A “humane way?” Does this mean the immutable law and practice of Catholic Church for its 2,000 year history, before the enlightenment of Amoris Laetitia, was somehow, not only wrong, but inhumane? The Pope and his “theologian” seem to think so. But, how would our Catholic ancestors have responded? How would a good priest in the days before Vatican II have handled this precise “modern day” scenario Kasper poses? Luckily we don’t have to wonder.
Mr. Paul Bourget was a French novelist and critic who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature. As his Wikipedia entry tells us:
In the year 1904 Bourget wrote a novel entitled, “A Divorce.” In the opening chapter named, “An Inextricable Difficulty” we meet Madame Darras. Madame Darras is a lapsed Catholic who had left the Church for twelve years. She now has an eleven year old daughter who she raised Catholic. Her daughter is about to receive her first Holy Communion. In preparing her daughter for her first Communion, Madame Darras is moved to be reconciled with the Church. Wanting to be able to receive with her daughter at her first Communion, Madame Darras seeks out the counsel of a wise old priest and mathematician, the Reverend Father Euvrard. Madame Darras opens up to Fr. Euvrard about her situation and he starts to prepare to hear her confession so that she can receive Communion. However, the situation of Madame Darras is not that simple.
As you read the moving excerpt below from “A Divorce” please ask yourself if the response of Cardinal Kasper or the response of Father Euvrard echoes the voice of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
"No, Father, it is not so simple. It is necessary that you should know more, and that I should tell you who I am and why you see me so agitated. I am married; I have already told you that. I ought to add that this is my second marriage and that my first husband is still living."
"Then," asked the priest after a silence, "you are divorced and remarried?"
"Yes," said she.
"And your daughter? "
"My daughter is born of my second marriage."
"You are divorced and remarried," repeated M. Euvrard, and, as if speaking to himself, "Poor woman! I understand everything."
Then turning to her: "No. It is not easy. You cannot go to Communion, living in such a way. I must not even receive your confession. I could not give you absolution."
He pronounced these last words with none of the timidity of the scholar disturbed in his studies. There was no longer in his voice the pity of an old man touched by a sad confession. The priest pronounced in the name of his faith a sentence founded upon an immutable law and from which there was no appeal. The anxious face of Madame Darras became still more contracted on hearing his sentence, though she betrayed no surprise. She showed only deeper despondency as she replied, "I knew your answer beforehand, Father; I have heard it already, as you guessed, I dare say, from what I told you. I have spoken to another priest, and he stopped me at once just as you did. I know too the condition you are going to impose upon me; to leave my husband. Let me repeat to you what I said to the other priest. Thirteen years ago I was twenty-nine years of age. I was the most unhappy of women. The man to whom my family married me, and from whom I was obliged to separate, had applied to have our separation converted into a divorce and had succeeded. He married again. I was left alone in the world with a son nine years old, of whom the Courts had given me the guardianship. How was I to bring him up? How overcome all the difficulties with which a divorced woman is beset even when she has right on her side? It was then that another man, whom I had known at home, but only slightly, of whom I had quite lost sight after my marriage, came back into my life. I found he had loved me as a young girl, but had never told his love. He was poor then, and I was rich. He never married because of me. He struggled to win me when I was free, and to forget me when I was no longer free. After the divorce he reappeared. He was prosperous now, occupied a brilliant position, and was thus able to marry whom he pleased. Faithful to his first love he asked me to marry him. I accepted this devotion and since that day his tenderness has never failed. He has been the best of husbands, to my son the best of fathers, and were it the price of my eternal salvation I would never leave him, never."
"I cannot quite understand then why you come to me," replied M. Euvrard, "nor, to use your own expression, what sympathy you need. You know enough about the laws of the Church to be aware that your second marriage counts for nothing in her eyes and never could. By acting as you have done you have broken the laws of the Church. You persist in this infraction, and at the same time you speak of resuming a life of religion, and of participating again in the sacraments of the Church! The contradiction is so obvious that you have noticed it yourself. You wish to be both inside the Church and outside. To such a problem there is no solution."
