Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why the Catholic Church would be unwise to change its policy on communion for divorcees.

Why the Catholic Church would be unwise to change its policy on communion for divorcees.

When I first started working as a divorce lawyer in early 2013, as a student counsellor at the University of Witwatersrand, I was worried I might be sinning or doing something wrong. I asked my confessor and reached out to Opus Dei, as well as Catholic friends in order to find out whether or not I should ask for a transfer to another unit. The answer was quite uniform. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, divorce does not exist. As far as my priest was concerned, as with Opus Dei: I was not divorcing anyone, but rather litigating over custody of children and the property of the marriage. They informed me that I was doing nothing wrong whatsoever.

A lot of my work remains divorce, I’ve divorced quite a number of people and will likely divorce many more. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned however, I’ve divorced no one. For me this is an important distinction.

Protestant Christians often quote a part of the New Testament of the Bible, where Jesus Christ states that man must not divide what God has combined, except in the case of what Protestants call adultery. The actual verse does not refer to adultery, but to sexual immorality, with a specific Greek word which refers to a specific Hebrew word: which refers specifically to the immorality set forth by the law of the Old Testament. Catholics might not readily admit it, but the reason they oppose homosexual marriage is because they believe that no marriage takes place based on this verse. The purpose for which Catholics do not believe in incestuous marriage: is that based on this verse they do not believe marriage takes place.

It is a bit of a misnomer to say that Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried are forbidden communion. This is not true, because as far as the church is concerned no divorce has taken place and no remarriage has taken place. The reason such people might be forbidden from taking communion is the same reason as I might be forbidden from taking communion: their actions or their thoughts consist of what the Catholic Church considers as mortal sin. In their specific case it is the sin of extramarital sex. But the list goes on and on: use contraception? You shouldn’t be taking communion. Spend a good time fantasising about extramarital sex, French kiss someone outside of marriage or without the intent of having sex later, masturbate, miss church the week before? You probably shouldn’t be taking communion.

A friend of mine in fact was informed by the Catholic Church that if they wanted to have an annulment within the church, they would have to firstly divorce civilly.

So what if that verse in fact referred to adultery? What is adultery? Adultery is sex with someone who is not your husband or wife when you in fact have a husband or wife. So the moment either party has sex with anyone else, a divorce is possible? Is marriage not at its essence a promise of sex and exclusivity in such? Is not divorce the dissolution or breaking apart of a marriage? So if you break the promise, you’re no longer bound by the promise? In such a sense marriage is only a gentleman’s agreement, or rather a gentleman’s and lady’s agreement. ‘I will only have sex with you until I have sex with someone else.’

If marriage is not exclusivity of sex, then it is not a lot of other things.

The Catholic interpretation of that verse is that God will not create a marriage where marriage is not possible, and a marriage is not possible where its essence is sinful.

Catholics will usually divorce and then get an annulment. An annulment itself is merely informative, of what God has or has not done. An annulment means that God did not cause a marriage to occur. Making the standards for annulments more lax, does not make it more or less likely that God did or did not cause an aeviternal bond to take place.

If you are in something the Catholic Church calls mortal sin, you should not take communion. That is the rule. Treating divorce or remarriage as a sin, other than perhaps the sin of scandal, is an incorrect view: the sin in accordance with Catholic doctrine is that of extramarital sex or adultery. A period of penance for divorcing and remarrying would thus be largely pointless. The divorce was not a sin. The extramarital sex which is ongoing throughout the penance is what the church would consider the sin. Thus the suggestion by many Catholic bishops of penance for divorce, completely and entirely misses the point. As it is in any case, such things are usually left up to parishioners and not to the priest. Churches are usually large, and urban. Plenty of divorced and remarried Catholics in any case take communion weekly.

I myself often commit mortal sins. I tend not to take communion on a Sunday unless I confessed the Saturday before. I value my privacy and I do not go into detail with my sins. I merely list one of the seven deadly sins and say that I have either done it once or many times within the past week or so. Mortal sin is very common among Catholics. Chances are, if they were honest with themselves: 90% of Catholics would not be taking communion every Sunday. That does not mean however that a 2000 year old tradition, tracing back to early writings attributed to the apostles: should so readily change simply because human beings do not always comply with the precepts of Catholic morality. What is so beautiful about the Catholic Church is that its doctrines do not change. It is a relic before modern conceptions of time began. The fact that the Catholic Church does not believe in divorce in a very literal sense is in fact to some degree something deeply beautiful.

Recent research has found that the split itself in divorce, causes deep trauma to children even when their parents perceive them to be doing well with the divorce, even in amicable divorces. Granted, parents in a death match will have much more trauma upon a child and likely on a regular basis. However, the baseline of stress which causes children to achieve low grades, and other such consequences: exists even in amicable divorces. Research also finds that divorcees live shorter lives than couples who remain married. There is no doubt that divorce is something highly traumatic both for those who go through it and for their children. I regularly divorce people and I am not ashamed of it, but I don’t think the Catholic Church, the Catholic religion to which I belong: should change one of its oldest precepts, merely for the sake of appearing trendy. To the Catholic Church something highly traumatic, divorce, does not exist. To me that is something beautiful. It should not be changed.

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