Pope Francis, who was widely hailed as a fresh new breeze blowing through the drafty rafters of Catholicism, has once again slammed--not closed--the doors of his church on a large number of devout Catholics. In a story posted in the Vatican, author Nicole Winfield covers the recent action in Rome that shut down debate over the spiritual equality of divorced Catholics.
The decision, which is to double down on the exclusion of divorced Catholics from the sacramental life of the Church, was engineered by Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, who is widely considered to be the enforcer of "orthodox" Catholic teachings and resistant to any attempt to deal with reconsideration of the rules and regulations. For Mueller, it's my way or the highway. The problem he has is that many Catholics are considering the highway rather than submission to an uncaring, condemning church hierarchy. Winfield reports this scenario:
"Church teaching holds that Catholics who don't have their first marriage annulled before remarrying cannot participate fully in the church's sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process. The issue has vexed the Vatican for decades and has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned by their church.
"Earlier this month, the German diocese of Freiburg upset the Vatican when it issued a set of guidelines explaining how such remarried Catholics could get around the rule. It said if certain criteria are met — if the spouses were trying to live according to the faith and acted with laudable motivation — they could receive Communion and other sacraments of the church.
"The Vatican immediately shot down the initiative but said the matter would be discussed at a church meeting next year on the family."
This kind of statement is hundreds of years old. It is the hallmark of a system that still believes in its power to intimidate its followers into submission. Whether this power still exists is open to question, if only from me. That is, I don't believe that the Catholic Church can still dictate to their parishioners this way. It remains to be seen, and from some statistics about declining numbers in holy orders and attendance, it looks like I may be right: Catholics are bailing, and Pope Francis isn't going to turn the tide by shutting down debate like the dictator that the Pope really is. Power corrupts, Your Holiness, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The whole attitude towards divorce in Christianity is divided into those who believe in the adversary approach (whether they realize it or not) and those who take our fallible human nature as a given that is not going to go away or be overcome. This attitude spills over into the idea that the LGBT community is making the (sinful) choice of being gay, rather than consider that "the gay" is part of their very nature. It contaminates the process of baptism when priests refuse to baptize the child of an unmarried couple.
The Catholic Church plays the blame game both ways: it sets up the individuals involved with trap laws, and then punishes them and their children (who are innocent bystanders). And if this isn't enough, their trap laws offer no way out, which leads to the absurdity of forbidding divorced Catholics from having sexual relations with anyone but their former legitimate spouse (I wonder how my ex-husband's wife of twenty-five years would feel about that?) no matter what marital status they hold today.
Years ago, when I used to go to Mass now and then with my Catholic friends and family on Guam, I couldn't help noticing the many who attended the service but remained in their seats during Holy Communion. They were the divorced, those who lived with a partner, and perhaps the children of unmarried or divorced partners. I wondered why they were there, accepting their church's open insult in their very faces.
Well, if you are in that position, The Episcopal Church Welcomes You! Meanwhile, as author Winfield writes:
"Mueller's article in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano seemed aimed at ending the debate before it even off the ground.
"Mueller cited repeated documents from popes past and his own office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in rejecting arguments that mercy should win out over church rules or that people should follow their own consciences to decide if their first marriage was valid or not.
"'It is not for the individuals concerned to decide on its validity, but rather for the church,' he wrote."
Get it, Catholics? In case you don't know what the Catholic Church thinks of you, there it is: it isn't up to you to think. The Church does that for you. The actual circumstances of your life don't enter into it. The Catholic Church is not about God's love and mercy; it is a court that judges you (and you are already presumed guilty and not allowed to adduce evidence in your favor).
The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.