Monday, 21 August 2017

On Discernment

In all the talk around the more revolutionary interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, the word discernment comes up.

It came up yesterday in a twitter conversation I was having on the topic with @thirstygargoyle - he had responded to my previous post about Jurisprudence and Imprudence by tweeting: It's important to note, I think, that Amoris deals with how to pick up pieces afterwards, and proposes an *augmented* internal forum. By which I mean, it proposes that discernment is guided by a priest, and is not a purely solitary exercise.


I asked: What is the discernment aimed at discerning? That is what nobody has (yet) explained to me... That the previous marriage was null?

To which he replied: It will vary from case to case. There'll be a huge range of variants.

We chatted on for quite a while, but really got no further in terms of what is being discerned.

And that worries me.

For I think that some interpreters of AL may help people to 'discern' that their previous marriage was in fact null, so they are free to treat their new union as a real marriage. Others may help people to discern that in their particular situation, it would be impossible to separate, so they too could treat their new union as a real marriage. And so on.

@thirstygargoyle makes the point that Familiaris Consortio suggests that 'the situations of individuals who had remarried after divorces were different and needed to be treated differently.' But nowhere does Familiaris Consortio or any other teaching document of the Church suggest that 'differently' might mean acknowledging a second union as legitimate when a first valid marriage endures. Yet that seems the direction of travel of many interpreters of AL.

For what it's worth, my view is that discernment should be a process that leads the individual to realise the incompatibility of living with a second partner as a spouse with the life of grace; and therefore implies a penitential path which is aimed to a resolution of the irregularity: that is to say, a cessation of the adultery. For such is the path of mercy. And whilst someone is determined to persist in adultery, such a determination de facto means they are not in a position to receive Holy Communion. That is not necessarily a judgement that they are in mortal sin; but if they are not, then they are in a state of ignorance with regard to the teaching of the Church that is also incompatible with full (and therefore eucharistic) communion.

I think the underlying problem with some interpreters of AL is that they do not really think any harm is being done by those in second unions. If the first marriage is truly over (say the other spouse has abandoned the one in discernment irrevocably), then what's the problem?

The first problem is precisely there: the first marriage is not truly over, even if the other spouse has abandoned the one in discernment irrevocably. In such a case the marriage still endures, and that means that the second party is not free to enter a new union (that's rather what we mean when we promise 'for better of for worse, till death do us part.')

The second problem is that sin harms us and others. Any sin. Every time. Even when culpability is reduced, sin is still evil, and still harmful. The abortionist who truly and sincerely believes he is helping a distressed pregnant woman is still doing something evil, even though his culpability may be minimal or non-existent. The adulterer is no different.

So any process of discernment that is not aimed at ending the adultery is the opposite of mercy. And any sexual intimacy in a second union , where the first is valid and endures, is adultery, as Our Lord clearly taught.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Jurisprudence and imprudence

In our legal system, we have a doctrine of the presumption of innocence. 

The reasons for this are fairly clear: a society in which people can be judged guilty without a proper process is clearly problematic.

The presumption of innocence, of course, may lead to injustices:  an individual may know very well that someone is guilty of an offence against him, and yet be unable to prove it to the standards required in law: the truly guilty party escapes the consequences of his actions, and the victim is denied justice.

But so it must be: for the alternative is so much worse: if the police, or the State (either of which means, effectively, those with power) can decide who is guilty without due process, it is worse for all of us. And inevitably the highest price will be paid by those with least power.

A second principle is that nobody is the judge in his own case. Again, the reasons are fairly clear: the temptation to bias (whether conscious or unconscious) is so strong that we cannot fairly submit somebody to such temptation and rely on him to give a just verdict. Rather, we seek means to ensure that judgement is made by people without a vested interest in the outcome. These are fairly universal principles in any civilised society, for reasons which are obvious.

I reflect on these, because some people do not seem to see the massive imprudence of some apparently merciful approaches to the problem of divorce and 'remarriage.'

