freedom of the sons of God to which we are called.

  • Roger

    Nothing can be taken seriously that is written in the National Schismatic Reporter. Sorry, let someone else try this.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Guilt by association is not an argument. Would you care to engage with what Fr. Daly has said instead of simply dismissing him?

  • Melody

    I am a little puzzled by your ending statement “… I can see drawbacks, particularly given the way in which secular values have permeated the Church. Paradoxically, I think this approach might work, but only if the Church took a harder line on divorce in the process.” I don’t see the Church as being soft on divorce. However, perhaps it could devote more resources to preventing divorce; such as encouraging couples to seek help before it is too late, and providing counseling services toward this end. Many times the people who need counseling are unable to find qualified professionals, or can’t afford their services. This is an area where the Church could partner with lay professionals with a background in Christian/Catholic ethics, rather than just dumping another duty on pastors who are already spread too thin.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Good point, Melody. I will expand on “harder line on divorce” at a later moment when I have time to reflect.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Melody, to expand on my comment. It seems to me that on the one hand the Church takes divorce seriously, but only from a legal/juridicial perspective, and not from a pastoral perspective. If, hypothetically, the Catholic Church adopts the Orthodox approach, then the Church is going to have to preach and teach much more forcefully about divorce in order to keep people thinking that we are going the Protestant route and just accepting it. For instance, my understanding is that second marriages in the Orthodox church are not big celebrations but small, quiet affairs, as befitting their status as an accommodation to human sinfulness. Bridezilla usually comes out for first weddings, but imagine the clashes that would occur when a pastor informs planners of a big Church wedding that he will only perform the ceremony before two witnesses and in the day chapel.

      As it stands now, we have pushed everything onto “the other”: the bishop, the tribunal, the Vatican, etc. A pastoral reform would mean that the parish community would have to bring the pain home as it were.

      • Melody

        I would like to see more sacramental consciousness and less bridezilla in first weddings as well as second (and beyond) ones. However I don’t think the Orthodox penitential-with-two-witnesses model is going to fly here. Americans like to throw a wing-ding, for better or worse. And honestly, if parishes tried to enforce the penitential mode for second marriages, it would just come across as passive-aggressive.

    • Julia Smucker

      Melody, I quite agree with your point about the need for a more preventive approach to divorce. When the dilemma is taken to be between a judgmental approach and a permissive one (*ahem* false dichotomy), the very idea of assistance for struggling marriages is easily missed, reducing the tragedy of their dissolution to either a crime or a mere inevitability. I believe, as David is perhaps suggesting, that a more pastoral approach would require taking divorce more seriously than we tend to, not less.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      On the subject of pastoral care for struggling couples, I want to make a pitch for the Retrouvaille program. I ran across it years ago and know one couple that participated and it made a big improvement in their marriage. It did not work a miracle, but I think it helped both of them grow up and take a more mature approach to their relationship, which in turn preserved their marriage.

      More information can be found at:

    • emmasrandomthoughts

      I think it would be a good thing if the Church demanded second marriages take place in the rectory with two witnesses, even if the Church sticks with the current annulment practices. This would be an ideal course of action for those instances where a man (or woman) commits adultery, gets a divorce an an annulment, and then wishes to marry the adulterous partner. (Yes, we all know these cases happen.) “We’ll perform the marriage, but we won’t celebrate it.”

      I believe that, in the Oriental Orthodox Church, divorce and remarriage is permitted in the case of adultery, but only for the victim spouse. The spouse who committed adultery is never permitted to remarry in the Church, and certainly not allowed to marry their partner in crime! (I could be wrong about this, but this strikes me as a very fair practice. Actions have consequences.)

      • trellis smith

        “…Actions have consequences.” Yes that is the world we live in but life in Christ reveals a world all about second guessing, second chances and second comings.

  • emmasrandomthoughts

    “Marriage is for the Orthodox Church rather a spiritual path, a seeking after God, the mystery of oneness and love, the preparatory portrayal of the Kingdom of God, than a necessity for reproduction.” Divorce and remarriage aside, I think that the Catholic Church could learn a lot from this attitude. In nearly every case when I read what Catholics write about sacramental marriage, it is indistinguishable from natural marriage.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Indeed. Marriage is a sacrament, but it rarely seems to be seen in this way.

