This is No. 27 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.
Before I started this series, I made a list. I asked myself, what are the reasons why I left the Catholic Church and why am I firmly convinced that was the right decision? I came up with more than 30, some more consequential than others, and if anyone’s been keeping track, you’ll know I’ve touched on 20 of them. Today I want to briefly mention a few more before I wrap up my series in a few days.
This first teaching and practice benefited me greatly yet I find it objectionable. As I mentioned previously, in order to be wed to my married and divorced husband in the Catholic Church, we needed to obtain an annulment of his first marriage, because the Church will not marry a divorced person without it. An annulment in the Church is a determination by a diocesan marriage tribunal that a marriage was never valid. So under certain conditions, they can declare that an individual isn’t really divorced because he was never actually married. True.
Canon law on marriage1 sets down requirements for validity such that, if either party is determined not to have been properly committed to the marriage, it can be declared invalid, or null. My husband and his first wife were both of age, freely consented to the marriage, and consummated it. The fact that she then, a few years down the road, wanted a divorce was apparently evidence of a lack of true commitment. And so they were granted an annulment, as most applicants are.
The Church defends the process as demonstrating their belief in the indissolubility of marriage, but in practice it weakens the bonds. If an individual is of age and sound mind and freely consents to the marriage, that’s the commitment. Failing to live up to it, except in special circumstances like adultery or abuse, is simply that. In claiming that it shows a lack of commitment in the first place, the Catholic Church, in my opinion, renders the marriage vows a sham.
But as exalted a view of marriage as the Church has, it refuses to allow it for its priests. The freedom to devote oneself fully to God because of a lack of family ties is certainly valuable, and the Church will quote from 1 Corinthians 7 verses like these: “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife.”2 But their requirement that priests be celibate apparently overlooks verse 9 of that chapter: “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
We are all sexual beings with the desires that go along with that. How many men would have avoided succumbing to the temptation to sin if they were simply allowed to participate in God’s holy design for sexual expression in marriage? And how much greater would be the number of priests if men knew they wouldn’t be required to forego fulfillment of this natural, God-given desire?
Speaking of sin…the Catholic Church is against it, yes. But I believe much of what they teach about it is flawed. They assert the right to categorize sin as either mortal or venial according to its gravity, with differing consequences. “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man…Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.”3 Dying in a state of mortal sin “causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell.” Venial sin “merits temporal punishment,”4 meaning time in purgatory.
But the notion of sin destroying or weakening “charity” in the heart and that sins can be distinguished according to their eternal results is one that cannot be found in Scripture. The Greek word translated sin in the New Testament is hamartia and literally means “missing the mark.” Anything we do that is not up to God’s standard or according to his will is sin, and merits condemnation. So even not doing something can be sin: “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”5
Such a standard renders us completely helpless to merit Heaven, which is why Jesus came and died, and took our condemnation on himself. And God raised him from the dead to display his satisfaction with that and through faith in Christ removes our transgressions from us “as far as the east is from the west.”6
But though the Catholic Church affirms and believes in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, their teachings about it are vague and conflicting enough to leave much of the faithful uncertain about their relationship with and standing before God. Yes, he paid the price for your sins but there’s still a balance due in purgatory. Yes, he has saved you but don’t get too comfortable. Listen carefully at practically any Catholic funeral Mass and you’ll hear both thanksgiving to God that the departed has been granted eternal life and prayers for mercy to bestow it upon him.
The voluminous compilation of Church laws and doctrine and the vague and mystical language with which it is often conveyed leave many of the faithful so confused that they willingly forego attempting to understand and just let the Church tell them what to do. I distinctly remember my father communicating this very thing to me. We don’t need to try and read and understand it ourselves. That’s for the clergy to do. We just need to obey what they say.
Yikes. You know what that resembles, don’t you? We need to have that kind of submission for one Person only. And when he sees our submitted heart he gives us his very Spirit to guide us in knowledge and understanding. Then “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”7 When the Father looks at us he sees Jesus. We are his children, and though “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.”8
1Peter 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
2 1 Corinthians 7:32-33
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1855
4 Catechism, 1861 & 1863
5 James 4:17
6 Psalm 103:12
7 Galatians 2:20
8 John 8:35