Invite the Children of Divorce to the Amoris Laetitia Seminars

I see where Cardinal Cupich is planning a series of seminars on Amoris Laetitia. According to a letter obtained by the Catholic News Agency, the “New Momentum Conferences on Amoris Laetitia,” will “provide formative pastoral programs.” As someone who has listened to many victims of the Sexual Revolution, I am eager to learn about the “pastoral practice” these seminars will promote. I wonder if they will feature adult children of divorce or unmarried parents among their presenters.

I can still recall the first time a young person came up to me in tears after one of my talks. “This is the first time I have ever heard an adult say that divorce is hard on children.” She went on to describe her father’s intention of entering yet another civil marriage, this time, to a woman in her twenties.

My young friend was twenty-one.

Since that incident, I have heard from many people of all ages, whose parents divorced and remarried. I can remember sitting down to a post-conference dinner with one of the other speakers and his wife. She confided in me that she had run out of the room in the middle of my talk. She couldn’t bear to hear my description of children’s hurt from divorce. My talk stirred up pain from her parents’ divorce.

She was in her sixties.

I don’t see any mention of Leila Miller or Jennifer Johnson among the proposed speakers on the traveling Amoris Laetitia Road Show. Both Mrs. Miller and Ms. Johnson have written poignant works on the experiences of children of divorce. You may imagine what the adult children of divorce have to say about second “marriages.”

Or perhaps you can’t. So, let me tell you: they feel their parents’ selfishness and excuse-making made their childhoods miserable, and continue to cause problems even in adulthood. One anonymous author titled her essay, “How my parents’ divorce ruined holidays and family life forever.”

Perhaps some of the presenters at the Amoris Laetitia gabfests will offer practical tips for what a child, of any age, ought to do when their parents decide they can’t stand each other anymore. Will Cardinal Cupich “accompany” the children of divorce when they see no photos of themselves with both parents, in either of their parents’ homes? Will any of the presenters help the children of divorce “discern” where to direct their anger when their stepfather brings home gifts for his children and his wife, but nothing for them?

I wonder if Cardinal Cupich and his friends will discuss the inequalities that divorce creates among children, and between children and adults. Jennifer Johnson argues passionately that natural marriage and only natural marriage, can create and preserve equality among children, while divorce creates deep and lasting inequalities. Here is just one example:

I was the only one who had divided Christmases, divided holidays, and divided birthdays. I’ve seen this referred to as “two Christmases” or “two birthdays” in some divorce literature as a way to sugar-coat the vertical inequality. My dad wasn’t welcome on Christmas morning, and my mom wasn’t welcome on Christmas eve. I don’t think either of them would have come, had they been invited. They were too busy with their new families. When I got a little older and my parents lived further apart, I traveled alone during the holidays to see each of them. None of the adults in my life had to do any of those things. It was a requirement placed on me that made their lives easier.

No, I suppose they don’t have room for children of divorce and their lived experiences. After all, the seminars are already full of experts on women’s ordination, contraception, non-binary gender, and God knows what else.

Speaking of God: I have an idea that Jesus (remember him?) knows exactly what these children of divorce are going through. He told the apostles “in the beginning, it was not so,” when he instituted that whole one man, one woman, for life, thing. The apostles were freaked out. They thought it was too hard.

I bet Jesus saw the pain a little girl might feel when her mother asked her to be the flower girl in her second wedding. Even as a preschooler, she knew this ceremony meant that her parents would never get back together. She knew she was supposed to be happy for her mother on her special day. She faked it, but her heart was breaking.

Jesus foresaw every painful little incident, like this one:

When I was six or seven, I woke up from a bad dream in the middle of the night. I went looking for my mom but couldn’t find her. I wandered from room to room crying, disoriented and scared. But Mom wasn’t there because I was at Dad’s place, an apartment I went to once a month. My dad couldn’t understand why I wanted my mom so much. Nothing in the apartment was familiar, not even dad. He was hurt because of my longing for my mom, my house, and my own bed, so I did what a lot of children of divorce do: I bottled up my emotions to try to make one of my parents feel better.

Jesus saw how attempts at re-partnering would create a lifetime of difficulties:

At my biological grandma’s funeral, my siblings and I were left out of the family pictures. We watched our cousins treated differently just because their parents had remained married. We stopped getting invited to family reunions. Today I’m a stranger to most of my relatives on my dad’s side because growing up I saw him so little and them even less.

