The injustice of judging your own case

In yesterday’s post, I noted that Austen Ivereigh’s defense of Amoris Laetitia laid out a detailed proposal for how a person in an irregular marital situation might be allowed to receive communion.

What Amoris says is that a pastor approved by his bishop should arrange for, in effect, a long retreat involving an amoris-laetitia-coverexamination of conscience, a facing-up to truth, a light-and-shadows discernment, applying the truths of Catholic doctrine on indissolubility and the Eucharist to this particular, unique, concrete situation.

As far as I know, Amoris Laetitia contains no proposal creating a procedure for using the so-called internal forum. Mr. Ivereigh is proposing something not required by Amoris Laetitia itself.

Anyhow, I thought the point of  seeking a new statement on marriage was that legalism is objectionable. A specific procedure for 1. invoking the need for the “internal forum” and 2. actually doing the discernment, amounts to a new round of “legalism.”

If there isn’t such a procedure, the person in question essentially becomes the judge in his or her own case. I decide that my situation, although objectively adulterous, does not really bar me from the sacraments. I am not accountable to anyone on earth for this judgment.

To go back to the “obvious” case that Ivereigh proposed, what is to stop the abusive, abandoning husband from discerning on his own authority that he may worthily receive communion? The idea that he must have a priest’s permission to enter into the discernment process and to agree about his worthiness, doesn’t really solve the problem. What is to stop him from finding a friendly priest who agrees with him? Without any canonical process or even guidelines, what guides the priest?

Nothing. Except the priest’s own sense of how Amoris Laetitia fits in with the overall tradition that came before it.

We cannot forgo pastoral or canonical procedures completely.  It simply cannot be done. We cannot escape this problem.

british-judge-w-wig
Judge Thyself.

It is also “obvious,” but seldom discussed, that the vast majority of civil divorces are acts of injustice toward the abandoned spouse and especially toward the children. Who is taking their part? Who is standing for the integrity of the bond? Shouldn’t the Church be more prepared to accompany the victims than the perpetrators? Who stands for compassion for the children whose lives have been turned upside down? How do they feel when they see their abusive, abandoning or adulterous father going to Mass and receiving communion? Does anyone care how they feel?

One might say that this goes on already, and I would not argue. One might say that this is the way the American church has been handling contraception since 1968. Again, I would not argue.

But these are scandalous situations, that have done great harm to jpii-familiaris-consortiothe Church, her witness and to the souls who have been deprived of the fullness of Catholic teaching.

These situations should be corrected, not replicated.

John Paul II’s treatment of these issues in Familiaris Consortio was clear and compassionate. This is the document, which in practice, ought to guide pastors. The quest for either mercy or justice with no procedures at all is a vain quest.

 

 

 

A Critique of the Critique of the Critics of Amoris Laetitia

Austin Ivereigh has another critique of the critics of Amoris Laetitia. This time, he tells them they should look at concrete cases. In case they can’t think of any, he supplies one. (I utilize the Fr. Z protocol of placing my own commentary in color.) austin-ivereigh

To take an obvious example, a woman abandoned by her abusive husband who remarries to provide for her children might be in the same legal category as the philandering playboy who ditches his wife for a younger model, but no one could claim that both are in the same moral category.  Ah, that distinction between legal and moral. 

Imagine that the woman in the first case, over time, experienced a radical conversion in her life, and is today an active member of the church community. I remember when I appeared before a tribunal seeking an annulment. I was asked, “are you a practicing Catholic?” I said, thinking myself clever, “That is what this hearing will decide.” Father was not amused. “Are you going to Mass?” “Yes, Father,” says I. So much for cleverness. Let us suppose she cannot, for technical reasons, obtain an annulment (these are rare cases), and the first husband has long since remarried.

Apply Canon 915, and she is an adulterer obstinately persisting in sin who must be barred not just from the sacraments but from taking part in the life of the Church as a reader or catechist. But, you just said she is an “active member of the church community.”  One has to be a reader or catechist to be an “active” member? 