      • emmasrandomthoughts

        Very true. There is almost nothing that Catholic theologians say about Christian marriages that could not also be said of non-Christian marriages. It’s akin to saying, “Baptism removes the dirt on a baby’s forehead,” and leaving it at that.

    • Julia Smucker

      But isn’t it both? Culture warriors may focus disproportionately on the reproductive dimension of marriage, but Catholic teaching certainly affirms that a sacramental marriage is all of the above.

      • emmasrandomthoughts

        My point is basically that the Church’s teachings on the sacramental nature of Christian marriage is, for my money, very underdeveloped. I think that the Church should spend some time meditating on what it means when we say a Christian marriage is a sacrament, and the quote above seems like a good place to start.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          I read quickly looking through the Catechism to get a brief sense of how the Church summarizes its theology of marriage. I came away with a mixed view. It does hit the right notes, talking about the things Emma points to in the quote about Orthodoxy. On the other hand, the Catechism quickly gets bogged down in legalisms, and it seems to lose the forest for the trees.

        • Jordan

          re: emmasrandomthoughts [January 17, 2014 8:39 pm]: Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, admirably outlined the sacramentality of marriage. Unfortunately, most people fast-forward to the contraception prohibition.

          David is right that the Church, in its doctrinal statements, tends towards an overly dry legalistic stance. The Catechism and encyclicals are often poorly explained to the laity, especially if Father or Deacon has five minutes to explain his point. I can see why some priests and deacons despair over talking about this subject. It’s hard to find the right words to succinctly convey the sacramentality of marriage without presenting sacramental teaching as a list of “thou shalt not”s.

        • emmasrandomthoughts

          “It’s hard to find the right words to succinctly convey the sacramentality of marriage without presenting sacramental teaching as a list of “thou shalt not”s.”

          That makes no sense. I’ve heard priests and deacons preach about the sacramentality of baptism and the Eucharist without using a list of “thou shalt nots.”

          The priest or deacon could talk about Ephesians 5 and the book of Revelation as a starting point. He would never even need to mention sexual morality.

        • jordan

          Emma, I am glad that you have encountered competent and compassionate preachers. I chose to be a Catholic fundamentalist (traditionalist) at an early age, so my experiences are heavily colored by rather absolutist messages from the pulpit.

          I agree that your hypothetical sermon would be ideal. And yet, in my church I remember a steady stream of “marital sermons” which were ten minutes of a “don’t contracept” loop-play.

          I suspect that it is difficult for some priests and deacons to balance catechesis with sensitivity. Not a few clergy, I suspect, merely lean on the Catechism.

        • emmasrandomthoughts

          “I agree that your hypothetical sermon would be ideal. And yet, in my church I remember a steady stream of “marital sermons” which were ten minutes of a “don’t contracept” loop-play.” Jordan

          I think, if that was all I ever heard priests talk about, I would start to doubt whether or not marriage was a sacrament.

          Let me explain by pretending that all I had ever heard in Church were “thou shalt not” sermons about marriage. If someone then asked me, “What are the sacraments of the Catholic Church?” If all I’d ever heard at church were homilies about rules, I would answer as follows.

          “Well, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick are all sacraments, because they are outward signs that give grace. Marriage is called a sacrament, but I’ve never heard a priest talk about how marriage gives grace or what the grace does. They spend a lot of time talking about the duties that marriage imposes on a couple. It seems different than Holy Orders. Holy Orders also impose duties on a man, but the priests spend a lot of talk about the grace that the priest receives in Holy Orders and what it does, and how he represents Christ to the community. I’ve never heard anyone talk that way about marriage. . So, while marriage is called a sacrament by the Catholic Church, I don’t think that marriage is actually a sacrament in the way that the other six are sacraments.”

          Note: I am not saying I believe this. However, I think that, if all I had ever heard from Christians is this message, I would start to believe this.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I stumbled on an article from November: see the link in the update to the post added above. It seems the German bishops are moving in the direction suggested by Fr. Daly or taking similar, parallel steps. Does anyone know the details?

