Tag Archives: Catholic

Suffer the Little Children: Aquinas on Divorce

In Mark 10, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees (“to test him”) whether divorce was lawful.  As he responded, the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 24 and elsewhere) permitted divorce under some conditions.  But Jesus argues more broadly, basing his words on the second chapter of Genesis, “the two will become one flesh.” Therefore, Jesus says, “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

The Mosaic Law on divorce is complex (to say the least; for one thing, it permitted polygamy), but the overriding sense is that it is at best a necessary evil caused by unnecessary (and worse) evils.  Adultery and abuse were the commonly accepted justifications.  Remarriage of divorced persons was permitted in some cases and prohibited in others.

Throughout the Pentateuch (indeed, the entire Bible), many aspects of divorce are addressed, but one omission is glaring: there is not a word about child custody.  The impact on the children receives no more consideration than it does in a modern American courtroom.

In biblical times, the concept of family meant a father, a mother, and their children.  The idea of an intentionally childless married couple did not exist; at least I have not seen any indication of one. Effective contraception did not exist.  Children were valued as workers in support of the family.   Children were valued as caretakers in parental old age. Many other reasons probably factored into what was in all likelihood not a conscious decision (to procreate) at all.

St. Thomas Aquinas comes at the divorce issue from an interesting tack:  the natural law.  The natural law is our fundamental understanding of right and wrong (sometimes called the First Grace, followed by the Mosaic Law and finally Jesus’ Law of Love.) It is the law that Paul ascribes to all, even the gentiles, as innate in our humanity. Here is Thomas:

“By the intention of nature, marriage is directed to the rearing of offspring, not merely for a time, but throughout its whole life…  Therefore since the offspring is the common good of husband and wife, the dictate of the natural law requires the latter [husband and wife] to live together forever inseparably; and so the indissolubility of marriage is of natural law.” (“I answer that”,Q67. Art. 1 Suppl)(emphasis added)

In response to the (very modern-sounding) objection that some couples are infertile, and therefore marriage cannot be directed primarily to offspring, Thomas patiently explains:

“Marriage is chiefly directed to the common good in respect of its principal end, which is the good of the offspring; although in respect of its secondary end it is directed to the good of the parties…Hence marriage laws consider what is expedient for all rather than what may be suitable for one.” (Reply to Obj. 4)

It is worth noting that this is from his Summa Theologiae, which is based on both revelation and reason. He could have based the indissolubility of marriage first and foremost on biblical grounds: Genesis and Matthew/Mark. But instead, he bases his answer on natural law.

One would expect this non-theological approach in his Summa Contra Gentiles, in which he argues from reason and nature, without divine revelation, to attain truth; and one is not disappointed:

“Hence, as law is instituted for the common good, the function of procreation ought to be regulated by laws divine and human. Now the laws laid down ought to proceed on the basis of the dictate of nature…Since then there is in the human species a natural exigency for the union of male and female to be one and indivisible, such unity and indissolubility must needs be ordained by human law. To that ordinance the divine law adds a supernatural reason, derived from the significancy of marriage as a type of the inseparable union of Christ with His Church…” (Chapter CXXIII)

His reasoning is consistent: marriage is a matter of natural law directed at the welfare of children, creating the future and thereby benefiting society. Jesus adds a secondary reason based on scripture (Genesis).

The Catechism (para 1614) makes it clear that the Catholic Church bases its position on scripture alone.  It does not mention children as the principal purpose of marriage (at least I cannot find such mention.) It does so tangentially in its discussion of contraception and openness to fertility, but not in its discussion of divorce.

In other words, the Catechism, like the reality of our present courts and culture, treats divorce as a matter involving two adults and the covenant or contract into which they have entered and from which they now seek to exit.

And the children? Collateral damage. Property to be divided.

Perhaps Thomas, were he writing today, might find that contraception has divided marriages into two kinds (or “species”, to use one of his favorite words): families with children and those (contentedly or intentionally) without. Procreative families and non-procreative ones. His reasoning cited above about infertile couples might have to take into account the very large number of intentionally childless marriages.

The divorce of two childless adults can be many things, from tragic to trivial.  But divorce involving children is another thing: the innocent children are victims: always hurt, traumatized, brutalized. What they experience is the destruction of their family and their world; a destruction inflicted upon them by those same adults who brought them into existence and have the duty to protect them.

