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Some reactions to Bp. Lynch’s ‘Locker Room’ essay

Defenders of right reason and doctrinal coherence must often, these days, upon reading the latest column in support of, say, holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics or ecclesial recognition of the gay life-style, engage in ‘comprehensional self-checks’ along the lines of “Did so-and-so really say that? Can that possibly mean what it seems clearly to have said?” But, to an extent that has never been required of one before, Bp. Robert Lynch’s (St. Petersburg FL) “Locker Room” essay on the Synod of Bishops and the future of the Church demands that readers repeatedly stop and make sure that they are not eisegetically ascribing to a Catholic bishop positions that no informed Catholic can defend.

For those willing to wade through Lynch’s juvenile sports-theme prose, to overlook his more startling characterizations of the synod (“it was collegiality exercised in its most pristine form”) or its procedures (“transparency has never been more apparent” {huh?}), and forgive his digs at the Church herself (“which until now has thought that the best form of governance is secret governance”), I offer the following.

Lynch writes: “I cannot, we cannot promise [gays and lesbians] that we will ever be likely to recognize the nature of their unions as sacramental…”

I must ask: does a sentence like that show any regard for what its words mean?

Of the myriad of “unions” between human beings—spousal, parental, friendships, co-workers, religious groupings, political factions, educational, artistic, economic, military, conspiratorial, criminal, and so on—only one union, namely, that between husband and wife, is regarded by the Church as (potentially) a sacrament. Only one. Knowing, therefore, that no other human union besides marriage could be a sacrament, Lynch must be talking about ‘same-sex marriage’ and, albeit regretfully, predicting that the label “sacrament” will be withheld from it.

But, setting aside Lynch’s inadvertence to the fact that, even among human unions that are indisputably marriage, only some of them (namely, those between two baptized spouses) are “sacramental”, the bishop seems not to know, first, that no sacrament of matrimony can exist unless that union is first, by natural law, a marriage (and that the Church teaches with infallible certainty that marriage can exist only between a man and a woman), and second, that Christ raised marriage (and only marriage) to the level of a sacrament we call Matrimony. Put another way, a same-sex union cannot be a marriage under natural law, so it cannot be the sacrament of Matrimony under Church law. To hold as even possible that same-sex unions could… maybe… might…one day be reckoned a true marriage and, from there, that they could… maybe… might… eventually be recognized as sacraments, defies both right reason and doctrinal coherence.

I have read several times Lynch’s line wistfully closing the door on recognizing the sacramentality of same-sex unions as if such recognition were simply a bridge too far (that is, not impossible in itself, but only impossible for us now with the means at our disposal) and I cannot read it as other than reflecting a complete unawareness of the absolute necessity of marriage under natural law to anything that would be sacramental Matrimony by the will of Christ.

Looking at Cbp. Faris’ remarks on marriage

Maronite Chorbishop John Faris won’t remember this, but 25 years ago I took his Eastern Canon Law seminar at CUA and was fascinated by it. Since that time, I have seen Faris’ work favorably reviewed several times by the canonical community, such that today one might fairly say, as did the old commercial, When Chorbishop Faris talks, people listen.

That’s why I am concerned over how Faris’ remarks on marriage as presented to the CLSA convention this week are being reported. CLSA papers are published in the annual proceedings so we will eventually be able to read Faris’ remarks directly, but for now, let’s look at what he seems to have said. Faris in italics, my observations in regular font.

Penance can be “a pastoral response to the problem of a marital breakdown and a successive marital union,” he said …

     What “marital union” would that be? The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to such relationships not as “marital unions” but as “public and permanent adultery” (CCC 2384).

[P]enance, including acts of piety and charity, has a longstanding tradition in the Eastern Church, [and] while penance doesn’t return a situation to the status quo, it does serve a purpose in healing the offender and repairing damage to the ecclesial community, he said.

     Penance (the sacrament thereof) requires, according to the common and constant opinion of learned persons, the penitent’s firm resolve to put away the sin being confessed. How does entering or remaining in “public and permanent adultery”—or at least using that “second marriage” as the occasion for sexual relations appropriate only to married couples—evidence a firm resolve to put away the sin? In the absence of such resolve, how could absolution be conferred and reconciliation be effected?

