Despite all the Angst, Maybe Pope Francis is Right… And the reactions were wrong for the wrong reasons

Pope Francis and MaryIn the past week, Pope Francis said something that got everyone in an uproar (imagine that). Catholic blogs were immediately lambasting the statement. Many claimed that he was wrong to say what he said. A giant news network even got into the act and claimed it was time for him to resign. I wonder if maybe Pope Francis was right – but maybe for reasons that cause grief and denial.

Sadly, the next day, the Pope’s statement was edited. I think the edit actually made it worse. What Pope Francis said is what he said. He was in front of a pack of prelates when he said it, too. Although it wasn’t a prepared statement, he had something on his mind when he said this. Canon lawyers got involved and began to explain how what he meant causes problems.

It seems everyone was worried about how what Pope Francis said affected them. It seems they were concerned about the facade of society. They realized that if what Pope Francis said is true, then we’ve been living and going along with a lie.

I think that is hard for many people to realize that a problem is bigger than they see it. Think about times that you’ve discovered that you were fooled by someone. You want to avoid admitting that you had been fooled. Psychologists have that grieving process they talk about, and the first step is denial. Then the next step is anger. Comments attempting to explain away the statement were chock full of denial and anger.

I wonder if that is what these commenters on the Pope’s Statement had:  denial and anger. Is this some sort of collective grieving process led by a Pope that called it like he saw it:  the vast majority of marriages, said Pope Francis, are null. BAM. Immediately, the Catholic commentary began to flow and said that Pope Francis should keep his mouth shut, that he shouldn’t speak off the cuff, and on and on. But did these reactions actually consider whether the observation might be true? After all, this isn’t an American tribunal making the statement. I think I’m not sure what the Pope meant beyond a brief mention of everything being “provisional” to people these days. He gave the example of people having children and essentially living together but holding marriage off for later.

Another Turf War?

As I read the reactions to his statement, I did not hear proof of the opposite claim. Rather, I heard people reacting with protection of what this means to their turf. Some canon lawyers immediately took the Pope’s statement as a stand in a fight they’ve been having among themselves. For some time now, the hottest issue among canonists is whether the “lack of faith” argument is valid grounds and several other nuances that only lawyers enjoy arguing. To many of them, they imported the Pope’s statement as a fact to be rendered helpful or harmful to that fight. To some bloggers, it was just a chance to go off on Pope Francis as a source of confusion. Catholic blogger reactions appeared to be driven by a more visceral reaction to Pope Francis than as to whether the comment might be right. One went so far as to say they would pray to God the His will be done with the papacy (ahem…  we’re already obliged to do that. and this was a prominent conservative type blog, so …).

One Catholic blogger, apparently ignorant of the notion of natural marriage, or that marriage was “from the beginning”, even took umbrage with the Pope’s statement that many cohabitations were valid marriages. I thought that spoke for itself — takes two to tango — even Adam and Eve, or the survivors of the flood, understood that. Yes, matrimony is a sacrament that is a marriage witnessed by the Church, and to which sacramental grace is imbued. But marriage itself is a natural institution, as Our Lord said. So there was no scandal in the Pope’s comment there — even though some kicked sand over it. But that wasn’t even all of it!

Some others tried to build an argument that Pope Francis was being Cardinal Kaspar’s mouthpiece. I don’t know about all that. I just know that what Pope Francis may well be right, maybe for different reasons than what Pope Francis meant, and I’ll tell you why below.

Finally, in a move that should have made many laugh, Fox News posted that he should resign. I found the “logic” of that rant to be entertainingly superficial. For instance, the conclusory opinion asserted as fact by the author there:

To say that the “great majority” of Catholic marriages are null, or invalid, is a statement that is neither true, wise, nor fair.

I read a list there, and I wanted some proof from this news site that they could prove as true that the great majority were valid. They can’t. I also found it humorous that a news media outlet is going to lecture the Pope on wisdom. Finally, I think the mention of “fair” was a gratuitous tip of the hat to use the language Fox news people like to hear. I notice that this word is sprinkled onto their site like poppy seeds on my favorite lemon pound cake.

