Thursday 13 August 2015

Notes on the Shadow Synod (1)

The Shadow Synod was organised by the Bishops' Conferences of France, Germany & Switzerland meeting on Monday 25th May 2015 at the Gregorian University.

The first talk was on the “Reception of Matthew 19, verses 3 to 12” and was given by Prof. Dr. Anne-Marie Pelletier (Paris) in French. (A better title for her talk would have been "How Jesus lost his cool and got it all wrong")

This is the passage, the subject of her talk, from the Knox Bible:

3. Then the Pharisees came to him, and put him to the test by asking, Is it right for a man to put away his wife, for whatever cause? 4. He answered, Have you never read, how he who created them, when they first came to be, created them male and female; and how he said, 5.A man, therefore, will leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? 6.And so they are no longer two, they are one flesh; what God, then, has joined, let not man put asunder. 7.Why then, they said, did Moses enjoin that a man might give his wife a writ of separation, and then he might put her away? 8.He told them, It was to suit your hard hearts that Moses allowed you to put your wives away; it was not so at the beginning of things. 9.And I tell you that he who puts away his wife, not for any unfaithfulness of hers, and so marries another, commits adultery; and he too commits adultery, who marries her after she has been put away. 10.At this, his disciples said to him, If the case stands so between man and wife, it is better not to marry at all. 11.That conclusion, he said, cannot be taken in by everybody, but only by those who have the gift. 12.There are some eunuchs, who were so born from the mother’s womb, some were made so by men, and some have made themselves so for love of the kingdom of heaven; take this in, you whose hearts are large enough for it.

Dr Pelletier speaks of the gravitas of this text meaning it is tough stuff much contested by our contemporary manners. (I translate her word 'moeurs' as manners). She links it to Matthew 22,35 where Christ is asked what is the greatest commandment by a lawyer Pharisee as in both passages Pharisees are trying to trick him. She suggests that in both cases this was a confrontation of a kind which menaces us with being closed into a face to face opposition between the logic of God and a different logic of man. She says she want to ride above this opposition.

She goes on to mention the supposed exception not for any unfaithfulness of hers but she does not discuss it except to say that it makes for complexity and that the discipline of the Church is far from being immobile. Note that she says 'discipline' and not 'doctrine'. That is a crucial difference and reminds me of how Archbishop Cyril Vasil' has explained that the Orthodox Church is all over the place, as regards its discipline in respect of second marriages. No doubt the Roman Church has, at times, been erratic as to discipline but in no way does that affect doctrine.

She then says that what Jesus said was radical as he was correcting Moses and therefore this only applied to the new order and therefore only to those who are baptised. She continues that if it is regarded as not applying only to the baptised then the words of Jesus become a rigorism which risks becoming a trap for couples. It is difficult to see the logic in this and worth checking what the Church actually says.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church para 1605 marriage was an unbreakable union from the beginning and this is based upon the passage, from Matthew, quoted above And so they are no longer two, they are one flesh; what God, then, has joined, let not man put asunder. Nothing about baptism there. They can achieve this union with the help of the grace of God – para 1608. Canon Law makes it clear:

Canon 1056 The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility; in christian marriage they acquire a distinctive firmness by reason of the sacrament.

Christian marriage is a marriage between two baptised persons and has been raised to the status of a sacrament. The difference between a non-sacramental marriage and a sacramental one is that the Church has the power to dissolve the former in certain circumstances: the Pauline and Petrine privileges.

Dr Pelletier
However Dr Pelletier seems to be suggesting that indissolubility only applies to sacramental marriage and therefore non-sacramental marriages can be dissolved for a variety of reasons. Evidently she thinks that the rigorism of the Church's view that such non-sacramental marriages can only be dissolved in very restricted circumstances presents a trap for couples. I would have thought that those in non-sacramental marriages are not particularly fussed by the teaching of the Church or regard themselves as being in a trap. But what has this to do with sacramental marriages and the question of communion for the divorced and remarried Catholic?

Dr Pelletier continues saying that the Catholic tradition of indissolubility was based on a disciplinary interpretation of the text rather than a kerygmatic interpretation. I rush to my dictionary – kerygmatic apparently means preaching. But what is the difference? Is she suggesting that Christ was going over the top in responding to the tricky Pharisees? That is to say that what he said was just an 'ideal' not attainable by all? Indeed in a footnote she uses the words “ideal indissolubility”.

She turns then to Ephesians chapter 4 and the idea that we each have a vocation. St Paul in chapter 5 then says marriage is like the relationship between Christ and his Church. So she asks, before the establishment of the Church, could marriages be seen as like that relationship and therefore indissoluble. Evidently she thinks not and says this is food for thought. Talk about clutching at straws! And exactly what relevance is this tenuous theory about marriages prior to the Incarnation relevant to today's problems?

She then talks about the position to-day. Her talk was given in French and just to emphasise the importance of what she next says here is the original:

A certains égards, ces problèmes prolongent ce que l’Eglise catholique a expérimenté au long d’une histoire où elle n’a cessé de garder fermement l’indissolubilité, tandis que les moeurs démentaient largement le principe auquel acquiesçaient les sociétés chrétiennes.

