Thursday, June 23, 2016

Real Marriages

Among the latest eye-brow-raising comments from Pope Francis, the one receiving most attention is his claim that the “great majority” of sacramental marriages are null – despite a Francis-approved correction of “great majority” to “a portion”.  Francis was just using hyperbole. Possibly. But we need to look at his original statement in context to better understand Francis and the full implication of his comments. Three brief points on this.

1. The "great majority" comment has become a bit of a red herring. There has been no Vatican correction or blog spin-doctoring (that I have seen anyway) of the pope’s claim that cohabitors can have a “real marriage with grace”. Wait. Let's look at that one again. Two people merely living together (traditionally called “living in sin”) can have a real marriage with grace. Understood that the Holy Father is not protected by infallibility in this setting. But even outside of infallibility, the pope’s words have a profound effect.  So he saw fit to correct the “great majority” line; but as of yet has left alone the line about cohabitors having a real marriage with grace. We must surmise he thinks no correction is needed.

2. According to Francis, they "have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity." Two consequences of this. (a) Rather than their commitment to fidelity, it is their fidelity itself that effects the marriage. So if fidelity fails, this manner of thinking would suggest that there no longer is a marriage. (b) A few days after these comments from Francis, we heard from Reinhard Cardinal Marx speaking in Dublin, Ireland: “We have to respect the decisions of people. We have to respect also, as I said in the first synod on the family — some were shocked, but I think it’s normal — you cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man, and they are faithful, that it is nothing, that has no worth.”

So just as (for Francis) fidelity between a man and a woman makes a real marriage with grace, so too (for Marx) two men who are "faithful" to each other also have a relationship of worth - even if not a marriage. So long as there is fidelity, living in sin is a marriage with grace; and sodomy is something positive and has value.

3. Francis juxtaposes (a) great majority of sacramental marriages are invalid and (b) cohabitors can have a real marriage with grace. Taking both comments together, we see a general posture of Francis against sacramental marriages and in favor of mere cohabitors. Church weddings are more likely than not to be invalid whereas cohabitors can have a real marriage with grace. His comments are negative regarding sacramental marriages and positive regarding cohabitors.

Francis often sees the world through a false dichotomy of insiders versus outsiders. The insiders are presumed to be rule-following, sycophant, robots who are self-righteous and judgmental. The outsiders might be a little rough but are authentic. Insiders are hypocrites; outsiders are genuine. If you are not the Prodigal Son, you are branded as the Elder Brother.


Through this lens, Francis sees the “great majority” of Church weddings largely as just a grand spectacle with little true substance - hypocrisy, "like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness." (Mt 23:27) ...not valid marriages; whereas "simple" people who don't go in for all the "pomp" and just live together would be more authentic and thereby contract a "real marriage with grace."

So now when friends or family decide to cohabitate, it will be even more difficult to make the case for marriage. I already hear the reply. “The pope said most sacramental marriages are invalid anyway. We can have a ‘real marriage’ just living together.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hard Evidence vs Paranoia: An Unhappy Review of Amoris Laetitia

Thursday has done me the great honor of caring enough to comment on my recent Amoris Laetitia (AL) one-sentence post – the issue being the juggernaut topic: Communion-for-divorced-and-civilly-remarried (CDCRM) and the now infamous footnote 351 (FN351). And so I will repay the favor with a longer reply.

Thursday makes serious charges that merit a sober response and not only for the topic at hand, but also because they extend beyond the present specific topic and suggest a general posture towards an entire category of people and themes. According to Thursday, there is nothing whatsoever of real concern in AL in general, or specifically with FN351; and if anyone does have concerns, there is something wrong with him and how he is reading the document. Thursday cites:

-          Paranoia
-          Taking it totally out of context
-          Assuming the Pope is lying elsewhere in the document

Before addressing each of these three charges (although in a different order), it is worthwhile to review the footnote itself.

351 In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”

Taking it totally out of context
This is a surprising charge because the opposite is true. Only by taking FN351 totally out of context is it possible to read it in harmony with prior Magisterial teaching. The problems with FN351 arise precisely when it is read in context. We will examine three specific matters of context.

1. Context within AL itself
FN351 refers back in the main text to an “objective situation of sin - which may not be subjectively culpable.” And it is clear from the preceding passages that this is about divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters.

