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The Truth Is Always Pastoral Print E-mail
By J.D. Flynn   
Wednesday, 05 February 2014

Canon lawyers are fascinated by the Samaritan woman at the well. The moment we hear about her five husbands, and her consort, we start thinking about how her case might be handled at the marriage tribunal. But the most instructive part of the story is how Jesus relates to her: he is kind to her, and respectful, but he is unabashed about telling her the truth.

Over the past few months, an ecclesial dialogue about pastoral care has been played out in the media as if it were the precursor to a monumental doctrinal split among the Church’s leadership. The question is about the reception of Holy Communion by those divorced and remarried without the benefit of a declaration of nullity, or annulment.

Of course, ecclesiastical leaders know that second, and third, and fourth marriages not preceded by annulment are presumed to be invalid; that a presumably valid first marriage is presumed valid until proven otherwise. This is a basic component of Catholic sacramental theology, and hardly a matter of dispute.

What may be in dispute is how to care for the divorced and remarried: How to invite those living conjugally, but outside the bonds of marriage, to the communion of the Church. The question is a pastoral one. And it needn’t be a source of ambiguity or division.

Like all pastoral questions, the solution is found in the action of Jesus himself. As at the Samaritan well, the pastoral solution for the divorced and remarried involves something very simple: telling the truth.

Jesus Christ desires all of us to receive him at the Eucharistic table. His blood was shed, his body pierced and crucified, as a universal invitation to participate in the Eucharist, and in Christ’s divine life. What’s required is a heroic commitment to virtue and fidelity of Christian life.

May the divorced and remarried be invited to the Eucharist? Yes. But like all of us, to receive the Eucharist with integrity they must live heroically in accord with the truth.


       Christ and the Woman of Samaria by George Richmond, 1828

The Church has always taught that living in a sexual relationship outside of a valid marriage is an impediment to Holy Communion. She teaches that still. And when the divorced and remarried present themselves to their pastors, she must teach the truth then. But it is never an adequate pastoral solution to simply tell the divorced and remarried to refrain from Holy Communion, to remain in the pew, and to maintain the status quo.

The pastoral solution is to invite men and women to a heroic kind of conversion. In 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that the divorced and remarried may receive the Eucharist if they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”

Under ordinary circumstances, such couples should physically separate. But the Church recognizes that separation may be impossible: that couples may be raising children together, or financially dependent, or caring for one another in ill health. Separation might be ideal, but what is necessary is a commitment to living continently: to living in accord with the truth.

The issue of scandal is a serious one. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says that couples living continently must be “respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal.” The Catechism says that scandal is “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.”  To keep others from scandal, those living continently should take care not to imply that their relationship is inappropriate – if their invalid marriage is unknown, they could remain private. If their invalid marriage is well known, they could be forthcoming about their choice to live in accord with truth. A flood of candor can mitigate the trickle of scandal.

Each of us is invited to the Eucharistic table. We need only repent, and commit to greatness. Too often, the pastoral solution is perceived as the unchallenging solution, the accepting solution. Too often, pastors and tribunal ministers hesitate to call the divorced and remarried to conversion. We’re afraid that continence seems too hard, and too dispassionate. We’re afraid that truth will be inimical to a pastoral relationship.

But the truth is always pastoral. And calling Christians to discomfort, and challenge, is evangelical. Conversations about continence are uncomfortable. But as Pope Benedict XVI has said, none of us were “made for comfort. [We] were made for greatness.

At the well in Samaria, Jesus Christ was pastoral. He invited the Samaritan woman to repent, and to live heroically. He invited her, from her sinfulness, to greatness. If the Church today will invite men and women to greatness, to virtue, and to communion with Jesus Christ, we will have found the “pastoral solution.”

 
J.D. Flynn is a canon lawyer who lives and works in Lincoln, Nebraska.
 