"There is one," interrupted Madame Darras. Her earnestness showed how much importance she attached to this part of their interview. The color returned to her cheeks. Her eyes flashed, and she repeated, "Yes, there is one solution, but it could only be accepted by a priest who was broad-minded, very broad-minded. That is why I came to submit my case to you. My second marriage does not count in the eyes of the Church. You tell me so and I know it. You add that it never can count. That is true so long as the first marriage exists. But if the first were broken? The Church does not recognize divorce. Good. But it recognizes the annulment of a marriage. Thirteen years ago, when I entertained the idea of this second marriage, I thought of applying to Rome, but I did not. My future husband disliked the idea, and I thought little of religious belief at the time. Is it too late now? Since the Church compels me to submit to her laws she ought surely to give me the means of doing so. The reasons I should have urged then, I will urge now. They have not lost their force. I told you my parents married me. If they did not use force in the material sense of that word, it is not the less true that they overruled my will. I was not a free agent, in any case I certainly did not know to whom I was being married. Had I known, I would have died rather than consent to such a detestable union. It was no mere case of incompatibility of temper. I put up with all his faults—he was the father of my son. Nor was it ordinary infidelity—he deceived me and I forgave him. But I could neither bear nor forgive a vice which is the most abject and the most degrading in the eyes of people of our class. He drank, and drunkenness made him a madman. During five years, I suffered for the sake of my son horrible scenes in which threats and actual brutality were not the most disgusting features. It was only when my life and that of my child were in danger that I found the courage to leave him. He had struck me with such violence that I took weeks to recover, and he was going to strike him, him! I ask you, Father, did I consent to marry a madman, and a wicked madman? Is there not in what I have told you sufficient cause for the breaking of a marriage in which both I and my parents were deceived? My Father, if I pledge myself to demand that annulment which I cannot fail to obtain; if I promise you that I will do everything to persuade my second husband to support me in this application, if I promise that until then, though I live in the same house as my husband, I will live with him as a sister lives with her brother, will you not consider me as reconciled to the Church? Could I not confess and go to Communion with my daughter once at least—only this time? "
"No," said the Oratorian, shaking his head with a melancholy in which severity was again overborne by pity, "you cannot. No priest could lend himself to a compromise which rests on no solid basis. The reasons you mention would not even justify a claim for the annulment of your marriage. You appear to believe, Madame, like many other worldly people, that Rome has power to loose the marriage bond. She has not. Rome recognizes that there are marriages which are void, that is to say where certain conditions necessary to the validity of the marriage have not been complied with. The Church has decided upon these, and has defined them with a precision which leaves no chance for equivocation. Consult any work on theology and you will find that your case is not one in which an annulment can be granted. You acknowledge yourself that your marriage was voluntary when you say that if you had known your husband's dreadful vice you would not have married him. It is obvious there was consent. It is true that you were revolted by his vicious habit, and I admit that it is detestable, that it is hideous. Still it was no deception committed against you, only a trial inflicted upon you. When the Church blessed your marriage she did not promise to exempt you from trials. If they were too hard to bear, you had the remedy in separation, which the Church has always authorized. But she authorizes separation only. To go further is to disobey the precept so clearly given in Scripture which forbids second marriage during the life of the first husband or wife. Annulment, as you understand it, would only be a sham divorce, and the Church has none of these accommodations. When she marries two people she binds them by a contract which cannot be broken, because it is sanctified by a sacrament. Do not hope to escape by that door; it is closed."
"What must I do then?" exclaimed Madame Darras, wringing her hands in distress. "Is it possible that God "—she dwelt upon this word with infinite sadness—" has ordained that I must abandon my home, must break the heart of the man whom I love and who loves me, must separate myself from my daughter, for my husband will not give her to me and he would have the law on his side, or else be denied religious life, be forbidden absolutely from kneeling side by side with my dear child in the same religious service during a momentous hour of her girlhood, and be cut off from pardon too? Is it possible, I ask you again, Father, that the law of man is more just, more charitable than that of God? For after all, when I was so unhappy, so indescribably unhappy, the one allowed me to renew my life loyally, honestly. The other requires me to destroy it again; it barely consents not to fetter me to a hateful past, it forbids me from redeeming past mistakes. Ah, M. Euvrard! how in the face of this difference between Divine and human justice can you prevent the objections I have so often heard against religion from overpowering me again? My former faith, revived by contact with my daughter's piety, is being weakened, destroyed. I begin to doubt again. I suffered so much after my visit to the other priest that I said to myself—the adversaries of the Church are right: she is an instrument of oppression and of death; progress is accomplished without her, and in opposition to her, and in bemoaning my separation from her with such a poignant homesickness I am the dupe of a mirage, for the truth is not there!"