Maybe this sort of thing is why Jesus made such a stink about the indissolubility of marriage.

Perhaps some adult children of divorce will just show up at one of the meetings at Boston College, the University of Notre Dame, or Santa Clara University. I wonder if anyone will let them have a turn at the microphone.

Maybe not. That might be just a little too much “accompanying” and “synodality,” even for Cardinal Cupich.

Originally published at Crisis on February 28, 2018 

The Pope is Incorrect.

There: I said it. The Pope is incorrect.

Posters criticizing pope Francis on a wall in Rome, Italy, 04 February 2017. Below the photograph of the pope is the following caption: 'You've put congregations under supervision, removed priests, decapitated the Maltese and Franciscan orders and ignored cardinals... But where is your compassion?' Francis' main message as pope has been compassion. His reformist policies are meeting resistance within the church. Photo: Lena Klimkeit/dpa
Posters criticizing pope Francis on a wall in Rome, Italy, 04 February 2017. Photo: Lena Klimkeit/dpa

Faithful Catholics have agonized over how to deal with Pope Francis. We want to be true to the teachings of Jesus Christ, whom we love, and His Church, which we also love. Yet one of the teachings of that Church is that the Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals. How do we conduct ourselves when the Pope says something that seems to contradict the magisterial teachings of the Church, which were themselves promulgated by popes and saints and fathers of the church and Sacred Scripture? That is the situation we face today.

Our first responsibility is to tell the truth.

The Pope is incorrect.

Notice I do not say that the Pope is “wrong,” as that implies moral culpability. Nor do I say that he is “mistaken,” as that implies honest mistakes. I do not know his state of mind. Neither do you. Nor do I have the authority to judge or sanction him. Neither do you, unless you wear a red beanie. So, let’s get that out of our minds. Agonizing over things we cannot know, cannot control, or have no legitimate authority over: that is a waste of time. We cannot afford to squander our energy.

The two Synods on the Family, called by Pope Francis and the publication of Amoris Laetitia under his name, created confusion about key Catholic doctrines that had been clear. Pope Francis was incorrect to create this confusion.

The Famous Five Dubia of the Four Cardinals succinctly summarize the doctrinal situation. The answers to these questions are not difficult, if one intends to read Amoris Laetitia in harmony with the settled magisterium of the Church.

The answers are:
1. No, a divorced and civilly remarried person living “in a marital way” with another person cannot licitly receive communion.
2. Yes. Veritatis Splendor is still valid. There are still absolute moral norms that are binding without exception.
3. Yes. a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery, finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin.
4. Yes, Veritatis Splendor is still valid. “Circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice.”
5. Yes. Veritatis Splendor is still valid. “Conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object.”

Pope Francis has the authority and the responsibility to dispel this confusion. He is incorrect to allow the confusion on these points to remain.

But, what about papal infallibility? If we allow ourselves to think that Pope Francis is incorrect, aren’t we somehow denying the teaching of papal infallibility? I don’t think so.

Strictly speaking, he has not taught ex cathedra that divorced and civilly remarried people can receive communion. Both supporters and critics of Amoris Laetitia have argued that it does not actually change doctrine. The heterodox practices and teachings have emerged from the cloud of confusion.

Let us be clear: the pope’s letter to the Argentine bishops is not an ex cathedra pronouncement. Neither is a press conference on an airplane. The teachings of the bishops of Malta are fallible. So are the twitter feeds of papal associates.

Pope Francis has come right up to the edge of making an official magisterial pronouncement. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit Himself is preventing Pope Francis from crossing that line. In which case, his refusal to answer the dubia may be a blessing.

Nonetheless, he is not fulfilling one of the most basic duties of his office: to protect the Deposit of Faith, as handed down to us from the Apostles.

Dealing with this crisis of truth, in a Christ-like manner, requires us to be scrupulously truthful ourselves. That means saying only what we know to be true. Speculation about motives, intentions and states of mind does not serve us or the Church. It is a distraction, from doing what we can and should be doing, (which I will discuss in a future post.)

I will not promote this post myself in any way, except on my personal Facebook page. I close with this prayer:

Lord God, if these words be of service to the Church, let them be spread far and wide. If my words be not helpful, let them die here in obscurity. Amen.