 
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Comments (33)Add Comment
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written by Jarrid, February 05, 2014
There is much to agree with here obviously. However, I'm inclined to think that, while maintaining the truth on the indissolubility of marriage, this is one area where there is some pastoral wiggle room to allow for some flexibility, for example a certain period of penance to those in second marriages before being re-admitted to the sacraments. Cardinal Ratzinger was trying to find a solution to this and I believe Pope Francis will find one. I'll say this, if a Jesuit Pope can't find a solution to this sticky wicket, it's because there isn't one. I personally think the Jesuit will come through.
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written by Bangwell Putt, February 05, 2014
First impression: This solution which is described as "pastoral" seems legalistic. It groups young persons, often parents of young children, with older persons who depend upon one another for various types of assistance. For the first "set" this solution would indeed constitute "heroism"; for the second set, very little heroism or none.

Secondly, it fails to take notice of the great disruption of the last several decades - spiritual disruption and physical disruption, at every level; a disruption that produced not simply uneducated but deliberately mis-educated Catholics.

We have lived through a time of great trial and confusion; the "smoke of Satan" is not an exaggerated reference. Is it possible, then, that the repentance that J. D. Powers calls for might better begin with rituals resembling the return of the exiles to Jerusalem: confession and acceptance of one's sinful errors; prayers for the "clean heart and resolute spirit" of Psalm 51; a faithful new beginning. This process would of course require guidance by priests who themselves live the Faith.

"Yet you are merciful to all, because you are almighty, you overlook people's sins so that they can repent. ... gradually you correct those who offend; you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned, that they may abstain from evil and trust in you, Lord". Wis. ll-23; 12-l.

Can a person truly begin again? Does God - when the time is right after penance and inner conversion - actually "create a clean heart"? I believe that he does when we are determined to "abstain from evil" with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strength.
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written by Sue, February 05, 2014
There are all sorts of contradictions in this approach of calling divorced-remarrieds to live as brother and sister. Why do we not acknowledge single couples the similar ability to shack-up continently if there are important reasons to do so? With all the heart-tugs about raising children in the second marriage, and helping dependent/ill spouses, what about the children and spouses from the first marriage who were dumped - why is the first concern not for them?

If someone commits a murder undetected, then goes and establishes a family for many years, is he no less obligated under justice to confess his deed, even if his family will be devastated by his jailing?
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written by Avery Tödesuhl, February 05, 2014
This doctrine remains one of the main differences between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. For although Orthodox canon law doesn't recognize divorce, it does allow for the Orthodox hierarch (after suitable investigation) to grant a penitential remarriage under specific circumstances. This may happen up to 3 times. A party to an Orthodox marriage *may* be allowed to remarry if he or she is (1) the innocent party who is the victim of adultery, according to Matthew 19:9; (2) the innocent party who is the victim of another absolute end of the marriage for other extraordinary reasons; (3) a party who has tried to save the marriage but at the end of the investigative process is able to convince the hierarch that a second marriage would be a safeguard toward salvation.

Note that Eastern Catholic Churches follow the Latin Canons on divorce and remarriage, not the Orthodox canons.
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written by Dennis Larkin, February 05, 2014
As Eric Voegelin said, "Not everything can be repaired." Where we make bad choices, bad things follow.

This was almost seventeen years ago, but I asked a former parish priest if he had ever known a request for annulment to be denied by the diocesan tribunal. He had never known one.

I have never met the guilty party in a divorce. Everyone I have ever listened to about their divorce was the wronged party, the innocent victim, and eager to tell me just how.

In a former parish, a parishioneer left his ill wife and six kids for an older woman. They then had one child together, each received an annulment, and they were eucharistic ministers many Sundays. Nicest people in the parish, but...
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written by Dave, February 05, 2014
This is a clean-enough solution on the theoretical, canonical level, but, with due respect, I doubt it would work at all, and it contains a certain injustice for those Catholics in difficult marriages who decide that despite the pain of their marriages they will stick with their vows. We all know such couples. There's another, larger issue: it used to be the case that divorce and remarriage was unthinkable because the Church taught so AND because Catholic families accepted the teachings. So in the homes children were taught, by word and by deed, that once you're married, you're married, so you have to choose wisely. Where this precept is taught and lived, adult children of such families do form happy marriages and are prepared for all the vicissitudes that marriage entails.

