Canon Law

A primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’

by Dr. Edward Peters

No matter which way the US Supreme Court rules in the “gay marriage” cases before it the international debate over the definition of marriage will continue because that debate is, at root, about matters beyond a civil court’s competence, things like the nature of human beings and the fundamental good of society. Because we Catholics are and will surely remain major participants in such a debate we should be clear among ourselves as to what our Church teaches in this area. I offer as a primer (I stress, primer) toward such better understanding my position on following points.

1. The Catholic Church teaches, though its ordinary magisterium and with infallible certainty, that marriage exists only between one man and one woman. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) passim; CCC 1601-1608; CCEO (1990) 776; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1; Rite of Marriage (1969) n. 2; Vatican II, Gaudium et spes (1965) 48; Pius XI, Casti connubii (1930) 6, 20, 23; Leo XIII, Arcanum (1880) 5, 24; Matthew XIX: 4-6; and Genesis II: 21-24. There is no evidence of ecclesiastical authority ever supporting any other definition of marriage.

1. Note. It is possible that this teaching is proposed as an object of belief (credenda, per Canon 750 § 1, doubt or denial of which assertion would be heresy under Canon 751 and thus sanctionable under Canon 1364 § 1); at a minimum, however, the Church proposes the man-woman assertion as necessarily to be held (tenenda) in order “to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith” (Canon 750 § 2), rendering those who “obstinately reject” the assertion liable to “a just penalty” if, having been duly admonished, they refuse to retract (Canon 1371, 2º).

2. The Catholic Church has the right and duty “always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it.” 1983 CIC 747 § 2; CCC 2246.

3. Catholics who promote “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1369 for gravely injuring good morals.

3. Note. The situation of Catholic politicians lending support to “same-sex marriage” is to be assessed as above, with special attention being paid to the heightened responsibility that civil servants have to protect the common good. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) 10; CCC 2235-2237, 2244; 1983 CIC 1326 § 1, 2.

4. The Catholic Church would regard any attempt by persons of the same sex to marry, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, as null. CCC 1603; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1.

5. Catholics who attempt a “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1379 for simulation of a sacrament. Morevoer, Catholics who assist others toward attempting a “same-sex marriage” cooperate in the bad act of those others, which cooperation is liable to moral assessment in accord with the usual principles applicable to cooperation with evil and, under certain facts, according to the canonical principles applying to cooperation in crime per Canon 1329 and/or scandal per Canon 1339 § 2, etc.

5. Note. Catholics who have attempted a “same-sex marriage” or who have assisted another toward a “same-sex marriage” can be reconciled morally under the usual conditions by sacramental Confession (Canon 959) or by a ‘perfect act of contrition’ per CCC 1452; they can be reconciled canonically, if necessary, in accord with applicable law.

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There are so many issues to write about; I would have wished that this would not be one of them, but…

Canon Lawyer Dr. Ed Peters brings clarity to the confusion caused by the Pope’s recent words. 

If you’re concerned about marriage, the problems in the Church in that regard, the Pope’s recent words about cohabiting and civil unions — and the trend that is developing — then this is an excellent place to start reading.

Canon Law is the friend and defender of Catholic theology and the Sacraments. Catholic theology, laws, morality and the Sacraments cannot just be treated willy-nilly in anyway we want. The Church has been very clear about the sacrament of matrimony, it’s theology, it’s practice and it’s laws. 

Right when the secular world is abandoning marriage, making homosexuality and other arbitrary relationships equal to marriage, and mocking traditional morality — the Church should be standing tall and beaming a bright light of truth and clarity. The leader of the Catholic Church should be a clear voice to bring clarity not only for Catholics but also for the culture at large. 

Unfortunately it seems the opposite is happening. Recent writings and comments by Pope Francis have muddied the waters, confused the faithful and given fodder to the anti-Catholic crowd.

I highly recommend Dr. Peters’ article here as he critiques the Pope’s recent problematic words about cohabitation and the validity of non-sacramental marriages. Peters does a good job of clarifying the actual teaching of the Church especially in regards to Canon Law.

His review dissects the Pope’s recent public comments. Here is how the article begins, “

“The pope’s most recent comments on marriage point in a disturbing direction but let’s address two important matters first.

Point One. Cohabitation is not marriage.

