Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Love, Truth, and Marriage

This was originally posted on March 11, 2009

Over at Historical Christian, a dispute arose in the comment box over whether priests, parishes, and dioceses should require cohabiting couples to stop living together before receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony. One reader thought that such a rule was "illogical and un-Catholic" in that it was unrealistic to expect couples to comply and that it was too judgmental, rather, "the fact that they want to be married, rather than continue living together says a lot."

We should remember that, while Christ established the sacraments, He gave them to the Church to administer or not administer. The Church does have the authority to say "no" sometimes if the person seeking the sacrament is not properly disposed or prepared. The Church does not do "altar calls" where anyone can simply come in off the street and be received into the Church.

The Church can, and rightfully does, demand a fairly extensive amount of preparation (except in cases of impending death). And more than once, the Church has said "no, you cannot be baptized at this time." Or, "no, you cannot receive absolution at this time." Or, "no, you cannot receive communion at this time." Or, "no, you cannot be confirmed at this time." Or, "no, you cannot be ordained at this time." If the disposition and preparation are not there, the Church should say "no, not at this time, you must first be properly prepared and disposed."

Unfortunately, the Church does not say "no, not at this time" with respect to marriage as often as She should. That is why we have a scandalous amount of annulments in the U.S. Every (legitimate) annulment is an example of a failed marriage preparation process.

If the priest can see before the wedding that the couple is not properly disposed, such that they would be able to claim that prior lack of proper disposition after the wedding as a ground for annulment (e.g. defective consent), then the priest should decline to perform the wedding. And cohabitation is pretty persuasive proof of a lack of full and proper preparation for and understanding of marriage, both as a state of life and as a sacrament, which thereby impairs the ability to give a full, knowing, intelligent, and voluntary consent.

Surely, we would expect a candidate for ordination to break-up with his girlfriend and/or to not cohabitate a fairly long period of time prior to being ordained! Well, cohabitation is as incompatible with matrimony as it is with ordination. True, in both cases, the wrong can be sacramentally confessed, but there must be an authentic conversion of the heart and mind, sufficiently demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Church, before receiving and entering into either sacrament of matrimony or ordination.

The same could be said of the couple that is not cohabiting or even sexually active, but merely wants a "church wedding" for stylistic purposes with absolutely no intention of living their marriage within the Faith. And, sadly, there are quite a few folks who want to use the Church as merely some kind of prop. If the marriage is not going to be in the Church, there is no reason that the wedding should be. There is always the courthouse down the road for such farces. And if and when the couple does wish to bring their marriage and married life into the Church, and not merely the wedding day, they can always have it regularized, but not until then.

The Church and priests presiding at weddings do not do anyone any favors by marrying couples that are not properly disposed. They are setting the couples up for failure. Besides, I am no mindreader, but I would venture to guess that most cohabiting couples (and otherwise sexually active couples) know in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong, and they would appreciate someone (anyone!) calling them on it.

No one who is not properly prepared or disposed has any standing or right to demand that the Church administer a sacrament to him or her, any more that we have a right to demand that God let us into heaven. The sacraments and grace are gifts -- wholly gratitious. They can be given; they can be withheld. And Jesus specifically gave the Church the authority, not only to give, but to withhold the sacraments, including matrimony. If the couple is not properly prepared and/or disposed, the priest should say, "no, come back later when you are."

As the Holy Father has said, reception of the sacraments is not automatic; the Church demands that the recipient(s) establish and maintain a friendship with Jesus, who is Love and Truth. Cohabitation, by its very nature, is inconsistent with that Love and Truth; it is inconsistent with a full and complete friendship with Jesus.


And the following was first posted on January 5, 2010.

Every annulment is a failure — at times, scandalously so.

If the annulment is valid, that is, the putative “marriage” really was null and void ab initio, such that there never really was a sacramental marriage, then that is evidence of a monumental failure on the part of the marrying priest. The couple should have been better prepared and, if they were not, then the priest should have said, “No. No, the Church will not marry you at this point, if ever.”

On the other hand, if it is the annulment that is factually invalid, that an annulment is decreed for what is actually a valid sacramental marriage, if the annulment is merely a Catholic divorce by another name, with a wink and a nudge, if the bride and the groom each did have the necessary capacity, etc., then that too is a monumental and scandalous failure on the part of the human inhabitants of the Church. Here too, the Church should have said, “No. No, an annulment will not be granted.”

Either way, the present situation — hopefully it is getting better — is untenable. Going back to prior discussions, there needs to be in the Church more speaking of truth, even if it is a hard truth, more saying of “no” — either at the beginning of the matrimonial process or at the end — rather than merely going in order to “keep the peace” and make people feel good.

* * *

I would say that if there are indications in the beginning that there might be grounds for someone to seek an annulment later on, then the priest should definitely say “no,” for example, if there indications, due to immaturity, state of mind, or otherwise, that one of the persons might lack the knowledge, understanding, ability, or capacity to give matrimonial consent to irrevocably, exclusively, and mutually give themselves and accept the other (canon 1057). Unless and until it is clear that each is sufficiently mature and has the requisite ability and capacity and good faith to give that matrimonial consent, then I should think that the Sacrament should be withheld, as in the case of the other sacraments, as Jan points out.

