The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family: How empathy promotes division…

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Over at The Catholic Thing, Brad Miner posts a fantasy discussion between a Catholic man and a divorced Catholic woman who has announced she is getting remarried. The gist of it is that a priest—Fr. Blithe—has told the woman that the remarriage is fine. Moreover, he will witness it at St. Brendan’s. The Catholic man will have nothing of it, and tells her so. Or, better, he re-catechizes the woman about Church teaching—the “rules.” She concludes, “That is so unfair!”

The scene aptly describes the situation confronting the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops this October concerning marriage and family.

Reading numerous websites—including the National Catholic Reporter and The Wanderer—to get the full spectrum of what Catholics are thinking about the Synod, Miner’s post identifies what appear to be the fault lines. On the one side, there are those who hope the Synod will change Church teaching. These are the forces of pastoral reform who feel angry because the Church is being “so unfair.” On the other side, there are those arguing that Church teaching must not and cannot change.

Unfortunately, many view the matter of marriage and family as well as the division among Catholics as a political matter, in particular, where theology and ecclesiology interface. They would have the division dealt with and solved politically, not as a rupture in the Church that requires healing. Empathy for the plight and feelings people have as a result of their freely-made commitments—important as it is and as is required within the Christian community—may make people feel better. But, it doesn’t bring healing. After all, empathy for a Stage 1 cancer patient doesn’t keep the cancer from spreading.

That is where Miner’s post is extremely important.

At first read, some (and more likely, many) Catholics will be offended by this Catholic man’s patient, persistent, and sound catechesis and will not empathize with him. Instead, they will attack his character, lack of compassion, as well as his fundamental lack of awareness. “After all,” they will argue, “the times have changed.” One can easily imagine someone asking the Catholic man: “Just who do you think you are to tell this poor woman how to live her life? Fr. Blithe has it exactly right because he cares for her like Jesus cared for sinners.”

The trouble is that Fr. Blithe has it all wrong. Moreover, he has allowed empathy to trump his role and responsibilities, at least, according to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In an interview soon to be published in The Hope of the Family, Cardinal Mueller takes the Fr. Blithes of the world to task, unloading an arsenal of arguments in support of the indissolubility of marriage. He argues, in particular, that indissolubility of marriage is no mere doctrine that’s subject to change, but a divine and definitive dogma of the Church that’s unchangeable. What the Cardinal intimates is necessary is not a political solution but a cure for the division that exists. That requires recover the sacramental understanding of marriage and family.

To that end, Cardinal Mueller lays all of his cards on the table in that interview. According to the interview as reported by The Wanderer, Cardinal Mueller seeks:

  • to correct any misunderstanding about the Church’s teaching on family;
  • to underscore the dramatic situation of the children of separated parents; and,
  • to stress that more education is needed and that education should start from the reality of the love of God.

Okay, that’s all fine. But, that doesn’t respond directly to the Church’s Fr. Blithes. Not backing off, Cardinal Mueller states:

  • Of Fr. Blithe’s argument that the Church should allow spouses to “start life over again” and that the love between two persons may die: “These theories are radically mistaken.” After all, “One cannot declare a marriage to be extinct on the pretext that the love between the spouses is ‘dead’,” because “the indissolubility of marriage does not depend on human sentiments, whether permanent or transitory. This property of marriage is intended by God Himself. The Lord is involved in marriage between man and woman, which is why the bond exists and has its origin in God. This is the difference.”
  • Of Fr. Blithe’s mistaken social notions about marriage that result from individualism: “In a world that is angrily individualistic and subjectivist, marriage is not perceived anymore as an opportunity for the human being to achieve his completeness, sharing love.”
  • Of Fr. Blithe’s failure to prepare couples adequately for marriage: More in-depth education about marriage, including “remote preparation for marriage — from infancy and adolescence — should be a major pastoral and educational priority.”
  • Of Fr. Blithe’s mistaken notion of the virtue of justice: “[A]mong the poor of the Third and Fourth World,” those relegated to the “existential peripheries,” there are “the children who must grow up without their parents,” the “orphans of divorce,” who are perhaps “the poorest of the poor of the world.” These poorest of the poor, these orphans of divorce, are most often found, not in materially impoverished nations, but in Europe and North America—some of the world’s wealthiest places

What advice Cardinal Mueller might have for Fr. Blithe?

