Douthat: What the Catholic Church Can Do for Divorced and Remarried Couples Without Betraying the New Testament

by Ross Douthat

Since my comments on the issue of the moment in Roman Catholicism, communion for the divorce and remarried, have beenoverwhelmingly critical of the main proposals for a change in the church’s discipline, I think it’s only fair to write a post that addresses itself to what I think the church can do, without lurching into self-contradiction or betraying the New Testament, that might lift unnecessary burdens off some couples’ backs. I’ll use as my jumping-off point this post from Kyle Cupp at Patheos, which sketches a situation in which, as he puts it, “following doctrine can have harmful side effects”:

Imagine a couple. We’ll call them Fred and Wilma. Neither one of them has practiced their faith in their adult lives, but they’d now like to return to the Church. Wilma was somewhat raised in the Catholic faith. Fred was baptized in a non-denominational Christian church, but now he wants to become Catholic. They are married civilly and have a four-year-old son. When they go to their local Catholic parish, they learn from the priest that they need to be married in the Church before Fred can make his conversion. They’re accepting, but surprised. Neither of them knew the Catholic Church considered their marriage invalid.

Unfortunately, Fred has a previous courthouse marriage and needs to obtain an annulment before the Catholic Church will consider him free to marry Wilma. Eager to do what’s needed, Fred petitions the diocese to investigate his previous civil marriage. Two years later the annulment is denied. The parish priest tells the couple that their civil marriage cannot be convalidated and that they cannot continue to live as husband and wife if Fred wants to become Catholic and Wilma wants to receive the sacraments. Typically, the priest would tell the two of them that they have an obligation to separate; however, because they have a child, he tells them that “living as brother and sister” is an option for them.

Believing strongly that God is calling them to make this sacrifice, they agree to live no longer as a married couple. They cease all romantic affection. They move into separate rooms. They love each other, but they don’t show it in the ways they used to …

Things go downhill from there: The couple fights, grows apart, eventually splits up; Wilma marries someone else in the Catholic Church (since she’s free do to do so); Fred abandons religion altogether. Their son grows up miserable and confused, with “severe emotional distress, anxiety, and trust issues” that he “never fully escapes.” There is no happy ending.

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SOURCE: The New York Times