Home/Rod Dreher/Millions Of Catholic Bastards

Millions Of Catholic Bastards

'Guess what? You're probably not really married! I know, right?' (Republic of Korea/Flickr)

No, I have not become an Ulsterman. The headline is the implication of Pope Francis’s astonishing words at a press conference. [UPDATE: Not really; see below. — RD]The only major public figure who has less discipline in speaking is Donald Trump. Excerpts:

Pope Francis said Thursday that the great majority of sacramental marriages today are not valid, because couples do not enter into them with a proper understanding of permanence and commitment.

“We live in a culture of the provisional,” the Pope said in impromptu remarks June 16. After addressing the Diocese of Rome’s pastoral congress, he held a question-and-answer session.

A layman asked about the “crisis of marriage” and how Catholics can help educate youth in love, help them learn about sacramental marriage, and help them overcome “their resistance, delusions and fears.”

The Pope answered from his own experience.

“I heard a bishop say some months ago that he met a boy that had finished his university studies, and said ‘I want to become a priest, but only for 10 years.’ It’s the culture of the provisional. And this happens everywhere, also in priestly life, in religious life,” he said.

“It’s provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say “yes, for the rest of my life!” but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”

Just to be clear: the pope is saying that the “great majority” of people married inside the Catholic Church are not really married, because one or both spouses entered into the marriage covenant without the right intentions.

This is the Pope talking.

And it’s not going over well. Here’s part of a tweetstorm from Ross Douthat:

Reuters reports:

Edward Peters, a U.S. canon lawyer who has been an adviser to the Vatican, wrote that the pope’s words were “very bad” because they could spur couples in difficult marriages to “give up now” instead of trying to overcome problems.

The Catholic Church teaches that a marriage can be ended only by death or an annulment — a Church ruling it was not valid in the first place because it lacked prerequisites such as free will and psychological maturity.

“The crisis of marriage is due to the fact that people don’t know what the sacrament is, the beauty of the sacrament, they don’t know that it is indissoluble, that it is for your entire life,” the pope said.

“There are girls and boys who have purity and a great love, but they are few,” he said, adding that many young people had a materialistic and superficial approach to their wedding day, such as an obsession with choosing the right gown, the right church and the right restaurant.

He said the Church needed better marriage preparation programs.

Conservatives also chided Francis for saying at the same meeting that priests should not pressure couples who were co-habitating if they were not ready to get married. He said the priests should “let fidelity ripen”.

That’s right, kids: the Pope says it may be a better idea for you to keep shacking up.

Reuters also reports that in the official transcript of the Pope’s remarks, the Vatican changed the words “great majority of our marriages” to “some of our marriages”.

In 2014, Benedict Nguyen, a canon lawyer, gave an interview to the National Catholic Register about conditions for marriage annulments. Excerpt:

However, the third category of grounds for annulment — and the most involved processes for tribunals — are marriages involving consent, where one or both of the spouses did not intend to embrace all the goods of marriage: permanence, exclusivity or openness to children, for example.

“There’s plenty of people out there who believe in divorce, but they say, ‘Oh, but that’s not going to happen to us.’ Well, that’s presumably a valid marriage with valid consent,” he said. “But if somebody says, ‘I believe in divorce and in terminating this marriage if it comes to that,’ well, that casts some serious doubts on the consent.”

This would seem to indicate that Catholics who enter a marriage believing that if it doesn’t work out, they can always divorce, are in fact not validly married in the eyes of the Catholic Church. But is it true that the “great majority” of Catholics married today stood before God and made their marriage vows thinking that it might not last forever? How would the Pope know? Why would make such a sweeping pronouncement, being Pope and all? Why would he encourage Catholics living together outside of marriage to remain that way for a while longer?

Catholic readers, help me out here.

(UPDATE: I know that children resulting from a marriage later annulled as invalid are not, canonically speaking, illegitimate. I even looked it up before I posted this morning. The headline was too delicious to pass up using. But I should have indicated in the initial post that I knew it wasn’t literally true — even though I have never, even in my Catholic days, been able to understand why it isn’t true, as a matter of logic. — RD)

They don’t make popes like they used to, alas. I miss this guy:

Papist/Flickr
Papist/Flickr

UPDATE: Matthew Schmitz highlights the weirdness of what Francis said:

What about people with less [theological] education, who haven’t staged performances of The Jeweler’s Shop, read Heart of the World, or participated in a Theology of the Body discussion group? The poorly educated and the poor are unlikely to have the time or ability to get up to speed on sacramental theology. If the sincere exchange of vows doesn’t make their marriage valid, what does? Must all sacramentally valid marriages resemble my friends’, beginning only after a few years of theological study, during a Mass set to music by Mozart?

Even in the United States, where 60 percent of all annulments are handed out, only 28 percent of Catholic marriages end in divorce. By the pope’s strange reckoning, a great number of Catholic marriages that last for life are shams.

Catholic theologians may object to this view, but they’re not the ones targeted by it. According to Francis, their marriages are probably valid, while those entered into by the rest of us probably aren’t.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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