Recently, I mentioned fighting other Catholics over gay “marriage” and similar issues. What is especially maddening about them is their tendency to affirm the doctrinal question in a technically minimal way, but then to articulate a pastoral exception so broad that it devours the doctrinal rule. Yes, of course gay “marriage” is a grave moral evil and a mockery of divinely-ordained matrimony; but we mustn’t say so out loud! We might offend someone, and it’s hardly very Christian to do that, now is it? And meanwhile you shouldn’t order your life or act in any way as if you believe gay “marriage” is evil, because Christ calls us to love one another in a way higher than mere doctrinal correctness, and —
Well, you can see the problem. Are there any limits to the “pastoral exception”? None that are typically spoken of, certainly none that are evident to me. The result of this line of thinking is a world where gay “marriage” in the abstract is accepted to be a moral evil, even if no particular gay “marriage” can be said to be.
We are seeing this already in anticipation of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which certain elements in the Church (evidently with at least some sympathy on the part of the Holy Father) desire to make into an occasion to (very quietly) affirm the Church’s ancient teachings on the indissolubility of marriage while (very publicly and aggressively) relaxing the disciplines that support the lived reality of those teachings; in other words, to canonize the current arrangement of practical lawlessness in the administration of the Sacraments and to formalize the Church’s heretofore merely material complicity in adultery. It’s hard to say what direction the Synod will go in, of course, but the trend here is not encouraging. It is very possible that, by this time next year, the Church will have automated the American annulment factory and exported it to the entire world, and that divorce-for-any-reason-or-none-at-all will become, if not doctrinally acceptable, tolerated with a knowing wink and nudge.
There are two major problems if the Church should follow some of the routes being suggested. The first, of course, is that they remove what few safeguards are currently in place for Catholic marriages that exist today. There would no longer be even the thinnest of social or institutional incentives for one spouse not to destroy their family out of opportunism or mere boredom, deprive their children of one parent, and bankrupt the other in divorce court; no matter how demonstrably wicked and unrepentant an adulterer that particular person is, they can be assured of the Church’s “nonjudgmentalism”, their “tolerance” for their second (and third? fourth? nineteenth?) union, and not-even-minimally-legally-fettered access to Holy Communion. It’s easy to point to people whose lives are inconvenienced by these teachings (and, evidently, easy to feel sorry for those people, though in my experience they are often deeply unsympathetic figures); it is far more difficult to account for the potentially millions of people whose lives would be ruined if this relaxation of discipline occurred. Apparently, those people don’t count.
Now that such a move would be horribly bad, morally and practically and prudentially, should be manifest; thankfully, it would also be reversible, being a prudential and disciplinary decision. Which leads me to the second problem: the culture of repulsive servility within the Church, and especially among the laity, where such conversations would necessarily need to happen, makes such a reversal nearly impossible, at least any time soon. Mainstream faithful Catholics today simply do not tolerate anyone arguing that bad decisions are made anywhere, ever, by anyone in the Church, unless by someone who is marginally to the right of the rightmost person currently standing within 50 yards of the Pope (whose status as a nonperson will surely be communicated to the world in one way or another). It is not so much forbidden to talk about bad decisions being made, it is forbidden even to think that they are made, that it is even possible for them to be made. It is a culture which flatly and firmly refuses any principled discussion about anything outside the immediate agenda of the powers-that-be; a culture which treats every prudential and tactical decision from the Vatican as if it were handed down on stone slabs from Mt. Sinai; and a culture which sees the laity, not as the faithful sons and daughters of the Church, but as its slaves.
Immediately after the making of such a decision, it would become a bannable offense at Catholic Answers Forum to voice one’s opinion that this was a bad move, or to share a personal story about the ruin inflicted on one’s life as a result of it (unrepentant Wiccan sodomites, of course, would still be welcome, because Evangelism!). Talking heads at EWTN would be fired for voicing their discontent (if any of them bother). Cardinals who object would be booted from their dicasteries. And the irrelevant bloggers who slip through the cracks of institutional bludgeoning-into-conformity would be showered with anathemas by tedious pedants like Mark Shea. That such a culture is wholly contrary to the Church’s own articulation of its vision of the role of the laity, or that canon law itself acknowledges the right of Catholics to voice their opinions on matters related to the good of the Church, would be irrelevant, because pastorality and charity today only ever seem to flow in one direction: leftward.
Such a decision, despite its frankly stupid motivations and ruinous consequences, would be effectively seared into the collective conscience of the Church as an infallible utterance of the Magisterium of the Moment. And none of us would live even to see the damage acknowledged, much less undone.
So let us all pray that our Lord preserve the Church from such a blunder (as she has, on many occasions, made in the past, and is in no way protected from), and inspire her instead with the zeal to defend that which was ordained by God from the beginning, and which is the very model of her submission to Him.