Where to now?

There is a lot of angst among many in the Church about what to do now that President Obama has won a second term. Clearly the bishops’ efforts (with the help of their priests and other collaborators) to draw attention to the intrinsic evils that formed part of the Democratic Party’s policy platform did not convince a sufficient number of Catholics that they should vote for someone other than the President or Democratic candidates.

One article which demonstrates such angst is by George Weigel in the online version of FirstThings entitled: The Crisis of a Second Obama Administration.

Among other things Weigel calls for the withdrawal of the Church from the civil side of marriage.

The eminent and always concise and perceptive Dr Edward Peters as responded on his blog in a post entitled: Some first thoughts on Weigel’s call to reconsider civil consequences for Catholic weddings.

I entered a comment under the First Things article referred to above but, because of its length, I doubt it shall be published. So here it is.

I have to own up to echoing the opinion of an eminent canonist, and that is that clergy do not so much act as agents of the State. Rather, the State accords recognition to marriages celebrated in the presence of a duly authorized Church minister. If the State wishes to accord such recognition, why reject it? It is good for the couple and for society that the marriage receives such recognition.

As for celebrating marriages that would not receive recognition from the State (e.g. of those without legal papers), Canon Law prohibits this without the permission of the Local Ordinary. There are all sorts of reasons why the Local Ordinary might withhold permission, in which case there are ways and means for the couple themselves to celebrate the marriage without the intervention of a duly delegated minister (who, however, should be present but not intervening). Canonists will be familiar with Can. 1116. Non-canonists: beware. This canon requires careful interpretation. Such a marriage would be sacramental (if both baptized) but would not enjoy civil recognition. The couple would enjoy the Church’s blessing upon their union and would, therefore, be able to receive Holy Communion, be godparents, etc. They would not, however, benefit from any state recognition.

All this goes to show that the Civil and Ecclesiastical are separate spheres. One offers civil benefits. The other offers spiritual goods. If both can work together, why tear them asunder?

I feel that the most urgent matter at hand is to deal with those Catholics in public life who promote intrinsic evils. Their diocesan bishops should issue them with the warnings that Canon Law foresees (precepts) and, should they fail to come into line, notify them that they fall under Canon 915. Further penalties can also be considered.

Then we must address the issues affecting the Church’s proclamation of the Social Gospel including, but not limited to: the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage, the care offered to the stranger (i.e. immigrants – has the Church lost Latinos as a result of this election campaign) and the poor.

A renewed catechesis to be offered to all Catholics who attend Mass, and a public campaign of information on the Church’s teaching on various issues.

Homosexuality: However hard it might be, we also need to present our compassionate approach to those who experience same sex attraction, without compromising on the Divine Law concerning marriage and the purpose of human sexuality. We will, like Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, receive “bigot of the year” awards from organizations such as Stonewall, no doubt, but we might at least reach those with open hearts and minds.

I feel this political campaign has divided us so much. The Holy Spirit might show us some ways of healing these divisions.

We need also to recognize that there is a choice to be made: Christ or the World. We are in the world but not of it. Let the world go its way, if it insists. Let us be faithful to the Lord. If the State deprives us of our freedom, it does so unjustly. It will not be the first time Christians experience injustice. But nothing can deprive us of our inner freedom of conscience and will: even if we must withdraw from those areas that, traditionally, were the initiative of Christian missionaries: schools, hospitals, etc. Naturally, we should not do so without seeking to vindicate our rights before the civil courts. It is ridiculous for the State – on the pretext of the separation of the Church and State – to want to kick the Church out of these areas and institutions which were founded, in large part, by Catholic and other Christian missionaries. But if it does, so be it.

Oh, and if we lose tax exempt status, fine.


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Father John Boyle (34 Posts)

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