So now in context, the point of FN351 is that help from the Church for divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters “can include the help of the sacraments.” And within FN351 itself, the connector “hence” clearly specifies which sacraments: confession and the Eucharist.

Taken out of context, there is no difficulty with FN351 stating that the “Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect.” However, in the context of help from the Church for divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters including the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist, this phrase in FN351 takes on a different meaning: that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect sacramental marriage and can include the divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters.

2. Wider Context
Although Francis emphasized that the Synods and Exhortation were about more than CDCRM, it clearly was a topic with high visibility and interest: (a) Appointed by Pope Francis to address the February 2014 Consistory, Cardinal Kasper (a known and vocal supporter for CDCRM) included the topic in his keynote for the synods; (b) Substantial debate and disagreement on CDCRM during the Synods; (c) Public statements from Cardinals on both sides of the issue with pro-CDCRM citing FN351 as the gateway and anti-CDCRM calling it heresy; and (d) A general expectation from the public.

It was an important issue and everyone was waiting for an answer. Will there be CDCRM? Despite all the anticipation from this wider context, AL does not provide a definitive Yes or No.

And furthermore, we must consider AL’s silence on CDCRM in the context of another hot-button topic, same-sex unions, for which AL was willing to provide a definitive No (paragraph 251).

3. AL quotes St. John Paul II out of context
AL itself in paragraph 298 quotes John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio No. 84 out of context. The full passage is below. AL quotes the black text in isolation omitting the red text. This is an egregious misrepresentation of the original meaning.

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples."

In FN329 for this quotation, AL alludes to the omitted phrase about living in complete continence. However in doing so, it references Gaudium et Spes, again out of context, applying to divorced-remarried and unmarried-cohabiters what Gaudium et Spes says specifically about sacramentally married couples.


Assume the Pope is lying elsewhere in the document
If in fact AL is a Trojan horse for one footnote, it does not necessarily follow that the Pope is lying elsewhere in the document; actually quite the opposite. If he believes CDCRM is valid, the reasonable approach would be to situate it unobtrusively among all the established and unquestioned truths. He would not have to disagree with those truths (making him a liar). He would only disagree that CDCRM should continue to be excluded from the total landscape.

Referring to the out of context quotation and reference cited above, someone could claim that I am calling the Pope a liar there. I am not. I am merely drawing attention to public forensic evidence readily available to anyone who cares to look. I have no access to the inner knowledge and motives of the Holy Father.


Paranoia
This is the most serious of Thursday’s charges because with one word it attempts to undercut any and all questioning of AL and seemingly any papal document. It really is a form of ad hominem rather than answering the arguments directly; but in fairness, I admit my pithy one-sentence post did not provide arguments that could be answered. Nevertheless, this charge must be addressed.

So citing paranoia, Thursday appears to be referring to the psychological state of the traditionalist/sedevacantist type who generally operates on the presupposition that everything beginning with Vatican II is a conspiracy (Masonic, Modernist or otherwise) to substantially change and/or destroy the Church. Such a person reads every papal document after Pius XII with great suspicion looking for the error he “knows” must be there. Such people do exist and their illness prevents them from benefiting from all the overwhelming good that surrounds the minute, supposed errors they have found in (or have read into) the document. This suspicious posture exists outside of traditionalism, but is most easily identified in that crowd.

But a substantiated concern over the explicit vagueness in AL regarding CDCRM is not a sufficient cause for a pathological traditionalist diagnosis. No doubt the traditionalist will cite the same concerns, but that does not mean anyone with such concerns is a pathological traditionalist. As detailed above, there is concrete evidence of (a) an opening for a break from Church practice on a non-trivial matter; (b) an evasive approach with no definitive Yes/No answer; and (c) quoting out of context. 

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, supporting his criticism of AL with writings of St John Paul II and Vatican II documents (something pathological traditionalists would not do), has provided this excellent commentary on CDCRM in AL.


Summary Reply
Why not a definitive No to CDCRM? The only answer that explains why Francis would not simply restate the consistent Church teaching is that it is not what he wanted. 

Then why not a definitive Yes to CDCRM? Too controversial and risk of schism.

So in the end, no definitive answer. Qui tacit consentire videtur (He who is silent is taken to consent).