The Tyranny of Lawlessness

The Amoris Laetitia crisis in the Catholic Church has many facets and unanswered questions. One question is: why are so few bishops and cardinals asking for clarification of the ambiguities in the document? Why are so few coming to the defense of the plain teaching of Jesus?

ignatius_of_loyola_militant
Ignatius of Loyola, former soldier, originator of the “servile” theory of obedience.
Over at Rorate Caeli,  John R. T. Lamont, DPhil offers a possible answer: too many Catholics have accepted a servile concept of obedience to authority.
The explanation lies in a false conception of religious authority, which considers it to be above the law rather than subject to law, and that sees the surrender of intellect and will to the religious superior as virtuous and indeed obligatory. This conception has deep roots in the history of the Church.

His argument is long and complex and I will not attempt to review it all here. But his bottom line is very much to the point of this blog.

This programme (of Pope Francis and his allies) does not intend to allow any divorced and remarried Catholics whatsoever to receive communion. Instead, it decrees that reception of communion is to be subject to the decision of the priest who gives it – a decision that is to be guided by considerations that are general enough to make the will of the priest in practice the determining factor. (my emphasis.) 

The programme is presented to the public as an increase in freedom for the divorced and civilly remarried. They will no longer be inconvenienced by having to get an annulment. Many of them will not go through the “process” of “accompanying” and simply give themselves permission to go to communion. (Let’s face it: many of them already are.) And since Amoris Laetitia does not actually establish a new process that defines “accompaniment and discernment,” it is easy to see why they would feel ok about giving themselves permission.
Oon the other hand, if a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic presents himself or herself to the priest in good faith, asking for “accompaniment and discernment,” there is no process or criteria in place to determine whether they can receive communion. This is when Dr. Lamont’s point kicks in with a vengance:
This replaces the divine law concerning marriage and the Eucharist with the authority of the priest, and enshrines the superiority of this lawless and therefore tyrannical authority over the authority of God Himself.

The priest decides, with no reference to any authority outside of himself.

divorce-decree-500-x-250
It looks so neat and tidy.

This is exactly comparable to the havoc that “no-fault” divorce created in American civil marriage and divorce law. Presented to the public as an increase in freedom for couples in “loveless” or “dead” marriages, the reality has been quite different. One party can divorce the other unilaterally, against the wishes of the other spouse. Quite often, the adulterous spouse seeks the divorce, and the law assists them.

No fault was presented to the public as a solution to the problem of legalistic, proceedings requiring one party to prove that the other was having an affair. The advocates of this far-reaching legal change did not seem to realize that these “sham” proceedings could only work if both parties agreed to make it work. The partners in the “dead” “loveless” marriage had to cooperate to make the court believe that one had met the legal criteria for a “cause” for divorce. The “loveless” partners had to agree to most of the terms going into the court, or they would not cooperate with each other.  Under the no fault regime, no one has to provide evidence of anything. One party can end the marriage against the explicit wishes of the other.

Family courts have become sources of tyranny in our culture, where the most powerful, the most vengeful, the richer systematically prevail over the weaker, gentler and poorer. Where the faithful spouse is at a disadvantage. God forbid the Church should replicate this form of “progress.”

But Dr. Lamont’s insight suggests that this is exactly what will happen. Under the interpretation of Church law inspired by Amoris Laetitia, the priest will have more, not less authority, because he will no longer feel himself bound by the annulment process defined by canon law. The more lawless divorced and civilly remarried spouses will give themselves permission. Those who most wish to follow Christ, will become the weaker parties, disadvantaged by the dismantling of legal processes.

french-women-rioting-for-bread
French women rioting for bread, during the Revolution

Looking across history and cultures, one can see this pattern: Lawlessness benefits the already strong, and harms the weak. The alternative to law is not freedom, but the Law of the Strongest.

Jesus was right, and we can prove it.

Jesus made His position on divorce very clear:  One to a customer for life. (Slight paraphrase.)

Seriously. His apostles were quite frankly, freaked out. He doubled down, and started talking to them about celibacy. Seriously. Look it up in Matthew 19. 