At no point does Amoris say – as Burke puts it – “that’s all right, go ahead, and you can live that way and still receive the Sacraments.” It says that many such cases require an individual discernment because they cannot simply be lumped together as ‘adultery.’ But wait: she is having sex with someone to whom she is not validly married: what is that, if not adultery? 

What Amoris says is that a pastor approved by his bishop should arrange for, in effect, a long retreat involving an examination of conscience, a facing-up to truth, a light-and-shadows discernment, applying the truths of Catholic doctrine on indissolubility and the Eucharist to this particular, unique, concrete situation. Really? Where, Austin, does it say that? I don’t remember Amoris proposing a new procedure. Wouldn’t that amount to a new round of legalism? But I digress.

dustbowl-motherAs it happens, my father once told me about a case very much like this. In his Polish coal mining/farming community in Southern Ohio, he knew a woman with many children whose husband had abandoned the family. My father: “The priest made it so she could get married again.”  I didn’t think to ask him what the priest did, but I assume that back in the 1930’s or thereabouts, he helped her get an annulment.

What I did ask my father was, “Why did she want to get married again?” My father looked at me like I had lost my mind. “She couldn’t make it on her own.” Alot of small children. A farm. Grinding poverty to begin with. No social assistance state. No employment opportunities for mothers.

The priest accompanied her through the annulment process.

cardinal-burke
Cardinal Burke at work.
cardinal-carraffa
Cardinal Carraffa, founder of the JPII Institute on Marriage and the Family

Our poor moderns imagine they are the first ones to think of these cases, the first ones to find humane and truly moral solutions to them. It strains the imagination to think that a canon lawyer of Cardinal Burke’s stature has never considered any concrete cases. Cardinal Carraffa, another of the Four Cardinals, was the founding president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He has no doubt, considered numerous difficult cases. Rather than find ways to redefine terms to accommodate modern life, he chose to teach the fullness of the Catholic faith on marriage.

This is the essential point that the redefiners of doctrine refuse to face: the solution to our problems is to teach the Catholic faith. As St. Paul said to Timothy, “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.”  (2 Tim 4:2)

So what if it is currently out of season?

No Ideologue Zone

I posted a question on my Facebook page yesterday.

Pro-life friends: Suppose a woman is raped and impregnated. She keeps her baby. Should the father have parental rights? Why or why not? Have any of you encountered this situation?

 A friend of mine was recently elected to a state legislature. He wrote to

depressed-young-woman
An Anguishing Question

me and told me they were considering legislation on this subject, and did I know of anything written about this. Well, no, I didn’t. So I posted the above, thinking we would get a good discussion.

And indeed, we did. No one attacked anyone else. Most people had strong opinions. Many people raised considerations that others had not thought of. The analytically-inclined came up with general principles and supplied reasons. The practioners came up with tough cases, and individual circumstances with lots of detailed countervailing circumstances. A few people had experience with laws in other states. Someone pointed us to a set of model legislation. Everyone was polite and respectful.
civil-conversationchallenge
Civil Conversation: a No-Ideologue Zone

This is what can happen when we are genuinely trying to solve a problem, rather than trying to score points against an opponent. This question defies easy answers, and requires that someone, somewhere along the line, exercise some judgment and discernment.

I do believe my friend learned what he hoped to learn from the discussion. Hooray for open conversation. It can be done.

 

Introducing Dr. J’s Blog

I write for numerous publications. I write for the Ruth Institute, the organization I founded. I’ve written 5 books, contributed to many more, and have written numerous academic articles. Why a personal blog?

This is where I will ruminate anything that interests me, whether it is connected with the Ruth Institute or not. I hope to foster a healthy discussion about marriage, family, and human sexuality, as well as the political, economic, cultural and religious influences on the family. Join me.