Married Priests and Divorced Catholics

Here are a couple of interesting articles from “National Catholic Register,” both related to marriage.

The first is on Pope Francis allowing a discussion to take place among the bishops of the Amazon region on the question of married priests. The ratio of Catholics to priests in the Amazon region is 10,000 to 1, three times the world average and five times the average for the United States. These priests have a difficult time traveling such large spans of territory, so the Catholics of the Amazon go long stretches without access to the sacraments, in particular the Holy Eucharist. The bishops of the Amazon region, who will meet in synod in 2019, requested of Pope Francis permission to discuss the possibility of ordaining married men of “proven virtue” to the priesthood, and Pope Francis reportedly said he would allow it. We’ll see where that goes, but it’s important to point out that this is far, far from Pope Francis considering doing away with the celibacy requirement for Latin-rite priests universally. Whatever requirements for celibacy that are lifted, if that even happens, would apply only to that region and would likely begin with men who are already ordained deacons.

The second article is about three bishops from Kazakhstan issuing a six-page document that amounts to a profession of faith in the “immutable truths about sacramental marriage.” The bishops issued their profession, they say, in response to certain interpretations of Pope Francis’ encyclical Amoris Laetitia that they regard as too liberal in allowing Catholics who have divorced and civilly re-married to receive Holy Communion. The Kazakh bishops are concerned that interpretations of Amoris Laetitia by bishop conferences in Germany and Malta, which have been approved by Pope Francis, are opening the door to “the plague of divorce” and felt the need to re-affirm the indissolubility of marriage and the integrity of the Eucharist in light of what they see as the confusion among the faithful caused by these interpretations.

In my mind, if the pope and bishops of the Amazon feel that married priests will help meet the sacramental needs of the faithful in their region, I don’t see a problem with that.

As for Amoris Laetitia, I absolutely think the faithful could benefit from some clarity on this matter, and that it’s the responsibility of the pope and bishops to provide that clarity. Right now, the Church’s teaching on divorced and civilly re-married Catholics receiving Holy Communion is being regularly ignored in many parishes in the United States. I don’t think changing the Church’s teaching is the answer so much as converting the hearts and minds of the Catholic faithful to be ever more faithful.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

3 thoughts on “Married Priests and Divorced Catholics

    1. jn,
      Thank you for sharing these thoughtful and thorough articles considering the application of Amoris Laetitia to Catholics who have divorced and civilly re-married. I’m not able to respond to every point made, but your articles do raise some questions, particulary regarding what you call “the Sarah case”:

      1. Sarah’s situation is difficult, but the Church has certainly been in a position of having to address difficult situations before over her 2000 year history. Why do such situations, which never inspired the Church to consider so drastic a change in pastoral practice before, merit such now?

      2. It’s not at all clear why Sarah cannot continue to receive Holy Communion spiritually. No, it’s not ideal, but there are lots of situations in life that are not ideal, where we must do the best we can given our circumstances. There have been holy men and women, and even saints, who have gone years without receiving Holy Communion because their circumstances would not permit it. It seems that, if Sarah’s conversion is genuine, she would desire to respect the Church’s teachings on marriage and the integrity of the Sacrament. A good and wise pastor could guide her in how to do so.

      3. While it’s true that a confessor can only guide and not replace Sarah’s conscience, I wonder how supportive Sarah’s confessor would be for her continuing to benefit from Mohammed financial support out of fear of poverty if Mohammed’s means for supporting them were gained by criminal activity? The fact is, Sarah is not married to Mohammed in the eyes of the Church (which means in the eyes of Christ). Their union is illicit. Her fear of poverty doesn’t change that, anymore than her fear of poverty would change her indirect complicity in Mohammed’s criminal activity should she choose to stay with him and benefit financially from that activity. I’m having a hard time imagining a confessor who would be so pastorally sensitive as to counsel Sarah that she is justified in benefitting from her husband’s criminal activity out of a fear of poverty, and that she’s free to receive Holy Communion because she truly desires to be out of the marriage, or she truly desires that he would renounce his crimes. Perhaps rather than finding ways to justify Sarah’s continued union with a man who is not her husband, though the father of her children, the Church would do well to re-emphasize her duty to care for women in such situations, much as the early Church cared for widows and children. One of the reasons women so often stay in difficult relationships is because they feel they have no real options. Perhaps the Church ought to be in the business of creating options.

      4. I’m also wondering what kind of woman would stay in a union where her conscience informed her that she was being raped every time she had sex with her putative husband. What kind of damage would that do to her psyche? What kind of damage would that do to her relationship with her children? I cannot imagine the situation deteriorating significantly, and fast.

      5. Consider another scenario: John, Sarah’s first husband (and still her husband in the eyes of the Church) also has a conversion experience. His second wife divorces him because she can no longer stand living with a man who now wants to live as brother and sister. John re-connects with Sarah and wants to bring their marriage back to life. Can the Church support Sarah in leaving Mohammed now that she can go back to John after so long insisting that Sarah’s marriage to Mohammed was not an obstacle to her full participation in the sacramental life of the Church? How could the Church escape accusations of disingenuity or spiritual accommodation?