“Perhaps both the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches could accept the challenge to formulate a pastoral approach that does not abdicate responsibility to consider the facts of the former marriage, the spiritual state of the faithful who are seeking to remarry and the possibility that persons who remarry are not automatically excluded from full communion with the Church,” Chorbishop Faris said.

     Skipping the first two obviously-true assertions, divorced-and-remarried Catholics are not excluded from full communion because the Church says they are excluded, but rather, the Church understands Christ’s words against divorce and remarriage to mean that such persons are excluded from full communion. There is absolutely no point in debating Church practice here unless one directly confronts the words of Christ himself.

A concern among canonists is that adopting “oikonomia” elicits a reaction that the “law has been abandoned and a ‘feel-good’ approach has been adopted,” he said.

     Permit a chuckled, Yup.

But the Catholic Church does have a developed, codified understanding of economy: the dispensation. A dispensation is an administrative act, not a legislative act, that relaxes “the obligation contained in a law but does not affect the juridical stability of the law itself, which retains its force and is not thereby abrogated,” Chorbishop Faris said.

     Dispensation. A canonical concept, to be assessed canonically. Fine. Canon 85 defines dispensation as “the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law”. Merely ecclesiastical. But it is two doctrinal truths (each reflected in various ways in canon law) that are involved here, namely, Christ’s rejection of divorce-and-remarriage, and, the obligation to withhold the Eucharist from the publicly unworthy, no? Now, I know of no canonist who holds that the Church has authority to dispense from divine law, so, I do not see how “dispensation” from either divine directive could be granted to allow those entering or living in “public and permanent adultery” to be given holy Communion.

“The dispensation does not affect the juridical stability of the law itself, which prohibits the reception of the Eucharist by those who are generally considered unworthy because of their irregular unions, but does address the spiritual needs of individuals,” he said.

     I do not understand this sentence.

While the law must be upheld, condemning in blanket fashion those who have divorced and sought to remarry doesn’t help the situation, he said.

     Sigh. Defenders of doctrine and traditional practice in this area may have grown accustomed to being portrayed as “condemning” this group or that, but it is still insulting to many discussants. Let’s not go down that path.

“What we need to do is converse. For me, abortion, for example, has no gray areas. But when (we approach) someone who has had an abortion, we have to be merciful. It’s a horrible thing that has happened. But after the cross, God brought life. The Church needs to teach the truth in mercy.”

     No defender of Church teaching on divorce-and-remarriage has the slightest problem with this example. Abortion is a terrible sin but it can be forgiven under the usual conditions (which include the firm resolve never to commit the sin of abortion again). Entering or living in “public and permanent adultery” is a terrible sin but it can be forgiven under the usual conditions (which include the firm resolve not enter or live in such a union as if one were married again). What is not clear about that?

Well, as noted above, we’ll be able to read Cbp. Faris’ actual remarks in due time. Till then I caution against assuming that media reports of his views are accurate and, even if they are accurate, that they admit of no reasonable rebuttal.

The wrong response to a demand not made

I share Philadelphia Abp. Charles Chaput’s deep frustration at how confused the Church was made to appear at Synod 2014.  I share the prelate’s concern for the future of marriage in this country. But Chaput’s opining that a general clergy refusal to sign civil marriage certificates would “as a matter of principled resistance, [have] vastly more witness value than being kicked out of the marriage business later by the government” is to offer the wrong response to a demand that has not been made.

Before anything else—even though the archbishop avoided calling for such refusal at this time—we need to make extremely clear to clerics that their unilateral failure or refusal to complete the civil registration of any weddings they witness can have very serious negative consequences for couples (re: tax liabilities, insurance coverage, property ownership and inheritance, assertions of spousal rights and privileges, and so on). Clergy must not seize upon the archbishop’s remarks as the occasion to launch their own private resistance to the deterioration of marriage in America. It would be very helpful to have that point clearly reiterated by ecclesiastical leadership.

