What Do We Tell Him?

Pope Francis Facepalms


‘I am not a pillar of the Church, but more like a flying buttress — I support the church from the outside.’

Winston Churchill



Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels so frequently in defense of the Faith that I have named him Defender of the Faith, has a question for us:



I have a serious question for which I’d like a serious answer.  And I’m not going to provide any commentary of my own just yet; I’m much more interested in what you guys think.  But should we flying buttresses of the Catholic Church, to borrow Churchill’s analogy, start seriously worrying right about now?

In considering the principle of gradualness in the divine salvific plan, one asks what possibilities are given to married couples who experience the failure of their marriage, or rather how it is possible to offer them Christ’s help through the ministry of the Church. In this respect, a significant hermeneutic key comes from the teaching of Vatican Council II, which, while it affirms that “although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure … these elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic unity” (Lumen Gentium, 8).

Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.

In this respect, a new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences. Indeed, when a union reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage. Very often, however, cohabitation is established not with a view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any intention of establishing an institutionally-recognized relationship.

In the West as well there is an increasingly large number of those who, having lived together for a long period of time, ask to be married in the Church. Simple cohabitation is often a choice inspired by a general attitude, which is opposed to institutions and definitive undertakings, but also while waiting for a secure existence (a steady job and income). In other countries common-law marriages are very numerous, not because of a rejection of Christian values as regards the family and matrimony, but, above all, because getting married is a luxury, so that material poverty encourages people to live in common-law marriages. Furthermore in such unions it is possible to grasp authentic family values or at least the wish for them. Pastoral accompaniment should always start from these positive aspects.

Various Fathers underlined the necessity to make the recognition of cases of nullity more accessible and flexible. Among the propositions were the abandonment of the need for the double conforming sentence; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop; a summary process to be used in cases of clear nullity. According to authoritative propositions, the possibility should then be considered of giving weight to the faith of those about to be married in terms of the validity of the sacrament of marriage. It needs to emphasized that in all these cases it is about the ascertaining of the truth over the validity of the obstacle.

As regards matrimonial suits, the speeding-up of the procedure, requested by many, as well as the preparation of a sufficient number of operators, clerics and lay people, dedicating themselves to this, requires an increase in the responsibilities of the diocesan bishop, who in his diocese might charge a specially trained priest who would be able to offer the parties advice on the validity of their marriage.

In the same way the situation of the divorced who have remarried demands a careful discernment and an accompaniment full of respect, avoiding any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against. For the Christian community looking after them is not a weakening of its faith and its testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but rather it expresses precisely its charity in its caring.

As regards the possibility of partaking of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, some argued in favor of the present regulations because of their theological foundation, others were in favor of a greater opening on very precise conditions when dealing with situations that cannot be resolved without creating new injustices and suffering. For some, partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop –, and with a clear undertaking in favor of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

Well, what answer would you give him?  Here is Christopher’s comment over at the blog of Dale Price:

Zach’s right. If you’ve been an Episcopalian for any length of time, the tone of this document scares you way more than the words do.


More to explorer


  1. “NO” is a very positive answer. Are the seminaries still teaching that sodomy is not a sin? If sodomy is not a sin, then, there is no sin.
    Salvation comes to one person, one individual person, at a time. Jesus Christ had only one rational soul but two separate natures, human and divine. The couple in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony become one flesh, but not one soul. There are two souls in the married couple who serve God as husband and wife. Two souls, who are in need of salvation, one soul at a time and are helpmates in achieving salvation for themselves and for their spouse.
    The love and affection of a same sex couple must be predicated on securing salvation for the soul of the partner. The same sex couple cannot become one flesh without recourse to the marital act. Informed sexual consent to the marital act cannot be accomplished through the same sex behavior of sodomy. Nor can salvation of the partner’s soul be accomplished through sodomy.
    Is it even possible to acknowledge another person when that person refuses to acknowledge his own soul, my soul or the soul of his partner and our souls’ need for salvation in Jesus Christ? It is no less than having a church of atheism.
    What makes Pope Francis believe that two people cohabitating and ignoring the Precepts of the Church concerning Holy Matrimony are now going to accept the church if their demands are met?
    The Sacrament of Matrimony may be performed in the rectory. Only what is needed is the couple, two witnesses and a priest, no gown, no flowers, no reception, only the good will of the participants. Therefore, to say that marriage is a luxury is not right. Only indifference is required for individuals to ignore what is best for their eternal life and the salvation of their immortal souls.
    What is an inestimable luxury is salvation of the souls of the participants. The good will necessary to not be excluded from the Catholic Church is not with the souls intending to use the church for their own improper benefit.
    Anyone calling sodomy not a sin is a liar and cannot come to church until he surrenders his evil. If Pope Francis decriminalizes sodomy or adultery, sodomy and adultery will still remain sins, only then, Pope Francis will degenerate into the lie into which he casts himself. Pope Francis will become a liar.
    The dignity of the human soul is about salvation through marriage. If the same sex couples do not care for their souls, no church can bring them salvation.

