Dear single Catholics,
Marriage is indissoluble, an ontological reality for as long as both spouses are living. “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” For Catholics, divorce is never an option for any reason. The rare exceptions of the “Pauline and Petrine privileges” pertain only to non-sacramental marriages with at least one unbaptized spouse.
What is popularly known as an annulment is not a divorce, but a “decree of nullity” – a juridical finding that a valid marriage never existed in the first place. For example, if one spouse was coerced by threats of violence, then true consent was absent and there was never a valid marriage. Nullity depends upon defects (e.g., lack of consent) present when the vows were made, not marital problems that developed later. The list of defects that traditionally render a putative marriage “null” is short and sweet:
(1) the male is not yet sixteen and/or the female is not yet fourteen at the time of the wedding; (2) the male is impotent, the female is frigid, or the marriage is never consummated; (3) either party is still involved in a marriage which is not properly dissolved; (4) a Catholic and an unbaptized person marry without a proper dispensation; (5) the male is a recipient of Holy Orders and is not personally dispensed by the pope; (6) either party who publicly vowed celibacy did not receive a dispensation to marry; (7) the female is forced to marry by means of abduction or confinement; (8) one party kills the other in order to enter a new marriage; (9) the parties are closely related by blood; (10) there is prior affinity between the parties such as a widowed person marrying the deceased spouse’s parent or child; (11) someone party to a common-law marriage later attempts marriage with the parent or child of the live-in partner; (12) a person marries a child or sibling he or she has adopted; (13) Catholics enter a marriage “lacking form” and, therefore, validity because it does not take place before an authorized priest and witnesses.
The Church has long been a fierce and uncompromising defender of the marital bond. Catholic martyrs have died for the truth of marital indissolubility. The entire world knows this, both within the Church and without. As a safeguard, the Church always presumed the validity of every publicly celebrated marriage, whether sacramental or merely natural. Proving invalidity was difficult, and in most cases a decision was made only after an exhaustive investigation. The doctrine of marital indissolubility, the presumption of validity, and the difficulty of proving nullity combined to make a powerful psychological effect. Spouses were encouraged to persevere in difficult marriages and, most importantly, children were protected from parental abandonment.
Tragically, this all came unraveled with the anthropocentric emphasis of the Second Vatican Council. The former annulment procedures were concerned exclusively with the objective reality of the marital bond. But the new orientation began to focus on the interests, convenience, and happiness of the discontented spouse or spouses. In the 1970s the procedures for filing for annulment were greatly simplified in the United States. Predictably, the number of annulments skyrocketed. It’s fair to assume that the same orientation that motivated these procedural changes also motivated the decisions of marriage tribunals.
A still more severe attack on marriage came with Canon 1095 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which states:
The following are incapable of contracting marriage: 1) those who lack the sufficient use of reason; 2) those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted; 3) those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.
This canon opened the floodgates. “Essential matrimonial rights and duties” and “essential obligations of marriage” could be interpreted as loosely as “the duty to be sensitive and understanding” or, in TOB-speak, “totally self-giving”. But the loophole most often exploited is the idea that defects “of a psychic nature” were present, though unknown, at the time of consent. A spouse who later became unfaithful or who abandoned the marriage could be said to have had, all along, a psychological fear of commitment. A spouse who later developed a drug addiction could be said to have had a secret “addictive personality”. A spouse who developed a mental illness could be said to have had a latent psychological condition. A spouse with inadequacies as a mother or father, or with chronic employment problems, or with unhealthy relationship patterns, etc., could easily be said to have been unable to “assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature”. Examples could be multiplied ad infinitum.
The result? By 1991 the Church was granting 60,000 annulments per year in the United States. Contrast this with the early 1960s, when the Church granted around 300 annulments per year. Although the number of annulments has declined in recent years – there were 24,010 annulments in 2012 – an astonishing 85 to 90 percent of annulment petitions are granted.
But all of this human carnage was not enough to satisfy Pope Francis and his allies. The pope has, in the first place, publicly entertained the idea that fifty percent of all marriages are invalid, turning the traditional “presumption of validity” on its head. You can be sure that those who adjudicate annulment cases are paying attention. His latest Motu Proprio “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus”, or “The Lord Jesus, Merciful Judge” virtually eliminates any remaining obstacles for discontented spouses seeking a decree of nullity. The document suggests that signs of probable nullity include “defect of faith”, “a brief conjugal cohabitation”, “an abortion procured to avoid procreation”, an “extraconjugal relationship”, “grave contagious illness”, “incarcerations”, and “unexpected pregnancy of the woman” …. “etc”. That “etc” is found in the Motu Proprio at the end of this list, so as not to limit the justifications that might arise!
