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PopeWatch: Father Brian Harrison

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE

Hattip to commenter Steve Phoenix for bringing to the attention of PopeWatch the following letter of Father Brian Harrison to Dr. Robert Moynihan of Inside Vatican:

 

 

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

Ah, PopeWatch often wishes that this was a period of Church history which was quite a bit more tranquil than it is turning out to be.  One thing that strikes home with PopeWatch is Father Harrison’s on target statement of the open defiance of the German hierarchy of Church teaching on communion for Catholics in adulterous marriages and their smug assumption that Church teaching will change to reward their disobedience.  How many times have we seen this over the past few decades?  Altar girls, awards from Catholic colleges to pro-abort politicians, nuns adopting every heresy known to Man Womyn, priests altering Eucharistic prayers as the mood suits them, and the list could go on for quite some time.  Obedience seems to be a thing since Vatican II to be only imposed by and large on Orthodox Catholics, while heterodox Catholics flaunt their disobedience and often ultimately get their way, de facto if not always de jure.  I trust that Pope Francis realizes that a good many Orthodox Catholics are fed up and will not endure a rigged game forever.  PopeWatch hopes that Father Harrison is being unduly alarmist.  That is the hope of PopeWatch.  The fear of PopeWatch is that Father Harrison may be understating the perilous times that are about to engulf the Church.  Christ have mercy on us all.

 

 

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

43 Comments

  1. Saint Thomas More sacrificed his life for the indissolubility of marriage. The Catholic Church is the triumphant saints in heaven, the militant church on earth, like Popewatch, and the suffering souls in purgatory (those under the earth). Only living in the Holy Spirit, the Love WHO proceeds from God, the Father, and God, the Son, can any person be members in the Body of Christ. The Mystical Body of Christ cannot entertain imperfection. This world will end before the true Church of Jesus Christ ends.
    .
    If the German cardinals really believed in the Catholic Church, they would comprehend that persons living in sinful personal arrangement can and may and ought to receive Jesus Christ in spiritual communion. It is this sin of disbelief, not accepting the Holy Spirit, that is tearing at the barque of Peter. Only sins against the Holy Spirit are unforgivable. Sins against the Holy Spirit must be made right.
    .
    If the so-called Catholic cardinals from Germany do not believe in the Holy Spirit, they cannot possibly believe in the immortal human soul. Atheism, abortion, fornication, blasphemy, witchcraft, sodomy, heresy and legion are being foisted on the souls of the people for whom Jesus died. The dragon is spewing water from his mouth.

  2. I share Fr. Brian’s concerns, but ….
    The idea of the decree of nullity is grounded in a finding that the marriage in question is never valid, usually due to subjective shortcomings regarding the intentions of the parties probably related to poor catechesis delivered in a hostile culture. Many very orthodox priests have speculated that perhaps most marriages could be properly found invalid should circumstances require. If that is true one could speculate on a rule that obviates or (more likely) truncates the process by presuming invalidity. A baptized person who never practiced his Christianity might live the life of a non-Christian, including a series of secular marriages and divorces, could sincerely and knowingly choose to be received into the Church, and the Church would admit him to Holy Communion. It is honestly questionable whether most confirmed Catholics who enter into Catholic marriages for family or cultural reasons, but who are thinly catechized and are non-practicing, are any different subjectively — and the latter sadly describes most self-described Catholics in the west. People change, and can indeed be born anew. It is fair for the Church to grapple with the circumstances under which such people should be denied Communion, and it is also fair to take into account the surrounding culture and state of catechisis in that process.
    All that said, please do not misunderstand. I am not advocating for any change. In fact, my somewhat uninformed inclination would be to oppose any significant relaxation of current rules. But should the Church decide that today’s secular culture requires more relaxed rules, I would no more fear for the Church than when the usury rules were relaxed.

