From the Pill, to Catholic “Divorce” to the Apocalypse
|GUEST COLUMNIST, Spain|
(Posted 01/13/10 www.RemnantNewspaper.com) Nobody who wants to see can ignore that the Church is going through moments of great confusion. The Spirit of Darkness has worked so adroitly and efficiently that he has succeeded in spreading a dark cloak over the minds of multitudes of the Faithful.
Consequently, many Christians feel themselves confused about what they must do. It can be said straightforwardly that they are divided. On the one hand, we have the clear, categorical, and still in force norm. On the other, there is the daily, absolutely contrary practice: Shepherds tolerating ways of behavior – sometimes, even advising them – which are foreign and even totally opposite to the norm. It is not surprising that many sheep of the Flock of Christ feel themselves disoriented; worse yet, they have ended up abandoning the norm and consigning it to oblivion.
These statements, which undoubtedly must seem exaggerated to many, are unfortunately totally true. To prove it, a few rapid and widely accessible examples will do:
In the field of economics, the principle known as Gresham’s Law dictates that bad money will drive out good money. When two different currencies are available, one inflated and the other holding its value, people will always choose to pay their bills with the less valuable currency, until the better money gradually disappears from circulation. Since the late 1960s the same general principle has been at work in the Catholic Church: lax pastoral practice has driven out sound spiritual formation. Yes, the Church still bans the use of contraceptives. But for the past forty years, at least, a married Catholic has rarely had difficulty finding a priest who would tell him that in ‘his’ particular case, the use of contraceptives could be morally justified. Similarly, a Catholic who was troubled by the Church’s teaching on divorce or on regular Mass attendance has generally been able to find a sympathetic cleric who would salve his conscience. In practice Catholics have found that it is possible to flout Catholic teachings, with the tacit blessing of someone who represents the Church.[i]
Philip Lawler, a well-known, accredited American journalist and author – and very knowledgeable of his country’s Church – is referring here to the Church in North America; but what he says can be perfectly applied to the Churches in Spain and in many other places.
Let us consider first the issue of the contraceptive pill. Almost everyone uses it, and countless are the priests who advise this practice in confession.
Nevertheless, the clear and condemning teaching in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae about this subject is still in force. And practically all Christians, more or less consciously, know it. Or at least they suspect it. It is difficult to admit that there is here a case of held-in-good-faith erroneous conscience because, if it really exists, it has likely been caused by trickery, in an illegal way (that is, by giving and receiving counseling known to be contrary to the teachings of the Magisterium). But let us admit, at least, to a doubtful conscience; but even then one cannot licitly act upon it, for, according to the Apostle, all that is not faith is sin (Rom 14:23), according to a traditional interpretation about moral conscience which nobody has ever denied.
Be that as it may, it is difficult to dispel the idea that a schizophrenic conscience is being generated among Christian people: one thing is believed, and its opposite is practiced; in other words: an attitude of trying to forget the norm in order to ignore it totally. Therefore, only God knows when our consciences are justified.
Unfortunately, one must acknowledge that it was Pope Paul VI himself who, with his good will but also with his hesitations, contributed to creating this problem. Several years went by before his Encyclical was published; it was said that throughout the duration, the issue of the contraceptive pill was being studied, similar to being subjected to a moratorium ad experimentum. Human nature, though, has its own ways, and when the Encyclical came out, it was too late and nobody was willing to abandon the contraceptive pill.
I remember that year when my Bishop (Most Reverend Roca Cabanellas, a good Bishop about whom I keep pleasant memories) ordered us priests to attend a three-day workshop in order that we could become aware of the new moral doctrine whose publication seemed imminent. At least that was what Bishop Cabanellas thought in good faith, and many other people with him. I was a young priest at the time, but I had already studied Natural Law in depth; the very first day I left the workshop totally scandalized. I thought that something that breaks the natural laws of the human organism, and therefore goes against Natural Law, could never be approved by the Magisterium of the Church. Shortly afterwards, the Encyclical saw the light in clear continuity with the traditional doctrine of all times, as could not have been otherwise.