      6. We’re all familiar with the axiom “hard cases make bad law.” It seems to me that in the less rigorous approach to the Sarah case the Church is inching too close to what is called “the gradualness of the law” rather than affirming “the law of gradualness.” The Church can support Sarah’s gradual movement toward perfection, even in her difficult situation, through pastoral care and guidance. But, the Church cannot support graduating the law to accommodate Sarah. To do so would be to throw the Church into even more chaos on the matter than she already suffers. I’m sure you’re well aware that, at least in the United States, and I suspect in many countries in Europe, the Church’s teaching on the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and civilly re-married Catholics is largely ignored. Many Catholics have no qualms about receiving Holy Communion in spite of their situation, and many do so with their pastor’s blessing. The claim that the application of AL’s pastoral accommodation would be limited to Catholics in only very unusual and difficult situations is really a fool’s claim.

      I apologize if some of my thoughts here are a bit disjointed. I work nights and I’ve been up all night. I’m about to go to bed, and I’ll be working nights the next several shifts. I didn’t want to wait too long before I at least acknowledged your post and offered at least a cursory response. I appreciate your thoughts and would be happy to continue to engage, but I may have to wait until next week to get back to you.

      Pax et bonum,

      Bob

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  1. Thanks for your comments, Bob.

    ´1. Sarah’s situation is difficult, but the Church has certainly been in a position of having to address difficult situations before over her 2000 year history. Why do such situations, which never inspired the Church to consider so drastic a change in pastoral practice before, merit such now?´

    First off, I´m not sure if the word ¨drastic¨ is apposite. It is not as though AL says the divorced and remarried can now receive Communion. The nuances of what AL actually says should not be lost sight of. Besides, the exhortation is about a lot more than one footnote.
    As for your query itself, obviously Peter holds the power of the Keys and it is his prerogative to exercise that as and when he deems fit. If we read chapter 8 of AL carefully – and in particular, AL 308, we can glean what prompts him to encourage openness to a change in pastoral practice.

    ´It’s not at all clear why Sarah cannot continue to receive Holy Communion spiritually. No, it’s not ideal, but there are lots of situations in life that are not ideal, where we must do the best we can given our circumstances.´

    Your first statement implies that Sarah is eligible only for spiritual communion and not sacramental communion – but I´m not sure if you read the second post, viz, https://musingsfromaperiphery.blogspot.com/2017/11/sarah-is-not-eligible-for-sacramental.html

    That post actually addresses this point directly. In a nutshell, when there is no ´obex´ hindering absolution, what sense does it make to say she should receive only spiritually?

    ´There have been holy men and women, and even saints, who have gone years without receiving Holy Communion because their circumstances would not permit it.´
    Those circumstances need not be the same as that of Sarah. Besides, demanding that Sarah live up to those high and austere standards need not be the only pastoral way of accompanying her. Although stated in a different context and with reference to a valid marriage, AL 122 comes to mind, viz.:´We should not however confuse different levels: there is no need to lay upon two limited persons the tremendous burden of having to reproduce perfectly the union existing between Christ and his Church, for marriage as a sign entails “a dynamic process…, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God”´

    ´It seems that, if Sarah’s conversion is genuine, she would desire to respect the Church’s teachings on marriage and the integrity of the Sacrament. A good and wise pastor could guide her in how to do so.´
    We must be careful here. Yes, desiring to respect the Church´s teachings on marriage and the integrity of the Sacrament must be there on Sarah´s part – but please see the first 3 or 4 paragraphs highlighted in green at https://musingsfromaperiphery.blogspot.com/2017/11/sarah-is-not-eligible-for-sacramental.html (particularly the reference to St. Maria Goretti.)

    Regarding your third point, – if you read the facts of the Sarah case, you will notice that actually the poverty aspect / fear of being divorced / abandoned is only secondary. What is primary is her anxiety that if Mohammed follows through on his threat, the children´s welfare would be affected by a divorce with one parent missing from the home. [Notice the following lines in ´the Sarah case´ post: ´Moreover, what hangs in the balance is – who would get custody of the children of the second union? (particularly if Mohammed´s lawyer forcefully argues that in order to not let a court be seen as a party to ´imposition of religious beliefs under the garb of so-called conversion experiences´, it would be best, under the circumstances, for custody of the children of the second union to be handed to the father, so that it serves as a warning and deterrence against ´gold-diggers´ like Sarah.)]

    ´rather than finding ways to justify Sarah’s continued union with a man who is not her husband…´

    The pastor does no such thing – he is not ¨justifying¨ ´Sarah’s continued union´. Besides, when Sarah no longer wishes to have sex with Mohammed, wishes to live as sister and brother with him, but he forces himself on her, and she just lies there while he engages in coitus, is it fair to refer to this as *Sarah´s* ¨union¨ with a man who is not her husband?

