09 March 2014

Fr. Harrison on the Brewing Storm over Catholic Teaching on Marriage

Earlier this week, I read at Fisheaters a letter from Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., that he wrote to the Inside the Vatican magazine.

As noted in the forum, it is a very welcome defense of the Gospel teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, by a person not, strictly speaking, a "traditionalist" (however you might define this term). This, friends, is Catholic teaching, it is Divinely revealed truth. And it is under attack, directly and indirectly, by those who seek to allow Holy Communion to divorced Catholics who have attempted "remarriage". You are aware of the efforts at undermining this teaching in the German bishops' conference and, alas, elsewhere.

Bravo to Fr. Harrison:


Dear Dr. Moynihan,

In your latest Letter from Rome, commenting on the new appointments to the College of Cardinals, you report rather nonchalantly that "[Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig] Müller is also known for having said that the Church's position on admitting to divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacrament of Communion is not something that can or will be changed. But other German Church leaders, including Cardinal Walter Kasper, have recently gone on record saying the teaching may and will be changed."

Your brief, matter-of-fact report on this controversy reminds me of the tip of an iceberg. It alludes to, but does not reveal the immensity of, a massive, looming threat that bids fair to pierce, penetrate and rend in twain Peter's barque – already tossing perilously amid stormy and icy seas. The shocking magnitude of the doctrinal and pastoral crisis lurking beneath this politely-worded dispute between scholarly German prelates can scarcely be overstated. For what is at stake here is fidelity to a teaching of Jesus Christ that directly and profoundly affects the lives of hundreds of millions of Catholics: the indissolubility of marriage.

The German bishops have devised a pastoral plan to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, whether or not a Church tribunal has granted a decree of nullity of their first marriage. Cardinal-elect Müller, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has not only published a strong article in L'Osservatore Romano reaffirming the perennial Catholic doctrine confirmed by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio; he has also written officially to the German Bishops' Conference telling them to rectify their heterodox pastoral plan. But the bishops, led by their conference president and by Cardinal Kasper, are openly defying the head of the CDF, and predicting that the existing doctrine and discipline will soon be changed!

Think of the appalling ramifications of this. If German Catholics don't need decrees of nullity, neither will any Catholics anywhere. Won't the world's Catholic marriage tribunals then become basically irrelevant? (Will they eventually just close down?) And won't this reversal of bimillennial Catholic doctrine mean that the Protestants and Orthodox, who have allowed divorce and remarriage for century after century, have been more docile to the Holy Spirit on this issue than the true Church of Christ? Indeed, how credible, now, will be her claim to be the true Church? On what other controverted issues, perhaps, has the Catholic Church been wrong, and the separated brethren right?

And what of Jesus' teaching that those who remarry after divorce commit adultery? Admitting them to Communion without a commitment to continence will lead logically to one of three faith-breaking conclusions: (a) our Lord was mistaken in calling this relationship adulterous - in which case he can scarcely have been the Son of God; (b) adultery is not intrinsically and gravely sinful - in which case the Church's universal and ordinary magisterium has always been wrong; or (c) Communion can be given to some who are living in objectively grave sin - in which case not only has the magisterium also erred monumentally by always teaching the opposite, but the way will also be opened to Communion for fornicators, practicing homosexuals, pederasts, and who knows who else? (And, please, spare us the sophistry that Jesus' teaching was correct "in his own historical and cultural context", but that since about Martin Luther's time that has all changed.)

Let us make no mistake: Satan is right now shaking the Church to her very foundations over this divorce issue. If anything, the confusion is becoming even graver than that over contraception between 1965 and 1968, when Paul VI's seeming vacillation allowed Catholics round the world to anticipate a reversal of perennial Church teaching. If the present Successor of Peter now keeps silent about divorce and remarriage, thereby tacitly telling the Church and the world that the teaching of Jesus Christ will be up for open debate at a forthcoming Synod of Bishops, one fears a terrible price will soon have to be paid.

Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S.
St. Louis, Missouri


Dave Heath said...

BRAVO, Fr.Harrison! Well said!

Long-Skirts said...

Thank you Fr. Harrison for defending the True Faith!

James said...

Unfortunately the new confusion (i.e. Novus Tumultus) may not be so limited. Let us pray for the Holy Father and the Church.

Emphasis my own.

- English translation, by CNA's Estefania Aguirre and Alan Holdren, of the March 5 interview of Pope Francis with Italian daily "Corriere della Sera". -

...The theme of the family is central in the activity of the Council of eight cardinals. Since the exhortation ‘Familiaris Consortio’ of John Paul II many things have changed. Two Synods are on the schedule. Great newness is expected. You have said of the divorced: they are not to be condemned but helped.

Pope Francis: It is a long path that the Church must complete. A process wanted by the Lord. Three months after my election the themes for the Synod were placed before me. It was proposed that we discuss what is the contribution of Jesus to contemporary man. But in the end with gradual steps - which for me are signs of the will of God - it was chosen to discuss the family, which is going through a very serious crisis. It is difficult to form it. Few young people marry. There are many separated families in which the project of common life has failed. The children suffer greatly. We must give a response. But for this we must reflect very deeply. It is that which the Consistory and the Synod are doing. We need to avoid remaining on the surface. The temptation to resolve every problem with casuistry is an error, a simplification of profound things, as the Pharisees did, a very superficial theology. It is in light of the deep reflection that we will be able to seriously confront particular situations, also those of the divorced, with a pastoral depth.

