Debacle at the Lateran

Debacle at the Lateran – Part I

by Christopher A. Ferrara
June 20, 2016

It seems that Pope Francis is determined to be more and more provocative with each passing week, as if to reveal deeper and deeper layers of what appears to be a liberal, seventies-era Latin American Jesuit’s constitutional disdain for the supposed “rigidity” of orthodox Catholicism.

By now the whole world knows that on June 14, during his customary rambling remarks, this time at a “pastoral conference” at Saint John Lateran, Francis declared that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” because the spouses “don’t know what they say” when they say “Yes, for life.” He also dropped the bomb that in his view couples in the countryside of northeast Argentina who cohabit out of the husband’s superstitious fear of marriage vows, avoiding Catholic nuptials until they are grandparents, have “a true marriage, they have the grace precisely of marriage, because of the fidelity they have.”

In other words, according to Francis, it is quite literally the case that among Catholics most marriages are not really marriages, whereas many non-marriages are. With these remarks, Francis simultaneously undermines confidence in Holy Matrimony while legitimating unholy relationships which the Church, following Our Lord Himself, can only view as adultery or simple fornication. The Vatican’s frantic post-conference “correction” of the transcript of Francis’ remarks changes “great majority” to “a part,” but it leaves unchanged Francis’ mind-boggling and really quite nonsensical assertion that cohabiting couples afraid to marry can have a “true marriage.”

Changing the transcript of this particular outburst of heterodoxy does not change what Francis actually believes. For as he declared without correction in September 2015, during the flight back to Rome from the “beach party Mass” in Rio (citing his predecessor as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Quarracino): “half of all marriages are null…. Why? Because they are married without maturity, they get married without realizing that it’s for an entire lifetime, or they are married because socially they must get married.” That is what Francis really thinks.

In my last column I praised Dr. Jeffrey Mirus for having the intellectual honesty to protest the “sermon heard round the world” on June 9, wherein Francis, provoking yet another storm of controversy, falsely depicted Our Lord’s teaching on sexual morality thus: “But do that up to the point that you are capable.” This week, in view of the debacle at the Lateran, other members of the “mainstream” Catholic commentariat have reached their limit. Philip Lawler, for one, is no longer willing to make excuses for the continuing scandal of this pontificate. Unimpressed by the emergency “correction” of some of Francis’ remarks, he writes:

“Should we conclude, then, that everything is fine, and no harm was done? Absolutely not! First, because those shocking statements were widely disseminated through the news media, to be heard or read by millions of people who will never see the official transcript.

“Second, the Pope’s remarks were consistent in their tone — a tone that encouraged listeners to question the authority of Church teachings….

“Third, and most important, this pattern keeps recurring: the astonishing statements, the headlines, the confusion, followed by the explanations and clarifications that never clear away the fallout. When will Pope Francis realize — when will other prelates make clear to him — how much damage he does with these impromptu remarks?”

Even more scathing is the commentary by the renowned canonist Dr. Edward Peters. Francis, he writes, has provoked

“a crisis (in the Greek sense of that word) over marriage… that will, I suggest, come to a head over matrimonial discipline and law…. I think the marriage crisis that he is occasioning is going to come down to whether Church teaching on marriage, which everyone professes to honor, will be concretely and effectively protected in Church law, or, whether the canonical categories treating marriage doctrine become so distorted (or simply disregarded) as essentially to abandon marriage and married life to the realm of personal opinion and individual conscience.”

What a devastating assessment from an ordinarily reserved commentator. Clearly, the ecclesial crisis has entered a new phase of intensification in which anyone of good will can see that something has gone terribly wrong.

Peters rightly discerns that the Pope’s remarks at the Lateran are no mere slip of the tongue, but rather form part of a pattern of “something deeper” that is emerging. That something deeper, he surmises, is an inclination to reduce the institution of marriage to a matter of “personal opinion and individual conscience” rather than an objective state that either exists or does not exist.

But I would say that the problem emerging is deeper still: we have a Pope who is convinced that in all matters, not just marriage, the Church ought to be conformed to the way he thinks things ought to be, regardless of all prior teaching and discipline. In Evangelli gaudium he so much as told us so: “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”

Francis is literally living his dream; and for the Church the dream has become a nightmare, as more and more Catholics are beginning to see. In my next column, I will take a closer look at the devastating implications of Francis’ view of Holy Matrimony.

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3 comments on “Debacle at the Lateran

  1. Dear Pope,
    In your advice to the lovelorn column today , you indicated my wife and I might not be married . I have known my wife since second grade , got married after I got out of the military, had a nuptial mass , and are grandparents and have been together for over 40 + years . My question to you is are we really married ? Before we were married I did buy a house for us to live in but my future wife said I COULD NOT MOVE IN UNTIL WE WERE MARRIED. So we never cohabitated . Now you said you can not be really be married unless you cohabitated until you were grandparents . Please set this matter straight !

    Signed ,

    Confused and Anxious

  2. Debacle at the Lateran – Part II

    by Christopher A. Ferrara
    June 22, 2016

    In my last column I discussed the explosive controversy — the umpteenth of this pontificate — arising from Francis’ declaration on June 14 at Saint John Lateran that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” and that couples who cohabit can have “a true marriage, they have the grace precisely of marriage, because of the fidelity they have.”