To summarize, marital indissolubility is no longer supported by Catholic ecclesiastical discipline. Read that line carefully. Anyone who seeks an annulment will almost certainly be granted an annulment. In the Age of Francis, a troubled marriage between two people afflicted with original sin is essentially presumed invalid.
Dear single Catholic, should you choose to enter the marriage state, you need to understand something: The Church no longer has your back. The Church will marry you but has lost the will to defend your marriage. As painful as this is to admit, you’re entirely on your own. You live in a time when marriage is hard, annulments are easy, and charity has grown cold. In some ways our own time is coming to resemble the early Church when, due to heavy persecution, little in the way of ecclesiastical discipline was possible, and heroic faith was expected of all. Nevertheless, take courage! If you marry, pray like your marriage depends entirely on God, because it truly does. Stay faithful to your marriage even if the Church doesn’t seem to care. Jesus Christ cares. Learn to love, forgive, and suffer like Jesus. Stay close to the sacraments. And please, choose wisely.
“[T]here is the legal problem of matrimonial nullity, this has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this”. – Pope Francis, 28 July 2013
“Can we eliminate the necessity of having detailed personal interviews, hefty fees, testimony from witnesses, psychological exams, and automatic appeals to other tribunals? In lieu of this formal court-like process, which some participants have found intimidating, can we rely more on the conscientious personal judgment of spouses about the history of their marriage (after all, they are the ministers and recipients of the sacrament!) and their worthiness to receive Holy Communion?” – Bishop Thomas Tobin, 21 September 2014
“CANON XII. If any one saith, that matrimonial causes do not belong to ecclesiastical judges; let him be anathema.” – Council of Trent, Session XXIV, 11 November 1543
There is one reason – and only one reason – why the SSPX is does not enjoy a normal canonical relationship with Rome, despite years of negotiations: Bishop Bernard Fellay will not relinquish the Society’s freedom to defend the Faith in a public way. The other details had been worked out, but Rome wanted compromises that would have effectively silenced the SSPX when it came to proclaiming hard truths. It’s fair to say that Bishop Fellay has been fully vindicated by recent events. The SSPX is the only priestly society, and Bishop Fellay the only Catholic prelate, capable of addressing Pope Francis in so direct and public a manner as this:
Declaration Concerning the Synod on the Family
The Final Report of the second session of the Synod on the Family, published on October 24, 2015, far from showing a consensus of the Synod Fathers, is the expression of a compromise between profoundly divergent positions. Of course we can read in it some doctrinal reminders about marriage and the Catholic family, but we note also some regrettable ambiguities and omissions, and most importantly several breaches opened up in discipline in the name of a relativistic pastoral “mercy”. The general impression that this document gives is of confusion, which will not fail to be exploited in a sense contrary to the constant teaching of the Church.
This is why it seems to us necessary to reaffirm the truth received from Christ (1) about the role of the pope and the bishops and (2) about marriage and the family. We are doing this in the same spirit that prompted us to send to Pope Francis a petition before the second session of this Synod.
1. The Role of the Pope and the Bishops
As sons of the Catholic Church, we believe that the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter, is the Vicar of Christ, and at the same time that he is the head of the whole Church. His power is a jurisdiction in the proper sense. With regard to this power, the pastors, as well as the faithful of the particular Churches, separately or all together, even in a Council, in a Synod, or in episcopal conferences, are obliged by a duty of hierarchical subordination and genuine obedience.
God has arranged things in such a way that, by maintaining unity of communion with the Bishop of Rome and by professing the same faith, the Church of Christ might be one flock under one Shepherd. God’s Holy Church is divinely constituted as a hierarchical society, in which the authority that governs the faithful comes from God, through the pope and the bishops who are subject to him.
When the supreme papal Magisterium has issued the authentic expression of revealed truth, in dogmatic matters as well as in disciplinary matters, it is not within the province of ecclesiastical organs vested with a lesser degree of authority—such as bishops’ conferences—to introduce modifications to it.
The meaning of the sacred dogmas that must be preserved perpetually is the one that the Magisterium of the pope and the bishops has taught once and for all, and it is never lawful to deviate from it. Hence the Church’s pastoral ministry, when it practices mercy, must begin by remedying the poverty of ignorance, by giving souls the expression of the truth that will save them.