The presumption in favour of the bond - that is the presumption that a marriage is valid until proved null - serves a similar function with regard to marriage as the presumption of innocence does to criminal justice. It is true that, just as with the presumption of innocence, the presumption in favour of the bond may lead to individual cases of injustice; but the principle stands, because the alternative is so much worse and more damaging for everyone. And as ever, those most damaged will be those who have least power.

Likewise, any attempt to change the annulment process so that one of the parties to a marriage becomes the judge in his own case is clearly an affront both to the principles of justice and to the institution of marriage. It may appear merciful, but (inter alia) places a terrible burden of responsibility on the individual, in an area where we already know that human judgement is, let us say, unreliable.

Someone very close to me has recently abandoned his wife and taken up with another woman. He has managed to persuade himself that his marriage was a sham. I have no doubt that such a psychological event has taken place in his mind: he genuinely believes it. I have no doubt that he is wrong... We humans are remarkably good at doing that: interpreting reality to justify our behaviour and our desires.

And of course the injustice is done to his wife and children; and harm done to himself (he is really bent out of shape...) and to the institution of Marriage. So whilst one could not, and should not, pronounce on his individual culpability, one can see that an 'internal forum' solution is profoundly problematic.

These are some of the reasons why some of the approaches being promoted in the wake of Amoris Laetitia are so troubling to so many thoughtful Catholics.

Of course, by drawing attention to these issues in this way, I lay myself open to the charge of being legalistic. But I would draw a distinction between legalism and clear thinking about the law. Our Lord condemned a certain type of legalism; but also declared for the Law. Catholic tradition has long recognised the importance of Canon Law - and not least with regard to protecting Holy Matrimony. 

The law - civil or canon -  may be an imperfect instrument; but those who do away with it in the hope of advancing justice, peace and happiness soon find that it doesn't work out so well: the revolution always ends up consuming its own children - and particularly the powerless.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Reason is not enough

A few further thoughts on the modern crisis in our understanding of human sexuality...

Part of the Post-Enlightenment legacy, which is now playing havoc particularly with the upbringing of the young, is a mis-placed trust in reason.

Don't misunderstand me: I am not saying that reason is held in too high regard. Whilst our Faith is characterised by mystery, it does not reject, but rather honours, reason. To give up on reason is not a Catholic approach at all: revelation may take us further but is always reasonable. The Word, the Logos of the Father, is truth incarnate; and theology, the queen of disciplines, is (rightly understood) faith seeking understanding.

No, my point is different. The modern error is to set too much store by our being subject to reason. My current bête noire, the CES gay propaganda masquerading as an anti-bullying resource, is a case in point. One of the many things wrong with it is that it seems to assume that you can argue a child into virtue: that once you have given cogent reasons why bullying is wrong, the child will no longer bully. (There are, of course, many other and more serious things wrong with Made in God's Image, and I have documented many of them elsewhere on this blog).

But Catholic tradition, and everyday experience (including my own, as I look at my own patterns of sinful behaviour) demonstrate that such is not the case.

In fact, we have a disordered relationship with reason: too often, our passions are felt more strongly, and we either ignore or distort our reasoning, to indulge our passions.

This, the Church teaches, is part of the damage to our nature brought about by that original catastrophe, known as the Fall.  

One of the many things I lament in the change from the Traditional to the New Rite of Mass is the loss of the wonderful prayer from Psalm 140 (said at the incensing of the altar): Pone, Dómine, custódiam ori meo, et óstium circumstántiæ lábiis meis: ut non declínet cor meum in verba malítiæ, ad excusándas excusatiónes in peccátis. (Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round about my lips.  Incline not my heart to evil words; to make excuses in sins.)

To make excuses in sins... How those words resonate!

Human sexuality is damaged by Original Sin: we desire that which we should not desire. And reason, which should order our desires to the good, is subjugated to our passions - unless we train ourselves -  discipline ourselves - to submit to grace.