To the Fox News commenter, the worst implication of Pope’s statement is this:

Francis’ statement demonstrates a lack of faith in the Church and its ability to vet couples seeking marriage, to teach them about what marriage is, and to administer the sacraments effectively. If most marriages are invalid because couples don’t understand a life-long commitment, does that mean most priestly ordinations are invalid too? If so, are most masses invalid? Most confessions?

Readers of this site should know and not be surprised that the claims of priests to be released from ordination skyrocketed in the late 70’s and continue to today. Many claim that they did not understand it would be for life. Chronicling the numerous reports of people that a priest used an invalid formulation of absolution would take the rest of the internet to list. Let’s not even discuss reports of penance services where people were instructed by a butch looking ex-nun type to write their sins on a piece of paper which would then be burnt in a giant bowl.

I’ve written numerous times for a long time of the decay and corruption of AmChurch. That it still persists in such simple issues as Communion in the Hand is rather instructive. But, we don’t need to be academic about this.

roman rite todayWalk into a typical parish in the United States and look at the gestures, hear the guitar, strum your banjo, and feel the felty spirit of ignorance.

For this poor Fox News guy, it is apparently news to him that the pews are empty, the confessionals are empty, and the majority of Catholics in this country do not believe the basic tenets of the faith. Yes, I do believe they can put on a show long enough for the half-interested to let them get married. After all, it’s their big day.

Is it “True”?

Let’s focus on that word truth for a moment. Take your experience around general society these days. Do the majority of people you meet tell you the truth? Or, do they say what is “nice”? …what is “polite”? Are they politically correct? Fr. Hardon defined speaking the truth as “speaking what is on one’s mind.”  Our society has trained people to say what they think other people want to hear. So we’ve trained a nation of liars. A nation of people that speak with someone else’s mind.

Add on top of this, the observations of Fr. Hardon in the 90’s that people increasingly are educated to worship themselves (not God) and are increasingly incapable of reason. It’s far advanced and worse, however. Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, gave the Regensberg address in which he said that the world was intentionally being dehellenized. Reason and basic things taken for granted by generations past are being destroyed. People today think they can make reality with their minds. They think they are gods. Worse, they say whatever they need to say to get whatever they want right now.

Yes…  we can argue over whether it is 40%, 60%, or 90%. But these people are incapable of telling the truth to make a commitment to another person for the rest of their life. And even if they utter the correct words, they’ve accustomed themselves to lying so well that they don’t mean it.  It’s a capacity problem.

Yes, Pope Francis may well have been right. Liars can’t make vows, and people who worship themselves can’t turn to God for a sacrament. It doesn’t matter how much teaching and catechism you give them because having deformed their minds, they cannot be reconverted by reason…  we need miracles. Miracles of conversion! (oh wait, Fr. Hardon said that, too).



This article, Despite all the Angst, Maybe Pope Francis is Right… And the reactions were wrong for the wrong reasons is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.
  • nanyan says:

    If a couple are contracepting at the time of their marriage their marriage isn’t consummated until they stop the birth control. Is this accurate

    • John B. Manos says:

      Openness to life (the product of marital union) is a condition. Moreover, voluntary contraception is a mortal sin. All of it is possible to be cured (confession and amendment of life).

      As to whether it is a condition of nullity is technical and more nuanced. Perhaps we have a canon lawyer that can summarize how that works for us.

  • jmjlifeline says:

    You definitely have a point. There are dioceses where nearly all marriages questioned are granted annulments does not say much for commitment. The fluff an stuff CCD books are not teaching our Catholic faith, why and to what would they be committed? Also if artificial contraception is as rampant as they say and couples enter into marriage contracepting then some marriages from the start are not valid.

    Sent from Theresa Moore, God Bless Cardinal Von Galen. Pray for us!