The most delicate issue here – which gave rise to another much more serious problem – is that the controversy surrounding the contraceptive pill and the papal Encyclical seems to have triggered the appearance of a flood of ideas questioning the Magisterium of the Church. It was a whole arsenal of disintegrating ideas which has reached its zenith in modern times and which has provoked a veritable attack against the Church, who cannot subsist without a Magisterium assisted by the Holy Spirit.
Here we should clarify an important point. We are not questioning the pastoral policy of the Church; even less any of her teachings that have to do with her Magisterial activity. I think we Catholics agree that whether they are understood or not, liked or not, ecclesiastical provisions should be obeyed. We are just trying to outline some considerations that arise from legitimate concerns about certain aspects of ecclesiastical policy, seemingly alien to multi-secular praxis, which do not fall in any way under the protective shroud of the infallible Magisterium. It is true that, on certain occasions, the requirements of fidelity will have to endure some sort of personal immolation, the kind that goes beyond one’s own understanding or even one's heart. But that is how matters of Faith work; and the Church, as we proclaim in the Creed –I believe in the Holy Catholic Church—, is also an Article of Faith.
Having said this, it is time to present the second problem that is even more serious than the previous one, since it affects the survival and stability of the Christian family: the indissolubility of the marriage bond. Established as such by Divine Law (Mt 19: 1-11), proclaimed and taught without hesitation by the Magisterium for centuries, and also confirmed through the practice of twenty centuries, this reality reached even Vatican II as an immutable truth (Gaudium et Spes, n. 48; cf. before, for example, Pius XI, Casti Connubii, Denz. 3706).
But the so-called Western World abandoned its religious roots founded in the Gospel – which had given it firmness and foundation – and became post-Christian. It embraced divorce as a triumph of civilization and has now become a universal practice that cannot be reversed. Everything seems to indicate that many members of the Hierarchy of the Church were fearful and overcome by a world they did not quite comprehend. And that is how one of the most alarming and intriguing phenomena of the Church emerged again: The fear of being considered as strange and foreign to the world.
Of course the Church cannot abolish or modify Divine Law, nor can she contradict her own Magisterium. But, then...?
Then there arose a way to get around this difficulty: the declaration of the nullity of the marriage bond. It is absolutely not a divorce; just an official declaration that there was no consent and therefore neither was there real marriage.
That is how the problem can be definitively fixed. From that moment on, any Catholic couple can go to their parish to request an annulment, with the certainty that they will be amiably and efficiently taken care of. And they will even receive all kinds of amenities, as are given at travel agencies. Any pretext, no matter how small, is acceptable, including, for example, emotional instability, to invalidate consent. In this way, filings for annulments are resolved favorably at a rate close to 100%. And in the extremely rare occurrence that some cases are rejected, there always remains the instance of a superior court (the Archdiocese, for example) to rule finally in favor of the applicants.
Of course there will always be those who will tend to think that this process seems a lot like fraud; but it never amounts to much: people tend to think and admit what they like, even though, deep down, they suspect that it is a deception. If anyone is skeptical about this last statement, try flattering a fool by telling him that he is smart, or an ugly woman by assuring her that she is pretty.
That is how it usually happens that a Catholic married couple, who have lived many years as man and wife and have been blessed by few or many children, may suddenly find that they had lived all that time in concubinage (objectively, if not subjectively); and the children, legitimate as they were, have automatically become illegitimate.
Nevertheless, one may ask: where does the power of a mere Diocesan Curia come from to validate such situations and to establish them in their new status formally and officially…? And yet the fact remains that Catholic spouses can separate in this way whenever they wish it and without any type of difficulty (in fact, many priests even suggest this type of declaration of nullity).
By then, very grave and serious problems have only started. Camouflaged divorce represents a much graver danger for Christian People than what a superficial observer might imagine. Even those affected by this problem are not clearly aware of its danger; perhaps because they are resolved not to perceive it, which they do in a more or less conscious, but certainly culpable, manner. I am referring here to the schizophrenia of conscience: the Faithful are getting used to living with a torn conscience: that is, it is almost certain that, to some extent, they have a feeling that things are not at all clear.