  3. “Many very orthodox priests have speculated that perhaps most marriages could be properly found invalid should circumstances require. If that is true one could speculate on a rule that obviates or (more likely) truncates the process by presuming invalidity”
    .
    “By presuming invalidity” one presumes that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony does not exist, does not generate grace to live as husband and wife, and that the informed consent of the man and woman at the time of their marriage was not valid. It is the process of annulment that must prove that the informed consent of the man and woman or any impediment present at the time of the marriage made the marriage invalid.
    .
    Marriage is a daily commitment to sacrifice one’s self for the other. Quitting is not an option. Receiving Jesus on a spiritual level is more important. Jesus does not abide untruth.

  4. Mary, the point of my speculation was precisely that “informed consent,” as it is propertly understood by the Church, may well be typically absent in the case of marriage in the west today.

  5. I’m no better informed (or even “formed” for that matter) than Mr. Petrik, but upon first impression, it seems to me that if you’re going to make it easier invalidate marriages, that would also require you make it harder to recieve the sacrament of marriage in the first place –if only to get back to a point where marriages are presumptively valid again. I can’t see how that does anything to solve the problem. In fact, it probably exacerbates it.

  6. And I would add that I do not think that such informed consent was typically absent in prior generations. Charles Taylor is correct that the west is now experiencing a secular age, and it is sensible for the Church to consider how to respond with mercy and reason.

  7. I agree, Ernst. And I think that the current rehabilitated pre-Cana requirements are intended precisely to be a step in that direction, even if an inadequate one. When the west understood that marriage was forever (and divorce rare and scandalous), such catechesis was largely unnecessary. We do need a renewed emphasis on the sacramental nature of marriage — no question.

  8. As with most things, I suspect there is quite a divergence between those couples who are frequent Church goers and who have been at least marginally well catechized and those couples who really just want a nice Church wedding. The latter must go through the pre Cana process, but it’s rarely much more than a (bothersome) formality to them. Are priests green-lighting these weddings without really trying to give them substantive instruction and/or discerning if these couples truly appreciate that marriage is indissoluble? That last is not a rhetorical question at all.

  9. I agree, Paul, and would note that basic Sacramental participation coupled with “marginal” catechesis was probably much more effective in prior eras. Today we live in a secular culture whose treatment of faith vaccilates between indifference and hostility. Consequently marginally-catechized, Mass-attending Catholics are probably inevitably influenced by a malignant ethos, not compatible with Church teaching on many things, including marriage. Christ’s Church has some real challenges.

  10. The social Gospel should not be about “Happy, Happy, Happy” here on Earth.

    “What God has joined, let no man cast asunder.”

    Divorce destabilizes families, persons, and society. Divorce has no social or moral benefit.

    America has the highest divorce rate on the planet. One-in-three American children lives in a house without a daddy. This sets up the next not-so-fun fact: one-in-four teen girls contracts a sexually-transmitted disease.

    The Church must continue to stand against it.

    Is it more important to be divorced than to save the children?

    I am no “Pollyanna.” I’ve been married for 35+ years. Approximately 16,000,000 times, I have repeated to myself “Forgive all injuries.” If my “misery” had ended, at any point, I would not have done it again.

  11. “Altar girls, awards from Catholic colleges to pro-abort politicians, nuns adopting every heresy known to Womyn, priests altering Eucharistic prayers as the mood suits them, and the list could go on for quite some time.”
    .
    One of the items on that list is not like the others. It is not a heresy and not an act of disobedience.

  12. Are priests green-lighting these weddings without really trying to give them substantive instruction and/or discerning if these couples truly appreciate that marriage is indissoluble? That last is not a rhetorical question at all.

    Wagers about 2/3 of the time the process is pro-forma. In the Diocese of Syracuse, the probability if you enter a parish that you will be treated to a dignified liturgy and a sermon that is not largely blancmange is about 15%.

  13. It is not a heresy and not an act of disobedience.

    No, it is just an ill-considered practice. The Holy See also took a chunk of flesh out of those authorities who had held the line on this question prior to 1994.

  14. America has the highest divorce rate on the planet.

    If that’s true, one of the reasons it is has to be because we have the highest rate of marriage in the western world.