I give my translation:

In certain regards, these problems prolong what the Catholic Church has experienced over the length of a history where she has not ceased to keep firmly to indissolubility, whilst manners have given the lie largely to the principle in which Christian societies acquiesced.

The key word is dementaient which comes from the word mentir to lie and effectively means to undo a lie. Harraps translates is as 'to give the lie to'. So what she is saying is that the manners of the world have shown the idea of indissolubility to be a lie. Jesus Christ lied when he spoke about marriage. “I am the way, the truth and the life” and yet he lied. There you have it. The sinless one sinned. It is not a question of some weird interpretation of his clear words or some translation problem or contextualisation of what he said as the historical Jesus but quite simply that he lied when speaking about marriage perhaps, as she says, because he was cross with the Pharisees for trying to trip him up and he lost it. She compares it to the other occasion when the Pharisees tried to trip him up and he went on about what was the most important commandment (Matthew Chap 22 verse 35). Does she think he lost it on that occasion as well?

She goes on to say that the situation is quite novel and this requires a veritable theological development in the Newman sense of the term. Oh dear! Poor old Newman! For two centuries we have had laicisation and secularisation – obviously she is a child of the French Revolution! She talks of an anthropological earthquake (cf the Irish vote in favour of same sex marriage). We are all living longer – in opposition to the ideal of fidelity for life, we have the ideal of successive fidelities. I wonder if I am alone in wondering how fidelity can be successive. I suppose if you regard fidelity as not sleeping with more than one person on any given night one can get one's mind round successive fidelities. I think most of us see fidelity as an on-going matter. Successive fidelities are really successive infidelities. Black is white.

Anyway she then asks how indissolubility can be regarded as other than an arbitrary constraint, an exotic constraint? Is she unaware that there are quite a large number of people who believe in and practice marital fidelity till death? Probably a majority in the world!

She goes on to mention the problem of the divorced and remarried. She quotes Familiaris Consortio at para 13 where it says Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross but in her view that is alright for some but not for others. She mentions St Cyprian and the problem of the lapsi. This is the same muddled thinking that came out of our England and Wales Bishop's Conference when they referred us to the Donatists. What is overlooked is that the problem with the lapsi was that although they had repented there was a dispute as to whether their penances were sufficient. In the case of the divorced and remarried they are not repenting if they continue in their adultery so the question of penance does not arise.

Dr Pelletier suggests that those who say the second marriage is adulterous are themselves refusing grace and shutting their eyes so as to enforce a discipline which makes it impossible for the couple in the second marriage to live the sacrament at the root of their identity (whatever that means). She goes on to say that it would be a mistake to see the failure of a marriage as being someone refusing the grace of God in the terms of para 103 of Veritatis Splendor. So breaking up a marriage is not necessarily a sin in her view. Indeed it is a pity that she has not taken into account what Saint John Paul II says in that same paragraph earlier: It would be a very serious error to conclude … that the Church's teaching is essentially only an 'ideal' which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man, according to a 'balancing of the goods in question'.

Dr Pelletier asks how a couple in a second marriage can be pardoned if we insist on indissolubility of the first marriage. She says Pope Francis has asked us to reconsider mercy. We have to be inventive. She recalls the parable of the dishonest steward 16. He shows mercy to his master's debtors in reducing their debts but he is still described as knavish. Is she seriously suggesting that a priest in the Church should act knavishly in pardoning a continuing sinful situation? Or like the people who risked the talents, in another parable, in order to earn more, the priest should take a similar risk and pardon them? Apparently she is suggesting that the couple should not only have a right to ask for pardon but a right to demand pardon. The Church should take this risk rather than trapping the couple in the teaching in Matthew 19. This sounds like confession without a firm purpose of amendment.

In summary therefore Doctor Pelletier seems to be suggesting that Jesus did not really mean what he said and we should therefore be merciful in allowing second marriages.

I will be writing next on the talk given by Professor Doctor Thomas Soding of Bochum. I expect he will make up for Bishop Dr Spaceley-Trellis, the go-ahead bishop of Bevindon, not having been invited. One would have thought that the presence of an Anglican would be 'de rigueur' in such a meeting.


  1. Thanks for this. We need to know what's going on behind closed doors.

  2. It seems that Pelletier has taken the side of the Pharisees against Christ. In fact that probably sums up the position of ALL those who reject the indissolubility of Marriage. They remind me of that faux priest who toured the south of England teaching that it "was time to get Christ out of Christianity."

  3. I prefer the Pharisees to the KasperKampf as they at least recognised there were laws laid down by God however badly they interpreted them. Pelletier and others seem to think that the customs of this world trump what Christ has said. If everyone is sinning sexually then that is how things should be and no-one should judge otherwise by imposing rigorist rules according to the KasperKampf. I wonder how they see the Middle East where so much killing is going on; is that a reason for abandoning the commandment "Thou shalt not kill"? But then come back home and see much killing there is of children in the womb - oh but we must not bang on about that must we.


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