We trivialize the suffering of these children by using the same term for both species of divorce. Separation of childless adults is properly called divorce; but divorce with children should be described as it is: family destruction and child abandonment. It is today the one form of child abuse that is not only tolerable but even respectable.

The importance of this issue cannot be exaggerated. The social pathologies that plague western society today may be traced to many causes, but one of the most obvious is the weakening of families.  Poverty in America is traceable almost exclusively to single-parent households. Violent crime is traceable almost exclusively to boys raised in fatherless households.  The enactment of “No-Fault Divorce” laws has been one of the causes of societal breakdown.  It has given men (and increasingly women) a free pass to abandon those most dependent on them, without stigma.

We come now to the current turmoil involving divorced/remarried Catholics. With the present papal incumbent moving to downgrade the seriousness, even the sinfulness, of divorce/remarriage, divorce appears to be viewed everywhere as less of a problem.

In Amoris Laetitia, he devotes much ink to the problem of what to do with remarried divorcees, but very little that I could find on the victimized children.  If the Church moves forward with “normalization” of divorce, it will only be making matters worse.

It goes without saying that there are legitimate reasons for divorce, abuse being the most obvious. The Church to its credit has used the annulment process to deal with marriages so fatally flawed. The Gospel of Matthew also defends divorce for adultery.  Both Mark and Matthew have Jesus basing his words on Genesis.

What seems to be lacking is the natural law, which a return to St. Thomas Aquinas could correct.  The Church might want to consider instead, in light of natural law, the difference between simple divorces and divorces with children.  The Church could lead the way in this, given the extent to which our secular society has decided to act as if the children of divorce are invisible.

The Church should try to address the problem with St. Thomas Aquinas, rather than exacerbate it with Amoris Laetitia.

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A Cry from the Heart of the Laity

To anyone concerned about the health of the Catholic Church, I highly recommend a post on First Things by Luma Simms, entitled “Fathers, Help Us”.  It is a pained and troubling cry from the heart of the laity, and it expresses a view that I share.

“There are many faithful and trustworthy bishops and priests…My last plea is to them: Heed your responsibility before God. Do you not know that you corrupt yourselves by your silence?”

There are some positive signs, such as Bishop Morlino of Madison WI, whose statement here confronts the elephant in every room of the Church.  Homosexual clergy and the resulting tolerance of sexual corruption, along with its accompaniment of cover-up, must be identified by name.  It appears that few of the worst perpetrators remain among the priests.  But the McCarrick scandal has revealed that the corruption in higher levels persists (to say the least).

And the cleansing of the Temple will require the naming of names. Apologies that start “We deeply regret…” are frankly of no use at this point.

Fathers, especially bishops, must shoulder the job of cleansing and rebuilding. They must lead in driving from the Temple those who have profaned it.  If the USCCB continues to stonewall, and the pope continues to dance around the issue, the Church may be deservedly wrecked.

The Church Scandal; The Laity’s Role?

I am sure all Catholics are thinking about this crisis. McCarrick, the Pennsylvania AG report.  Silence from the USCCB and from Rome.  Several thoughts, starting with defensive ones.

First, the enemies of the church are having a good time. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Grand Jury project once again displays the sins of the church’s recent past, but says nothing about the present or future.  The report rehashes what has already come out in many (most? all?) dioceses’ victim settlements, including that of my own diocese in Helena, Montana.  The PA AG made a big deal about the scandal he has uncovered; it should help his reelection.  The NPR commentator/expert today was asked “Are these abuses continuing today?”, and he answered “The Grand Jury would probably say yes.”  Without any evidence.  That is the anti-Catholic sentiment we are up against.

But the Church has created this problem, and we cannot complain too much when our enemies use it to attack us. 

Many of the faithful bemoan the “abuse crisis”.  But, as many have noted, we are dealing with a sexual crisis, not just an abuse crisis.  The general absence of new cases charging current-day abuse of altar boys/girls or catechumens is noteworthy; in the present environment, they would be all over the news.

The current focus of the ongoing crisis appears to consist of two active scourges:  homosexual molestation of male seminarians by senior clergy, and continuing cover-up of such molestations (an echo of the past cover-ups).  This crisis is summed up in the scandal of Cardinal McCarrick, and of the higher clergy’s apparent ignoring of this detestable “open secret”.  While sexual abuse of minors is obviously criminal, sexual molestation of adults who employ them or are otherwise in authority is a grey area in criminal law (remember Clinton/Lewinsky?). But it is clearly a mortal sin. Continue reading

My Sin of Snobbery

As you may know, I winter in Montana and summer in Florida.  (“To winter” and “to summer” are used as verbs among a certain set.)  Florida’s southwest gulf coast is beautiful, warm, and old.  Very old.  At 70, I am somewhere around the median age in my neighborhood, whereas in Montana I am the oldest man I know.

