Marriage à-la-mode

Let us hypothesize. The ordination of most Catholic priests is invalid; the Mass in Catholic churches is usually invalid; and most Catholic marriages are null.

Our pope recently uttered this last opinion, volubly, then had his minions alter the transcript from “most” to “some.” That in itself was noteworthy: for when an honest man realizes that he has said something stupid and wrong, he does not try to tamper with the transcript. Rather he withdraws or corrects the remark, explaining what was wrong with it — the way even the politician McCain did after alleging that Obama was “directly responsible” for the massacre in Orlando, when he was only indirectly responsible. For a transcript is a record of what was said, not what should have been said.

Let me thus amend my opening hypotheses. The ordination of some Catholic priests is invalid; Catholic Masses are sometimes invalid; and some Catholic marriages are invalid, too; where in each case, “some” is understood to be a frequent occurrence. Would that sound much better, coming from the living guarantor of Roman Catholic teaching?

Ah, gentle reader may object. He didn’t make the first two observations, only the third, which he then tried to soften. No, I played my own rhetorical trick, by insinuating two more observations that would follow from it, logically.

For marriage is a Sacrament, according at least to the received Catholic view in all centuries. If it is invalid — which technically it could be for some reason, such as a previous marriage by one or both of the participants, or some other obvious disqualification such as both being of the same sex — it might not be the priest’s fault. Perhaps they lied to him; perhaps they went to trouble to make the lie seem plausible. Once the investigation is concluded, it might not be necessary to have the priest defrocked. His humiliation would be sufficient to warn other priests, who might be tempted to perform marriages between characters of dubious integrity.

For some of these young priests may be wet behind the ears. They may not have “discerned” (I think this is the popular term at the moment) that the “partners” are insane, or so lacking in basic human intelligence that they are incapable of understanding what the marriage vows mean. The process for nullity exists to correct such “clerical errors.”

Or maybe, as our pope often reminds, it was one of those “shotgun weddings” — so that both girl and boy needed taking aside, and a patient quiz about their situation. Were they threatened with death if they didn’t go through with it? Did either, or both, look drugged? Were they being escorted by armed men? (Perhaps this often happens in Argentina.)

But assuming they were qualified adults, without grave impediments concealed, it is the priest who has knowingly presided over an invalid Sacrament. In which case, his orders must come under review. For all we know he has been, for instance, wantonly serving Communion to people who could not possibly be in a state of grace; who might, though nominal Catholics (perish the thought!) never have made a Confession in their whole lives. Who might be indifferent to Christ’s commandments, or even openly in rebellion against them.

For if her Sacraments are invalid, the Church herself is brought into terrible scandal. How can she claim to be the observant Bride of Christ, when she does not care what He says or does? Was her own mystical marriage somehow invalid, and were her members through twenty centuries of history simply conned into believing her defining claims, when “most” or “some” of them were fraudulent?

I am spelling all this out, incidentally, not to be funny, but by way of encouraging gentle reader to think things through. We need more of that today. I could go on spelling, but I am not writing a textbook on canon law. I am trying to draw only irresistible implications; and those explicitly in defiance of the latest ukases from the Dictatorship of Relativism. I tend not to be “merciful” in that regard. Nor do I groove upon “a mess.” I’d rather make a start on cleaning it up.

One becomes a Catholic (no one is “born that way”) by an act of faith that does, for all its unity, have an intellectual component. Words have meanings, and the words we hear in the Mass (some of us daily) may be, as elsewhere, true or false. That is why Our Saviour put us on guard against blathering, when He said answer Yea or Nay. If there are other denominations that do not take their own articles seriously, that is their problem. Ours is to speak truthfully, or confess when we have not spoken thus.

The more one thinks about what our pope said, the more one flinches. When he says that one of our Sacraments is invalid, whether in “most” or “some” cases, he must explain himself. He is making an astounding assertion; an assertion which brings into question the substance of Holy Church. And he was elected to be her guardian. Decency requires him to spell out, himself, what he could possibly mean; or he brings his own validity into question, by another link in that logical chain.

It is ours to be calm, and persist in the faith; Christ will take care of it, in His own good time. We have had some very bad popes before. This one is arguably worse than those who were infamously corrupt, for they were not inclined to toy with the doctrine, nor excavate through our foundations. Pope Francis was nevertheless validly elected, just as marriages before the altar are valid, until proven otherwise. We must pray for the Church, and also for his soul, and can only hope that correction comes soon, and we can put the last few sordid years behind us.