  • dismasdolben

    I would like to suggest that one of the major factors in the Church’s decision never to reform the annulment practice is because the issue of divorce became directly related to the Catholic Church’s disagreement with Protestant churches over soteriology–and I am not referring to the Henry VIII divorce. The matter is not tangential, as that case would suggest, but goes directly to the heart of “salvation by faith alone,” and “salvation by faith AND works.”
    Martin Luther, as you of course know, married a nun, and it was not primarily a love-match; he chose her BECAUSE she was a nun in order to make what he considered to be an important theological point, and knew that he was, in the manner of speaking of Early Modern religion, “divorcing her from Christ.”
    When Luther was reminded that divorce had been specifically forbidden by the Saviour, not once but TWICE in the New Testament, Luther’s response is recorded to have been, “Yes, I know, but when he gave us that commandment, his tongue was far in his cheek. Those who knew Luther well said that his point was that Christ gave us a commandment he knew very well that we could not keep, in order to convict us of our sins.
    In fact, Luther went out of his way on more than one occasion, to deform Sacred Scripture in order to make it fit his view of man’s imperfectitude, and of his need to “throw himself upon the Blood.” When he was reminded that the Letter of James, in which “faith” alone is said by the brother of Christ to be “like a sounding bell,” Luther said (it’s in his Table Talk) that “that is a text of straw,” and “I will have none of it.”
    Also, all of this modern–and especailly American–Catholic obsession over marriage, divorce and annulments is another example of the modern Church’s capitulation, on many importent theological points, to modernist–and, specifically, Protestant–culture, as it relates to religion. It is very clear, in the New Testament, that beyond being a very serious offender aganst the sexual morality of his religious culture (because he lived outside of marriage), Jesus Christ was no friend of what we call “family values” (it shows in his comments to his mother) and appears to have thoroughly rejected the prioritizing of connubial relationships over other kinds of relationships more characterized by what is called agape love. In fact, he clearly stated that being a “eunuch for the kingdom’s sake” was what he expected from his closest followers, who were all married and who seem to have been, all of them, invited to leave their wives for such long periods as would constitute grounds for divorce by moderns. Celibacy is the lifestyle that is the most conducive to the actual practice of Christian virtues, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes that absolutely clear. The modern Catholic Church’s obsession with marriage, divorce, annulments and sexual behaviors is almost as much a deformation of what Christ preached as Luther’s heresy of “salvation by faith alone.”

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “Celibacy is the lifestyle that is the most conducive to the actual practice of Christian virtues, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes that absolutely clear.”

      I cannot comment knowledgeably about your reading of Reformation history and theology, but I think your reading of the New Testament on marriage and sexuality is one-sided. Yes, there are many verses that can be read in that way, but it is not obvious to me that they must be read in that way. St. Paul, for instance, has a more nuanced opinion—though he often contradicts himself between epistles. And among the fathers of the Church there is a wide spread in their understanding of sex and marriage.

      • dismasdolben

        “Better to marry than to burn” is a more “nuanced” approach to the primacy of celibacy as a desirable spiritual discipline? Who are you kidding?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          That’s one passage from one letter and quoted out of context. In 1 Cor 7:8 Paul is speaking to widows and widowers, and putting celibacy into the context of controlling sexual passions: it is better to marry than to burn (up) with sexual passion. This whole passage gives some very practical advice on sexual relations and marriage.

    • Jordan

      dismasdolben [January 19, 2014 7:55 am]: Martin Luther, as you of course know, married a nun, and it was not primarily a love-match; he chose her BECAUSE she was a nun in order to make what he considered to be an important theological point, and knew that he was, in the manner of speaking of Early Modern religion, “divorcing her from Christ.”

      Dismas, what if Martin Luther’s marriage to Katharina von Bora was not necessarily a statement about divorce but rather also a statement on the growth of early modern politics and social structure in Germany? Perhaps the growth of divorce in the United States is not necessarily wholly or mostly religious in nature, even if this growth sometimes takes on a religious guise.

      Somewhere around the superfund site that is my office, I have a book of conference proceedings about early Lutheranism. This book contains an article about late 14th-early 15th c. social structure in central Europe. This article makes a good case for the clerical reformation in Germany as a subversion of feudal caste as well as the decline of noble-clerics.

