friends don’t let divorced friends read “the remnant”

friends don’t let divorced friends read “the remnant” November 5, 2016

…and typically I wouldn’t even be addressing the material in this sad little publication, because the hysteria of angry reactionaries is best left to fester within its own bubble. But when this particular piece came to my attention, I felt the need to address it, because of the harm that a toxic, journalistically inept, and theologically inaccurate screed could do to the spiritual and psychological health of a person recovering from a divorce.

The story Remnant editor Michael Matt references is from The Times of San Diego, “Divorced Catholics, LGBT ‘Embraced’ at First-in-Nation Synod in San Diego”:

Saying the Roman Catholic Church should have “no stigmas,” Bishop Robert McElroy reached out to divorced people and gays at the end of the San Diego diocese’s first synod in 40 years.

“That’s just not what we should be about,” McElroy said Sunday of the marginalization that has been felt by some of the county’s 1.4 million Catholics.

He said the two-day meeting of 125 parish delegates — priests and lay people — was the first in the nation aimed at translating Pope Francis’ pronouncements about family and marriage issues into action. Saying the Roman Catholic Church should have “no stigmas,” Bishop Robert McElroy reached out to divorced people and gays at the end of the San Diego diocese’s first synod in 40 years.

He said the two-day meeting of 125 parish delegates — priests and lay people — was the first in the nation aimed at translating Pope Francis’ pronouncements about family and marriage issues into action.

Carol Gamara of St. John the Evangelist in University Heights found hope in the change in attitudes expressed at the diocesan headquarters in Bay Ho.

As a divorced Catholic, she says, she’s felt deprived of full participation in the church.

“The church should embrace people where they are at,” she said. “There’s no opportunity for growth if we as a society shun people or don’t acknowledge them for where they are in their lives. There’s more to an individual than what they see.”

And here’s the delightful response from The Remnant:

 

Well, Carol, sounds like maybe you shouldn’t have gotten divorced and remarried.  That’s kind of your problem, isn’t it? And for every Carol out there, we can point to a thousand faithful Catholics whose marriages failed and yet for whom “for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part” actually meant something. It’s called a vow, Carol.

You should feel “deprived of full participation in the church,” since you broke your vow and didn’t respect the Church enough to follow her rules. You’re a public adulterer.  And the reason Holy Mother Church makes you “feel deprived” is because you are deprived, and there’s a stigma attached to such deprivation. But that stigma is your best hope, Carol, since it might just eventually prompt you to stop living in sin, fix your situation, and get back on the road to salvation.

“The Church should embrace people where they are”? Really? Does that include rapists and child molesters? How about Nazis? People who smoke cigarettes?  

Has the whole world turned into a whining, self-absorbed kindergarten? Catholics were once such strong people. We knew where the boundaries were and we accepted the rules of the game. Many of us broke the rules, too, but then we knew how to accept the consequences without whining to the world about how the “big” “bad” “meanie” Church needs to change her millennia-old moral code—based on God’s law and the law of nature— so I won’t “feel deprived” anymore.

Sheesh, Carol, grow up!

So now Francis’s revolution, as laid out in Amoris Laetitia, is green-lighting public sinners who want to stay in their sinful lives but also feel good about themselves.

On the moral level, what the Church of Francis is doing is tantamount to the big liberal state handing out needles to drug addicts (rather than helping them get off drugs), teaching “safe sex” to teenagers (rather than chastity), and allowing the protestors to burn down their own city (rather than enforce the law and stop the protest).

Say what you will about Francis, one thing is undeniable: He’s is a rabid liberal, whose policies will do for the Catholic Church what big government liberalism has done for the inner cities of America.

First of all, nowhere in the Times of San Diego piece did it say that Gamara is divorced and remarried. All she said was that she was divorced. How Michael Matt and co. manage to justify the accusation that she is a “public adulterer” is beyond me. This is slander, and bad journalism. I suppose this arises, though,  from the same febrile imagination in which Pope Francis is a liberal (news flash, folks: liberalism is about individualism, not “big government”), and in which Catholics have always known “where the boundaries were, and “respected the rules of the game” (dude, read some history! Or at least some Rabelais).

Most people with whom I am friends read The Remnant only for a comic alternative to election news. However, here’s what worries me: that people in more reactionary communities may be reading this article and getting the message that being divorced at all is sinful, and that this might be used as a justification to spiritually abuse men and women already in painful situations.

It isn’t.

Being divorced is not a sin.

It can be, however, a very lonely and painful state. One may be struggling financially, recovering from psychological or physical abuse, feeling rejected by communities, stressing over the difficulty of protecting children, wondering whether one can ever be loved again. If the Church’s message to the divorced is not one that extends the love of Christ, then the Church has failed that wounded soul.

Michael Matt’s words are not the words of Christ.

And even if one is divorced and remarried, how can anyone be sure that the couple hasn’t confessed and agreed to abstain from marital relations, while seeking to annul prior marriages and enter into Catholic matrimony? This is the pastoral delicacy which Pope Francis is encouraging us to develop, the recognition that human situations are complicated. This doesn’t mean “morality is vague” – but, rather, that there’s often a whole intricate story there, of a unique human being, who can’t be wedged into rigid boxes of definition.

But this leap to judgment on Matt’s part just goes to show how right Gamara’s statement is: many in the church are not welcoming to divorced Catholics, looking askance at them, excluding them, thinking the worst of them. And even when one isn’t subjected to harsh judgment, church communities that are organized according to ideas about traditional family roles, “men’s groups” and “mom’s groups” and “marriage retreats” – well, the divorced Catholic may find she just doesn’t have a place. And this needs to change. Where there is even a tiny seed of faith, a tiny flicker of charity, the role of the church must be to cultivate that seed, to fan those flames into a gorgeous conflagration. When we see someone hurting and hesitant, hovering on the borders of our faith community, our one goal should be to draw them into a more full communion. This may happen incrementally. Not everyone can have full communion yet, but what they can have is the loving and affectionate support of a Body of Christ that acts like Christ – Christ who, seeing the mere curiosity of Zacchaeus up in his tree, invited himself into his home – before Zacchaeus had said even a word of apology or repentance.

I’ve been a divorced Catholic, and I say to all other divorced Catholics: you are welcome and loved. Don’t go. Tell us what we can offer you, from the bounty of God’s grace and mercy, to help you on your way.

“The Church should embrace people where they are”? Really? Does that include rapists and child molesters? How about Nazis? People who smoke cigarettes?”

I suppose Matt has in mind a stereotypical “tolerant liberal” interlocutor, who will read this statement and think “hell, no.”

But if one reads this question as a Christian, the answer is: yes. If any of these people are seeking to enter into a more full communion with the church, longing for redemption and reconciliation, the answer is yes. That’s just how radical Christian forgiveness is. And just how hard.

The Church can embrace Remnant writers and editors where they are, too – angry and bitter, raving against the Pope.

Though I’m inclined to echo back at them their own words: grow up.


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