The indissolubility of Christian marriage has been a constant and patent truth for the Catholic Faithful, unquestionably admitted for centuries, and so deeply rooted, of course, in everybody’s mind for it to be now so easily eradicated. The truth is that, in spite of the many deficiencies that may have existed in their education, it is practically impossible for Catholics to claim total ignorance about this issue. Consequently, once the alleged divorce (now called nullity of the marriage bond) is obtained and the potential new marriage has taken place, peace of conscience becomes impossible for the rest of their lives for those who have welcomed this practice. Like the mother who has consented to aborting the son of her womb; no matter what she is told and regardless of the protection provided by the law, the murder of her own son will be an indelible seal for her, which will weigh during all her life upon a soul branded by the white-hot iron of a veritable parricide.
The problem is not difficult to understand. On the one hand there is the norm, which is clear, patent, and categorical. It is a norm of Divine Law, according to the words of Jesus Christ Himself: What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder (Mk 10:9). On the other hand there is the fact: two persons who have been united in marriage (perhaps for many years and with children) are granted a separation and are guaranteed that their separation can be done legally. Is there room here for a right conscience regarding a mere Diocesan Curia being able to grant legal status to this situation? Possibly only God knows; but it is difficult to dispel the idea that consciences here will be forever branded with the sentiment of doubt; torn, therefore, by a latent remorse which will never go away. And even in the very improbable case, if at all possible, that somebody would acquire a conscience, certain and in good faith (although erroneous), about the legality of his or her situation, the Damocles sword of an act which has broken Divine Law will always be somehow hanging over his or her head: Be not deceived: God is not mocked (Gal 6:7).
The strangest thing about this issue is the fact that, when confronted with this flagrant and painful contradiction between the norm and the practice, the Hierarchy has nothing to offer but silence. Undoubtedly we are dealing here with a situation serious enough to warrant, from the legitimate Magisterium, a definite clarification of the matter which would bring peace to consciences. It is a much more serious problem, since it involves the salvation of souls, than the problems of globalization, the warming of the planet, the world financial crisis, the convenience of a universal Government, etc.; besides, it falls under the direct competence of the Hierarchy.
It could be that we are producing Catholics destined to suffer schizophrenia of conscience for the rest of their lives; truly, for the rest of their lives. And then, what?
Besides, the argument: since the Church permits it…, does not seem very convincing. For such argument to be entirely valid, it also has to explain why they are doing now that which has never been done before for twenty centuries and about which they have always said that it could not be done.
When I was a young priest, for some years I did pastoral work in the city of Cuenca, in the wonderful Ecuadorian Andes. At the time, Cuenca was not too large a city, rather quiet, beautiful, and with very good people. There was a large Salesian School in the area with many students. And in that School there was the famous Father Crespi, a good-natured man, rather eccentric, apostle of the children, and quite an accomplished social worker. Nevertheless, he had the habit – I said that he was somewhat special – of confessing the children in groups: he placed six or seven of them at the same time before his confessional; he more or less heard their summarized confessions and dispatched them with an absolution. I had the chance of hearing the confession of many of those children, who invariably started their confession by saying: I went to confession so long ago…, but it was with Father Crespi! Undoubtedly, those little ones, despite their youth, possessed discernment, along with a vague conscience that those confessions were not clear at all. And now, one can draw his own conclusions when it comes to adults.
As for me, this problem greatly overwhelms and worries me. Regarding its implications, I sometimes even doubt that it was fear of the World which moved the Church to ingratiate herself with it. Is there perhaps something deeper?
From its inception, marriage has always been a natural institution, which Our Lord Jesus Christ later elevated to the category of Sacrament. From that moment on, the bill of divorce which Moses had permitted was abolished, definitively abrogating divorce and declaring as adultery any new bond established after the attempted nullity of the first and legitimate one (Mk 10: 1—11).