"Do not talk in that way," said the Oratorian, speaking with animation. Instinctively he placed his old man's hand upon her arm to stop her in her blasphemy. "Above all do not harbor such a thought. You must not judge God. That would be to commit the only sin against the Holy Spirit which is never forgiven. Do you reproach the marriage laws of the Church for lacking justice and charity?" he continued. " Let me give you an illustration, commonplace it may be, but to the point. A ship has arrived at a port where a passenger wishes to land. It is of the highest importance for him; he wants, for instance, to see a dying father or to take part in a law-suit upon which depends the welfare of his family—imagine anything you like. But a case of plague has broken out upon the boat and the authorities have for bidden that any passengers come ashore for fear of contagion. Would it be just, would it be kind to give way to the entreaty of the one traveler at the risk of spreading the plague in a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants? Clearly not. Here then is a case in which justice and charity demand the sacrifice of the individual interest for the general good. This principle dominates all society. If we are called upon to decide between two courses, the first clearly beneficial to the whole community and painful to some individual, the second agreeable to him but hurtful to the whole, both justice and charity demand that we shall adopt the first course. This is indeed the test which we must apply to
every institution, and applying it to indissoluble marriage, what is the result? Society is composed of families, and the better the families the better will society be. Now think how much greater likelihood there is of healthy families where a system of indissoluble marriage prevails. If marriage is irrevocable it will be entered upon only after the most serious reflection; there will be greater closeness of bond between grandparents, parents, and children, since the family comprises fewer alien elements; there will be the chance of greater unity of spirit, of a common tradition. Marriage of this kind is the strongest pledge for that social permanence without which there is nothing but anarchy and perpetual unrest. And here, history confirms reason. It teaches that all superior civilizations have developed towards monogamy. Now divorce is not monogamy; it is successive polygamy. I will not give you a course of sociology, but do you know what statistics show? Where divorce exists, the number of criminals, lunatics, and suicides is tenfold amongst divorced persons. Thus, for one who, like yourself and a few others, retains in his divorced condition the finer traits of heart and mind, the majority lose or debase them. To base social order upon the supposed needs of possible degenerates is to set up the abnormally low as a standard. You may call that progress, but science calls it retrogression.
"Note that we have been looking at the matter from the point of view of pure observation. Purposely, as I wished you to realize the identity there is between the law of the Church and the law of Society, between the teaching of experience and the teaching of Revelation. In its struggle for existence humanity has fallen back upon the very same rule of which the Church has made a dogma. Try to realize, in the light of these ideas, how seriously you have erred in availing yourself of the criminal law which the worst enemies of social wellbeing, the would-be destroyers of the family, have introduced into our Code. You yourself have assisted in this task of destruction as far as lay in your power. You sacrificed society to your own happiness. You and your second husband have set up in a small way a type of the irregular home, one too all the more dangerous because your virtues enable you to set an example of decency in irregularity, and present an appearance of order in the midst of disorder. It is that which renders so dangerous the errors of the gifted; they retain their natural nobility even when they sin, they fall without becoming degraded. They cloak the deformity of evil and spread it all the more insidiously. You need not seek any other explanation for the difficulty you meet in your efforts to return to the Church. Realize the extent of your fault in the light of that difficulty, and thank God that He has not afflicted you and your family even more than He has done.
"Though it is but twenty years since that detestable law of divorce was passed, if you only knew how many tragedies I have seen it produce already, I who hear so few confessions; into what catastrophes households like yours have been plunged through their failure to discern the truth, which is yet stamped on every conscience, that liberty contrary to the laws of nature engenders servitude, neglected duty entails misfortune. I have seen fratricidal hatreds between the children of the first and second marriage, fathers and mothers judged and condemned by their sons and daughters; here, deadly antagonism between stepfather and stepson; there, between second wife and the husband's daughter. Elsewhere, I have seen jealousy of the past, of a past living because the first husband lives, torture the second husband. Again, hideous struggles between the first husband and his former wife over their children's sick-bed, or, where the children have grown up, over a young man's follies or a daughter's marriage. Nor have I mentioned the ever recurring bitterness against the ill-will, open or dissembled, hypocritical or sincere, it does not matter which, of a world which after all retains intact its respect for Christian marriage. Ah! what misery have I not seen! Your lot is not the worst, softened as it is by the inestimable blessing of recovered faith. If you should ever deny that blessing it is then you must needs tremble. God's vengeance does not manifest itself in extraordinary occurrences. The logical outcome of our faults ensures our punishment. Part of this is necessary and inevitable, part, secondary, may be spared us in the mercy of Providence. That is why I spoke to you as I did just now, that you may never again harbor such thoughts. I was gravely alarmed for you."