These observations may not be directly on-point, but they do set the context. Tell the divorce-and-remarried that they have to live continently in order to receive Holy Communion and one of two things will happen: they will leave the Church, perhaps joining denominations where divorce is tolerated, perhaps dropping out altogether; or they will ignore the teaching and receive Holy Communion anyway.

All that, that is, unless the ecclesial communities in which the divorced-and-putatively-remarried live offer support for them to live chastely -- through solid catechesis; through regularly scheduled Confession; through communal support expressed in the lived expectation that chastity is possible and necessary, and in the belief that all -- not just the divorced-and-putatively-remarried, nor the cohabiting-unmarried -- are called and empowered to live chastely; and, one final thing: that there is wide and deep support within the parish or other ecclesial community for Humanae Vitae.

These thoughts are perhaps a bit woolly, but here's the underlying idea: when the ecclesial community supports, as a general binding position, the obligation of all to live chastely, regardless of the circumstances of their lives, and when it provides, through sacramental ministration and through freely-assumed acceptance of the obligation and power so to live, the canon law, far from being an external imposition that irritates, annoys, and invites scornful disregard, becomes the support that it is meant to be. Put simply -- perhaps reductionistically -- it's that the law supports virtue rather than imposing it.
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written by Ted Seeber, February 05, 2014
I wish more pastors believed this about abortion and contraception, as well as divorce.

Then again, I wish more pastors believed this about anything.

A pluralistic society, and attempting to live in moral relativism, is incompatible with the truth.
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written by Bruno, February 05, 2014
Jesus told that Jews could divorce because they were hard of heart. They were certainly more pious than the majority of Catholics nowadays.
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written by Bangwell Putt, February 05, 2014
Sue is correct: The Church cannot create a solution that would further injure abandoned spouses and children.

Professor Germaine Grisez writes: "... doing what is wrong because of an [even] blamelessly mistaken conscience always causes harm and often leads to tragedy ...". The comment from "Sue" underscores the truth of his teaching.

It does seem obvious that one answer cannot be made to fit each individual case. Where then do we begin?

The "holiness of priesthood is a gratuitous gift from God, ... something granted by God to a man despite his unworthiness. Yet the man is indeed transformed." (Dr. John Haas). Pope Francis understands this, as did Pope Benedict and others before him. By and in the Holy Spirit, he and the bishops must decide rightly. We can and must pray for them.