...Many nations have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?

Pope Francis: Marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, pushed by the demand to regulate economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring health care. It is about pacts of cohabitating of various natures, of which I wouldn’t know how to list the different ways. One needs to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety.

...At half a century from Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, can the Church take up again the theme of birth control? Cardinal Martini, your confrere, thought that the moment had come.

Pope Francis: All of this depends on how Humanae Vitae is interpreted. Paul VI himself, at the end, recommended to confessors much mercy, and attention to concrete situations. But his genius was prophetic, he had the courage to place himself against the majority, defending the moral discipline, exercising a culture brake, opposing present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing the doctrine but of going deeper and making pastoral (ministry) take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do. Also of this we will speak in the path of the synod.

...Science evolves and redesigns the frontiers of life. Does it make sense to artificially prolong life in a vegetative state? Can a living will be a solution?

Pope Francis: I am not a specialist in bioethical issues. And I fear that every one of my sentences may be wrong. The traditional doctrine of the Church says that no one is obligated to use extraordinary means when it is known that they are in the terminal phase. In my pastoral ministry, in these cases, I have always advised palliative care. In more specific cases it is good to seek, if necessary, the counsel of specialists.

...St. Francis had a carefree youth. I ask you, have you ever been in love?

Pope Francis: In the book “Il Gesuita,” I tell the story of when I had a girlfriend at 17 years old...

And how did it end, if I’m not indiscreet?

Pope Francis: They were things of youth. I spoke with my confessor (a big smile).

Anonymous said...

So many issues here:
1) The death-knell of any organization is the phrase "But we've always done it this way," which was one of his arguments here. Does that mean the Church can never apologize? Are we saying that the Holy Spirit can only change individual hearts, but not institutions?
2) The average life expectancy at the time Jesus walked this earth was 39 years. (Compared to today, Jesus would have been over 65 when nailed on the Cross.) Does the fact that a marriage back then might be about 20-25 years, versus 50-60 years today change anything?
3) While having firm guidelines and beliefs about the sacredness of marriage is wonderful, does the Church really need to keep a stance of jury, judge, prosecutor and punisher of individuals who have suffered through a divorce?
4) One of the sacred vows in marriage is "...unto death do part." Is it possible to admit that the "death" might not necessarily mean a physical death? Whether you like it or not, the reality is that relationships die. Do we punish individuals when friendships that die over time? Do we punish individuals when marriages die?
5) Does the Catholic Church really want to say that it is far more important for unhealthy, sick, abused, love-less, dead couples stay married for some external reason than it is for individuals to end them? Unless we live an extremely sheltered life, we all know individuals who suffered in abusive marriages, with partners who are alcoholics, abusers, narcissistic, psychotic, anger-addicted, substance abusers ... you get the point. The ideal would be to have the individual get help, but if they refuse ... does the Church say "Sorry, you have to live with that [%$^#*@] person the rest of your life?
6) Most churches should be full of broken people. We are all sinners, all with our issues, all with unresolved conflicts, all with brokenness. Most of us go to church not to brag that we're better than the rest, but to grow, to be accepted for who we are, and to cry from the depths of our souls. Personally, I'd like to think that God accepts us for who we are and does not sit there judging us for who we are not. Unless you're a Kardashian, divorce is extremely painful, ripping the heart out to its core. The questions being asked boil down to a BOTH/AND versus an EITHER/OR conundrum: Is the church a legalistic entity that doles out punishment on those that already are suffering for the sake of unflinching principles? Or is Jesus a merciful God who preferred to be among sinners than Pharisees, one who would not stone to death an adulterous woman, one who realizes that we are all on a journey that is messy?

Somehow the church needs to continue sanctifying the value of a loving marriage and family, AND continue to offer a home to those who so often have been thrown out of their married home. Really, do we need to slam the door in the face of those who have had the door slammed on them in their first marriage?

7) This guy doesn't know his Baltimore Catechism. There is no such thing as "objectively grave sin," Does he know that the individual has full consent of their Will? Does he know that the individual has the grave intent to do harm? In a merciful church, the answer is "no." In the highly judgmental, condemning world he lives in, I will concede he might say "yes." And most of your readers would agree, because they tend to be those who pass judgment on all others as if it makes them better. They will have a huge table waiting for them in the afterlife, right alongside the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus's time.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit is alive and well during this Synod, and try and reframe from making this some sort of false dichotomy of us/good/holy/right/just/perfect versus the bad/evil/wrong/sinful/Satanic.

thetimman said...


I suppose I'll engage, though without relish.

You're making it way too complicated. Love is desiring the best for the beloved. It is a decision, an act of the will.

Loving someone living in mortal sin is to invite them out of mortal sin. It is to urge them to avoid fresh mortal sins. It is to call them to conversion, always noting the beams in our own eyes.

And upholding the divine law strengthens us all to do good. Making someone feel more comfortable as they slide towards hell is no favor to the, yet you would have the Church open the very gates of hell by calling good evil, and evil good.

No thanks, the episcopalians exist for a reason.