Largely overlooked amid the furor caused by Pope Francis’ rash claim that “the great part of our sacramental marriages are null”—an assertion reckless if false (which it is) and brimming with despair if true (which it is not), a claim followed not by an apology, an official retraction, or even a bureaucratic ‘clarification’ but instead by an Orwellian alteration of the pope’s words in Vatican records—overlooked, I say, in this greater mess was the pope’s later but equally problematic comment about his being “sure that cohabitating couples are in a true marriage having the grace of marriage”.

Though multi-facetedly wrong (theologically, canonically, pastorally, socially) the pope’s equating cohabitation (‘faithful’, whatever that means) with Christian marriage did not, mirabile dictu, get edited down to a platitude or deleted completely: his words are still there … “

For the whole article click HERE. For more on the Church’s practical and correct teaching on cohabitation, click HERE. Not the first time the Pope seemingly gave a nod to cohabitation HERE.

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Updates:

Dr. Peters’ follow-up to article below: The Missing Middle Term on the Pope’s Off the Cuff Comments on Marriage

John Allen of Crux responds to Dr. Peters and defends the Pope: Lets Not Get Bent Out of Shape by Changes to Papal Transcripts

Canon Lawyer Ed Peters fires back to John Allen’s comments and criticism: A Few Notes on Journalistic Points Made Today

Excellent Summary by Phil Lawler The damage done (again) by the Pope’s statements on marriage

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By Ed Peters, June 17, 2016 [Initial Article]

Last time a ranking prelate (Cdl. Kasper) opined that half of all marriages were null his attribution of such a reckless assertion to Pope Francis himself could be dismissed as hearsay, deflected as referring to marriage in general and not Christian marriage in particular, or at least minimized as describing merely ‘many’ or even ‘half’ of all marriages. But none of those qualifications can be applied to blunt the impact of the pope’s startling claim “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null”.

If last time was bad, this time is very bad.

Consider: Marriage is that natural human relationship established by God as the normal way for nearly all adults to live most of their lives. God blesses marriage and assists married persons to live in accord with this beautiful state in life. When, moreover, baptized persons enter this quintessential human relationship, Christ adds the special graces of a sacrament and assists married Christians to live as signs of his everlasting spousal union with his Church.

To assert, then, that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” is really to claim that the great majority of Christians have failed to enter the most natural of human states and have failed to effect between themselves the exact sacrament that Christ instituted to assist them in it. The collapse of human nature presupposed for such a social catastrophe and the massive futility of the Church’s sanctifying mission among her own faithful evidenced by such a debacle would be—well, it would be the matrimonial version of nuclear winter.

I am at a loss to understand how anyone who knows anything about either could seriously assert that human nature is suddenly so corrupted and Christ’s sacraments are now so impotent as to have prevented “the great majority” of Christians from even marrying! How can anyone responsibly even posit such a dark and dismal claim, let alone demonstrate it?

But beyond the arresting scope of the claim that nullity is rampant, there is the debilitating effect that such a view can and doubtless will have on couples in difficult marriage situations. After all, if “the great majority” of Christian marriages are, as alleged by Francis, already null, then couples struggling in difficult marriages and looking for the bread of spiritual and sacramental encouragement may instead be offered stones of despair—‘your marriage is most likely null, so give up now and save everyone a lot of time and trouble.’

This is just a blog post so, simply invoking the same extensive credentials to speak on Catholic marriage law that I invoked two years ago, let me just say that I believe that the great majority of Christian marriages are valid, that a matrimonial contract was therefore effected between the parties at the time of their wedding, and that by the will of Christ an indissoluble sacramental bond simultaneously arose between those spouses.

To be clear, I also hold that many marriages are (and could be proven to be) canonically null and that the percentage of null marriages has indeed risen over recent decades, but I can and do reject anyone’s claim that the majority, let alone “the great majority”, of Christian marriages are null.

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Finally—and I make this point mostly to preserve it for future discussion—the pope, toward the end of these remarks, made some comments about cohabiting and/or civilly married Catholics being in “a real marriage [and having] the grace of a real marriage”. Canonically (if I may be forgiven for mentioning canon law) such a claim is incoherent.

Whatever good might be going on in the life of cohabiting and/or civilly married Catholic couples, it is not the good of marriage and it is not the grace of matrimony, but this—and here is my point—largely because of the Church’s requirement of canonical form for marriage. I would be glad to see the requirement of canonical form eliminated, but unless and until it is, cohabitation and civil-only marriage is not marriage in the Catholic Church.