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written by florin, February 05, 2014
Feb. 5th, yes causing scandal is serious. But I honestly do not understand why the focus is so much on divorced and remarried couples who might give scandal and place their own souls in peril, while public figures like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden can aggressively and consistently and publicly stand against the Church, her teachings and her Bishops and urge others to stand with them in promoting the mass slaughter of human babies in the womb. Pope Benedict spoke to Nancy Pelosi and she ignored him; she continues now to publicly and aggressively promote not only the killing of pre-born babies, but same sex marriage...this is a cause of great scandal but her own soul (and Biden's) - is in danger. An evil act unchecked generates more evil...we know that more than 60 million human lives have been terminated in the wombs of their mothers and the trillions of lives that they would have generated have been prevented...this is a mass crime against humanity and yet, those who aid and abet this crime are permitted to consider themselves Catholics in good standing with the CHurch and receive the Eucharist. A child who is engaged in immoral or criminal acts and is told by his parents that this is wrong and that he must stop but is given no consequences for his actions will continue to commit them...if the Bishops do not hold public figures like Pelosi, Biden, Cuomo, Kerry, et al, accountable, then their evil agendas will continue as they become more emboldened...and the slaughter will continue.
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written by Dave, February 05, 2014
I'm in agreement with everything here, and especially with Sue and florin's remarks. The Church not only caved on Humanae Vitae: she silenced a Cardinal who was silencing dissenters at a pontifical university in his archdiocese. The message was registered. I am sort of coming at this from a bottoms-up approach: since the bishops are not going to enforce canon 915 against publicly, persistently, perniciously dissidents, and since we are not going to hear, any time soon, any effective, consistent catechesis on the lifelong indissoluble nature of marriage, it falls to faithful Catholics -- and especially faithful married couples -- to catechesis their children, grandchildren, relatives, etcs. -- and to support those priests and bishops who courageously teach the truth about marriage. To Dennis Larkin's point, what is also missing in contemporary catechesis is teaching on heaven and hell: nice people who die in a state of mortal sin go to hell, period; and those people, nice or not, who die in grace go to heaven, sooner or later. Actions and decisions do have consequences. It's a fear of short-term consequences -- the loss of respectability, the collapse of the institutions -- that has brought about the collapse of Christian moral life. Would that we more frequently remembered the Lord's injunction that it is better to enter Heaven maimed than Hell whole.
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written by Janice, February 05, 2014
Dear Bruno,
With great reverence, please note that in
Scripture it does not say that Jesus said Jews could divorce. Jesus said that "Moses allowed divorce because of your hard heart." Read Matt 19:8..... In fact, read Matt 19:1-9 and see what Jesus really says about divorce!
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written by Guest, February 05, 2014
Avery Tödesuhl,

If what you wrote is the Orthodox Church position frankly it seems absurd.
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written by Ron Moffat, February 05, 2014
I especially agree with Florin. Mr Flynn writes as if Canon Law were rock solid and yet it's pretty obvious that certain Catholics, think Ted Kennedy, can get an annulment on a whim. That seems to completely undermine the idea that Canon Law applies to all Catholics. Lately I've wondered a lot how a Church can become so rule driven that human weakness and falability can be completely lost sight of. Maybe it's time to start rethinking some things.
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written by Martha Rice Martini, February 05, 2014
I am touched by Mr. Flynn's thoughtful contribution, but doubt this is what the Bishop of Rome and his right hand man, Cardinal Maradiaga Rodriguez, have in mind. A pastoral approach to them sends the mere written law to the four winds. (PELAGIAN!) As the Holy Father says repeatedly, the Church must FOLLOW the PEOPLE! Yeah, even off a cliff.
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written by Bruno, February 05, 2014
I understand that, Janice. I'm sorry. It wasn't God who allowed for divorce, it was Moses that allowed it. Now, God has spoken clearly that divorce is not meant to be, and we are without excuse.

But aren't our hearts harder than ever? Have you seen the results of the German poll for this year's Synod? The situation is even worse than I imagined.

So what do we do when the faithful(?) refuse to accept Church's teaching - and one of the most certain of all of her teachings, since it came from the mouth of Jesus himself? Note, it's not a matter of being unable to overcome sin, but of being unwilling to overcome sin.

Well, that's what we are discussing. I like Bangwell Put's talk of general repentance. I just don't think our pastors would have the courage and insight to go through with it. May God prove me wrong, if that be the way.
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written by Randall, February 05, 2014
But as Pope Benedict XVI has said, none of us were “made for comfort. [We] were made for greatness.” That's what it comes down to. God's love isn't indulgent; it burns like fire. God's love wants us to become worthy of such love.
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written by James Swetnam, S.J., February 05, 2014
Defining deviancy down is never a help to the common good of marriage, which the very real pastoral problems we are all aware of are all about. The question is, do "lenient" pastoral solutions on a public level constitute defining deviancy down.
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written by cermak_rd, February 05, 2014
Won't requiring couples to live as "brothers and sisters" just result in hypocrisy? And, possibly, in abortion, when it will become apparent that they are not really living as brother and sister?

