How the Catholic Church undermines traditional marriage
Sunday, July 24, 2011
By Bai Macfarlane
On July 8, The Washington Post
published a column by Roland C. Warren, the president of the National Fatherhood Initiative
. He points out the stark contrast between the treatment given today to women who commit adultery with famous married men compared to the past. They are now given celebrity treatment, whereas they used to be labeled as home wreckers.(1)
In a follow-up commentary, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, James Thunder describes how we should hold adulterous home wreckers accountable for the damage caused to the reliable spouse and children.(2) Legislation should allow us to sue home wreckers for damages just as we sue those who interfere with business or professional athletes' contracts, or those who entice members of the armed services to desert.
Adultery and divorce are justice and morality issues. But one of the biggest proponents of social justice remains inactive: the leadership of the Catholic Church in America. The Canon Law of the Catholic Church protects marriage and recommends "medicinal penalties" for those who gravely breach the moral order. However, these laws are ignored in the United States.
In the Washington Post, Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, makes an analogy between Mothers Against Drunk Driving and mothers against home wrecking adulteresses. He looks for modern women willing to fight to protect marriages against the "other woman." As a Catholic woman working to protect marriage, my efforts are undermined by the Catholic Church leadership in America.
If the Catholic Church in America followed its own Canon Law, it would intervene when a Catholic celebrity was having an affair. The innocent wife could invoke Church authority (canon 1150-1155, 1401, 1411, 1055) to investigate. The Church would publicly instruct the adulterous couple that they are in manifest grave sin, causing scandal, and are not in good standing with the Catholic Church. Those who obstinately persevere in grave manifest sin, cannot receive Holy Communion (canon 915).
A website search for "diocese Catholic adultery" showed sites for five dioceses: Phoenix, AZ; Burlington VT; Rockford, IL; Salina, KS; Beaumont TX. The websites state that adultery is wrong, yet in practice, they appear to do nothing. Instead, the Tribunal for each diocese invites those who are committing adultery to apply for an annulment. With an annulment, the Church Tribunal decrees that the first "marriage" was never really a marriage. Ergo, the two adulterers are not committing adultery, just fornicating, which a Church wedding can resolve.
As a Catholic woman who is angered by a seductress luring a husband away from his wife, my moral stance is undermined by the Catholic Church in America. They do not address the sin of adultery for parties who abandon their spouses. Instead of admonishing the sinner, the unfaithful spouse is virtually invited to marry the seductress after getting an annulment. I have never heard of the Church in the U.S. doing anything, in practice, to correct any spouse or prevent scandal. We never read about decrees instructing a particular adulterous spouse to stop committing adultery or to stop receiving Communion.
The actual Canon Law on separation of spouses specifies that no one with a Catholic marriage can seek a civil divorce without first establishing in the Church arena that there is a morally legitimate reason for the separation of spouses. Separation decrees can only be obtained that are not contrary to divine law (canon 1692). Notations on Canon Law, from the University of Navarra, explain that this canon exists because divorce laws in many countries are immoral. (3)
Rather than following the Canon Law on separation of spouses, the U.S. tribunals, instead, require civil divorce which encourages divorce. Dioceses use the divorce as proof that the annulment process should go forward. On the diocese of Phoenix website, they teach "A civil divorce is a definitive separation of the spouse and serves as an indicator that the marriage and the common life have, for all intents and purposes, ceased." (4)
Could it simply be that the common life ceased because a spouse chose to abandon marriage to hook-up with a new partner? It is likely that the spouse is just lustful and selfish, breaking his vow and destroying his family. This has absolutely no bearing on whether or not grounds for annulment exist. Pope John Paul II, in his 2004 Address to the Roman Rota, said that sin can be the reason for marital break up. (5)
In the lawyer's commentary on "The Washington Post" piece, James Thunder points out that "We have not repealed the law against murder because the law did not keep the victims from being murdered. We have not repealed the law against breach of contract because having the law on the books did not maintain the contract."
In practice, the Catholic Church in America has virtually abolished the divine laws against divorce and adultery BECAUSE people commit adultery and get divorced. In reality, most of these people are simply withdrawing from marital life and reneging on their marital obligation of fidelity. Rather than holding abandoning adulterers accountable for their marital mutiny, the Catholic Church in America appears to condone and support them with the loose annulment practice.
The ultimate authority in the Catholic Church is critical of the nearly-automatic annulment mentality. The evidence of this critique is the decisions of the Roman Rota Tribunal overturning cases appealed to it, and the yearly addresses of the Popes to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota which are instructive to the Universal Church.
The actual Catholic Church has requirements for separation decrees to be in accord with Divine Law (canon 1692), but the Church in America has caved into the immoral no-fault divorce system. Government divorce courts have no moral compass. As devastating as it is to have one's spouse committing adultery, the divorce decrees issued by the U.S. no-fault divorce courts make matters worse. No distinction is made between the faithful spouse and the adulterous abandoner. Children are ordered to live with, or spend overnight visits with, the adulterous parent and the new sex partner. If the adulterer "wins" the custody battle, the innocent spouse is ordered to pay child support for the children living with the abandoning spouse and adulterous consort.
The diocesan websites cited above discuss how, "A Church annulment has no civil effect in the United States. It does not, therefore, affect rights in regard to such matters as property, inheritance, visitation of children" (Beaumont, TX). (6) However, Canon Law recognizes that the Church, not the state, has control over marriage.
Canon 1059. Even if only one party is Catholic, the marriage of Catholics is governed not only by divine law but also by canon law, without prejudice to the competence of civil authority concerning the merely civil effects of the same marriage.
Merely civil effects of marriage are those effects that have nothing to do with spirituality, moral law, or the supernatural (cf. Goldsmith). (7) For example, a merely civil effect of marriage would be the number of days before a wedding that a state legislature requires a couple to register with the county. The Catholic Church has no objection to the state keeping a marriage registry.
However, children are not a "merely civil effect of marriage." It is an abdication of responsibility for the Church to give control of the upbringing of children to no-fault divorce courts in opposition to the reliable, faithful spouses. Catholic faithful spouses have the right to control their children's upbringing (canon 1136) and to educate their children (canon 226§2). When no-fault divorce courts force custody and visitation plans on children, the courts are going beyond the "merely civil effects of marriage."
Spousal and child support are not the "merely civil effects of marriage" either, because supporting one's spouse is a moral, natural, and divine duty, not isolated to the civil arena. Canon Law recognizes spouses' obligations.
Canon 1135. Each spouse has an equal duty and right to those things which belong to the partnership of conjugal life.
A faithful spouse is relieved of the obligation to share the marital home with an adulterer (canon 1152), but the adulterer is not relieved of the full obligation to continue to support the family with property and labor. No-fault divorce courts expect an abandoned parent to make it on his or her own with a random apportionment of support, or even worse, with orders to pay support to the adulterous abandoner.
The President of the National Fatherhood Initiative is correct when he argues that something is wrong with our present day culture that dignifies home wreckers. The Washington, D.C. lawyer is correct when he argues that we should hold those who have affairs with married people liable for wrecking faithful spouses' and children's lives.
But so long as the U.S. Catholic leadership continues to disregard its own Canon Law on separation of spouses, I do not foresee any justice for abandoned spouses and innocent children. Nor do I see marriage being strengthened. Adulterers and abandoners are not being motivated by the Church to restore their marriages, and the grace of the Sacrament is being disregarded.
The pervasive annulment mentality in the Catholic Church in America strongly undermines marriage.
Bai Macfarlane is the founder of Mary's Advocates. See her website here.