In the hierarchy thus instituted by God, in matters of faith and magisterial teaching, revealed truths were entrusted as a Sacred Deposit to the apostles and to their successors, the pope and the bishops, so that they might guard it faithfully and teach it authoritatively. The sources that contain this Deposit are the books of Sacred Scripture and the non-written traditions which, after being received by the apostles from Christ Himself or handed on by the apostles under the dictation of the Holy Ghost, have come down to us.
When the teaching Church declares the meaning of these truths contained in Scripture and Tradition, she imposes it with authority on the faithful, so that they might believe it as being revealed by God. It is false to say that the job of the pope and the bishops is to ratify what the sensus fidei or the common experience of the ‘People of God’ suggests to them.
As we already wrote in our Petition to the Holy Father: “Our uneasiness is caused by something that Saint Pius X condemned in his Encyclical Pascendi: an alignment of dogma with supposed contemporary demands. Pius X and you, Holy Father, received the fullness of the authority to teach, sanctify and govern in obedience to Christ, who is the Head and the Shepherd of the flock in every age and in every place, whose faithful vicar the pope should be on this earth. The object of a dogmatic condemnation could not possibly become, with the passage of time, an authorized pastoral practice.”
This is what prompted Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to write in his Declaration dated November 21, 1974: “No authority, not even the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith, so clearly expressed and professed by the Church’s Magisterium for nineteen centuries. ‘But though we,’ says St. Paul, ‘or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.’”
2. Marriage and the Catholic Family
As for marriage, God provided for the increase of the human race by instituting marriage, which is the stable and perpetual union of a man and a woman. The marriage of baptized persons is a sacrament, since Christ elevated it to that dignity; marriage and the family are therefore institutions that are both divine and natural.
The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, which no human intention should prevent by performing acts contrary to it. The secondary end of marriage is the mutual assistance that the spouses offer to each other as well as the remedy to concupiscence.
Christ established that the unity of marriage would be definitive, both for Christians and for all mankind. This unity possesses an indissoluble character, such that the conjugal bond can never be broken, neither by the will of the two parties nor by any human authority: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” In the case of the sacramental marriage of baptized persons, this unity and indissolubility are further explained by the fact that it is the sign of Christ’s union with His Bride.
Anything that human beings may decree or do against the unity or indissolubility of marriage is not in keeping with the requirements of nature or with the good of human society. Moreover, faithful Catholics have the serious duty not to join together solely by the bond of a civil marriage, without taking into account the religious marriage prescribed by the Church.
The reception of the Eucharist (or sacramental Communion) requires the state of sanctifying grace and union with Christ through charity; it increases this charity and at the same time signifies Christ’s love for the Church, which is united with Him as His only Spouse. Consequently, those who deliberately cohabit or even live together in an adulterous union, contrary to the laws God and of the Church, cannot be admitted to Eucharistic Communion because they are giving the bad example of a serious lack of justice and charity, and they are considered public sinners: “He that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery.”
In order to receive absolution for one’s sins within the framework of the Sacrament of Penance, it is necessary to have the firm resolution to sin no more, and consequently those who refuse to put an end to their irregular situation cannot receive valid absolution.
In keeping with the natural law, man has a right to exercise his sexuality only within lawful marriage, while respecting the limits set by morality. This is why homosexuality contradicts natural and divine law. Unions entered into apart from marriage (cohabitation, adulterous, or even homosexual unions) are a disorder contrary to the requirements of the natural divine law and are therefore a sin; it is impossible to acknowledge therein any moral good whatsoever, even diminished.
Given current errors and civil legislation against the sanctity of marriage and the purity of morals, the natural law allows no exceptions, because God in His infinite wisdom, when He gave His law, foresaw all cases and all circumstances, unlike human legislators. Therefore so-called situation ethics, whereby some propose to adapt the rules of conduct dictated by the natural law to the variable circumstances of different cultures, is inadmissible. The solution to problems of a moral order must not be decided solely by the consciences of the spouses of or their pastors, and the natural law is imposed on conscience as a rule of action.
The Good Samaritan’s care for the sinner is manifested by a kind of mercy that does not compromise with his sin, just as the physician who wants to help a sick person recover his health effectively does not compromise with his sickness but helps him to get rid of it. One cannot emancipate oneself from Gospel teaching in the name of a subjectivist pastoral approach which, while recalling it in general, would abolish in on a case-by-case basis. One cannot grant to the bishops the faculty of suspending the law of the indissolubility of marriage ad casum, without running the risk of weakening the teaching of the Gospel and of fragmenting the authority of the Church. For, in this erroneous view, what is affirmed doctrinally could be denied pastorally, and what is forbidden de jure could be authorized de facto.