And is it really possible to give Scandal in the modern US? And if it is the case that a cohabiting couple can simply break up, make a good confession and then get married, why not encourage young people to live together (perhaps in a civil union or marriage) until some point at which they are ready to take vows of permanence and fecundity? After all, most people in the US will live until at least the age of 60 so there is time for most to repent. (the answer to the question do you feel lucky is that statistically, most of us will make it or die long enough for a deathbed conversion).
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written by Patrick J. Sheahan, February 05, 2014
I appreciate JD Flynn asking the question "how to care for the divorced or remarried?" I find many of us Catholics would rather condemn them or expel them from the Church. Or we say we stayed in our marriages, no matter how difficult or even abusive, why shouldn't they stay?
There are two quotes that are meaningful to me and I wish I could give proper credit to the authors but here they are, "without forgiveness there is no future and moralism without grace solves little.
In evangelical churches people make a public proclamation before their congregation of accepting Jesus as their Lord and saviour. How about when Catholics divorce they come before the parish body confessing the failure of their marriage without the gory details. God forgives and then they are healed through the reception of communion.
To me that could be a true pastoral solution.
Regards,
Patrick J. Sheahan.
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written by Bangwell Putt, February 05, 2014
The kind of repentance I am thinking of would be more a transformation of one's innermost self," a comprehensive conversion accompanied by a determined resolve to accept the "refiner's fire" - and to accept the suffering that faithfulness to such a decision would entail.

Harm that we have done will have consequences. We cannot erase our past actions. We can only attempt to ameliorate the damage done... and, in so doing, perhaps acquire some measure of humility.

One thing we can learn from the Book of Psalms: Sin is not new; this has happened before. "...For misfortunes without number envelop me; my iniquities have caught up with me; I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; I am at my wits end ...". Ps. 40:13 And yet God continues to love us.

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written by Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick, February 05, 2014
Cardinal Donald Wuerl has declared that he will never deny Communion to anyone who has not been formally excommunicated. Logically, this implies that he will not deny Communion to the divorced-and-illicitly-remarried. But he didn't really mean it. What he meant was that he will not deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians.

Canon 915 is not about marriage. It is about manifest grave sin of ANY species. And no one, not even a bishop or a Cardinal, has the option of disobeying Canon 915. Yet nearly every bishop in America is exercising that non-existent "option."

The ongoing refusal of Wuerl, Chaput, Dolan, and others to obey Canon 915 is eating the heart out of the Church in America. The divorced-and-illicitly-remarried have every right to ask why they are denied Communion while those who promote the killing of babies are not.
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written by johnnysc, February 05, 2014
Patrick J. Sheahan said "How about when Catholics divorce they come before the parish body confessing the failure of their marriage without the gory details. God forgives and then they are healed through the reception of communion."

Except that this is not the teaching of Jesus. God certainly forgives but the teaching is that there is no divorce. So if you marry again you are in sin and so can not receive communion. Even if you go to confession you have to acknowledge it is indeed a sin and be repentant. And I don't think looking to protestants for example is a good thing.
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written by Kristen Ciaccia, February 05, 2014
The question, "How do we care for divorced and remarried persons?" keeps being asked. But I think it is time, after 40 years of no-fault divorce and a steady stream of annulments, to ask, "How do we care for children of divorce?" or "Don't children have the right to an intact home?" or "When are we going to address the fact that leaving a difficult marriage results, like it or not, in forcing a child to carry a cross that was never designed to his in life?" The long term studies demonstrate that divorce, high conflict or low conflict, causes significant and long term harm to children. The legacy of instability follows a child through his entire life and into his subsequent relationships or marriages. If an adult feels he or she cannot bear the cross and maintain a union with his/her spouse, do you think that he/she is willing to suffer and sacrifice for the good of the child after the divorce? Is he/she willing to be the bigger person, forgive and forsake himself/herself for the best interests of the child? It's time for the Church to start asking about the children. Marriage is designed to bring forth children and provide a stable, intact family to raise them in. They are important to marriage, the reason for the union and their well-being and welfare should be paramount in this discussion. Unfortunaely, they still get left out of the questions.
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written by Tom Mulcahy, February 05, 2014
I don't know if this makes a difference but it seems to me that Jesus teaches about the indissolubility of marriage, so that even if a couple is legally divorced they are still married in the eyes of the Lord. So if they are still married, how can they be remarried? Or if they are remarried, w/o an annulment, how can they receive Holy Communion? The problem seems to be Jesus' teaching...and apparently he was a pretty knowledgeable man.