Beginning with Cardinal Kasper’s key note February, 2014, through two tumultuous synods, and culminating with the explicit vagueness in AL on this question along with dubious quotations and references, it is reasonable to conclude that a policy of CDCRM was a primary objective of the whole ordeal. And it would rely on an artificial divorce of practice from doctrine, and be positioned among many pages restating the traditional Catholic teachings on marriage and family.

Absent a definitive answer, it is no surprise we already are seeing conflicting interpretations of AL on this point. 

For Cardinal Kasper, AL “doesn’t change anything of church doctrine or of canon law – but it changes everything” and interprets AL to allow for CDCRM in some cases.

Moreover since the release of AL, already there are reports of actual demands for CDCRM

Given the decision to withhold a definitive answer, could Pope Francis have expected otherwise?


Friday, April 15, 2016

The Amoris Laetitia Footnote

Are the nearly 250 pages of Amoris Laetitia a Trojan horse for one footnote?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Troublesome Church Teachings

There are Catholics who unquestionably want to change Church teaching. There also are Catholics who boldly defend Church teaching. Nothing noteworthy so far. But then there is this strange breed of Catholics somewhere in the middle, who in some capacity accepts the teaching of the Church but at the same time is embarrassed by it.

A recent post by John Allen is a good example of the kind of maneuvering that is symptomatic of this condition. He labors through painful, convoluted “logic” and contorted mental gymnastics to “conclude” that the “gay lobby” in the Vatican is not (only) about homosexuals.

Reading between the lines: It’s not about the gays. We are not singling them out. Really, I promise! Even when we say “gay” we don’t mean actual gays. 

It is no surprise that among the Church teachings most likely to produce this effect are her teachings on sexual morality: indissolubility of marriage, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. Arguably though – even more than these very hot-button issues – the most troubling Church teaching for this crowd is the all-male, hierarchical priesthood. Cringe.


Their inner turmoil is tragic and often is compounded by an addiction to media acceptance.

The poster child for this schizophrenic reaction to the all-male, hierarchical priesthood is a prince of the Church, Seán Cardinal O’Malley.

In a November 2014 interview, CBS correspondent Norah O’Donnell asked Cardinal O’Malley about the “exclusion of women” from the priesthood. His reply is agonizing. After a brief and weak defense of Church teaching, he confesses: “If I were founding a church, I’d love to have women priests.” Read that one again.

Then in an apparent damage-control follow up a few days later, the cardinal cites St. Therese of the Child Jesus as an example of women though out history who have wanted to be priests. This egregious misrepresentation of St. Therese, associating her with a modern feminist entitlement mentality, underscores just how far these troubled Catholics will go in an attempt to appease the media and the world while also trying to remain within Church tradition.

Cardinal O’Malley then bends over backwards even further with a gross generalization that “women often are holier, smarter, more hard-working then men.”

Reading between the lines: It’s not that women are incapable of being priests. They are capable. In fact women are more capable than men. Really. I mean it! Please don’t hate me. It’s not my fault.

Over the past 45 years we have seen a stream of consolation prizes.
-       Girl altar servers in the sanctuary
-       Women lectors in the sanctuary
-       Women cantors in the sanctuary
-       Women Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (sometimes in robes)
-       Women “pastoral associates” (a nifty chiasmus of associate pastor)
-       Most recently, a papal directive that women can be included among the 12 representatives of the Apostles (the original priests) who have feet washed on Holy Thursday. (And if women can be included, then they must be included – otherwise the priest is reactionary and sexist.)

In the end, this accomplishes nothing to appease the world and media; instead it emboldens them while also fueling a growing frustration as they bang their heads on what they see as a glass ceiling. From their perspective, it is merely patronizing because…

The world will not be satisfied until we have women deacons.
Then the world will not be satisfied until we have women priests.
Then the world will not be satisfied until we have women bishops.
Then the world will not be satisfied until we have women cardinals.
Then the world will not be satisfied until we have a woman pope.

And I don’t think they would stop there…




Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The False Dichotomy and the Synod on the Family

The false dichotomy is an invalid form of reasoning that artificially and erroneously restricts options – typically to two options, both of which are undesirable or incomplete. “Are you socialist or capitalist?” is a common example of a false dichotomy, because there are other alternatives.