That is why virtues are learned by practice and example, not just by exhortation; and why when the Faith is abandoned, and 'sexual preferences' (ie a particular sub-set of our passions) are made sovereign, reason lags far behind...

For the tragic results, you need only look around.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Sick Sex

One of the aspects I did not mention in my recent post about changing attitudes to sex was health. Clearly the 200,000 abortions a year which (inter alia) pay Ann Furedi's salary cost the cash-strapped NHS a vast sum, which could otherwise be spent on... well, health care, perhaps.

But this is about much more than that. We have created a society in which large numbers, including the young, have a range of diseases that result from promiscuity.  And then there are the emotional and psychological effects of a casual attitude to sex: particularly when one party has a casual attitude, and the other thinks something meaningful is underway...

Fundamental to this is the notion of 'protected' sex. Here's a hint: if you need protection from the person you love, you are probably not, as a couple, doing love right.

And here's another hint: you can love someone without having sex with them. And perhaps that's the biggest lie of all, in our current culture, the assumption that sex is essential either to an individual or to a relationship. Christians should know better: the Holy Family is a great witness.  But the West has been living off our Christian heritage, and it is being rapidly dismantled. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

What Price Free Love?

Since the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s (yes, I know, it is more complex than that, but as a shorthand, let that suffice...) we have seen an extraordinary change in attitudes towards human sexuality.

Even the more extreme and completely unscientific idiocies we see around us (gender theory, and 'different models of family' for example) are being normalised and imposed on our children by the school system - and Catholic schools seem to be falling obediently into line on this. 

The only morality seems to be consent, and an over-simplified view of consent, at that; one which views sex as no more significant (or complex) a human activity than offering someone a cup of tea.

But the price that has to be paid is enormous. 

The liberation of women (as it has been styled) has led to the expectation that they should take regular hormonal pills. This is not just bad for them, (both physically and in terms of their ability to sustain relationships) but is having dangerous effects on the environment.

Moreover, as these pills, and other contraceptive practices, are prone to failure, abortion is required as a back-up, as Ann Furedi has made clear: 
'The 200,000 abortions that taken place in Britain every year are evidence of what you get when you raise women’s expectations of birth control, and provide both a range of contraceptive methods and safe legal abortion. ' (from this article).
And on top of this terrible price - 200,000 children a year sacrificed on the altar of Free Love - there is the societal cost. The destruction of stable family life, and the crisis of masculinity, precipitated by the collapse of committed marriage as the normative model for the raising of children, is having devastating effects, particularly on children. We should be greatly concerned about the ever-increasing number of children who are presenting with mental or psychological problems.

But it is unthinkable that any policy maker or politician will raise the question: Should we re-consider whether our approach to sex, as a society, is a contributory factor? Instead, we inculcate the young with a broken model to assuage our own guilt.

And yet, I remain convinced that sexual discipline is essential to civilisation. And that the current fashion for self-indulgence and self-justification is essentially selfish and the antithesis of love.

As Henry, in Stoppard's The Real Thing remarked: "What free love is free of is love."

Friday, 30 June 2017

In which I am bullied by the CES...

Bullying, I learn from the CES publication Made In God's Image, may include 'deliberate forms of exclusion.'  And one can see where they are coming from: when children send another child 'to Coventry' (ie refuse to speak to, or acknowledge, him or her) that is potentially very unpleasant and hurtful.

When bullying is associated with a protected characteristic, it is deemed even worse. (Personally I question the wisdom of that stance, but that is the position of this document, and indeed informs the law of the land).

So when the CES refuses to answer queries submitted via its website; and then declines to answer emails (in the first instance sending a form response (Q), rather than engaging in a meaningful dialogue, and subsequently failing to answer at all), that could be construed as bullying: I feel hurt and excluded by such behaviour.