    • John B. Manos says:

      Amen, Theresa! The whole contraception issue, as nanyan asked as well, is yet another bent on this. But isn’t it the same thing as lying? Contraception is to marital union what lying is to speech?

  • Kyle says:

    I agree that many marriages might be invalid, but really to say cohabitation could result in a natural marriage? Maybe if you lived in the bush. I think you have to follow the laws or traditions instituted by your religion or civil society and that, in the US and Canada, would probably mean atleast going to a Justice of the Peace.

    • John B. Manos says:

      Hah! Kyle, Titus does a good job focusing on the one thing that was traditionally requireed at law to recognize a marriage: consummation. Having a child together proves the bond (with a few other details). There are several states, in fact, that still recognize common law marriage, which is the civil law method of imputing a marriage where there has been no witnessed ceremony. (I realize that the technicians can pick elements of this apart, but the broad brush answer is what I gave).

      What’s funny to me is that even out in the bush, they have grand ceremonies of marriage! Whole villages come to witness and celebrate. But still, I like the “live in the bush” quip! 🙂

  • micthibohv says:

    All Jesuit students understood what he meant…most people do not really “understand” the nature of marriage as “understood” by theologians, and therefore that fact makes those marriages invalid in the sense of what “informed consentment” means. Normal people, which exclude most Jesuits and theologians, understand the basic vows of marriage and “try” to make them work like all sinners do…that is “all of us”…
    In Heaven, I am quite confident that God will pay more attention to real people than to the words of theologians still concerned about the sexuality of angels…or what the Pope means when he speaks through translators that torture languages.

    • John B. Manos says:

      micthibohv, your answer cracked me up! I hadn’t considered it the way you said it! HAHAHAHAHA

      Of course, I’m now reading the utter confusion over Luther… if you have a similar insight on that, heck do tell. it looks bad!

      • micthibohv says:

        I hope you do not read Luther as though he had psychologists available or the quick reply made available by modern social media. May it’s time we look into his revolution and analyse it the way our media do it today: did he see things that “disturbed” him beyond repair, I.e. Traumatized him! Francis would show mercy here again with some degree of understanding! Who am I to judge?

        Back to my Jesuits friends and my college days (in the late 50’s) of hand written letters and snail mail. The discussions I had with those teachers were epic. I was the one arguing that the Catholic morality of marriage, sexuality and procreation was strong and sound while they were already saying it could be changed because it was only an “ideal”. Some of those teachers in disagreement with the church eventually quit the priesthood while I went to marry the girl next door to which I am still married after 52 years, three kids and three grandsons.

        I am still believing that marriage is meant for life (for Life) till death do us part. Thank God the clear doctrine remains! But there are some cases today (after all the turmoil caused by theologians!) where maybe the Lord Himself would have been hesitating. May be that is why He told us to be patient so that He will justly judge in the end. Since He also said that “Peter and the apostles” would also make decent judgment calls of their own that would stand in Heaven, I will leave it to the designated experts, hoping that I am trusting the truly anointed. If I am mistaking as to which ones are the right ones, surely the Lord will have mercy on me if I am in “good faith” trying to understand the never ending discussions and many Synods designed by theologians, travelling to Rome and living off my modest church contributions.

        • John B. Manos says:

          I love your reply! 52 years!! That’s awesome!!! God grant you many more, health, and happiness! I bet you’ve got a lot of stories piled up in those years, too!

          On Luther, I really like what you are saying. Luther was a heretic and taught error (this many popes and councils have made clear), HOWEVER, as you allude: he had to be using some kernel of contention around which he was able to persuade others to join him and go along. I trust the late Fr Hardon and he always recommended Hartmann Grisar SJ on Luther. It is all the evidence of the train wreck of Luther. I think, if we were to analyze it the way you suggest, though, we cannot ignore Luther open affiliation with the Rosicrucian occult and his own statements that he believed he was possessed. But, even in the Gospels, we see that the demoniac was the only one in that area that identified Our Lord as “Son of God”. So even devils can admit truth.