    ´Perhaps…the Church would do well to re-emphasize her duty to care for women in such situations, much as the early Church cared for widows and children. One of the reasons women so often stay in difficult relationships is because they feel they have no real options. Perhaps the Church ought to be in the business of creating options.´

    Caring for widows and children is one thing and caring for women in such situations is another. For, would the Church then be subtly pressuring women / replacing / stepping on their conscience by implying that it is better for children to NOT grow up with both father and mother under one roof?

    ´I’m also wondering what kind of woman would stay in a union where her conscience informed her that she was being raped every time she had sex with her putative husband.´

    ´every time she had sex with her putative husband´? >> phrasing is important. She doesn´t ¨have sex¨ – she just ´lies there´ while he engages in coitus.

    ´What kind of damage would that do to her psyche?´
    Right! Which is why the pastor needs to be sensitive and realize the difficulty and trauma she is going through. Denying absolution and holding up the high bar of saints who went years without the Eucharist may be – well, a high bar indeed!

    ´What kind of damage would that do to her relationship with her children?´
    I´m not sure about that – she obviously has concern for the children and loves them. And for their sake, she wearily puts up with Mohammed´s advances.

    ´I cannot imagine the situation deteriorating significantly, and fast.´
    It is a bit complicated, though – she doesn´t hate Mohammed – she continues to be grateful to him for being supportive during the painful period after her divorce, and respects him for taking care of even her children by John.
    Which is probably why she hopes he may convert someday and agree to live as brother and sister.

    ´5. Consider another scenario: John, Sarah’s first husband (and still her husband in the eyes of the Church) also has a conversion experience. His second wife divorces him because she can no longer stand living with a man who now wants to live as brother and sister. John re-connects with Sarah and wants to bring their marriage back to life. Can the Church support Sarah in leaving Mohammed now that she can go back to John after so long insisting that Sarah’s marriage to Mohammed was not an obstacle to her full participation in the sacramental life of the Church? How could the Church escape accusations of disingenuity or spiritual accommodation?´

    The misconception lies in the statement ´…after so long insisting that Sarah’s marriage to Mohammed was not an obstacle to her full participation in the sacramental life of the Church´.
    First, technically speaking, what is the obstacle is sexual relations on ´remarriage´. In Sarah´s case, after her conversion, she no longer wishes to have sex but wishes to live as sister and brother with Mohammed, which is frustrated due to his non-cooperation and his forcing himself on her. So, in that sense, the situation has changed and the ´obstacle´ no longer exists which would hinder absolution.
    Subjectively, we cannot attribute an obstruction to Sarah (which would have been the case if she deliberately chose to have sex with Mohammed) >> and hence absolution may be granted.
    But she is still in an objective state of sin and so, to avoid scandal, Communion may be granted only privately.
    The private reception indicates that the objective irregularity still exists.
    The private reception shows that Sarah is not placed on par with the rest of the community. In that sense, there is no ¨full¨ participation. Thus, the Church is not being disingenuous and cannot be accused of ´spiritual accommodation´.

    If John returns to Sarah and wants to bring their marriage back to life, the Church will support Sarah if she takes the decision to leave Mohammed. Of course, in taking a decision, Sarah will hopefully arrive at an amicable understanding with Mohammed regarding his two children by her. (parenting time / visitation rights?)

    ´It seems to me that in the less rigorous approach to the Sarah case the Church is inching too close to what is called “the gradualness of the law” rather than affirming “the law of gradualness.”… the Church cannot support graduating the law to accommodate Sarah.´

    Graduating the law to accommodate Sarah would happen for instance if the Church were to say that considering the fear of divorce / abandonment and anxiety that children´s welfare would be affected, it is ok / justifiable for Sarah to have sex with Mohammed. But that, as is evident, is not what the Church is saying. It simply discerns that in the Sarah case, there is no obex hindering absolution. The law has not budged even an inch. Mt. 5:18

    ´I’m sure you’re well aware that, at least in the United States, and I suspect in many countries in Europe, the Church’s teaching on the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and civilly re-married Catholics is largely ignored.´
    Quite aware of this. But that is a different problem.

    ´Many Catholics have no qualms about receiving Holy Communion in spite of their situation, and many do so with their pastor’s blessing.´
    1 Cor 11:27-30, canon 915 and 916 – all still apply. Whether they are being followed is another matter altogether.

    ´The claim that the application of AL’s pastoral accommodation would be limited to Catholics in only very unusual and difficult situations is really a fool’s claim.´
    When the Word of God itself has been misused, misinterpreted, ignored, misunderstood, etc., can we be any surprised if any Church document including AL meets the same fate?
    The Ark may take on water in the storm. But let us trust in Providence.
    cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam,

    Feel free to comment at leisure. But without meaning any offense, may I suggest you first take time if possible to re-read all the three posts slowly so that you get a deeper grasp of the views expressed?

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