Further, I surmise that it is because I hold particular religious views (orthodox Catholic ones, as it happens) that I am thus ignored. Which, I assume, would make it bullying based on a protected characteristic.

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As it happens, I don't subscribe to that approach. I think that we need to be rather more nuanced in our analysis, and look at a range of contextual factors before hurling around accusations of bullying.  But - and this is my point - the CES document does not: the list of 10 little scenarios which pupils are asked to assess range from some that are clearly prejudicial, to others in which the context could make an enormous amount of difference. But the instruction to the teacher is clear: 'Through discussion, make clear that all of these scenarios are homophobic in different ways.' 

And the document, whilst advocating the most non-judgemental approach possible to any issue relating to sexual morality, is extremely judgemental - indeed punitive - in tone towards anyone who may be deemed to be a bully.

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So what should I do, when the CES (by their standards) bully me: first failing to answer my queries at all, then eventually sending me a form letter (Q), and then failing to answer when I pointed out that the form letter had not addressed the issues?

And how should I respond to the bishops who have not answered me at all? And to those who have answered with a form letter (Q) and then the polite brush-off (thanks - we'll think about it... (see also here) ) Is that episcopal bullying? 

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I imagine they think I'll get bored and go away. They are mistaken: this is too serious.

If you think that the CES (and some of our Bishops) should not be instructing teachers to teach Catholic children that there is nothing wrong with homosexual behaviour, then take action. Pray, and write.  See my posts on the CES Scandal for all the lurid details.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Why does it matter?

I have been going on about the CES Scandal at some length and for some time.

That is because I believe it to be very important. I believe that for a number of reasons; the most important of which is that I think it gravely wrong to miseducate anyone, particularly in the name of the Church.

But perhaps it is worth spelling out some of the reasons why the modern liberal consensus on sex and gender (which is completely at odds with the Church's teaching of God's revealed truth) is so harmful; and in particular, is harmful to those whom the soft-hearted and weak-minded think they are being kind to.

The idea that being gay is just another lifestyle, quite as good as any other, is quite erroneous. The health outcomes for practicing gay men are significantly worse than for the  rest of the population. And in particular, gay sex is very bad indeed for young men and boys. Just consider this simple statistic from the US: 

Gay and bisexual men aged 13 to 24 accounted for an estimated 92% of new HIV diagnoses among all men in their age group. (Source

Reading the report from which that quotation is taken, it also becomes clear that it is receptive gay sex that is 9x more dangerous.  So boys and young men, aged between 13 - 24 are the victims of other more experienced men (if not experienced, they would not be HIV positive) using them for their pleasure. 

I think the Church should stand on its doctrine, and teach our young people the truth, in the hope of protecting them from this scourge.

The transgender issue is equally problematic. Made in God's Image glibly refers to 'people who do not identify with their assigned gender at birth or the binary gender system.' These troubled young people are at real risk of being victims of a massive social experiment. Despite Made in God's Image teaching to the contrary, nobody can accurately foresee how long such gender dysphoria will last; and there is the potential to do real harm by colluding with a child's self-diagnosis, setting them on a path to puberty blockers at an early age, and surgery at 16 (and of course, there is a push to reduce that age limit), which will change their lives for ever, and may well be bitterly regretted.  See here for commentary on this issue.

Once more, I think the Church should stand on its doctrine, and teach our young people the truth, in the hope of protecting them from this scourge.

Of course bullying is wrong. No Catholic school condones it. But to teach dangerous falsehoods to counter is to betray our children, and to put the most confused, the most vulnerable, in harm's way. They deserve better of our schools than this easy collusion with the world, the flesh and the devil.

Please pray; and write to our bishops. This evil teaching must be stopped and replaced with the beauty of Catholic truth.


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UPDATE

See also this piece on the complexities and uncertainties of the transgender issue, and the perils of unthinking affirmation and of advocacy groups setting the agenda (as Stonewall and LGBTYouth are doing in Made in God's Image).