  15. Ernst, I have also heard that America has the highest divorce rate (in the west), though have not verified it. I have also heard that America has the least tolerance for infidelity too. I do have friends in western Europe who claim that mistresses are commonplace and generally not considered a threat to marriage. Most Americans would find such a claim appropriately disorienting. In any case, a high divorce rate certainly signifies a meager understanding of marriage. But just to be clear, so might a low divorce rate.

  16. I do have friends in western Europe who claim that mistresses are commonplace and generally not considered a threat to marriage.

    Commonplace in the fantasy life of middle-aged Frenchmen.

  17. According to Pew Research Center just 47% of the French say it is morally unacceptable for married people to have an affair, standing in stark contrast to the US’s 84%. That said, what little research I saw showed no material difference in divorce rate. Of course, one cannot discern much in confidence from this data. Most importantly, the percentage relating to moral views is not necessarily indicative of moral behavior. But if the views were indicative of behavior (not at all clear of course), it strikes one as surprising that the French divorce rate would not be similarly higher absent a rather malleable understanding of marriage.

  18. An eminent lawyer once wrote, “It is a curious fact, though true, that there must always be a considerable number of people who could not say off-hand whether they were married or not. It is only when the question has been decided by a [marriage tribunal] that their doubts can be removed. But although they do not know if they are married, and no one could tell them with certainty till the proof is led, it is nevertheless true that they must be either one or the other. There is no half-way house.”

    This is inevitable under any system, which is not to say that practice and procedure cannot be improved, something that an unlettered layman like me can only leave to the Canonists – Cuique in arte sua credendum.

  19. According to Pew Research Center just 47% of the French say it is morally unacceptable for married people to have an affair,

    A similar percentage say it is aesthetically unacceptable to bathe less than once a week.

    Whether or not you climb in la douche is pretty much your decision. If you’re a 45 year old man and not possessed of professional-managerial affluence, your opportunities to seduce winsome young women are pretty limited, no matter how clean you may be. Of course, you could attempt trolling your own age group (who commonly have the same issues your wife does).

    I would suggest you re-read opinion pieces by Jonathan Alter, Molly Ivins, and various and sundry others at the time of the Clinton scandals. There are people who are at pains to present themselves as sophisticated and who are given to guises and poses of a certain sort. Suggest that this is a common vice in France (as it is among the half-educated word-merchant sector in America). (The difference being that it runs contrary to the inner-directedness so common among the French, an appealing trait not evident among reporters in America).

  20. King David had a chaste space heater mistress in one of the oddest sections of the Bible..1 Kings 1
    The King James makes it a tad odder ( gat no heat)…keep in mind, Bathsheba ( verse 11) was still in the house:
    ” 1 Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat.
    2 Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.
    3 So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: but the king knew her not.”

  21. Art, thanks but no thanks. My Lenten abstinence from coffee and bourbon are quite enough penance thank you — no need to suffer through Alter and Ivins on top of that. 🙂

  22. Coffee withdrawal: blinding headache.

    I too easily can live without hootch. It is not a sacrifice.

    In any case, it “pays” to develop a personal indifference to pain and pleasure. Foster a spirit of mortification. Stay married.

  23. Several decades ago, the courts redefined “death”. The vow: “’til death do us part.”: became “’til death of the marriage do us part.” “No fault divorce” came into being to prevent the homicides of and battery of women, but it quickly degenerated into a free for all, children being the most injured. The legal marriage did not even measure up to a legal contract, because it might be broken for no reason. If one no longer wished to remain married, the marriage died. No love, no hate, just indifference. Legalized adultery and fornication.
    .
    The husband freed himself of the burden of sacrifice for his wife, or maybe the wife freed herself of sacrifice for her husband.
    .
    Taking a vow before God and saying: “I will until I won’t” would be the truth.

