Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Kasper's Remarks on 50% of Marriages Being Invalid

What with family commitments and visits (my family was out for the last few days for Isabel's first communion) I haven't had time to write, even though there are several substantive topics that have been on the back burner. One recent post that I wish I had time to write more about is Brandon's over at Siris dealing with Cardinal Kasper's recent interview in which the cardinal said that during private conversations with Pope Francis, the pope had observed that given modern errors at to the nature of marriage perhaps fifty percent of marriages are invalid.

Brandon says:
Cardinal Kasper has a longstanding habit of saying things very confidently on grounds that are not obviously adequate for the confidence, but I think it needs to be pointed out that if the Cardinal is right, doing "much more in prematrimonial catechesis" and using "pastoral work" is simply not going to cut it. The level of failure he is suggesting is so extreme that it could not possibly have come about without extraordinary and culpable negligence on the part of bishops and priests. Bishops and priests exist for the purpose of maintaining and protecting the sacramental order; what Cardinal Kasper is claiming is that they have failed on such a scale that it amounts to an outright betrayal of the laity and could reasonably be said to cry out for serious public penance on the part of bishops and priests who are guilty of letting the situation deteriorate to such an astounding degree.

In any case, as Ed Peters has noted, it is an extraordinarily irresponsible thing to toss out in a public interview as if it were a serious assessment: sacramental validity is not a trivial matter, and if you are going to make a statement like this in public, as opposed to just a private conversation, you had better be doing so on the basis of rigorously established principles and you had better be offering a considerable sight more than vague suggestions about catechesis as your solution.
I'm very much in agreement with Brandon's thoughts in the matter.

Too often, it strikes me that Catholic thought on marriage and divorce these days seems a bit like Julia Flyte's in Brideshead Revisited, when on surveying her marriage prospects she considers it terribly unfair that her fellow debutants who are members of the Church of England can marry older sons and not worry about the embarrassments of a "mixed marriage". People seem to see the permanence of Catholic marriage as some sort of an awkward sectarian quirk, which it would be best to find some sort of technical excuse for getting around in most cases.

What this misses is that the Catholic understanding is not simply that marriage is permanent of contracted between two Catholics who are sufficiently devoted to a Catholic notion of marriage. Rather, the Church (following Christ's lead) sees marriage as permanent by nature. That's why if someone wishes to come into the Church and have their current marriage blessed, but was in the past divorced and remarried, the old marriage must be examined to see if it is even possible to bless the current one. The Church assumes that non-Catholics' marriages are permanent by nature too. If the Church holds that non-Catholic marriages are by nature permanent, people need to be cautious about suggesting that most Catholic marriages are invalid because those entering on marriage were insufficiently catechized Catholics. That's only a step away from saying that marriage is not in fact permanent by nature.


bearing said...

What are the numbers, though?

Kasper said that the pope "believes that 50 percent of marriages are invalid."

When the pope said "50 percent of marriages," which marriages was he counting? He can't be counting only valid marriages or his statement makes no sense. Only marriages that involve at least one baptized Catholic? Well, let's count.

What proportion are invalid because of defect of form? That's got to be a lot in the U. S. I'm sure we all know plenty of baptized Catholics who married in a non-church ceremony without a dispensation. Consider how many non-practicing, baptized Catholics there are in the world (and particularly in the US!) Quibble if you want about whether marriage SHOULD count as invalid just because of defect of form, but it *is* the law.

How many are invalid because one of the participants was married before and never got a decree of nullity? Well, that's quite a few, too. Divorced and remarried Catholics are everywhere.

And surely there is a non-zero number who went into marriage without understanding, or without intending, the promises of permanent mutual fidelity and openness to children.

I wouldn't be surprised if Cardinal Kasper is correct. I agree with you and Brandon at Siris that if it's true, it's a huge crisis and jt should be treated as a huge crisis, and the comment should not simply be tossed off casually in an interview. But I suspect that it might well be true. And that the crisis is real. It might not be 50% but 30% would still be a huge crisis.

Jenny said...

I'll be right up front and say I don't really get the distinction in Catholic circles between natural and sacramental marriages. What makes a marriage valid naturally but not sacramentally? An annulment says you were married but you weren't? And how deeply into your intentions and understandings do you have to go to determine whether a marriage is valid? Some situations are obvious on their face, but others not so much. I am largely ignorant here but I don't get it.

Despite my ignorance, I agree with bearing in suspecting a not insignificant number of marriages are invalid. In fact I got to witness one this past weekend.

Brandon said...


It's impossible to say exactly what's meant, but in context Kasper makes it sound very much like he interprets it as applying to marriages that were done in church -- in the paragraph he only actually refers to people who are getting church ceremonies. So it seems to be marriages without defect in form, at least as Kaspar seems to understand the claim.