As a shepherd, I say to myself: It can’t be! We must tell people the truth! We should open their eyes, telling them they have been cowardly tricked through a false anthropology which can only lead to disaster.

Now, none of that’s very empathetic.

Or, is it?

Cardinal Muller said: “[W]e should above all speak about the authentic love and the concrete project which Christ has for every person.”

Is it authentic love to withhold the truth from a spouse?

In the end, Brad Miner’s catechetical efforts are doing more to promote healing than are Fr. Blithe’s efforts to make the divorced woman feel good by arranging a sham marriage ceremony at St. Brendan’s.





To read Brad Miner’s discussion over at The Catholic Thing, click on the following link: .

To read about Cardinal Mueller’s interview in The Wanderer, click on the following link:

To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, Omnibus, click on the following link:

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  1. Nowadays, we think of marriage tribunals as dealing primarily with cases of nullity. Historically, however, as a glance at the Frankish chronicles will show, bishops seem originally to have been chiefly involved in cases of desertion (or expulsion) of one spouse by another and to have inflicted censures on the recalcitrant.

    Of course, they could not exercise jurisdiction over marriage by halves. If they could grant decrees of adherence, they had to decide what were just grounds of separation and what were or were not valid marriages. Where this required a protracted examination of facts or law, bishops began to refer cases to a judge or tribunal for investigation and decision. Also, starting in the 11th century, canonists began building up a body of law on consistorial cases and to establish rules of evidence and procedure, which form the foundation of the modern law.

  2. Reading numerous websites—including the National Catholic Reporter and The Wanderer—to get the full spectrum of what Catholics are thinking about the Synod, Miner’s post identifies what appear to be the fault lines. On the one side, there are those who hope the Synod will change Church teaching. These are the forces of pastoral reform who feel angry because the Church is being “so unfair.” On the other side, there are those arguing that Church teaching must not and cannot change.

    In other words, it’s sentimentality versus faith allied to reason.

  3. During a pontificate that has given new meaning to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “When it gets really dark, you can see the stars” (my version, slightly adapted), Card. Mueller appears to be emerging as the true shepherd of the Church, lighting the way, speaking with a reasoned clarity that is disturbingly lacking in the Pontifex Maximus.

    This is notwithstanding Mueller’s diatribes against the SSPX, nor his better-to-be-forgotten mis-eucumenism about European Protestant evangelical churches being “sister churches” of the Catholic Church (2011 Address, Katholische Akademie in Bayern; an address mostly ignored in the West because it was given of course in German), I am hoping with all my might that he can withstand Kasper and his daimon in the wings, Card. Karl Lehmann, in their unfinished business to deconstruct one of the few mainstay beliefs still left standing of Catholic doctrine.

  4. Steve Phoenix

    It is, perhaps, not without significance that the Pope Emeritus should have chosen Cardinal Mueller as the editor of his complete works, a task the Cardinal obviously finds congenial – He is up to volume VII of that formidable undertaking.

  5. “empathy promotes division…”
    Sad but true! When you try to admit to some validity for another side of an argument, the other side discerns your gentility as weakness and picks it up and beats you over the head with it!
    Seems like everything is a battle these days! We used to have the authorities that we all agreed on that tamped down our seemingly endless belligerence. (Marquess of Queensberry, Hoyle, etc ) but now it’s always Katie Bar the Door! and giving an inch is the same as giving a mile.
    “O, I sympathize with your plight”
    “Then give me communion and let me have a big wedding in the cathedral
    Or your Church is a Church of hate.”

  6. It makes no difference anyway. Marriage is a dying institution as is the Catholic Church. Rome has long blessed adultery and every crime against marriage. She is just more open about it under the heretic Francis.

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