    The canonist Dr. Edward Peters calls this opinion “preposterous.” Just how preposterous is shown by Francis’ own explanation of his view:

    … [W]e live in a culture of the provisional. A bishop, I heard him say, some months ago, was presented with a young man who had finished his university studies, a fine youngster, and he said: “I want to become a priest, but for ten years [laughter].” It is the provisional culture. And this is happening everywhere, even in the sacerdotal life, in the religious life. The provisional. And for this reason a great majority of our sacramental marriages are null, because the spouses say: “Yes, for life”, but they don’t know what they say, because they have another culture. They say it, and they have good faith, but they don’t have the awareness.

    So, according to Francis, the “provisional culture” somehow deprives couples of “awareness” of the meaning of the very words they are speaking at the altar even when they say them in good faith without merely pretending to agree. Yet Church law, as well as common sense, presumes “the internal consent of the mind… to the words or the signs used in the celebration of a marriage.” (CIC 1101.1) That is, the Church presumes that people actually agree to be married for life when they say they agree.

    Francis, however, has another idea. It seems he thinks that because of the “provisional culture” people who, even in good faith, acknowledge “Yes, for life” when they are marrying somehow are not “aware” that the words “for life” mean permanently. That’s odd, because Francis would hardly claim that the “provisional culture” excuses people from other binding statements of commitment. Some examples: contractual obligations that often last for most of a lifetime, military service from which there can be no escape once agreed to, the ethical rules of various professions, oaths of citizenship under penalty of treason, judicial oaths in legal proceedings, and so forth.

    Nor would Francis allow that this “provisional culture” excuses people from binding commitments to fulfill obligations he constantly condemns people for ignoring, such as care for the environment, social justice, an end to the arms trade, the death penalty and discrimination against women, the redistribution of wealth, and so on down the litany of causes dear to him.

    How is it, then, that the “provisional culture” is an impediment to consent only when it comes to marriage, where valid consent requires merely that one “be not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to procreation of offspring by some means of procreation,” which ignorance “is not presumed after puberty.” (Canon 1096, §§ 1, 2) It seems to me that the “provisional culture” is simply a rhetorical device to justify what is really an unsupported and indeed preposterous opinion: that most Catholic spouses are not really married. When a Pope seriously proposes such a thing, we can know that we are in the midst of the final battle between the Church and the devil of which Sister Lucia spoke: the one over marriage and family.

    More on this scandal in my next column.

  3. Debacle at the Lateran – Part III

    by Christopher A. Ferrara
    June 27, 2016

    In my previous two columns on the “Debacle at the Lateran,” I discussed the scandal of the Pope’s latest off-the-cuff-bombshell: that in his view “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” whereas couples in the countryside of northeast Argentina who cohabit out of the husband’s superstitious fear of marriage vows, avoiding Catholic nuptials until they are grandparents, have “a true marriage, they have the grace precisely of marriage, because of the fidelity they have.”

    I noted as well that the Vatican has revised the Pope’s remarks regarding the supposed nullity of marriages, altering in the “official transcript” the phrase “great majority of our sacramental marriages” to read “a portion of our sacramental marriages” or simply “some of our sacramental marriages.” Father Z rightly mocks the idea that now we have “official off-the-cuff remarks” which follow the unofficial off-the-cuff remarks.

    That aside, however, what remains uncorrected in the “official off-the-cuff remarks” is the even more explosive declaration that couples who cohabit out of fear of marriage can nonetheless have “a true marriage” and “the grace of marriage” because of their “fidelity.” This, of course, is utter and complete nonsense, contrary to the divine and natural law and all of Church teaching on marriage and sexual relations outside of marriage for 2,000 years before Francis arrived from Argentina. For this, no demonstration is required.

    What does merit comment, however, is the further nonsense lurking within the nonsense of this remark. Now, if couples who cohabit because they wish to avoid marriage vows can have a “true marriage” merely because they exhibit “fidelity” to their partners in sin, what about all the couples Francis claims are not truly married even though they have taken vows? Do not many of these same couples, despite what Francis supposes is their void marriage, also live together, exhibiting fidelity to each other, having children, making life together?

    On Francis’ own view, therefore, these supposedly invalidly married couples would also appear to have a true marriage and the grace of marriage even if their vows did not give rise to Holy Matrimony as such. For, after all, they cohabit faithfully. Yet, tellingly, he makes no such concession to them, simply declaring that all their marriages are null.

    So, according to Francis, people who cohabit while refusing to take vows have the grace of matrimony, while people who take vows without supposedly understanding them have no such grace, which would mean that “faithful” cohabitation without marriage vows is a spiritually superior condition to faithful cohabitation with vows.

    There is something of the diabolical here, whether or not Francis subjectively intends it: an inversion of the truth, the truth turned upside down, reflecting an implicit antipathy to the very concept of Holy Matrimony. No wonder, as Father Z reports, following the debacle at the Lateran even Father George David Byers, one of Francis’ own “Missionaries of Mercy,” has called for a coordinated prayer campaign to protect Francis from “diabolical attacks.”

    When a Pope continually utters shockingly heterodox nonsense, setting himself apart from every one of his predecessors in the entire history of the papacy, including Popes whose personal morality was abysmal, the phrase “diabolical attack” is not melodrama, but simple realism. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us! And for the Pope. That “being once converted” he will abandon his present course and “confirm thy brethren” (Mk. 22:32) instead of leading them into confusion and confirming them in their sins.

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