I am pleased to see that the churches here in Florida, at least the Catholic ones, are full on Sundays.  During the season (“the season” refers to only one of the four seasons), there are four Sunday masses, packed full.  With old people.  A general absence of crying babies.

Something else is noticeably absent: crucifixes.  I have been to four of this diocese’s churches, and the only ones I have seen are the small ones carried atop a pole in the entry procession.  I went snooping around the cathedral one day after mass, and found a beautiful crucifix sculpture, hidden in a small alcove between chapels, invisible to the congregation.  The ciborium of the host was also not visible, being kept “off-stage” in the wings.

The entire feeling of the services in these churches could only be described as, well… protestant.  Mainline protestant.  The Methodist church of my youth.   Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But when I compare my Florida experience with that of my Helena home, I cannot help but focus on what is missing.

Helena is blessed with one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen, let alone prayed in.  Its beauty may have spoiled me for other, more modern church architecture.  But that is not the main thing

And it isn’t the crucifix.  One of St. Helena’s few flaws is that the gold crucifix is subsumed (consumed?) by the dazzling gold grillwork reredos behind it.

When I come to church, I am seeking an encounter with holiness, sanctity.  I find it every time I enter St. Helena Cathedral.  But I have not found it once, at least not to any similar extent, in the churches of Florida.

I know how precious the mass has been throughout history and around the world.  I have read of masses celebrated secretly in miserable prisons, in hidden closets and secret forest clearings.  I know that holiness can be found anywhere it is earnestly sought.

In perspective, my quibbles and complaints sound very much like first-world problems, indeed pure snobbery. I come to church with the mind-set of a theater critic. I want every church to meet the standards of my magnificent home cathedral.  I want every priest to have a good voice (or at least a good sound system).  I want a good cantor and good music selections.   (And I wish the bible readings were in better translation.)

Some of this is, as I realize, pure snobbery.  I need to get over it, and to recognize the blessing of having churches to attend and eucharists to receive. 

But some of it may matter a great deal.  In the present war for the soul of the church (and thereby the world), many things must matter.  Crucifixes are not simply a decorator’s choice.

I’m back…

I must apologize to you, faithful reader, for my long absence.  I have been busy with a big change in my life.

I have joined the Catholic Church.   Finally.

You, faithful reader, are probably not surprised.  If you have followed my “spiritual progress reports” on this site, you must have seen it coming.  Strangely, I did not.

My reasons are easily summarized.  The gratitude problem: having no proper way to say “Thank You” for so many inexplicable blessings.  My need for moral guidance and support in battling my pride, my selfishness, my sloth, and my many other sins.

My need to make sense of existence.  My need for awareness of sanctity.  My need to learn to love better.

And, perhaps above all, my need for Hope in the face of despair.  Seeing this beautiful western world falling apart, seeing evil triumph on every side, seeing madness replace sanity.  If we are not in God’s hands, then all is lost.

“But what about the Pope?””, I hear you ask.  This bizarre modernist clown of a pope?  Join him?

For decades I have been growing closer to the Church precisely because of its popes.  Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI were the world’s clearest voices for reason, reality, and love.  JPII on communism, BXVI on Islam, and both on Western modernism, were lighthouses in a darkening world.  They showed the way.

I have written elsewhere on the shabby, secular, relativist, liberation-theologist, enemy of all that his predecessors built.  His presence was the final hurdle I had to get over before I could seal the deal.

But I was reassured by several thoughts.

First, I was asked by a counselor: “Who is the Head of the Church?”  I am old enough to spot a trick question when I hear one, so I caught the point.  Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church.  Not the Pope.

Second, I was reminded that the Catholic Church has survived intact, with doctrine essentially unchanged, for twenty centuries of  turmoil, often led by bad, weak or foolish popes and filled with cynical, power-hungry, licentious agnostic priests.  The only word for such vigorous survival is “miraculous”. No other human institution even comes close.

Third, I see daily demonstration that my concerns about the present pope are shared by many, many others in the Church.  I want to join and support them in their brave, often lonely defense of truth.

So, on September 21, I became a Catholic.  A dissident Catholic, but Catholic nonetheless.