In this utter confusion it is now up to the pope—in keeping with his responsibility, and within the limits set on him by Christ—to restate clearly and firmly the Catholic truth quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, and to keep this universal truth from being contradicted in practice locally.
Following Christ’s counsel: vigilate et orate, we pray for the pope: oremus pro pontifice nostro Francisco, and we remain vigilant: non tradat eum in manus inimicorum ejus, so that God may not deliver him over to the power of his enemies. We implore Mary, Mother of the Church, to obtain for him the graces that will enable him to be the faithful steward of the treasures of her Divine Son.
Menzingen, October 27, 2015
+ Bernard FELLAY
Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X
It would be helpful to have a list of county clerks who have had the courage to resist same-sex “marriage” since the Supreme Court decided Obergefell vs. Hodges in June. Kim Davis of Rowan County, Kentucky has been much in the news, having served 5 days in jail for her convictions, but she’s not the only clerk in the nation to take a principled stand. Shortly after the fateful court decision hit the press, Molly Criner of Irion County, Texas, announced her refusal to violate her Christian beliefs:
In today’s news, she re-affirmed her decision at a local Tea Party gathering:
“I could resign and that would help me, or I could let someone else on my staff do it and that would protect me,” she said. “But I went back and read my oath and realized that … I didn’t take an oath to protect me, I took an oath to defend, serve and protect the constitution of Texas and the United States.”
May Our Lord bless and protect Molly Criner, and may her courage be an example for others.
Please sign this important petition and circulate as widely as possible.
Esteemed Synod Fathers,
We thank you for your witness to and defense of the truth of Matrimony and Family proclaimed by the Church, in fidelity to our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Ordinary Synod on the Family continues its work, confusion and scandal spread among the faithful. Catholics are concerned that some members of this body of apostolic successors, under the guidance of the Pope, are seeking to endorse homosexual relationships, effectively question the indissolubility of marriage, and permit the distribution of the Holy Eucharist to the unrepentant.
The current Instrumentum Laboris contains language in certain sections (§ 122 (52); §§ 124-125 (53); §§ 130-132 (55-56)) that is completely unacceptable from an orthodox Catholic point of view regarding divorce and attempted remarriage, homosexuality, and contraception. We have witnessed with profound sorrow the ongoing development of this crisis, beginning with last year’s extraordinary session in October, 2014, making it difficult to have confidence in the outcome of the Synod.
The irregular changes to the rules governing the current synodal process practically assure that the existing Instrumentum Laboris will be largely adopted. This revised process also appears to reject openness, transparency, and collegiality, and the committee drafting the final document of the Synod seemingly rejects any substantive input from the Synod fathers. We note with regret that the highly visible and widely adopted filial appeals and open letters have not been acknowledged, and have produced no discernable amendment by the Synod organizers. Several high-ranking Cardinals have brought concerns to the Pope, only to have them summarily dismissed as unworthy of consideration – with unfair accusations against those who are legitimately concerned that their voices will not be heard.
We fear, evidenced by all of the above, that the Ordinary Synod will attempt to recommend changes in teaching and pastoral practice that are contrary to the Gospel of Christ and the constant teaching of the Church on the sacred mystery of Catholic marriage and the nature of human sexuality. This would pose a clear and present danger to souls.
The Code of Canon Law 212 §3 states that the Catholic faithful “have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful…”
Therefore, we faithfully request that each and every faithful Catholic bishop at the Synod, having made every effort to resist these attacks on Christ’s teaching, if its direction remains unaltered and those faithful voices remain unheard, do his sacred duty and publicly retire from any further participation in the Synod before its conclusion so as to prevent greater scandal and confusion.
Those bishops who remain as participants, accepting this process and its outcome, must certainly bear responsibility for whatever confusion and sin may result among the Catholic faithful from what would be the disastrous fruits of the Synod.
There is just no excuse for Catholics pretending anymore. Pope Francis is a vandal – a man who so viscerally dislikes his own religion that he wants it defaced and disfigured beyond recognition. Jesus Christ is permitting this for our purification, as a test of our faith and love for Him. Furthermore we can be assured that Francis will not triumph ultimately: the holy Catholic Faith will survive until the end of time, and indeed will arise from the ashes in which we find it today. In the meantime, though, good men have an obligation to face reality and to oppose this destruction to the best of their abilities. Christopher Ferrara is to the point in his latest essay, “Vandals in Rome: Will They Sack Christian Marriage?”