          I’m going to ask, but I think someone has to have looked at Luther the way you suggest — maybe even Grisar did and because I haven’t read all six volumes, I’m unaware.

          • micthibohv says:

            Thank you for the appreciation and yes, as a practicing Catholic, I could tell you a lot of stories, a lot of them about generous parents and many brothers (3) and sisters (6) that had ample time to question my beliefs, together with my wife and kids. Not easy…when they all laugh at the same time! I love them all!

            Re Luther…It could be interesting reading!

            I am more concerned about how modern Lutherans understand the future.
            It’s obvious that Catholic history was not kind for their leader and followers for years.
            Should we excuse ourselves for “such judgments” as we did for slaves, Muslims, and are now (until recently) doing for Homosexuals, (and the LGBTxxx,???),…is Pope Francis trying to wipeout history in forgiveness and mercy for the future? May be he is just trying to find a way to really “tone it down”? Or is he?

            All this is pretty confusing in an area of the world that is closing churches after churches and walking the streets in pride with the backing of democratically elected and popular leaders!

  • Titus says:

    Mr. Manos, unfortunately, grafts all sorts of additional prerequisites onto marriage that do not exist. Niceties of canonical form for Catholics aside, two unmarried persons confect a marriage by exchanging vows expressing a mutual intend to be indissolubly bound for their mutual lives. By canon law, Catholics require, in addition, the presence of witnesses and a cleric with faculties in the place of the marriage. But the divine law is not so exacting. The idea that people have to be able to predict the future, so as to have some sort of special knowledge about what it will take to fulfill their vows, or that they need some particular quantum of faith or other virtues in order to do the things required, is simply rot and rubbish. It is very likely heretical, insofar as the prerequisites were established dogmatically by Lateran IV. No, you no more need a full appreciation of permanence to enter a permanent marriage than you need a full appreciation of your bank roll to sign a car note. The claim to the contrary is fundamentally gnostic.

    As for the disorder of the Church on the ground, it hasn’t anything to do with the question, and the claim that it does is, frankly, Donatist. Nor has the history of priests being dispensed from the requirements of the clerical state. They were not dispensed because it was determined they had never been ordained. How silly.

    To nanyan’s question: consummation of a marriage consists of the first completed sexual act performed in a “human manner” between two persons during their marriage. In plain terms, that means a sexual intercourse that culminates intravaginally. There is a compelling, but not, I believe, definitively resolved, case for the proposition that the use of a condom prevents an act of intercourse from being completed in the manner that would constitute consummation. The use of chemical contraceptives, while immoral, is entirely irrelevant to the consummation inquiry. Note of course also that consummation is not a prerequisite to marital validity, nor, in the ordinary course, to permanence. Its absence merely provides an opportunity for one to be dispensed from the marriage vow by the Petrine Privilege.

    • John B. Manos says:

      Titus, I find that opener kind of funny. First, let me thank you for a detailed reply. However, I think your rush to simplify the natural state of marriage does overlook some known issues, even at common law and going back to early times. Fraud, particularly concealment of defect, has always been a grounds for no bond having been formed. That’s not grafting anything onto the requirements.

      For instance, if a person had obtained voluntary sterilization, but does not disclose that to the spouse to be, even if they consummate the bond, the bond is null ab initio. Hence, knowing that one cannot beget children (whether through mutilation, accident, or, congenital defect) is an impediment and grounds for nullity. Now, although you say I “unfortunately graft” (please tell me more specifically what I grafted) more to the requirements, it is more interesting whether chemically (i.e. the pill) rendering oneself sterile is not equally an impediment.

      If a person states that they do not intend to have children, is that not an impediment to the bond? (the answer has always been yes) So how is that an “unfortunate graft”?

      In other words, in the rush to simplify what I said, let’s not ignore that consummation is not without exception, and that certain acts intended to frustrate the product of the union are indeed impediments, and with some circumstances render the bond null.

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