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Interview with German Philosopher and Friend of St. JP II: Robert Spaemann on Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia”

April 30, 2016

Stuttgart, Germany, Apr 29, 2016 / 10:49 am (CNA).- Greatly valued as an advisor by Saint John Paul II, a friend of Benedict XVI, and widely held to be the most important German Catholic philosopher of recent decades, Robert Spaemann, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Munich, expressed a distinctly critical interpretation of Amoris […]

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My Final Post on Pope’s Exhortation: A Catholic World Report Symposium with Links Galore

April 13, 2016

From Catholic World Report: Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, “On love in the family,” has been one of the most widely anticipated papal documents in recent years, following the closely watched and sometimes controversial Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 2014 and the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in 2015. It is also one of the […]

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On Cardinal Burke’s Comments on Pope’s Exhortation

April 12, 2016

The world is a flurry with commentary on the Pope’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Seems to be understood very differently by different people with differing perspectives and agendas.  Cardinal Burke wrote an interesting piece on the Pope’s exhortation and John Jalsevac wrote an interesting critique of Burke’s column. I post this because it a very good summary of […]

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The Pope’s New Document “Amoris laetitia” on Marriage. Dr. Ed Peters’ (canon lawyer) first thoughts

April 8, 2016

Traveling home from Israel with no time to read this yet. Here are the thoughts of Dave Armstrong  Below are the thoughts of my trusted friend and canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters. First thoughts on the English version of Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia. by Dr. Edward Peters There are as one might expect in a document […]

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Pope Francis, Donald Trump, Nuns Using Contractives, Zika Virus and more on the Pope’s Comments to the Press

February 18, 2016

Seven quick thoughts on the most recent papal presser by Dr. Edward Peters Frankly, I don’t know how he does it. When I fly to Europe I have to sleep all the way over.  Not Pope Francis. Anyway, may I offer some comments on some topics mentioned in the latest mid-air papal presser? 1. Pope Paul […]

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A Quick Reply to Question about Cremation and Scattering the Ashes

January 29, 2016

I was asked a question about Catholics, cremation and the scattering of ash. Here is my brief answer: The whole issue of cremation goes back to the Romans. They denied the bodily resurrection so they often burned the body and if they were rich they put the ashes in urns and put them in the […]

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Canon Lawyer Ed Peters’ Concerns about New Revions regarding Annulments

September 9, 2015

Read his article here. Jimmy Akin also weighs in with his “Nine Things you should Know and Share“    

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Holy Year Gestures on Abortion and the SSPX: 12 Things to Know and Share

September 2, 2015

The article below is written by Jimmy Akin and available on his blog. Pope Francis has just released a letter in which he made several announcements concerning the upcoming Year of Mercy. This includes absolution for those who have procured abortion and the ability to go to priests of the Society of St. Pius X […]

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Okay, what about Catholics and the Death Penalty?

March 9, 2015

March 9, 2015 By Dr. Ed Peters, Canon Lawyer   (see also The Stream’s: “Should Catholics Oppose the Death Penalty?“) “Dr. Steven Long beat me to it. His rejoinder to the “Capital punishment must end” editorial of America, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, andOur Sunday Visitor is essential reading even if, in some places, Long’s essay, “Four Catholic […]

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What is the Earliest a Mass can Start on the Preceding Day to Fulfill the Obligation for a Sunday or Holy Day Obligation?

December 10, 2014

A question on Mass-start times that warrants attention by Dr. Edward Peters Recalling, in the wake of a some recent discussions of Mass obligations, that I had promised some time ago to set out some materials for use in reasoning through another Mass attendance question, I offer some of that now. This question concerns, What is the […]

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Heretic for Desiring Women’s Ordination?

October 31, 2014

Since, you asked, Walter, no, you are not a heretic, but… by Dr. Edward Peters Walter Sandell. … “I wonder if I’m a heretic for believing in, and supporting, the ordination of women. I would be a hypocrite if I kept silent about this issue …” I don’t know (and it doesn’t matter) who “Walter […]

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Cohabitation, Canonical Form and Marriage

September 12, 2014

Cohabitation and canonical form by Dr. Edward Peters The latest tizzy is over Pope Francis’ plans to preside at the weddings of several Roman couples, including some couples who have been cohabiting for lengthy periods. There are two perspectives from which to look at this news, one canonical, one pastoral. Canonically, this is a non-issue. No […]

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Divorce and Remarriage: Platitudes, Principles, Mercy and Canon Law

March 14, 2014

  When faced with practical problems, rely on principles not platitudes by Dr. Edward Peters The line between principles and platitudes is a narrow one. Both sorts of assertions are true and both can put into a few words concepts that otherwise require many paragraphs to explain. But principles and platitudes are not the same thing; […]

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