    Altar girls was once pointed out as being unfair to the girls, letting them believe, that, at some point they may be let into ordination. Saint Damien of Molokai called his altar boy: “Little bishop”.
    .
    The Holy Sacrament of Matrimony , in the Catholic Church, is a vow using God’s name: “I AM WHO I AM” between a man who becomes a husband and a woman who becomes a wife, before God. The Holy Sacrament of Matrimony is the ONLY way a man can become a husband and a women can become a wife. Throwing the vocation out with the bath water is bad theology. Breaking a vow before God does not invalidate the vow, it invalidates the vow taker. Marriage annulment must be done on a case by case basis.This is not general absolution, where God forgives but with a promise to pursue real confession in the Sacrament of Penance.
    .
    My credentials speak for themselves: I am happily married for fifty-five years, thirty six of those years as a divorcee. Forget the “gay-divorcee” business too. It is a fabrication of an un-enlightened mind. Time to write a book about vindication.

  24. bill bannon: One would think that Bathsheba also needed and had a human bed warmer. This part of the Bible really speaks to me. It was because David was the King that he got special treatment. Most other people slept with their animals. I often think on whether Bathsheba would have consented to David if he were not the King and how much David’s kingly authority over the people had to do with Bathsheba’s consent. Their first child died, conceived in adultery
    Today’s Gospel speaks of Jonah and how he converted the hearts of the people of Nineveh. Jesus too, had a conversion of heart. Jesus, Who was the Son of God, became the Son of Man, died as the Son of Man, rose from the dead as the Son of Man and ascended into heaven as the Son of Man. So, He said: “Unless I go to my Father in heaven, the Holy Spirit will not come.” And Jesus, the Son of God, as the Son of Man, brought us all up to heaven and His Father. Marriage.

  25. T, Catholicism includes a long tradition of self-mortification. Though it it is not my charism, I try to practice it a bit from time to time — usually Lent and usually pretty mild if not lame. When I retire I intend to be a bon vivant to the extent my budget allows. We are called to embrace the suffering God gives us, but I don’t intend to go looking for it.

    Mary,
    None of us disagree on the sanctity of marriage. The question is how should the Church give best witness to that sanctity in a world that no longer operates on Christian assumptions. The processes for annulment are not dogma, but are prudential applications of dogma to real world facts. Real world facts are not the same in 2014 as they were in 1914, let alone 1514. It is not unfair for bishops to grapple in good faith with the question, and these struggles do not necessarily involve a dogmatic disagreement at all.

  26. “In any case, it “pays” to develop a personal indifference to pain and pleasure. Foster a spirit of mortification. Stay married.”
    .
    Speaking for Mrs. T. Shaw: “Everybody’s got an opinion…”

  27. Mary Da Voe,
    You are wearing rose colored hermeneutical glasses on this one. They looked high and low all over Israel for a girl who was very beautiful….what in the world does beauty have to do with body warmth? In fact, they should have looked high and low for a heavy uncomely girl who would have supplied more warmth and less temptation.

  28. “how should the Church give best witness to that sanctity in a world that no longer operates on Christian assumptions.”

    The Church gives best witness by sticking with its
    Christian “assumptions”.
    I don’t think Fr. Brian overstated it- he pointed out what would becomes fair questions if this were to go through.
    According to wiki the divorce to marriage ratio in Germany is 49 – Belgium’s is 71%. Ireland 15% USA 53%
    Also I know you are not in favor of Kaspar (AKA the friendly cardinal). We just can’t keep opening the doors a crack and think the guys on the other side aren’t going to shove on through. I know I said the same kind of placatory things about Dolan- so I take back my rather rash sympathy for him and apologize for that.
    We used to think of the slide down the slippery slope as something that Could happen in the future ( and many people pshawed those concerns as overwrought) but we are now careening down the slide – on waxed paper. I don’t know about you all but I am getting tired. Please pray that we don’t lose heart and cave.