If there is proper marriage preparation and formation, no one should be able to come back later and legitimately claim that he or she did not know what he or she was doing or getting themselves into.

Msgr. Charles Pope responds: As I said above immaturity is hard to measure and prove. I agree we should do better but most priest are taught that people have a natural right to marry and we are not well trianed in gauging maturity.

State of mind is always difficult to prove (speaking here as a lawyer). You cannot easily peer into someone’s head and see what they are thinking. When at issue at trial, you prove it by what the person said and what he did, and make your inferences from that. At the plea stage, you make sure that a guilty plea is made knowingly, intelligently, willingly and voluntarily, with a full understanding of the nature and consequences of the action, by the judge asking the defendant a series of questions before the plea is accepted. Courts do not want people coming back later, after having had a change of heart, and claiming that their guilty plea was invalid.

Immaturity and other states of mind are hard to measure and prove. But that is just as true at the tribunal as it is at the altar. My understanding (and it is just from what I have heard) is that most of the annulments that are decreed are granted on that basis, that one or both of the parties was insufficiently mature or otherwise lacked the capacity to give matrimonial consent. From the number granted, there seems to be little problem measuring and proving immaturity at the end, and that is often years after the fact.

Presuming maturity and capacity in the beginning, while presuming invalid maturity and capacity at the end, would seem to be inconsistent, to say the least. I would bet that many of those who end up divorcing would have been happy and grateful had the priest or family members or anyone else said “no, you are not ready!” rather than merely acquiescing.

I’m not saying that we should be eager to withhold the sacraments, just the opposite. We should be so eager to dispense the sacraments that we certify that people are properly prepared and cannot come back later and claim that it was all defective and invalid. The time for a determination of invalidity should be before the marriage is entered into, not years later.

* * *

One of the great things about the human person is that he or she is made in the image of God. Thus, we are made in love and truth in order to love and be loved in truth. We share the Creator’s ability to reason, to act freely, to foster relationships, to grow and even create new life.

On the other hand, one might say that one of the “drawbacks,” so to speak, about the human person is that he or she is made in the image of God. That is, in the image of the Crucified One.

God is Love, but just look at how mankind returns that love — rejection, infidelity, disrespect, contempt — we even go so far as to torture and kill God. He has sought a spousal relationship with us and we have been the worst of the worst. And yet, He is ever faithful. He loves us, not because we deserve it — we don’t — and not because we have earned it — we haven’t — and not because we are so pretty or funny or smart, but because He chooses to love us no matter what. God doesn’t file for divorce, even though He has multiple grounds to do so.

But still, we are made in the image of Him whom we crucified, thus we should not be surprised when those we want to love, those whose love we seek in return spurn us, reject us, abuse us, are unfaithful to us. Indeed, knowing that our “significant other” is merely human, we should expect failures, we should expect disappointment from them. We should disabuse ourselves of the fairy tales.

Pope Benedict has spoken and written about how love necessarily involves suffering. That if we love, we will suffer. I’m still trying to grasp exactly what he means. But if we love as God loves, enthusiastically giving of ourselves completely, purified eros and agape combined, I suppose it will necessarily mean being hurt, being disappointed, but choosing to love nonetheless. In short, being a real man (or woman) as God intended us to be.


Anonymous said...

As a husband who defended a sacrament, winning
before the Rota, only to watch the Catholic priests and bishops in America openly welcome both parties in my wifes, continuing adultery, for now over 20 years, I would seek a Papal resignation, in person, if the scoundrel, Benedict, had the guts for a face to face with me.

He knows full well what is going on. Ignorance is NOT his problem. The choice not to ACT is. When a respondent has successfully defended a valid marriage, has sought help to heal the union from priests and bishops and has been ignored, the word of that respondent, male or female, ALONE and without due process, should result in removal from the clerical state and simultaneous excommunication respecting every cleric that is named as chosing to ignore a plea from an aggrieved, abandoned spouse.

This Pope and his predecessor are both guilty of horrendous choices not to act to come to the aid, directly, of spouses who have sought their aid.

It is a scandal that John Paul II is even allowed to be considered for beatification, much less sainthood. He was a disgrace regarding marriage. He, too, knew the score but chose to throw countless marriages under the bus.


Bender said...

I am sorry for the pain that such a situation has caused you. But your anger toward Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul is misplaced.

They taught and continue to teach in defense of the Sacrament and against abuses of the process, as they have taught against abuses of other sacraments, as well as abuses of moral matters. They have taught and advocated both truth and love. But even the pope is not a puppet-master. He cannot effectuate his will and make it be simply by saying, "let it be so."

Nevertheless, the whole reason for reposting these now is to set up the next post concerning Pope Benedict's recent address to the Rota making many of these same points. Far from being scoundrels, Benedict and John Paul are great gifts to the Church and the faithful, including those who have been harmed by knowing wrongfulness or misguided compassion by those inside and outside the Church.