There have been a number of reactions to the Sandro Magister piece about Bonandi’s suggestion re communion for divorced and remarried Catholics which I blogged on last week. The most notable of these is by Donald J. Keefe, S.J., Emeritus Professor of Theology Fordham University. Robert T. Miller takes a similar point of view on the First Things blog (see here and here).
I admitted at the time that I had some reservations about the proposal, but I think the reaction of these two gentlemen does not do complete justice to Bonandi’s suggestion. Miller is downright scathing, and presents the penitent in this case as a real scoundrel (as compared to Bonandi, who perhaps presents him as a near saint).
There are two things that really need to be faced with regard to this issue:
- The reality of personal conversion.How seriously do we take the fact that upon conversion, a person becomes a “new creation”? There is a new beginning when one comes to repentance and faith. What does this mean when one is living in a situation that is deemed both sinful and irreversible?
- The moral obligation to the spouse.It is too much for Miller to suggest that the only reason the penitent refuses to “live as brother and sister” with his new partner is because he cannot control his libido. When one has committed oneself to a certain relationship (even if this commitment were recognised as illicit in hindsight), an obligation remains. How this obligation is lived out is another question.
I don’t have answers here. I only know that when I converted to the Catholic Church the first thing I had to face was that my marital situation was irregular, and as such barred me from being received into the Church AT ALL! I had to ask myself what the value of my conversion was in the sight of God. Secondly, I had to face the question of what to do if there was no possibility of my current marriage being regularised (through the processes of dissolution and annulment).
In all honesty, I had resolved that, if my current relationship could not be regularised, rather than demanding from my wife a “brother-sister” relationship, I would live as a non-communing catechumen for the rest of my life until such a time as it was possible for me to live according to the requirements of the Gospel.
According to the strict application of canon law, I could have said to my wife “Sorry, we aren’t really married in the sight of God, so I’m leaving you and the kids, and going off to live as a single person. I’ll pay maintenance and all, but you’re on your own from here on.” Would that have been a “holy” action? And yet, it would have immediately gained me entrance into communion with the Church.
Or what would have happened if I had said “Sorry, no more sex. Separate bedrooms, no kissing, no holding hands, no physical affection whatsoever. But I will stay with you and the kids for the sake of our family.” How much “family” do you think would have been left after that?
I know a case where a Catholic man abandoned his non-Catholic wife (whom he married without dispensation from the Church) to shack up with (as Robert T. Miller would have it) his 23-year old secretary; who then received an annulment from his first marriage (because he married without dispensation), and had his new relationship blessed as a sacramental marriage by the Church. And this is an action in harmony with the Gospel?
I know there are problems with the Bonandi proposal. But there are problems with the current application of the marriage laws too, and something needs to be done about it.