Since then, the indissolubility of marriage has been an undisputed patrimony of the Christian People who kept it untouched for centuries up to the present time, as an incontrovertible institution, without any possible exceptions or wavering regarding its inalterable character and its permanence until death. Although Protestantism began to discard the indissolubility, the same did not happen in the Catholic Church; after all, she is the sole guardian and depository of the legitimate teachings of her Divine Founder. There are very rare and exceptional cases contemplated in her teaching: the so-called Petrine or Pauline privileges, unconsummated marriage, etc., but their determination was always reserved to the Apostolic See; their rarity and special exceptions excuse us from dealing with them here.
During twenty centuries, Catholics lived their Faith without even so much as thinking about divorce. Logically, as it always happens in any type of human coexistence, there is always a possibility that discrepancies, dissentions or disputes may arise, some more important, the majority of them banal. But, in spite of them, the spouses always managed their differences and went on.
Above all, because love ultimately understands, forgives and forgets. When two persons love each other, as it normally happens in the marriage bond, all problems are solved. Especially if one takes into account that the Sacrament also provides extraordinary graces, which, in this case, consist of help from Above to keep peace, happiness, and constancy in the face of adversity within the marital union; help also to assist the spouses in their sublime duty as parents and educators of their children.
We can add here that the clear certainty that their union was indissoluble and with no possibility of disappearance (except by death) was firmly rooted in the spouses, as well as unanimously confirmed by society at large. One can easily imagine that this conviction greatly helped the couple to overcome any problem, turning it into a minor and passing incident. Who can doubt that such conviction, also proclaimed without any hesitancy by the Church, provided the marriage bond with an extraordinary stability?
But the Revolution came, incarnated this time in the possibility of obtaining the annulment of the marriage bond. For that is the name given since then to such a novelty, although nobody has ever harbored any doubts as to its true meaning.
This was the starting signal and the moment the debacle began. Thus divorces appeared and then were augmented to truly exponential quantities. Additionally, husband and wife did not encounter any problem in getting the annulment of the bond, other than walking the distance to the parish. Any reason put forward was considered valid; if it did not seem very plausible, the ecclesiastical setting helped find another, either a real reason or one presenting symptoms of being imaginary. If anybody thinks that the just-mentioned exponential augmentation is an exaggeration, he has only to consult the statistics; or he can go out into the street and observe what is going on around him.
But marriage is the foundation of Family, and Family is the primal cell and the main School of Formation in Christian life, especially if one takes into account the new human beings that come into this world. Consequently, the System has made an indescribable effort to undermine the foundations of the Family. In Spain, for example, the Socialist Marxist Government has unleashed a campaign to destroy the Family, which is undoubtedly the most unrestrained and important ever carried out in a civilized country in the last two centuries. Parents have been deprived of the right of having their children taught in their mother tongue; children are being corrupted, indoctrinated and introduced to sexual life from their most tender childhood; the teaching of atheism and paganism is compulsory in the Schools, sometimes through special ad hoc subjects; minor girls are authorized by law to abort without the consent or the knowledge of their parents; the homosexual and lesbian unions have been declared legal marriages and exceedingly promoted, giving them the right to adopt children; the promotion of prophylactics and information about using them is a normal and compulsory subject in the School; abortion is a legally protected procedure (the right to conscience objection is not allowed to doctors); at the same time, euthanasia is beginning to be accepted and promoted, etc., etc.
And yet, as incredible as it may seem, at least in Spain, the powerful means employed by the System have not been the greatest contributors to the destruction of the Christian Family. The tremendous and painful reality, although nobody dares to admit it and much less to say it publicly, is that the camouflaged divorce has introduced confusion inside the Catholic world; therefore, it has supplied the most effective means for the dissolution and gradual disappearance of Catholic families as such. These families, had they been encouraged and instructed by the example and teaching of their rightful Pastors, would have undoubtedly held back (at least most of them) the onslaught of the System, as has always happened in times of persecution. Unfortunately, it could not be so in this case: The Hierarchy has been impeded in accomplishing it, busy as it is with its tasks in preparing the International Encounter of Youth with the Pope, scheduled, as everybody knows, to be celebrated in Madrid, in 2011.