Francis pays lip service to what he pointedly describes as the “the principle of the indissolubility of the matrimonial bond” (Mitis, Preface) while making it all but a dead letter in practice. But that is what Modernists always do: affirm what they deny while denying what they affirm. And Francis is a Modernist. Full stop. There, I’ve said it. We all know it, of course, but the time has come to declare it openly and explicitly so that as many other members of the faithful as possible may awaken to the clear and present danger this dictatorial, megalomaniacal visionary poses to the Church.
Alarm is continuing to spread throughout the Church over the pontificate of Pope Francis. This is one of the most thorough presentations I have seen to date, from Fr. Linus Clovis at a pro-life conference in Rome last week. Sober, direct, but charitable and non-hysterical. It’s worth your time.
God willing, and God helping, there seems to have a been a breakthrough. Two prominent Catholic theologians in good standing – neither of whom are particularly known as firebrands – are tackling the egregious error that Pope Francis inserted into Evangelii Gaudium 161. One has already done so publicly at Rorate Caeli this morning.
While Pope Francis has certainly pushed the envelope, the trajectory began with Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council. One Peter Five has some balanced commentary and history in this important article – The Greatest Commandment: Did a Council and Two Popes Teach Error?
Please take the time to read it. This conversation desperately needs to happen, and it needs to happen in the Catholic mainstream. The tragic anthropomorphizing of Catholic life over the last 40 to 50 years can be traced directly to the perverting of Our Lord’s Greatest Commandment. As it turns out, this is all by design.
St. Therese Chapel in Chico, California, is served by priests of the Society of St. Pius X on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of every month. The traditional Latin Mass is celebrated at 10:00am on those Sundays. Holy Mass is also offered on some feast days when a priest is available. The street address of St. Therese Chapel is 1749 Spruce Avenue, Chico, CA 95926. For more information, please contact Mr. Mark Gruber at 530-899-7700.
Holy Thursday, 2015.
Fr. David Nichols at the chapel’s crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 3, 2015.
This post by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf inspired a lively discussion with some erudite comments. One reader suggested that the next president, if sufficiently conservative, could head off the persecution that seems to be barreling towards us at breakneck speed. To that idea, a fellow named Dennis Martin responded:
“No president can change the trajectory. The bureaucracy can destroy any president it sets out to destroy. Even if a incredibly gifted president-leader managed to move reform legislation through Congress, the fundamentally lawless mentality of a rising majority of the culture would do a ‘non serviam’.
The Department of Justice is now loaded with radical civil service appointees who cannot be removed because of civil service protection. The federal appeals courts are loaded similarly because the Democrats politicized judicial appointments 30 years ago (Bork), denied George Bush many of his appointments, and then railroaded many of Obama’s during the last Congress. Beyond that the law schools are hopelessly politicized. The chatterati, the intellectuals, the journalists, the financial sector–all the movers and shakers are now post-Christian, deeply-contraceptive, deeply anti-nature and thus deeply lawless. They don’t realize it but they have no god but Power.
The problem is far beyond what even the most gifted single leader can address. We have a culture that is anti-culture, that hates law itself, hates nature itself. No, not everyone is like that but the elites of the culture and, in a curious but really not surprising way, also the hoi polloi in the ‘just gimme mine and leave me alone’ segments of the culture, are like that now.
Nature is real and powerful and in the end will reassert Herself as the truth from the Creator. Human nature, divine nature, natural law cannot be buried for ever. But they can be buried for the lifetimes of one or more generations–until the prosperity and comfort built up over centuries is finally dissipated and brutal scramble for survival sets in. The truths of Caritas and Creator will eventually be rediscovered, in desperation and calamity at the bottom. But not before much evil and bloodshed has been visited upon this and other lands.”
Absent a miracle from heaven on a grand scale, I have to agree with Mr. Martin. All is masterfully arranged. Everything is now in place, including a relentless and ubiquitous propaganda infrastructure. And while many Americans are still kindasorta sympathetic to Christian morality, insofar as it fits their favorite political narrative, that sympathy is hopelessly soft and easily swayed by the emotional manipulation of the Left. Not that “conservatives” don’t also resort to emotional manipulation, but grown-ups always fail when they try to be cool. When it comes to the same-sex “marriage” issue, the sob stories of the Left are more persuasive for a couple of reasons – first, most Americans accept Liberalism’s flawed assumptions about reality; and second, most Americans place a high premium on their own sexual freedom.
It seems ridiculous and surreal that something as marginal as homosexuality would trigger the demise of a great civilization. In 500 years, if this poor earth is still around, archaeologists and historians will be scratching their heads at this one.