If we're talking only of cases that aren't defective in form, I am inclined to be highly skeptical of attempts to get the number very high by suggesting that people are getting married without proper intention (although from what Kasper says, it sounds like he thinks this is the primary reason). With every other sacrament, all that is required for validity is that (1) an appropriate minister (2) do what the Church requires for the rite itself (3) in a way showing that they are, in fact, intending to do the sacrament. If your priest is secretly a heretic, it doesn't invalidate the Eucharist, as long as he is genuinely a priest, is following the liturgical requirements of the Church, and is doing so in a context everyone can recognize as a Mass, because the primary minister of the sacrament is Christ himself. The 'intention' of the priest that matters is not 'intention' in the colloquial English sense of what the priest wants to do but in the technical Latin sense of disposing oneself to a particular kind of action, which in the case of every sacrament is recognizable by signs that are public at least in principle. But in marriage, the appropriate ministers are just the spouses themselves if they are baptized and free to marry; the requirements for the rite are not onerous and will typically be met by anyone who actually undergoes a church ceremony; and the church ceremony itself would be the relevant context establishing that Christian marriage is in view. I suppose people could just genuinely not understand what the ceremony means, but are there really all that many people attending Catholic churches or getting married in Catholic ceremonies who don't know at all that Catholic marriage is supposed to be an exclusive and indissoluble union open to children? It's not like the Catholic position on adultery or divorce or contraception is exactly a secret, even these days when people often do them anyway.

At the very least, I think, if people are making claims like Kasper's, there needs to be a lot more clarity about the grounds for it.

Darwin said...


I suppose I should have quoted the bit from Kasper's interview as well -- except that at that point I would have been quoting Brandon's whole post, and while quoting whole posts of Brandon's would undoubtedly raise the tone of our writing, it seemed a little much -- but here's the cardinal's framing:

"A sacrament presupposes faith. And if the couple only want a bourgeois ceremony in a church because it’s more beautiful, more romantic, than a civil ceremony, you have to ask whether there was faith, and whether they really accepted all the conditions of a valid sacramental marriage—that is, unity, exclusivity, and also indissolubility. "

So I'd taken that to mean that he's saying that 50% of apparently validly celebrated Catholic church weddings are in fact invalid.


I'm sort of hoping that Brandon is working on a reply, since I'm sure it would be better, but to give it a game shot:

At the most basic level the difference between a natural and a sacramental marriage is that a sacrament is... a sacrament. In other words, a visible sign of an invisible channel of grace. In a sacramental marriage we receive the graces of God in a special way.

A natural marriage is simply the commitment of a man and woman to live together conjugally and raise children together. So when the Church says that natural marriage is permanent, it's saying that when you choose to live together as husband and wife, the virtuous way to live out that relationship is to remain faithful permanently. Permanence in marriage is not a specifically Catholic commitment that others don't have any more than not committing adultery is a specifically Catholic commitment that others aren't morally held do.

mandamum said...

You can't have a sacramental marriage if you don't have two baptized people entering it. Baptism is, after all, the gateway to the other sacraments. As I understand it, any time a baptized Christian man and a baptized Christian woman enter into marriage (and do so in line with their Church's / faith community's laws governing marriage) that would be sacramental. I am married to a non-baptized person, so while we had a wedding Mass, we only have a natural marriage (and I had to get a dispensation for us to marry at all). Natural marriage is still good :) but you don't get the graces that come along automatically (ex opere operato?) with the Sacrament. But prayer still begs grace, even on a natural marriage and the family formed thereby (thank God!).

Brandon said...

Darwin, I don't think I would say it much differently -- you're quite right that natural marriage is to natural virtue as sacramental virtue is grace. One could also look at it from the other side. A marriage naturally invalid is in itself inconsistent with rational and civilized living, a way of trying to have your cake and eat it too, however much we might try to dress it up. A marriage that's invalid in sacramental terms is in itself unable to do what a sign of Christ's union with the Church has to do.

One can also approach it from what makes it possible in the first place, which is essentially what mandamum is doing: natural marriage is directly grounded on our being in the image of God through reason; sacramental marriage is directly grounded on being in the image of God through natural reason and being in the image of Christ through baptismal faith. The additional conditions for sacramental validity have to do with the extra ground. All marriages are sacred ways of living; natural marriages get their sacredness from our being in the image of God, and sacramental marriages from our having the baptismal character. And all sacred things have rules appropriate to the way in which they are sacred.

Jenny said...

Here's my question: Is a natural marriage between two baptized Christians de facto a sacramental marriage if there is no defect in form? Does an annulment proceeding rule on whether there was a marriage or whether there was a sacrament? These things confuse me. I can't be the only one.

Brandon said...

I don't think it's surprising that you're confused, because it really is confusing! the first question is easy to answer, though, since it happens to be one of the few things in canon law on marriage that are just simply stated: "a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament" (Canon 1055).

I don't know much about annulments, but they typically concern impediments to a natural marriage.