The Church has a long history of fighting false dichotomies and sometimes is described as being both-and rather than either-or. One prominent false dichotomy considers Jesus Christ to be either only God (Docetism) or only created man (Arianism).  The council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. rejected this false dichotomy and formulated the Nicene Creed which reaffirmed Jesus as being true God and true Man.

We see the same idea in the philosophical structure of thesis-antithesis-synthesis (incorrectly credited to Hegel but actually originating with the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte). One example is: absolute obedience of children (thesis), rebellion of adolescence (antithesis), and mature independence of adulthood (synthesis).

In general society also, there is a typical rejection of the false dichotomy. We often cite the need to hear “both sides of the story” and in popular expression that “it takes two to tango.”

So in the Church, in academia, and in common life we are almost conditioned to think that both sides of an argument always have something positive to contribute and the truth is somewhere in the middle – the Aristotelian mean.

Because many either-or formulations are false, the tendency is to conclude erroneously that all either-or formulations are false. Then with a default posture of suspecting all dichotomies to be false and seeing merit in both sides of an argument, it is not surprising to find people wary of “radical extremes” and if truth is to be found, assuming it always will be in the form of a compromise.

We are seeing this played out with the recent Synod on the Family.

The first error is imposing the alien liberal-conservative framework on the fathers of the synod: Kasper-camp-liberal and Pell-camp-conservative. The second compounding error is to “correct” this false dichotomy by trying to find truth somewhere in the middle. Some have gone so far as to align this to a traditional “both-and” posture in the Church of Truth-And-Charity whereby Pell represents Truth and Kasper represents Charity; and so claiming to follow this Church tradition, the answer is believed to be  in the form of a middle-ground between these two camps.  Truth-And-Charity will be realized as Pell-And-Kasper.

 

In this view, these are the Yin and Yang of the synod, especially with regard to the Holy Communion for divorced-remarried question. And so the resolution can be expected to be a compromise between Pell-Truth-Doctrine and Kasper-Charity-Pastoral-Accompaniment.

The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage is upheld (Truth-Pell) and also pastoral-accompaniment will allow for special discernment of individual cases (Charity-Kasper).

Pope Francis looks to be posturing for such a compromise between Truth-Doctrine-Pell and Charity-Accompaniment-Kasper. On Nov 10, 2015 (2 weeks after the close of the Synod on the Family), Pope Francis gave an address to the National Ecclesial Congress on the traits of Christian humanism. (http://www.news.va/en/news/francis-to-the-national-ecclesial-congress-the-tra ) As part of that address Pope Francis said

A second temptation is the gnosticism that leads us to place our trust in logical and clear reasoning that, however, loses the tenderness of our brother's flesh…

This advocates a softening of pure, “hard” truth. Francis added,

Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts and uncertainties, but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage. Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.

According to this, Christian doctrine must generate questions, doubts and uncertainties. Christian doctrine disturbs. Christian doctrine must not be rigid or outdated. So while we may not alter the doctrine itself (the sort-of Platonic ideal of marriage), we also will not rely on that alone by introducing a path for exceptions within the “real world.” Pell-And-Kasper will be played out to be Truth-And-Charity.

But as Cardinal Walter Brandmüller articulately summarized, “Under no circumstances can pastoral work be in contradiction with doctrine. Actions of the Church need to – if they want to be Catholic – correspond to faith and dogma.”

Liberal-Conservative. This is not a false dichotomy within the Church. It is just false – a foreign object in the Body of Christ. The answer is not compromise or combination of Liberal-Kasper and Conservative-Pell. The answer is to discard the liberal-conservative framework and reaffirm the unchanging Catholic doctrine with a conforming and coherent pastoral approach.





Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Considerations of a Streamlined and Inexpensive Process for Decrees of Null Marriages

INTRODUCTION

On 8 September 2015, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, Pope Francis released motu proprio, the Apostolic Letter, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus detailing steps to reform the juridical process for petitioning grants of nullity for marriages. Pope Francis makes clear that the goal is the “salvation of souls” and intends the reforms to mitigate barriers blocking or delaying people from full communion within the Church – especially those already in second civil marriages who might be eligible to obtain a decree of nullity for the first marriage.

Already, we have seen exaggerated interpretations of the impact these reforms will have – that they will make decrees of nullity fast, easy and free. These hyperbolic criticisms unwittingly serve as straw-man arguments and deflections away from more sober, but legitimate concerns with the reforms. Taking each in turn we will briefly rebut the overstated effect of the reforms and present perhaps lesser but substantial reservations.

