I’ve been wrestling with this Catholic vs Anglican thing for a while now. I’m happily part of a thriving Anglican parish now and my wife and I are growing deeper in our relationships with Christ and each other.
But in the background I’ve continued to consider the claims of the Catholic church and wrestle with the problems of biblical authority, interpretation and so on. I’ve also paid some attention to the views of the Eastern Orthodox on the matter of the primacy of Rome.
After all of the arguments back and forth, pro and con, I think I’ve come to realize something. I can get on board with a lot of things. I could handle praying to the saints. Properly understood I know that it is simply asking saints in heaven to intercede in prayer for us just like we have people down here on earth pray for us. I see no reason why I couldn’t ask Peter or Mary or Augustine to remember me in prayer before the Lord. I don’t think it’s a requirement, but not a problem for me either. Obviously being in the Anglican church I don’t have a problem with liturgical worship. I can even handle things like transubstantiation. And though it would be a leap of faith I think I’d be able to come around to the Catholic view on contraception and related issues such as IVF.
The stumbling block that I cannot seem to get over is the Catholic position on divorce and remarriage. What makes it even more difficult is how I’ve seen annulments handled with certain prominent Catholics in politics for instance, where the bishop seems to hand out annulments like a PEZ dispenser. Meanwhile folks who don’t have that kind of influence or who don’t have a neat and tidy excuse to have their marriage annulled suffer. I know too many Godly people who love Christ and strive to follow him with all that they have who nonetheless through no fault of their own have been divorced. Either their spouse left them for a younger model, or was physically and emotionally abusive, or was a serial adulterer who’d been forgiven and taken back many times before, or sexually abused their children or the couple simply married when they were young and immature and were unprepared for what marriage requires but now one of them has gotten serious about their walk of faith…the list of reasons goes on and on. Under Catholic doctrine, unless they can show some arcane reason as to why their marriage wasn’t a “true” marriage to begin with…maybe the spouse was gay and never told them for instance…they are stuck. They can’t date and remarry and find love again unless the spouse who was at fault and left comes to their senses.
I simply can’t come to grips with that. I know what the interpretations of the passage from Matthew are according to Catholic doctrine. When Jesus said that except for sexual immorality, divorcing and remarrying is committing adultery, Protestants and Catholics see it differently. Catholics say that the Greek word “porneia” that is translated as sexual immorality doesn’t simply mean “fornication” or “adultery”, it means something more specific such as the aforementioned “secretly gay spouse” or perhaps a partner that entered the marriage already cheating on the other and having no intention of being faithful sexually in the marriage. Or it could be something more perverted. But it’s not simply having an affair.
What gives me reason to doubt the Catholic take on this is that Paul also addresses divorce in 1st Corinthians. Paul says that if an unbelieving spouse abandons a believing spouse, the believer who was abandoned is not “under bondage” in that situation any longer. What “bondage” would there be in that situation except continuing to be tied to a spouse that has left you with no intention of ever returning? Or perhaps even having remarried themselves? It would seem to me that Paul would not mention abandonment as a reason for divorce if Jesus was really restricting it just to very specific instances where a valid marriage never took place to begin with. You can’t choose what Jesus said but disregard Paul’s words because after all, Paul was speaking as the Holy Spirit directed him to speak. The letter to the Corinthians is just as binding as the Gospel of St. Matthew.
Don’t take me the wrong way, I hate divorce. I know God hates it. The best and most ideal outcome in these situations is to work to repair the relationship, bring the offending party to repentance and have a healthy marriage come out the other side. But it takes two to tango as the saying goes. I do not believe it was Christ’s intention to create a doctrinal situation where an adulterer essentially gets to put their spouse in a state of indefinite limbo while they whore around and go remarry one of their lovers.
For this reason, and the many people I’ve met over my life who are divorced for reasons the Catholic church would not deem worthy of an annulment, and who are repentant and hate that their previous marriage failed but have remarried and are committed and fully faithful to that marriage, I cannot be Catholic. I understand that to be Catholic means you sign up for everything they teach. I cannot assent to such a view.