      • dismasdolben

        Luther hardly cared at all about politics of “social structures,” but we know very well that he was obsessed with theology, and especially with theology, so I don’t accept that his marriage to the ex-nun was about transformation of political structures.

    • trellis smith

      I agree with dismasdolben reading of the countercultural aspects of Jesus’s teachings. However I wouldn’t charaterise faith alone as heresy so much as a necessary corrective.

      • dismasdolben

        The “salvation by faith alone” doctrine of Fundamentalist Christianity makes of that religion the cultural and religious “bad citizen of the world”–a religion that, of necessity, goes on a proselytizing campaign that, in the eyes of many of the vast numbers of the non-Christian world, is a WAR against their faiths.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Sola Fide is, among others, a doctrine of Lutheranism: not a religion known for its proselytizing campaigns, nor in my view, a branch of fundamentalist Christianity.

        • dismasdolben

          Excuse me, but I have SEEN, WITH MY OWN EYES, the proselytizing campaign of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church in India, where I have lived, altogether, for seven years. You are quite mistaken.

        • trellis smith

          Sola fide is more properly understood as grace alone, that it is Christ who saves us and who merits our salvation, which is not heretical. Ironically the error of more fundamentalist christianities is they make faith a work, which may more accurately reflect your objection.
          Still Christianity today is hardly coercive or even enjoys a level playing field in the market place of ideas in most parts of the world
          That fundementalisms of all sorts engage in polemics may make them ineffective and intellectually repellant but not outside civil discourse unless they be engaged in violence or its incitement.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO


          fair enough—I have known a fair number of Lutherans and never took them for the evangelizing kinds but I guess I was mistaken. Nevertheless, they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, fundamentalist Christians, unless you are using that term in a way far from the standard usage.

        • dismasdolben

          So obvious, Trellis, that you have never lived in a Third World country and seen obese Christian “missionaries” traveling up and down the countryside in four-wheel drive vehicles and offering bribes to parents (shoes so they might take national exams, school books, bicycles to get to school, medicines, clothes, etc.) in order to pack their numbers and get more funding from America. At my first international school in India, a school with a Protestant missionary past, a “teacher” had to be sacked because he sent an e-mail that went viral, and got into the hands of the police in Tamil Nadu. The e-mail was directed to his “missionary board,” and it read “Send more money; the heathen fields are ripe for plucking.” You don’t think that some Muslim or Buddhist “missionary” has the financial wherewithal in India to send such a message, do you? Of course Christianity has a higher financial advantage on the “playing field of ideas” in the world than Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism does!

  • trellis smith

    Lutheranism in America is divided along fundamentalist and mainline Protestant lines, so you gentlemen are both wrong and right at the same time, an auspicious position.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Maybe we need to define what we mean by “fundamentalism” since I don’t consider even WELS, the most conservative group of Lutherans I am aware of, “fundamentalists.”

    • trellis smith

      I have spent quite a bit of time in third world countries and plenty of third world parts here. You could level the same charge against all western Christian missionaries, Mother Teresa came under the same attack, she wasn’t shy when it came to raising funds. Surely you are aware that Saudi Arabia generously funds its own rabid version of Islam, Check on the freedom of religion there. Over a million Roman Catholics in Saudia Arabia are prohibited from practicing their faith publicly let alone engage a citizen in a free conversation about it, I’ll take an ugly American over that anyday.

      • dismasdolben

        India gave Mother Teresa a state funeral, Trellis, because her reply to Christopher Hitchens, when he accused her of coercing the dying to convert to Christianity was, “I believe that anyone I help to die who becomes a better Hindu, a better Muslim or a better Jain or Buddhist, is inevitably growing closer to Jesus Christ.” Bede Griffiths, a monk who spent most of his life clothed in the orange robe of an Indian holy man, and who lived in villages in South India and built hospitals and schools for the poor, when asked, at the end of his life, how many he had “converted,” said that he was unaware of having “converted” anybody. THAT is truly preaching the Gospel, true “witness” to the role and mission of Jesus Christ in the world–NOT the proselytizing style of American Christian missionaries, who bring strife and bitterness, along with their bribes to “convert.”

