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  1. Titus
    November 24, 2014

    Since when did First Things let Reno back on the reservation? After his defamatory babble last year (was it last year?) about homosexual unions, I thought he had become persona non grata even there. It’s rather sad to see him back at the helm.

    Be that as it may, I don’t think your critique really works. For starters, the relevant facts are nothing like Byzantine ecclesiastical divorce. They are not even like Anglican ecclesiastical courts. Nowhere in the U.S., to the best of my knowledge, are religious officials asked to perform any function in the dissolution of marriages. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, does any government authority anywhere in the U.S. ask a religious official who presides at a wedding to do more than certify that two persons, in his presence, performed acts constituting a marriage under the laws of the state in question. Given that such a statement can be made in full honestly, it’s really rather silly to claim that it is suddenly wrong to do so. Where were people agitating for this sort of approach when states started letting first cousins marry (which, for Tennessee, may well have been 1796)? That’s a lot closer than the degree of consanguinity set down in canon law. Or when states began allowing divorce and remarriage (again, ab initio)?

    Moreover, the proposed arrangement is fundamentally dishonest: it proposes to engage both spouses and the state in systematic lying. If A and B, Catholics believing what the Church teaches about marriage and intending to comply with the Church’s laws, go to a judge and exchange marriage vows, they are telling lies: they do not intend, by exchanging consent in front of a magistrate, to bind themselves to each other in perpetuity. And they know that no bond subsists between them as a result of their having done so. The whole affair is play-acting, the sort of civic comic opera forced upon people by anti-clericalists and Communists. It is not the sort of nonsense to which we should wish to subject ourselves. The breathless, analytics-free grinding of teeth about the immorality of the modern American polity—not untrue as far as it goes—of Reno and the Pledge’s original proponents is not a good excuse for doing so. (For further comments on, inter alia, the ecumenical difficulties presented, see Ed Peters’ comments at his blog.)

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    1. Titus
      November 25, 2014

      Correction: that defamatory essay was Jody Bottum, I do believe, not R.R. Reno. My apologies to Mr. Reno for that.

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  2. modestinus
    November 24, 2014

    The Byzantine example is simple: It represents what can happen to Church doctrine when it cozies too close to the state, accepting the state’s premises, and carrying out state functions. While I do not see the American Catholic Church following the same trajectory as the Byzantine Church of yesteryear, I believe a larger case can already be made that the American Church has internalized too much of the secular state’s mentality and outlook. While it hasn’t come to the point of full-throated doctrinal deformations, it’s gotten dangerously close. Taking a step (or two) away strikes me as prudent, not defeatist.

    I am not arguing, by the way, that it is “wrong” for Catholic priests to sign off on a piece of paper. What I am arguing that by refraining from doing so, they are not doing anything wrong either.

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  3. modestinus
    November 24, 2014

    Also, you write:

    “If A and B, Catholics believing what the Church teaches about marriage and intending to comply with the Church’s laws, go to a judge and exchange marriage vows, they are telling lies: they do not intend, by exchanging consent in front of a magistrate, to bind themselves to each other in perpetuity.”

    This makes no sense. The “Pledge” does not say, “Don’t get a Catholic marriage; just go get a civil one without a priest present.” Rather, it’s saying, “Priests, don’t act as civil servants on behalf of an institution which has lost all ties with its natural and revelatory roots.” Yes, it would require an extra “step” on behalf of marrying Catholics, but that’s their choice to take based on weighing the social costs and benefits of doing so. A couple is still sacramentally married even if they do not register it with the state.

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    1. Titus
      November 24, 2014

      Well obviously whether you turn in a marriage certificate or not has nothing to do with whether or not a Catholic is validly married, at least so long as the requirements of canonical form are retained.

      But I don’t think I made myself clear. Obviously the position is not “do not get a church wedding.” But it is “get a separate civil one.” You can’t, and neither can the Protestants who thought this particularly thing up, reasonably expect private individuals simply to stop having their marriages recognized by the state. The rights afforded to married persons by the state are, by and large, simply the demands of natural justice vis-a-vis married persons. The state is morally obligated to provide them. And (perhaps somewhat paradoxically) nobody is claiming that it would be immoral for spouses to turn in a marriage license to the state.

      But the only way you can turn in an executed marriage license, if your clerical witness won’t sign it, is to simulate a wedding in front of some other civilly recognized minister. That’s not diminishing the power and reach of the state, it’s expanding it. And by asking the spouses to simulate a sacrament (at worst) or simply to lie (at best—since exchanging marriage vows entails the well-understood implicit representation “I am not already married and this exchange of vows will make me married”), the proposal requires systematic, institutionalized dishonesty.

      Finally, whether the Church plays too cozily with the American state(s) in general, or in particular regards, has little bearing on whether it is wrong, in this instance, to facilitate the state doing something that is manifestly right: treating the marriage of two persons as having legal consequences.

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