"Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in situation of public and permanent adultery... Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society."

That, of course, is Mother Church speaking.

Mother Church has always informed a lot of my thinking, even though I broke away and joined the Reformation 28 years ago?an event I still often refer to as "the greatest day of my life." But, like (I suspect) most former Catholics, I will never quite rid myself of the feelings of guilt, especially sexual guilt, that are part and parcel of growing up Catholic. The general "Catholic hangover" is one of perpetual doubt that God really does love you, coupled with the knee-jerk impulse to try to make yourself worthy of God?s love, and of never quite being able to believe that when the minister says "your sins are forgiven," they are and that?s it.

In short, it?s a never-ending nagging doubt about the reality of God?s salvation.

But now, consider this. In the light of the current state of affairs in the Catholic church?by which I mean, of course, the priestly pedophilia scandal?this high-minded talk of "grave offense against the natural law" begins to sound dreadfully hollow. Especially when it has been handed down by cloistered men who have never known and will never know the joy, pain, frustration, and compromise of marriage; the thousands of ways even the most well-intentioned of couples can take a chance on marriage and still find a way to screw it up. My former Lutheran pastor, who counseled me during my own divorce, said it best: "Yes, marriage is a divine institution. Unfortunately, it is inhabited by humans."

We also have to consider this "grave offense against the natural law" against not only the priestly pedophilia scandal, but also the Orthodox churches? stance (and remember that the Roman Catholics are now in full communion with the Orthodox) on divorce. Taking a stance very similar to my former pastor?s, the Orthodox allow that, as fallen humans in a fallen world, we may manage to conduct ourselves less than perfectly within the confines of marriage?even to the point where trying to carry on with the marriage is in reality damaging two lives (and possibly more, if children are involved). Certainly this is a more reasoned, and indeed more Christian, understanding of sacramental marriage. Much of what human beings undertake with the very best of intentions comes to naught, or even worse. It is in this sense that we are most often reminded of the frailty of our human condition and our lack of divinity?indeed, that "all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God."

So much of Roman Catholic thought seems to hinge on an arrogant insistence upon human perfectability, quite dangerous when seen in the light of the opening statement of the Lutheran confession of sin: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." It is quite possible to imagine a marriage that becomes a cause of sin?again, not because marriage has failed as a divine institution, but because humans are not only imperfect but are not perfectable. And it is here that Catholic doctrine contains its most radical flaw. By continually holding an already fallen humanity up to unreasonabile standards?marriages that must not fail, children that must be conceived (and to keep the argument simple, I refer here only to marital coitus), priests that must not be permitted to marry and so are denied any possibility of (legitimate) sexual expression?the church guarantees only widespread and catastrophic failure for its adherents (all the more so since Catholics insist that works and not faith are the primary means of justification before God).

The priestly pedophilia scandal is only the latest manifestation of this extremely unfortunate reading of God?s word. I recently came upon an article by a priest, gamely attempting to insist that priestly pedophilia is a sin roughly on a par with an unmarried adult couple?s consensual intercourse. This is such a appalling notion that it is beneath comment, except to point out that it shows the desperate measures that must be undertaken in order to prop up Catholic doctrine when the flaws begin to out.

Catholics are fond of pointing out that their faith is "ancient"?and it certainly is. But "ancient" is not the same as "infallible." Blithely brushing past the Reformation, Catholics point to the reforms of Vatican II (an undeniably sincere attempt by the church to address some of its serious problems). But we watch today as these reforms are rolled further and further back, and the old Roman Church?s bleating about its own infallibility becomes the answer to every question, every complaint, every demand lodged against it?often by its own faithful.

For all of the pain that it entails, the schisms and the widely variant interpretations of the meaning of God?s word, Protestantism in the twenty-first century continues to move forward. Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism slips ever further backward toward a darkness and intolerance redolent of Islam.

posted by Alois 08/06/03

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