  2. References to the Episcopal Church in this manner are without merit given there is no
    equivalency between the two Churches. Such comments are unhelpful and represent an unfortunate amount of Fear Uncertainty Doubt (FUD) coming from orthodox quarters.

    Is there not room for Church development in canonical approach to these difficult issues?

  3. A recent article on the devastation brought on Christian marriage by legislation enabling the use of “no fault” divorces to accelerate the process, I thought, was very compelling and nailed it. But having witnessed so many breakups of marriages among our own family and friends over the past thirty or forty years seeing how it has affected the lives of both the adults and the children causing so many to desert the pews except for Easter and Christmas, it is imperative that the Church address this issue for the sake of their souls with compassion yes, but also to make clear that message of love is not given as condemnation of their actions but an open invitation to a definitive path to rejoin the community through a welcomed repentance to glorify and worship the One who loves them more than any human can imagine.
    I have often asked myself, is a widow or widower someone who has had their loved one taken from them? Was it their doing or choice? Did they wish it so? In some cases I see only a fine line between a widow (from the hand of God) and a divorcee (from the hand of a judge) when it was through “no fault” of their own. Just

  4. What do we tell him? I like the disclaimer from The Three Stooges:

    Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or deceased, is truly a shame.

  5. Is there not room for Church development in canonical approach to these difficult issues?

    Quid Veritas est?

  6. “Is there not room for Church development in canonical approach to these difficult issues?”

    They really are not difficult.

    If you get divorced you can receive communion. If you get remarried and your prior marriage was annulled by the Church you can receive communion. If your marriage was not annulled by the Church you can’t receive communion unless you and your current spouse agree to live in a non-sexual relationship.

    If you like having sex with members of your own sex, you are to abstain from such relations or be guilty of mortal sin. The same rule applies to heterosexual sex outside of marriage.

    These are clear bright line rules. The only difficulty is that people want to be treated as in communion with the Church without giving up sins they are fond of. Fudging the rules, or doing away with them all together, is the path trod by the Episcopalians. There is nothing pastoral about such a white flag strategy when it comes to sin.

  7. Ok, that part is clear we all agree and it’s good to lay that out as a reminder of current Church teaching.

    But the messy part comes in when we discuss all sorts of relationships that exist outside of marriage for whatever reason. The law acknowledges various relationships that don’t rise to the level of marriage and some that do:

    – Common Law Marriage
    – Civil Unions
    – Domestic Partnerships
    – Reciprocal Beneficiaries (Hawaii)

    And then you have the children, however they are derived, who through no fault of their own are members of these unholy alliances.

    Either the Church has cannon law to address these issues as they exist in reality today or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t it should address them as is befitting the situation and in accordance with the Deposit of the Faith.

    This seems more like administrative/pastoral housekeeping than some assault on doctrine.

    I’m all for good old-fashioned orthodox hand wringing when it’s called for I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be wringing my hands over yet.

  8. “The law acknowledges various relationships that don’t rise to the level of marriage and some that do:

    – Common Law Marriage
    – Civil Unions
    – Domestic Partnerships
    – Reciprocal Beneficiaries (Hawaii)”

    Which makes absolutely no difference to the Church since none of these constitute marriage as understood by the Catholic Church. As for the kids, of course they should receive the sacraments since they are not guilty of the sins of their parents. If their parents will not bring their kids to the Church unless the Church pretends that the parent’s sins are not sins, that is unfortunate for the kids, but that is too high a price for the Church to pay.

  9. “Which makes absolutely no difference to the Church”

    Isn’t that the entire point? It seems that your statement is technically true but given that Canon Law does not have the means to address or contemplate these developments, additional action is necessary so that it can.

    If these realities don’t make a difference to the Church, how can the Church make a difference on these realities?

    This is not in any way a recommendation of a specific course of prudential action other than to apply sound doctrine to these situations.

  10. “If these realities don’t make a difference to the Church, how can the Church make a difference on these realities?”

    By tirelessly preaching the Truth of Christ whether people wish to hear it or not. Why tinker with a winning strategy that has worked for twenty centuries? The lack of such preaching over the past half century has been a flat disaster for the Church.

  11. Yes Christopher, start worrying seriously.
    You know Christopher, you are probably more Catholic than the pope.

  12. As for so-called “common law marriages,” the church could, if it saw fit, return to the pre-1563 law, when there were no formal requirements for a valid marriage, other than a mutual manifestation of consent.

