Not Cease from Exploration

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pope Francis, Forgiveness and Divorce

From the July 7, 2014 edition of the New York Times:

"VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Monday used his first meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse to offer his strongest condemnation of a crisis that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church, comparing priests who abuse minors to “a sacrilegious cult,” while begging forgiveness from victims and pledging to crack down on bishops who fail to protect children."

Link to the full article HERE.

It's worth noting that the two predecessors of Pope Francis have also asked for similar forgiveness.

Let's insert the seemingly unrelated issue of divorced (and non-celibate*) Catholics receiving the sacrament of Communion.  Basically the Catholic Church teaches that a man and a woman who marry in the Church but then get a civil divorce are still married.  By failing to remain functionally married, they are considered to be in a state of grave sin, and therefore can not receive Communion.  Now simply repenting the sin is not enough, as a failure to stop sinning (continuing to be civilly non-married) creates a state whereby such divorced Catholics can never rightfully receive Communion.  Put another way, even if they say sorry, they continue to sin, therefore no-go on the Communion.  It's actually a pretty logical argument.

Now let's transpose the issue of the sexual abuse of children by clergy and the enabling of such acts by Church leaders.  This is truly a grave sin, and as a result Pope Francis (as noted above) has asked forgiveness, as has his predecessors.  Repenting the sin should not be enough though, as there has been a failure to stop this very grave sin (and resulting cover-ups) and these acts no doubt continue to this very day.  From (the very conservative) Catholic.com:

"...it seems clear that the desire to handle things quietly was often motivated by a desire to preserve the personal reputations of the priests and bishops involved rather than by pastoral concern for victims. Even worse, punishment of abusive priests was sometimes staved off by the threat of exposing other priests and bishops if the matter were pressed."

Citation HERE.  To be blunt, even if Pope Francis says sorry, the sin continues as long as those who perpetrated or enabled the abuse remain in authority and unpunished.

See the contradiction?  One one hand the Church condemns and punishes one group for sinning, but yet simply says "sorry" and begs forgiveness for it's own sins (and still continuing to sin) while basically expecting business as usual in the Church department without sanction.  Heck, very concept of "sanction" has been actively fought by some Church leaders through the covering up of abuse.

Now there is one glaring wrinkle in my logic, namely that the Pope does not intend for the sin of child abuse (and enabling, on-going cover-up) by clergy to continue, yet a divorced Catholic most likely intends to not remain celibate.  However there are two factors that need to be explored when comparing these issues:

  • Actual Intent? By having Bishops and other Church leaders actively engaging in the covering up of abuse...and in many instances actually thwarting the civil punishment of perpetrators (remember, child abuse is a civil as well as a religious crime)...one can make a strong case that there was/is at least a passive intent to perpetrate the abuse.  How could there not be?  If a Bishop knew that "Father X" abused children, how could he possibly believe that simply moving "Father X" to another parish would somehow stop the abuse?  Roman Catholic Bishops are highly educated individuals who are more than capable of understanding just what an inclination towards child abuse actually means, namely that abusers find children to molest, regardless of the parish assignment.  
  • Harm?  In the case of the divorced Catholic, even the Church would agree that the harm is to the soul of the individual, while in the case of the sexual abuse of children, the harm is to the mind, body and soul many...and to the very fabric of the Church itself.  One is a personal sin, the other an institutional and a personal sin.  The argument of "well divorce harms children too" is not universally valid here, as sometimes divorce is in the best interest of children; besides, the Church's rules about divorce apply to formerly married couples without children as well**.

In the end, my central point is this:  If the Church begs forgiveness, then the Church must be willing to offer forgiveness as well.  If the Church asks this forgiveness knowing that the sin of child abuse/cover-up continues, then it should be willing to offer similar forgiveness to divorced Catholics, knowing that what it (pretty much alone) views as a sin*** will continue as well.  It's also worth noting that other religious traditions, including those in many of the Orthodox Rites, do not hold similar positions to the Catholic Church (see THIS citation) when it comes to divorce, remarriage and the reception of Communion.

Double standard?

You be the judge.  Seriously, you be the judge.

Unlike the Church, I am not telling you what is right or wrong.  I do not claim that this posting has been divinely inspired.  No "ex cathedra" here by any means.  No synod was called to write this posting.  I only claim to be trying to think through, all be it in a rather public kind of way, what I know are complex issues in a reasonable and thoughtful manner, pointing out that anything run by humans (Churches and blogs alike) are subject to flaw.





End Notes

(*) For sake of argument, I am going to make three very reasonable assumptions for this posting:

  1. That a Catholic who receives a civil divorce will not remain celibate for the rest of their life.
  2. That most divorced Catholics do not go through the annulment process.  The best statistic I can find to prove this point comes from THIS source, which shows the ratio of remarried Catholics (without an annulment) to those with an annulment is about 4.5 to 0.4.
  3. That in the case of a civil divorce, both parties normally and ultimately agree to the outcome.


(**) It can be argued that the Church doesn't view a marriage without children as being entirely valid; see THIS citation.



(***) The Church alone has decided that getting a civil divorce is a sin.  That's a decision not made by society at large, but again by the Church.  Think of it this way:  it owns the game, therefore it makes the rules.  It could just as easily say a civil divorce granted for "X" reason is automatically grounds for a Church annulment, but it chooses not to (by couching that choice as what it alone deems to be the will of God).  On the other hand, there is no question as to whether or not the sexual abuse of children is in fact a sin; in fact it is an act that runs counter to both Church and civil law, which has been a major point of contention in the on-going abuse scandals.  

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