Many and varying feelings agitated Madame Darras, as she listened to this philippic every phrase of which implied the shameful nature of a second marriage, contracted after much hesitation it is true, but seriously, and to which she clung with all the pride of her heart. Each one too roused in her the apprehension of fresh sorrows. What was a mere abstraction for the theologian was a living, bleeding reality for the divorced and remarried Catholic woman...
When at last the Oratorian concluded, one alone of these many different emotions reigned in her mind. Led thereto solely by the inflexible rigor of his doctrine, he had uttered the warning best fitted to dismay an over wrought heart in which new-born piety had commenced to awaken hidden and unconquerable remorse. She had been long haunted and beset by the fear of some retribution suspended over the twelve years of a happiness which she no longer dared believe legitimate. It was the desire to escape from this constant apprehension which caused her passionate longing to accompany her daughter to Communion and be reconciled to the Church.
When the priest spoke of trials to which she and her husband might be put, she had shuddered, and her fear increased as the priest insisted upon this point. Chance would have it that one of the catastrophes mentioned by him was exactly the one she dreaded more than any other and with greater reason—as will be made evident in the recital of the tragedy to which this scene is but a prologue. The agreement between her most secret anxiety and some of the words used by M. Euvrard impressed her so strongly with the idea that this was a prophetic warning that she was unable to discuss the matter with him. Besides, what was the use, seeing that upon the main question he gave her no hope?
"I cannot argue with you, Father," she finished by saying, "I am but an ignorant woman. I came to implore assistance from you as a priest and you have refused to give it. Your decision seems to me very hard, but I accept it. You have founded it upon reasons which seemed right as you gave them, though they have harrowed my soul. Another time, if you will allow me to come again, I may be able to formulate some objections which I cannot express now, though I feel them in my heart. Before taking leave I should like to ask you one more question. You told me that I was an exception compared with other divorced people. I do not believe it. But if your judgment upon me is too lenient it means one thing at least. It proves that you admit degrees of guiltiness in the case of divorced women who marry again. In your eyes they are not all equally removed from what you consider the right way. Surely then there must be degrees of sinfulness in the case of separation from the Church. You tell me that the absolute reconciliation I had dreamt of is impossible. If I cannot have a complete religious life, am I condemned to have no religious life at all? Is there no middle course between abandoning my home, which you insist upon as a condition to admission to the sacraments, and the complete unbelief in which I have lived so long? You yourself say that my return to faith, a return which has brought me to you, is a sign of divine grace; can you not tell me some means of responding to it that is not beyond my strength? You see, Father, I want our conversation to have some practical result."
"I have not ordered you to abandon your home," said M. Euvrard, correcting her; "at least not at present. If you wished to do so, I would ask you to consider. Here is a proof how hard it is to escape the consequences of our actions. If you left your home your daughter's religious education would be compromised. Now which is the most imperative obligation? That is a point I should not care to settle. I have not settled it. I have definitely expressed my conviction—over-severe as you may think it—that you cannot partake of the sacraments so long as you persist in your present manner of living. At the same time your way of life, however wrong it may be, has its own duties. To fulfil these is always in a certain sense praiseworthy. You deserve commendation for having remembered your duty to your son in your second marriage. Your conduct will count to you for righteousness if, whenever you are in suffering, you take your trouble to God, above all if the suffering is connected with your second marriage, as in the case of the distress which will wring your heart when, upon the day of your daughter's first Communion, you see other mothers go to the altar whilst you must remain behind. You will do well, in the same sense, to give alms, to practice self-denial, to observe more rigorously certain precepts of the Church, Lent and fasting for example. I understand that your second husband is far removed from faith in God; much further removed than you have ever been. Your conduct will be praiseworthy above all, if you succeed in leading him back."…