With the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight, we can see the wisdom of prohibiting attempts at second marriages. Divided loyalties for children. Broken hearts of abandoned spouses. Since we have been systematically breaking His commandments for the past 50 years, we have statistical evidence that divorce is hard on children.

sad-girlgrey-her-scars-are-on-the-insideThis particular research summary finds that children of divorce have poorer relationships with not only mother and father, but often with grandparents as well. Children of divorce have a weakened ability to handle conflict, are more likely to be aggressive, and as adults, tend to be less able to communicate effectively with their own spouses. Children of divorce have more behavior problems in school, more depression and anxiety, diminished learning capacity and lowered school performance. Child abuse and neglect are more common, especially in stepfamilies. Children of divorce have lifelong increased health burdens, including a risk of premature death. This summary of research goes on in this vein for 48 closely-typed pages, and 333 footnotes.

agony-in-the-garden
A classic image of the Agony in the Garden, the night before Jesus’ crucifixion.

On the night before He died, Jesus foresaw His own physical suffering as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. I imagine that He saw all the sins of the world, for which He would suffer and atone. Because He was God, He could see all things and know all things. I believe He saw the children of divorce, weeping for the loss of the lives they had known. I believe He saw the anguish of abandoned spouses. I bet He saw the fact that second “marriages” are more likely to fail that first marriages. He saw the disappointment so many attempted second marriages would bring. He was trying to spare us all this.

archbishop-charles-scicluna-of-malta
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta: What is he thinking?

Some bishops of the Catholic Church are interpreting Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia to mean that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can present themselves for communion, if they believe they are “at peace with God.” I cannot imagine what these men are thinking.

I can tell you what they are NOT thinking. They are not thinking about the abandoned spouses. They are NOT thinking about the children, whose families have been turned upside down by their parents’ switching out of parent-figures and sex-partners.

This is the child’s perspective. We tell them, “I still love you. But my relationship with my new sex partner is more important to me than my relationship with your other parent, even though your other parent is half of who you are.” The children cannot make sense of these incompatible claims.

Needless to say: this conflict does not even arise in families where the parents are continuously and faithfully married to each other.

There is, in the end, only one cure for this kind of social confusion. To say as often and as loudly as we can: Jesus was right to prohibit attempts at second marriages while the first spouse is still living. We know this from experience. Our experience is so profound, we will not be talked out of it.

If you have such an experience to share, please consider telling your story for the Tell Ruth the Truth blog. You will be helping more people than you know.

“A Case Study in Communion for the Divorced/Remarried”

Crux has a case study, creating a compelling story in which a pastor might permit a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic to recieve communion. I have only one thing to say about this case study.

The priest should encourage the woman to pursue an annulment.

According to the scenario:

She wanted to pursue getting an annulment, although it was almost impossible to get any information or help from her parish in El Salvador.

Wouldn’t this be a good place for her pastor in the US to be willing communion-in-the-handto accompany her? Shouldn’t the tribunal in the US use some discernment about the missing information?

True, she might not get the annulment. But the process itself has merit. It helps to reveal truths that might have remained hidden. It helps clarify the person’s reasons for wanting to return to full communion with the Church. It may also clarify that the person was more culpable than they had otherwise realized, thus allowing her the opportunity for repentance, conversion and closer union with Jesus.

The author presumes she would not get the annulment. This is by no means certain. If she can show immaturity and ignorance, and if her putative husband does not raise objections, she might very well obtain it. And BTW, in this story, the putative husband has disappearred. This is one of the features that supposedly makes for a compelling scenario for pastorally permitting communion.

Irma had no idea where Francisco might be. She didn’t really even know if he was still alive. She had no family in El Salvador. She had brought no church or legal documents with her when she came to the States.

Evidently, she must have divorced him in abstentia, if she really couldn’t find him, otherwise she would be a bigamist, even under civil law. But isn’t there a legal procedure for declaring a long-missing person to be presumed deceased? If the person meets the criteria of being presumed dead, what does canon law say about her ability to contract a valid Catholic marriage?

And, in most countries, it might even take a shorter period of time than the several years the hypothetical pastoral process described in the article seems to have taken.

All in all, this “case study” is not compelling. The hypothetical situation it describes could be handled by “discernment and accompaniment,” through the annulment process. Good. holy, faithful priests have been handling situations like this all along.  The pastor should not give the person permission to receive communion, without first pursuing the annulment process.

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.