  29. bill bannon: “They looked high and low all over Israel for a girl who was very beautiful”
    .
    King David’s second son, Solomon had 5,000 wives to cement his allies. King David had many wives. The beautiful girl was presented to David in the hope that David would take her to wife. David may have chosen not to and chose to respect and preserve her virginity. It appears to me, an act of a king.
    .
    Mike Petric: “It is not unfair for bishops to grapple in good faith with the question, and these struggles do not necessarily involve a dogmatic disagreement at all.”
    .
    Holy Matrimony is holy. Cardinal Kasper says all that can change, that Holy Matrimony may no longer be a Sacrament of the Church but whatever some people want to make of it. What are holy married people to make of such a position? What would St. Joseph and Blessed Mary say? “We lived in vain?”
    .
    The marriage tribunal is the defender of the bond. If across the board annulments are given to the parties of the marriage, who will defend the bond?

  30. Apparently, Cardinal Kasper is eagerly anticipating
    Pope Francis’ intent to decentralize the Church when
    the keys of the kingdom will be placed in the lowest
    basement of St. Peter’s and forgotten and when the
    magisterium will be denounced as archaic nonsense
    of the bad pre-Vatican II Church and a block to modern
    values. Once decentralization is accomplished Cardinal
    Kasper and other German prelates will move the German
    church into a modern understanding of theology and morals.

  31. Steve Phoenix wrote, “decisions will be made by a priest alone.”

    For centuries, the pursuer’s libel and the defender’s defences and answers were considered by the bishop, or by his chancellor or official principal, acting as his deputies; if found relevant and if there was an unresolved issue of fact, the cause was remitted to a single judex pedaneus, appointed ad hoc for investigation and decision. Mandatory review of decrees of nullity at first instance were introduced by Benedict XIV in Dei Miseratione of 3 November 1741, along with the Defender of the Bond. However, until the Code of 1917, cases continued to be heard by a single judge.

    In the US, hearings before a single judge were, once again, authorised by the American Procedural Norms, approved by the Holy See on 1 July 1970.

    Bear in mind that decisions on the status of persons are never final (Can 1492 – Every action is extinguished by prescription according to the norm of law or by some other legitimate means, with the exception of actions concerning the status of persons, which are never extinguished), so the question of marriage or no marriage is never res judicata and can always be re-opened.

    Mike Petrick wrote, “It is not unfair for bishops to grapple in good faith with the question, and these struggles do not necessarily involve a dogmatic disagreement at all.”

    I agree with that.

  32. “Mike Petrik wrote, “It is not unfair for bishops to grapple in good faith with the question, and these struggles do not necessarily involve a dogmatic disagreement at all.”
    I agree with that.”

    I, too, agree with that.

    Bishops at one time were the only priests who forgave the sin of abortion or confirmed people, but this is given over to priests in the confessional out of necessity. It is scary when priests are having clown Masses to place one’s life into their hands.

  33. Well, time permits me sparingly to comment but notwithstanding, read the many comments. So while I could not agree more on the importance of marriage (clearly evidenced by how often the subject returns) and in the past stated how critical I think the need for real marriage preparation, forgive me for commenting on the bourbon and coffee fasting instead. It made me chuckle because these happen to be a part of my same deprivation and suffering through the annoying caffeine headaches but I assure you life goes on. And I sheepishly admit to taking a holiday on St. Patrick’s Day. Irish coffee, a double infraction!

  34. could it be about the money? that would be a bit strange since in germany, if my memory is correct, every religious organization receives a stipend from the federal government that collects a tax to specifically fund religous organizations.

    maybe the problem is that a super-majority of german catholics have already intellectually abandoned the faith and that is what the german bishops are responding to? the german bishops fear the Church becoming an irrelevant cult in the 21st century germany?

    on the other hand, i have read other comments that claim this examination of the Church’s teachings on communion for the divorced and re-married is solely a pastoral issue. the question being what to do with divorced catholics who, while not granted an annullment, may never have had a valid first marriage?

    interesting times indeed. i will place my trust in Jesus and the Holy Spirit who indwells in the RCC.

    the german bishops should read the biblical story of gideon a few thousand times. i think it is relevant to the issue of waging successful battles against the forces of evil.

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