Some remarks on Jared Staudt’s essay
Jared Staudt has an essay in Crisis on-line wherein he strives to promote solid Church teaching on marriage. Much of his essay is good, of course, but, in playing off some of Cdl. Kasper’s recent remarks, I fear Staudt has entered an apologetics fray for which his essay is not well suited. May I offer what I suggest are a few correctives.
1. Among the flaws in Kasper’s approach to divorce, remarriage, and admission to holy Communion, I think a major one is his view that living as brother and sister is a “heroic exercise” for divorced-and-remarried Catholics which, precisely because the Church does not regularly call the faithful to exercise heroism, we should not expect of divorced-and-remarried Catholics for admission to holy Communion. Staudt accepts Kasper’s description of this relationship as a “heroic exercise”. I challenge that view.
Whether one reads Lumen gentium as calling Christians to holiness (as the text copiously states) or one reads Lumen gentium as calling Christians to heroism (though the word never appears), we must not confuse the demands made of Christians in pursuit of goods with the demands made of Christians in the avoidance of evil. Even if the pursuit of certain goods requires heroic exercises, does refraining from evil ever require “heroic measures”? If so, what is one to make of the maxim that we are never tempted beyond our strength? Is everyone a hero, at least in times of temptation?
But Kasper’s view, if sound, forces a wider question: is Church teaching that non-married persons refrain from sex to demand heroics of them, or does it simply set out a minimal expectation for all those who claim to follow Jesus and his Church? I think it is the latter, and am therefore loath to conclude that this minimal expectation of chastity demands “heroic virtue”. But suppose I am wrong; suppose avoidance of sex outside of marriage really is a heroic exercise for divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Must we not then ask for whom else such an expectation is beyond their ordinary means? Engaged couples? Dating couples? Acquaintances? Complete strangers? Or are divorced-and-remarried Catholics alone in coping with trying circumstances?
2. Staudt writes: “What may be most troubling is [Kasper’s] rejection of what is clearly the answer to the problem of divorce and remarriage: abstinence from intercourse, because the couple is not validly married.” Now, much as I disagree with Kasper, we cannot say that abstinence from intercourse is “the answer to the problem of divorce and remarriage”!
The answer to the problem of divorce is not to divorce (outside of those cases allowed in CCC 2383 and the Pauline/Petrine Privilege) and the answer to the problem of remarriage is not to remarry (except after the death of one’s spouse, upon the invocation of the Pauline/Petrine Privilege, or following a declaration of nullity). Abstinence from intercourse has nothing to do with marriage per se; it is, in this context, simply one criterion for assessing (under very strict and very unusual circumstances) certain people’s eligibility for holy Communion! The primary wrong in divorce-and-remarriage remains a wrong against marriage, which wrong admittedly has reverberations in regard to Communion. But repairing a divorced-and-remarried Catholic’s access to Communion does not right the wrong that typical divorce and remarriage does to marriage.
3. Staudt writes: “To be the spouse that God wants you to be, you need to be a saint!” Again, I think this is dangerous language if it implies that only the holy can marry and stay married. A “holiness” criterion for marriage is simply not part of the Church’s teaching or tradition on the validity of marriage. Stuadt repeats this notion many times, but I don’t think he demonstrates it. I’d want more evidence before implying to married couples that the stability (even the existence) of their marriage depends on their holiness.
4. Staudt writes: “Kasper has also been criticized by Edward Peters for his additional comment ‘I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid.’ There may be at least some truth to this statement, no matter what the actual percentage is.” There are two problems with Stuadt’s gloss on my position.
Assertions regarding quality can admit of degrees of truth but not statements regarding quantity. If I come home from work after driving through a snowstorm and say “The roads are terrible”, the word terrible, being a description of quality, admits of degrees, allowing someone to remark that there is “some truth” to my description of the roads. But if I come home from work and say “My office is 42 miles from the house”, it makes no sense for someone to say that there is “some truth” to my claim. It would make even less sense for someone to say that my statement about mileage is somewhat true “no matter how far it actually is”. Kasper has made a numerical claim that 50% of marriages are invalid. I dispute his claim. I deny that his claim even could be “somewhat true”. And to suggest that Kasper might be correct no matter what the percentage of null marriages is, is nonsense.
5. Stuadt writes: “If we simply accept an adulterous relationship as normative (in divorce and remarriage), aren’t we caving in to a position that would quickly recognize these other [“same-sex marriages”] as valid?”
First, no one is advocating adulterous relationships as normative, so Stuadt’s phrasing, while objectionable, probably meant something else. But if he means that “acceptance” of divorce-and-remarriage logically demands acceptance of “same-sex marriage”, the reply must be, No it doesn’t. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, to name just one authority, allows for divorce and remarriage under some circumstances; but no circumstances will ever allow “same-sex marriage” to be approved by Catholic doctrine or law.
The above examples of imprecision in thinking might (might!) be okay in conversation, but in public writing, and for the effective public advocacy of Church teaching on marriage, much more exactness is required. + + +