The Slow Boat From Ghana

I scanned through the usual internet sources for furor, or even just comment, on Archbishop Palmer-Buckle’s interview touching on remarriage, Communion, gays, and polygamy. A bit of furor at Pewsitter, sure. I see Grant Gallicho picked up the story for dotCommonweal today. But just to review, here is the timetable for your consideration:

  • 27 days ago in Rome, Diane Montagna interviewed the Archbishop of Accra, Ghana, Charles Palmer-Buckle for the website Aleteia.
  • After sitting on the story for twenty days, the piece is published.
  • The day after, I commented on a few aspects of the piece here.
  • Commonweal brings the story to their much larger audience today, with the description of  “jaw-dropping.”

A few thoughts …

For me, I don’t think this interview was as much jaw-dropping as chin-rubbing and hmm-going. Is the Catholic blogosphere surprised because African bishops are not in lock-step with law-n-ecclesiastical order? That’s not to say I think, or anyone should think, this prelate is a maverick. His responses to the interviewer are just what pastoral people and theological people and many good clergy think. What’s different today? He is thinking them out loud. What else? He is not going to be punished for it. He’s going to the synod this Fall. Not a retreat house or a basement office in Rome.

My goodness, the internet was sure slow in getting this information-age piece out there, weren’t they?

Speaking for myself, I can think of an instance in which the Church might show mercy. I’ve known couples who suffered through each of these factors, but let me merge them into a troubling illustration.

Suppose a “good” Catholic marriage breaks up after, say, ten years. One “good” Catholic leaves the spouse and their children for another person. On top of adultery, we have abandonment. Perhaps even criminal fraud if money is involved.

The surviving spouse gives up on the Church because of a lack of support, and after many years, meets another person, remarries, and a new but blended family is begun. The second spouse is a devoted life partner , a good stepparent, and the home front is fruitful emotionally for the children. Perhaps there is even spiritual growth.

What if, after another ten years, this couple was nudged by the Holy Spirit to return/to join the Catholic Church? Without a declaration of nullity, it would be possible to return, but without the sacraments, and in the case of the new spouse, impossible to make a profession of faith, be confirmed, and receive First Eucharist. (There is admittedly, the option to break up the second relationship.) That seeker could be most ignorant of any jot or tittle of Christianity, but if he or she has been baptized, the annulment process must be engaged. Or else.

I know a number of pastors who would quietly ignore canon law and do what they felt was the right thing. I also know a non-Catholic for whom the numbers weren’t ten years and ten years, but four months and twenty-five years. Because of those first four months, there was never an entry into full Communion.

Who is better placed to render judgment on this situation? A book without a brain or heart? A bureaucrat in Rome with limited pastoral experience? A pastor who knows the couple in question and sees a budding/renewed faith commitment?

For the record, if the partner who abandoned a family came back with a request to marry without an annulment, I would be inclined to give the person the Cardinal Burke solution. There is a huge difference between a conscious decision to commit a grave sin, and to be victimized by such an offense. The Church must recognize this. Otherwise the whole notion of serious sin has been warped, and to what purpose?

I feel for the bishops meeting for this synod if they discuss the issue. Either way, they will violate what seems to be a truth. Mercy versus marriage.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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