Now, as to the content of the archbishop’s suggestion, the idea of refusing ecclesiastical cooperation with civil marriage is not new, and I am on record as favoring such cooperation under present circumstances (First Things, April 2014, p. 38). Seeing as yet no refutation of my arguments I see no reason to change my position though I am happy to consider others’ views. But in the meantime, who says ‘better to quit than to lose’? The Church’s abandoning of civil marriage would simply relieve the State of having to decide not only what marriage really is, but also, what religious freedom means in America and where conscience lines should be drawn in a great society. If Chaput is right that a crisis such as that now raging over marriage “clarifies the character of the enemies who hate” the Church and the truth—and Chaput is right about that—how does the Church’s walking away from that crisis force the State to confront its current evil trajectory?

At present, the State does not require Catholic clergy to assert anything contrary to truth and conscience in completing the civil registration of marriages over which they officiate (a marriage registration form that designates only Spouse A and Spouse B is clumsy, I grant, but it is hardly evil, certainly no more evil than is, say, signing a 1040 joint return that only indicates “Spouse”, instead of allowing one to specify “Husband” or “Wife”). If the day comes that the State demands clerics to assert something false or evil—and Chaput is right to worry that such a day might come—then will we say “Thus far and no further.” But that day has not come, it might not come, and if it does come, let the State be seen to have acted evilly and not the Church be seen to have made it easier to happen.

Update: Earlier posts on the same topic responding to Msgr Pope here and George Weigel here.

Notre Dame is confused

The University of Notre Dame has decided “to extend benefits to all legally married persons, including same-sex spouses….” Renowned Notre Dame law professor Gerry Bradley has set out the civil law options Notre Dame could have pursued and Bp. Kevin Rhoades has put the university on notice that their decision does not seem commensurate with the duties Catholic institutions owe to Catholic (not to mention natural law) truths. Here I address just one aspect of the issue, namely, Notre Dame’s confusing “all legally married persons” with “same-sex spouses”.

Within the pool of persons dubbed “legally married”, nearly all such unions—whether involving Catholics, baptized Christians, or non-baptized persons—would be recognized by the Church (and by natural law) as being presumptively true (if not always sacramental) marriages. As a matter of principle, then, such unions can be treated as marriages by Notre Dame. Even in regard to persons divorced from first spouses and living in second unions, it is possible that such unions might be true marriages (although that status is not immediately recognizable by canon or natural law and, among Catholics, results in obstacles to reception of certain sacraments). Still, as a matter of prudence, Notre Dame could, especially in the absence of information not likely to be accessible to employers, regard such unions as marriages.

But in regard to so-called “same-sex marriage” there is no possibility that such a union could ever be marriage, not under Church teaching, and not by natural law, and therefore, there is no argument by which Notre Dame could regard such unions as marriage. Notre Dame’s treatment of “same-sex marriage” as being included among “legally married persons” is categorically flawed and any policy, to the extent it relies on that confusion, is necessarily vitiated.

What I owe to Bl. Pope Paul VI

Paul VI was not the greatest pope ever. He is not on my “Top Five Popes” list and I am not sure he even makes my Top Ten. Paul VI was often feckless and he made some terrible episcopal appointments, appointments whose reverberations hinder us to this day. But for all that, I owe Paul a special debt of gratitude, one I can scarcely ever hope to repay. It goes back nearly 40 years.

Like most reasonably bright sophomores in college, I knew pretty much everything about everything and I was certainly an expert on anything I chose to take a position on. That included, among matters ecclesiastic, contraception. Not that I had ever read Pope Paul’s Humanae vitae, mind, or knew anything whatsoever about the topic beyond what I had picked up from groovy 1970s clergy (who smirked whenever they talked about Paul VI, or about sex, or, come to think of it, just about anything else), but I was quite sure that the funny-looking pope was out to lunch on contraception and that the Church was only embarrassing herself by pretending otherwise.

Anyway, one day at lunch in the dorm the topic of contraception came up and I began dropping omniscient quips about Pope Paul and his silly teaching, whereupon a classmate (who, not being afraid to admit his own limitations, was not afraid to point out others’) asked me point blank, “Have you ever read Humanae vitae?” Thank God I answered honestly, “No”, because it freed him to say, “Well then, you really don’t have much to add to this conversation, do you?” I was instantly convicted, not just in the eyes of all at that table, but in my eyes, too, of laboring under ignorance and arrogance, and my teenage world suddenly widened to reveal that some people in it were not much disposed to indulge other people spouting nonsense rooted in both at their lunch table.