How have we come to this situation of admitting the so-called declaration of nullity of the marriage bond as a normal procedure in the ecclesiastical praxis? It is the task of Philosophy to study the profound reasons for things and events, that is, their ultimate causes. Doubtless, the case we are now commenting upon would be a most interesting subject for that philosophical study which would surely lead us to astounding conclusions. To be sure, such a study would have to go beyond the intentions of those who have somehow intervened in the operation of loosening the ties of the marriage bond, for such intentions could have obeyed designs which the minds of those who have seen them through have not always been fully aware.
We must remember first and foremost that temporal limitations, such as temporary character or partial giving, are entirely incompatible with Love. Love with a predetermined deadline – ad tempus – is not true love, which, because of its very essence or nature, understands neither conditions nor limitations of any kind. He does not really surrender everything he has, who gives his love for a fixed term. That is why such attitude has nothing to do with Love, whose essence implies totality within Itself. To express it more clearly, a love in whose nature there is an implicit possibility of mere temporality, in the form of an expiration date, is not true love.
The Love that does not revolve around and sustain itself on the central axis of totality is not Love. We can hear it in Jesus’ own words, who, when asked about the most important commandment, answered: You shall love the Lord your God with ‘all’ your heart, with ‘all’ your soul, with ‘all’ your mind and with ‘all’ your strength (Mk 12:30); wherein it is to be noticed the repetitious insistence of the word all. In this regard, it is interesting to recall the curious case narrated in the Acts of the Apostles regarding Ananias and his wife Sapphira who sold their field with the intention of handing the profit over to the Christian community, but secretly kept part of the money for themselves, which earned them a sharp rebuke from Saint Peter: Ananias, why has Satan tempted your heart, that you should lie to the Holy Ghost and by fraud keep part of the price of the land?... You have not lied to men, but to God (Act 5: 3-4). Similarly, in the Song of Songs: putting love on a par with any other thing, including all of one’s property, deserves only contempt: If anyone should offer all his property in exchange for love, he would only be despised (Song 8:7).
To admit temporality in love relationships, which in this case is nothing but a form of partial self-giving, is merely the result of the degradation of the most sublime of realities, namely, Love. Marriage is founded upon and explained through Love and by Love; for it presupposes the unconditional surrender of a man to a woman and vice versa: In sickness and in health, in good and bad times, in triumph and in disgrace... Until death. If the Apostle equates marriage to the surrender of Christ for His Church – This is a great sacrament: but I speak in Christ and in the Church (Eph 5:32) –, it then becomes impossible to admit in it temporality, which is, after all and as we have already said, one more variation of partial self-giving.
The idea of a possible dissolution of the marriage bond has become commonplace in the world, introduced even into the Church herself, where the concept of Love has become lukewarm. This expression, although strong, belongs to Jesus Christ Himself, who announced that a general cooling of charity would take place as the Final Times are closely approaching: In those days – these are the Lords’ words –, because iniquity has abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold (Mt 24: 12).
And that is not the worst. Since, as the Apostle Saint John says, Love is an indispensable condition, or sine qua non, to know God (1Jn 4:8), we are brought to the conclusion that Christians who would no longer believe in Love, will have stopped loving, believing, and knowing God.
Is this the situation and moment in which we find ourselves? This is perhaps the worst and most important danger among the five we have enumerated (from least to most important) as possible consequences to be derived from the fact of having given a green light to that which in truth is opposite to the indissolubility, strength, firmness, and holiness of Christian Marriage.
Father Alfonso Gálvez, SJCP, a native of Spain, is the founder of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest. He has priests working in Spain, the United States, Ecuador, and Chile. Several of Father's books have been translated into English. Father lives in Spain.
[i] Philip F. Lawler, The Faithful Departed, Encounter Books, New York, 2008, pp.125-126.