    The old law is described in a letter of Pope St Nicholas I (858–67) to the Bulgarian prince Boris I in 866. After setting out the rituals customary in Rome, including the bestowal of a ring, the giving of dowry and dower by father and husband, and priestly blessing, he explained that he was not saying that it was sinful (peccatum esse) to omit any of these customs, especially since some people could not afford them. “On this account,” Nicholas concluded, “according to the laws (leges), the consent of those whose union is arranged should be sufficient. If that alone is absent, all the other solemnities, even including coition, are in vain, as the great teacher John Chrysostom attests, who says: ‘Not intercourse but will makes marriage’ (Homilies on Matthew 32)” [PL 119, no. 97, pp. 978–1016 at 980]. St John Chrysostom (347-407) is here simply repeating the words of the great Roman jurist, Ulpian (170 – 228) “Nuptias non concubitus, sed consensus facit” – It is not sleeping together, but agreement that makes marriage. [Dig. 50.17.30 Ulpianus 36 ad Sab]. On this subject, the law of the Church and of the Empire was the same.

    As the Scottish Reformation took place in 1560, three years before Tametsi, the pre-Tridentine canon law remained the law of Scotland until 1940. Having seen how the old law worked in practice, with actions for Declarator of Marriage being raised into the 1980s, I would not recommend a return to it, but it remains a possibility and one supported by canonists of note.

  13. There are no couples in heaven. If Pope Francis and the Synod on the Family decide to create a heaven for couples, heterosexual, homosexual, divorced and remarried, they will be in direct contradiction of Christ. There are no couples in heaven. “Whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatsoever you loose of earth will be loosed in heaven.”

  14. I was thinking again and perhaps that is bad thing, but one statement in the quote from the Vatican that is provided in the blog post above stood out to me:
    “In considering the principle of gradualness in the divine salvific plan…”
    For the record, I agree with that statement. Some 28 1/2 years ago I underwent 3 days of gradualness in the form of heroin withdrawals as my “spiritual experience.” I was thick-headed and stubborn, since perhaps most would have had the sense to surrender to God after the 1st day.
    Sexual addiction – call it adultery, fornication, sodomy, whatever – is no different. I was told that if I continued in my addiction to sexual gratification, then I would be just as drunk in behavior as if I had continued actually drinking, and “it” would turn orange or green and fall on off. Sorry to be so graphic, but why the heck can’t these clerics and prelates, orders of magnitude smarter than I will ever be, understand that? Romans 7:13-25 !
    “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” Page 59, Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

  15. “”The law acknowledges various relationships that don’t rise to the level of marriage and some that do: – Common Law Marriage – Civil Unions – Domestic Partnerships – Reciprocal Beneficiaries (Hawaii)””
    “Which makes absolutely no difference to the Church since none of these constitute marriage as understood by the Catholic Church.”
    The precepts of the church decree that people observe the laws concerning marriage. No fault divorce is more like the separation the church grants to people to separate them from being battered and murdered and betrayed. And for the settlement of custody of children and property.
    In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Catholic Church who has the power to grant the Sacrament to those who have met the prerequisites for marriage, and there are many impediments, some of which people cannot realize, the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony brings the Holy Spirit into the married state, making of matrimony a vocation to serve God.

  16. “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”.
    God is a gentleman. God is perfect love. God, indeed, ate with sinners who had invited him into their hearts, into their homes and into their lives. Jesus did not eat with sinners who refused to repent and accept the truth of salvation. Jesus did not eat with Pharisees, high priests, King Herod, Barabbas, not Pontius Pilate, not the money changers nor the brood of vipers. The Holy Sacrifice of the Cross was attended by Jesus’ Blessed Mother, Mary and the Beloved apostle, John, and some others who wanted to be with Christ.
    In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the Holy Spirit is invited to live in the couple’s marriage; in each individual’s heart. (Polyandry, polygamy, ssm, a trios cannot happen. God forces no one into heaven.) God draws us with bands of love to Himself through a valid, blessed marriage, through the Catholic Church in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Each individual person of the couple comes with special gifts and charisms bestowed by the Holy Spirit to effect a husband, a wife, a family.
    Where there is one Person of the Blessed Trinity, there are all three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. Every Person of the Blessed Trinity comes with different charisms and gifts to enable the couple to live out its mission and vocation to Holy Matrimony.
    But God does not come unless He is invited. God does not go where He is not welcome.
    Even the martyrs went into pagan countries in response to those souls who were inviting Jesus Christ into their hearts, into their homes and into their company. First, salvation comes to those who seek to serve God as individual persons and then and only then, after these individual persons choose to serve God, can they serve God as a couple and as a family.
    Only with God’s help can man’s imperfect consent to marriage be renewed every second of every day, “’til death do us part”. “Amen”.

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