Tom

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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, February 05, 2014
You have hit the nail on the head. However, no one (yes I said, no one) nowadays believes that a human person is capable of living continently. I am NOT saying UNWILLING to live continently; I am saying UNABLE to live continently.

Don't believe me? Go ask the next 10 people between the ages of 21-60 whether they think it is possible for someone to do this.
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written by Robert Hill, February 05, 2014
One day at a time, Deacon. Unless they look at TV. Or the pictures in the checkout counter. Or the ads in the margin of their internet. Or otherwise lead themselves into temptation. Thoughts lead to words lead to actions lead to habits lead to character.
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written by Louise, February 05, 2014
JD, great article. The comments are a bit distressing in that too many don't seem to understand what Jesus said about adultery.
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written by Rosemary, February 05, 2014
Deacon Ed makes a good point. Couples don't marry a second time so that they can live without sex.
The remarried Germans clearly want to live in sin and have their sacraments, too. They may or may not understand that only one of their marriages is valid. lol

But not to worry, the Church comes to the rescue, and as Kristen rightly says, issues a "steady stream of annulments" to save the day!

I am sorry, J.D. Flynn, but most of us in the pews know what is happening here. The rubberstamping of annulments is ubiquitous; it is demoralizing, lacking in charity, gives scandal, diminishes the character of the sacrament, destroys families, and generally makes our Church leaders look like hypocrites.

But it's always the laypersons fault: we are weak, we are materialistic, we don't attend Mass, we don't go to confession, we don't share our goods, we are judgmental, etc. Oh, those pesky sheep! Why can't they be more like their shepherds? Well, we are.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, February 06, 2014
Robert Hill: I did not wish to leave the impression that continence in such cases is not desirable.

At one time I sat on an Institutional Review Board at a major medical center that reviewed research being done under hospital auspices for integrity from an ethics/ human subject protection point of view. This was a secular institution and much of the research where women were involved required them to be placed on contraceptives to avoid damage to a fetus if they were to become pregnant while taking the study's experimental drug.

I once asked at the Board meeting why an option wasn't given to the women to just maintain abstinence during the period of the study. I was almost laughed out of the room by the group of mostly MDs who informed me that people could not be expected to be able to not have sex (even though none of them at that meeting seemed to be engaged in sex at the time they were telling this to me).
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written by Sue, February 06, 2014
About annulment, itself a scandal being minimized by this article because of the outrageous push to ignore the annulment process by some divorce-remarrieds.

What if Alinsky/Screwtape told his followers: "“Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” Ie, overwhelm the Church with a tidal wave of annulment requests. What if?

Also, what about the priests who "marry" couples - shouldn't there be a John Jay study to figure out which priests performed the marriage process for couples who later annulled? and their rates of annulment? presumedly doing a bad job prepping the couples, wouldn't we say? Perhaps the Church should consider "annulling" those priesthoods if they find certain priests to have high rates of annulment. Thinking about this, the annulment mills might realize the wisdom of "defending the bond" of the original marriage a bit more assiduously. Especially for 30 year old marriages with plentiful children.

One pill makes us married, one pill makes us null...
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written by Abandoned Father/Husband, February 07, 2014
Neither Truth nor Justice nor concern for souls has any part in the Catholic Church Tribunals or its "Pastoral" practices.
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written by Rosemary, February 09, 2014
Amen, Sue. The bishops should know who is performing these invalid marriages. It's very odd how the bishops rant on about the sanctity of marriage and family and then rubber-stamp tens of thousands of annulments each year.

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