I drove immediately to the local Catholic bookstore, asked for a copy of Humanae vitae and was handed a 20 page pamphlet (surprising me, for I had figured that Humanae vitae must be a large book to have generated so much attention). I returned home, went to my room, closed the door, sat down at my desk, and read Paul’s VI little booklet straight through.

I’ll never forget it: I reached the last paragraph, closed the text carefully, sat up straight, and heard myself say aloud (I think I said it aloud, but the words were just as clear): “My God, if the Church is right about contraception, it could be right about everything!” And neither my many sins since, nor the Church’s frequent bungling of her divine message, nor any other factor taken singularly or in combination, has ever led me to doubt, since that day, that the graces guaranteeing the Church’s proclamation of the truths contained in Humanae vitae are at work in her always and everywhere. It has been an unswerving consolation to me ever since.

That’s what I owe to Bl. Pope Paul VI. I’ll never be able to repay him.

Say it’s so, Joe, say it’s so

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (Louisville KY) and I served together at the 2012 Synod and I was consistently edified by his example of love for the Church, for the Truth she proclaims, and for the people she serves. Thus, a recent comment by Kurtz, reported in Robert Royal’s valuable daily commentary on the 2014 Synod, seems a portent of some good that might yet come from it.

Per Royal: “A reporter who interviewed Cardinal Kasper this week informed the panel that Kasper claims there’s a growing majority for his position on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Though the panel wouldn’t venture to say whether that was true, Archbishop Kurtz claimed that the general sense of the Extraordinary Synod is that that particular question will need to be studied by the experts between now and the 2015 follow-up Synod” emphasis added.

Could it be that, finally, the unswerving and public commitment of Cdls. Burke, Müller, and Pell, to name just three, to settled Church teaching on divorce and remarriage, on contrition and Confession, and on the nature of and the requisites for sharing in, the Eucharist, is bearing fruit? Could the fine essays of the authors of Remaining in the Truth of Christ (Ignatius, 2014), and perhaps even some posts by bloggers in the provinces, finally be having an impact on the consciousness of the Synod that certain ecclesiastical matters cannot simply be “felt” their way through, or “emoted” through, but instead have to be thought through by men and women who know what they are talking about and are ready to share that information with prelates, lest, from lack of knowledge or insufficient attention, incalculable harm be done to the Church’s mission and to the people she serves?

Please, say it’s so, Abp. Joe, say it’s so!

Why, even this comment lifted from today’s Language Group reports seems to acknowledge that doctrine is very, very much at stake in the so-called “disciplinary” question about reception of holy Communion by divorced-and-remarried Catholics: With regard to possibility of divorced and remarried persons partaking in the sacrament of the Eucharist, two main perspectives emerged: on the one hand, it was suggested that the doctrine not be modified and to remain as it is at present; on the other, to open up the possibility of communication, with an approach based on compassion and mercy, but only under certain conditions.” VIS 141016, emphasis added. Indeed, “only under certain conditions”.

Exactly.

A note on Relatio post disceptationem 51

I do not know exactly at what point understatement becomes platitude, and where platitude descends into patronizing, but those points were reached and passed on the Synod’s way to informing Catholics “that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman.” Relatio 51.

For starters, by definition, no mere “union” between human beings can be on the ‘same footing’ as “marriage” because marriage is that unique human relationship wherein there is established a permanent consortium of the whole of life ordered to, among other things, the procreation and education of children. Canon 1055. Obviously, if there is only one of something, nothing else can be on the ‘same footing’ with it.

But if by the term same-sex “union”, the Relatio really has in mind “same-sex marriage” (and various reasons suggest that is what it intended to address), then, to leave Catholics with the impression that such “unions”, while not on the ‘same footing’ as “marriage”, nevertheless approach marriage, is pastorally irresponsible: The Church teaches with infallible certainty that two persons of the same sex cannot enter marriage. The only, highly technical at that, question on the table regarding that teaching is whether it is infallibly proclaimed as “an object of belief” or as “a doctrine to be held”, a question this Synod seems ill-equipped to consider.

But, regardless of how that technical question is answered, whatever “union” results from the coming together of two persons of the same sex, that relationship cannot be analogized to natural or Christian marriage—at least not without risking serious harm to settled Church teaching and needless confusion among those who depend on that teaching.

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