There is no lack of problems to point at in the Church today. Some are more fundamental than others, when there are Cardinals who claim 2 + 2 does not equal 4 but might equal 5 or 7 we have a problem. That sort of thing is what is going on. Consider the following exchange between two Cardinals concerning the teaching of the Church regarding divorce and remarriage. To put this in context let’s consider the basic teaching:
The Church considers a valid marriage between two people as permanent. It does not recognize divorce. There is a nice little picture found in my old Baltimore catechism that depicts the fundamentals nicely. It shows a judge telling a couple: “Now you are divorced” while Jesus is depicted in the clouds saying “No you are not”. The Church has a process that can sometimes ascertain if a “real marriage” actually ever existed (the annulment process), Catholics who are divorced but whose marriage was declared null, (meaning that no real marriage ever existed appearances to the contrary), can remarry, those who do not commit adultery if they remarry (assuming they are not celibate in the new marriage, a rather safe assumption in the modern era). Because they are living in an adulterous state (and thus are objectively living in a state of material mortal sin), they are not permitted to receive the sacraments.
Now let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether some or even many of such couples are not guilty of formal sin, that is are not subjectively morally at fault. Lets even leave aside the issue of whether the teaching really corresponds to whether or not this is what Christ really intends in say Luke 16:18: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”
It is readily apparent that this has been the teaching of the Catholic Church basically forever. In fact a large part of the Reformation was due to a dispute with Henry VIII over this very teaching. Thomas More was beheaded defending it. I do not think there is much dispute about that.
In this situation there are only two possibilities:
The teaching is correct, and therefore regardless of what anyone thinks, it’s irreformable. Now, it is possible that some features of the annulment process can be modified. That is to say, it is possible that there are many divorced people who in fact were never really in a valid marriage, and that the process of recognizing this can be made easier. (By the same token it might very well be that the annulment process is declaring some marriages invalid in correctly). I am not an expert in this, so will remain agnostic in terms of whether annulments are too hard or too easy. This question would require careful study. This is a different question of whether or not a valid marriage is permanent however. The Church teaches that it is.
Alternatively one can assert the teaching is wrong and advocate that it be changed. That is to say one might assert that divorced and remarried Catholics who do not have their marriages annulled are not living in adulterous unions and therefore there is no reason for them not to receive the sacraments. It seems to me self evident that if one does hold this, than Catholicism has been teaching falsehood for a very long time. Indeed if it is wrong on the nature of the Sacrament of marriage I see no particular reason it would be believable on any other issue. More precisely a Catholic believes certain things because they have concluded that Christ founded a Church that he speaks through. (Luke 10:16 “He who hears you hears me”). If the Church has been teaching error for the last couple of millennia, then it is obvious it could not be true that Christ speaks through the Church and if he does not, then no revealed teaching is sure and in fact we are left with just natural religion. Catholicism would be false.
It seems that this is something that is certain. It is merely the principle of non contradiction. The logic has the depressing relentlessness of any syllogism.
A: Christ speak through the Church, B: The Church says divorce and remarriage would be adultery, C: Therefore Christ says divorce and remarriage = adultery, much as he says in Luke 16:18. To escape this you must deny the first premise. “B” is a factual certainty no one disputes, therefore conclusion “C” necessarily follows, if “A” is true.
This brings us to the little exchange regarding Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga and Cardinal designate Gerhard Ludwig Muller. By the way, this little exchange came to my attention via Jimmy Akin’s blog, and you can read his particular take here . In any case the Cardinal Maradiaga is currently part of a recent group of 8 Cardinals picked by Pope Francis to serve as a body of advisors, while Archbishop Mueller (recently named Cardinal by Pope Francis) is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the famous CDF and Pope Benedict’s old domain. Let’s reprint the relevant experts:
Archbishop Mueller has written about this in the Vatican newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano” and the full text can be found here . Let’s sample an excerpt:
“It is frequently suggested that remarried divorcees should be allowed to decide for themselves, according to their conscience, whether or not to present themselves for holy communion. This argument, based on a problematical concept of “conscience”, was rejected by a document of the CDF in 1994. Naturally, the faithful must consider every time they attend Mass whether it is possible to receive communion, and a grave unconfessed sin would always be an impediment. At the same time they have the duty to form their conscience and to align it with the truth. In so doing they listen also to the Church’s Magisterium, which helps them “not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it” (Veritatis Splendor, 64). If remarried divorcees are subjectively convinced in their conscience that a previous marriage was invalid, this must be proven objectively by the competent marriage tribunals. Marriage is not simply about the relationship of two people to God, it is also a reality of the Church, a sacrament, and it is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the Church, into which the individuals are incorporated by faith and baptism. “If the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful, and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “The Pastoral approach to marriage must be founded on truth”
So no surprise here, Archbishop Mueller is simply restating the teaching of the Church. What is peculiar are the recent comments by Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiga:
(laughs) I’ve read it, yes. (Referring to the Mueller commentary) And I thought, “Okay, maybe you’re right, but maybe not.” I mean, I understand it: He is German – yes, I have to say he is on top of that professor, a German professor of theology. In his mentality there is only right or wrong, that’s it. But I say: “The world, my brother, the world is not as you should be a little flexible when you hear other voices, so that you not only listen and say, no, here is the wall..” So, I believe he will get there, to understand other views. But now he’s just still at the beginning, just listen to his senior staff.
You can read the whole thing here. If you do not read German however, I recommend you use Google Chromes to find it as your web browser, which then will allow you to translate into English almost instantly.
In any case I cannot but ask what the Hell Cardinal Maradiga is talking about? The bottom line is either he is either calling for the teaching to be changed regarding the permanence of marriage, ( In which case one wonders why he is bothering to live as a celibate Cardinal, the Church would obviously be a fraud, Luther when he reached this conclusion found himself a wife in short order.) Alternatively he is trying to say that the annulment process needs to be reevaluated, but then why the swipe at Mueller, since nothing in the document by Mueller asserts otherwise, and in fact even the “German” Pope Benedict made some statements suggesting the annulment process could be improved to some degree. See here . So there is nothing new about that sort of thinking.
Now what is most troubling about this silliness is not that Maradiga might not agree with the Church teaching. The fact that some clergyman do not agree with all the Church teachings has been old news for the last 50 years since Vatican II. It is rather that Maradiga apparently does not think this is a matter of “right or wrong”. It seems he would hold that it is neither right nor wrong, or it is both right and wrong. Either way Maradiga is asserting gobbley gook. The Church is what it claims and the teaching regarding divorce and remarriage is “right” or it is wrong, (that is it is true or it is false.) How can it be otherwise? In fact even if you argued that some marriages can be dissolved for “good reasons”. Then obviously what would could as a “good” reason would be essentially arbitrary, it would seem that all marriages would in principle be dissoluble. The Church will have been profoundly wrong. In which case who is to say marriage or any other sacrament means anything at all? In Fact I would be hard pressed to understand how one could logically hold the Church is a reliable teacher of anything.
It is baffling as to why this self evident truth is not more widely accepted. I have in fact never seen a dissident Catholic address it. They usually simply ignore it. This is intellectually dishonest. The bottom line is that contrary to Cardinal Maradiga things cannot be true and false at the same time. As such the Church is either the infallible voice of Christ as it claims, or it’s not. If you claim that the Church is “wrong” than you of necessity hold the later, and you have lost your faith. It’s time we are clear on this. It’s as certain as 2 + 2 = 4.
I have just one unrelated closing thoughts. We would be remiss if we did not salute the many thousands of people who braved the bitter weather and made the March for Life in Washington DC on Jan 22. We should all be remember to ask God bless these folks.