A preliminary clarification. This is not intended to comment on any particular petition for nullity nor it is meant to deny that there are legitimate cases for a decree of nullity. This commentary is about the posture of a process for decrees of nullity that is streamlined and inexpensive.


FAST

The first exaggerated criticism is that the reforms will make decrees of nullity fast. In some cases, you can find interpretations claiming the reforms require a tribunal response within 45 days. One of the explicit objectives of the reforms is shortening the process but nowhere does it specify 45 days. This looks to be derived from a calculation adding the 30 days requirement to hold a session plus the 15 days requirement for the presentation of arguments. But this does not account for other legitimate processing time such as writing the sentence and window for appeal.

The reforms do not say that decrees of nullity should be fast and do not specify 45 days. This criticism makes for an easy reply – that the Apostolic Letter itself does not say that. End of discussion. But the fast/45 day argument is not what really needs attention.

The reforms do call for a shortened process overall and especially so in certain cases, and the overall thrust of the reforms is for a streamlined process. This posture does violence to the gravity of the matter. The process to potentially decree a solemn vow null should be slow and deliberate. It should be slower, not faster. It need not be unnecessarily slow; but if we are to err on a matter of such gravity, it should err slow and not fast. Moral certainty demands it. A shortened process is not commensurate with the solemn vow “until death do us part.”

It is understood that in some parts of the world, it is virtually impossible to get a response to a petition for nullity or it takes an inordinate amount of time. This needed to be addressed, but could have been addressed separately. Comprehensive and universal reforms to streamline the process may resolve that specific problem while also unduly accelerating the process in parts of the world where it is operating at a healthy pace, or already too fast.

We also must consider the mentality this will foster for future marriages. A streamlined process sends the message that the Church will continue to expect invalid marriages – and possibly even in increasing numbers – and so needs a process to accommodate the steady flow of petitions. Invalid marriages will be seen as common and normal.


EASY

The second exaggerated criticism is that the reforms will make decrees of nullity easy. Most commonly, this criticism stems from a confusion of the triggers for fast-track cases and the actual causes for nullity. The list of triggers for fast-track cases is not the same as the list of causes for nullity.  A case may satisfy the criteria for a fast track case (for example a brief marriage) but not have sufficient cause for a decree of nullity. Cursory reviews of the reforms have led some to consider fast-track triggers (such as a brief marriage) as grounds for a decree of nullity.

But the reforms do not say that brevity of marriage, for example, is a cause for nullity. This criticism makes for an easy reply – that the Apostolic Letter itself does not say that. End of discussion. But this confusion is not what really needs attention.

The reforms do call for the elimination of the automatic appeal. The automatic appeal was introduced in 1741 by Pope Benedict XIV because he thought decrees of nullity at that time had become too easy. Eliminating the automatic appeal makes a decree of nullity easier. Given the gravity of the matter – determining that a solemn vow was invalid – it is reasonable to question removing this safeguard to moral certainty.

We also must consider how this will affect future marriages. A streamlined process not only means faster; it also means easier having eliminated a layer of protection again false positive grants of nullity. Rather than the traditional posture of an absolute marriage-is-for-life, future generations – having heard of an easier, streamlined process as well as “success” stories – will be more inclined to put in a petition. Couples who in the past would have weathered the difficulties – and possibly created a beautiful, hard-won marriage – will be more inclined (even counseled) to submit a petition for nullity. Even if nullity is not granted in all cases, petition counts alone can be expected to rise.


FREE

The third exaggerated criticism is that the reforms mandate that a petition for a decree of nullity in all cases be completely free of charge. Again, there is no evidence for this in the Apostolic Letter itself and so the answer to this specific charge is easy and superficial. But the reforms do call for petitions to be inexpensive and if possible free.

There is further evidence of the thinking of Pope Francis on this point from a Jan 2015 interview in which he said, “The sacraments are free. The sacraments give us grace. And a matrimonial process (decree of nullity) pertains to the sacrament of matrimony. How I wish that all processes were free.”

Like any organization or household, the Church has to choose what to fund, subsidize, or leave to the burden of others. Pope Francis cites the “gratuitous love of Christ” as the impetus to press for a decree of nullity process that is inexpensive for the couple or even free if possible. Instead of further subsidizing pre-Cana and marriage counseling such as Retroville, the Church will subsidize decrees of nullity.