        • trellis smith

          My objection, dismasdolben, has only broadened from your conflation of all sola fide Christians into a fundamentalist camp for now you have gathered all American Christian missionaries into the same conservative evangelical grouping.
          In method, purpose, and makeup, American protestant missionaries fall into two broadly divergent sets. On the one hand organizations that join forces with indigenious groups for the alleviation of suffering
          and the advancement of social justice are the more predominant. Global Missions, ACT of the World Council of Churches,even the YMCA international come to mind.
          The other,what you have observed, are the evangelical groups that are more forthright and engage in more direct proselytizing. I like you may consider them counterproductive but they may counter that they are in fact the most honest and devoid of equivocation. Even the strife you describe they might embrace as the necessary outcome of ideological conflict as in Matthew 10:34.”…: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

  • dismasdolben

    David, any form of Christianity that refuses to use a dialectical reading of Sacred Scripture in which Jesus Christ’s WORDS–and not some Paul’s or some James’s or some pope’s or some Luther’s– are the touchstone for estimating religous or spiritual “Truth,” is to me, in some sense “fundamentalist,” because THAT involves canceling out contradictions in the Bible (or the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita) in ways that are matters of OPINION–and, of course, I believe that this should be done in a traditional context that is in communion with the past. That is what a true “ecclesiology” is, and that is why Lutheranism is NOT a “true ecclesiology.” It was Erasmus who first tried to make that clear to Luther, when he told him he was setting himself up as a “pope.”

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Okay, that is so far from the standard meaning of fundamentalist that I am no longer sure what your point is.

      On the other hand, we are moving quite far from the original topic, which is the reform of the annulment process.

      • dismasdolben

        Help me, then, please, to understand what you mean by “Fundamentalism.” My understanding is and always has been that it is taking every single word of Sacred Scripture to be a description of an objective FACT, even when numerous passages seem to contradict other passages. I thought in always involved a refusal to attempt to reconcile the contradictions. And, without this attempt to reconcile contradictions according to some system or rubric, most “Fundamentalisms” can never be so “fundamental” as they took themselves to be. Am I wrong?

        Did Martin Luther make any attempt to reconcile his “sola fide” doctrine with the Letter of James? On what basis could he even have done it? If he did, I never heard of it.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Well, fundamentalist can be used loosely to mean “conservative Christians I don’t like, particularly if I find them narrow minded or parochial.” I don’t generally use it in this pejorative sense. For me, a fundamentalist Christian is a Protestant, usually American, whose religious self-understanding was influenced by the debates that led to the split (roughly) between main line (liberal) and evangelical (conservative) Christianity in the early 20th century. Fundamentalism refers to a strong sense of Biblical inerrancy—much stronger than the nuanced or soft sense which appears in the V II document Dei Verbum. They have a fully developed interpretive structure and are very much aware of contradictions (or seeming contradictions) in the text, and work very hard to explain these with the goal of preserving their understanding of the text as God’s inerrant word. Their interpretive structure tends towards the literal side, but I think calling them “biblical literalists” misses something. Rather, fundamentalists strongly reject historical critical methods and reject any interpretive schema which they feel privileges materialist/naturalist explanations. So if the Bible records a miracle, they are accept it as having actually happened as described. However, while some fundamentalists are young Earth creationists, I think that “day=age” creationists and other allegorical attempts to read Genesis would find a home in the fundamentalist camp. Philosophically, they are heirs of the Scottish enlightenment, and so trust in the ability of a well formed reader to get the “true” sense of a Biblical text.

          So with this definition, it makes no sense to talk about Martin Luther, a late Medieval/early Modern German, as a fundamentalist.

  • emmasrandomthoughts

    Returning to the annulment discussion,

    I do think that the article had a very good point about one part of annulments. Catholics who marry outside the Church can submit paperwork and be married shortly afterwards as though nothing had happened. “We’re rewarding people for bad behavior.” He’s right about that.

  • emmasrandomthoughts

    Another thought: If memory serves me right, the Orthodox Church has never believed that the couple are the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony. It is believed that the sacrament is conferred by the priest.

    From an Orthodox standpoint, the whole Western annulment process makes no sense, anymore than to ask the laity if they intended to consecrate the Eucharist at the Mass.