Again we turn to the impact on future marriages. Over time future generations will enter marriages knowing that the Church has in place a decree of nullity process that is designed to be faster, easier and inexpensive. Couples will spend tens of thousands on a wedding day and then expect to petition a decree of nullity for little or no money.

The point here is not about begrudging wasted money. The point is the mentality this provision will foster – that petitions of nullity are commonplace enough to be made inexpensive. It will feed into what Pope Francis has called “a throw-away culture.”


REPLY

Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus does not call for fast, easy and free annulments. We need not discuss those objections anymore. But it does call for a shortened, easier and inexpensive process within the universal Church.

María Inés Narvaja, the niece of Pope Francis, in an August 2014 interview said that the Church in Argentina informed her that the process for a decree of nullity would take four years. So she married civilly instead and then later married in the Church once a decree of nullity was obtained. She also indicated that her uncle – then Archbishop Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis – was close to her during this time. So he would have been keenly aware of this “burden” on his niece. Therefore, it is likely that this and similar situations informed Pope Francis in his writing of Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus – a sincere empathy for those in irregular relationships, “outside” the Church and an authentic desire to reconcile them. However, as much as this reform focuses on existing irregular relationships, it looks to be blind to the negative impact on future marriages. Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus looks backward but not forward.

A streamlined and inexpensive process favors the thinking of Cardinal Kasper, “…heroism is not for the average Christian.”

Expect little and you get little; expect high standards and some will miss but many will rise to it. Making the process for decrees of nullity streamlined and inexpensive dumbs down the institution of marriage. There will be an impact on future marriages. A streamlined and inexpensive process for decrees of nullity will take the wind out of the sails of marriage vows, and will even be self-fulfilling. A future marriage may be decreed null precisely because one or both of the partners did not take the vow seriously knowing the Church now has a streamlined and inexpensive process for decrees of nullity. The net effect over time will be a mentality that virtually every marriage potentially is able to be decreed null. Today, everyone knows someone who is divorced and remarried. Tomorrow everyone will know someone who has a null first marriage and is in a new marriage.

We also must address responsibility with respect to the Church – the process and officials who approve marriages. A streamlined and inexpensive process of decrees of nullity is an enabler for inadequate discernment and counseling prior to the marriage. Every decree of nullity underscores a failure on the part of marriage preparation to prevent the marriage in the first place. By definition, it should not have happened. It should not have been allowed to happen. Decrees of nullity should be rare, not streamlined and inexpensive. Of course this means telling some people they cannot get married and the risk they will leave the Church and get married elsewhere – a hard truth.

"Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.” – Pope Benedict XVI

There is some talk of a catechumenate for marriage which looks to be a step in the right direction. But regardless, a streamlined and inexpensive decree process fosters an entitlement mentality. Couples will feel entitled to “get married” (to pronounce those superlative vows!) and also entitled to have those vows decreed null – as Chesterton put it, “to have their wedding cake and eat it too.”

Another way of looking at it is this. What is the end goal? What is ideal marriage landscape within the Church? I would argue zero or very few decrees of nullity – odd and rare. Yes unrealistic right now, but the point is that it is the ideal. A streamlined and inexpensive process trends away from that ideal. It looks backward and not forward.

Recently Pope Francis reiterated that a decree of nullity is not just Catholic divorce – and that point is understood. Divorce breaks apart a valid marriage. A decree of nullity looks back in time and determines there never was a valid marriage. It is a crucial distinction, but not the essential point being made regarding the reforms. Already in the United States in 2012, 95% of petitions were granted. Introducing the fast-track, eliminating the automatic appeal, and making it inexpensive will only serve to close that remaining 5% so that in effect we have something indistinguishable from divorce – except, I suppose, that divorce will not be inexpensive.

In this regard, the Church will become indistinguishable from the world. But we must remember the almost monotonous pattern of this sort of thing in the Old Testament. The Israelites would adapt to the nations around them, worshiping false gods and not following the laws of God. They would conform to the world. Then they were punished – sometimes very severely – and would repent.

The Church should not conform to the world. Future couples are entitled to an unmitigated, triumphant vow “until death do us part” and despite what the world does, within the Church hold ourselves to these vows. As our Load said, “let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one.”