sacrament by sentiment?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Aug 07, 2006

Fr. Alberto Bonandi, a priest of the Diocese of Mantua, has proposed that divorced and remarried Catholics can be admitted to Communion even if they are not "living as brother and sister." His reasoning was subjected to some well-earned battery at the First Things blog. Jesuit theologian Fr. Donald Keefe likewise pulls no punches. Below, from Sandro Magister's blog, are Keefe's remarks:

Fr. Alberto Bonandi's argument may be summed up in a quotation:

"With this -- Bonandi writes -- it seems that Catholic doctrine ends up by recognizing the liceity, in a second relationship, of many aspects that characterize marriage, with the sole exception of sexual relations."
This a facile begging of the question: the ancient requirement of a chaste relationship between divorced and remarried Catholics as the condition of their receiving Communion requires precisely that the love and affection they have for each other can have no sexual expression.

This prohibition follows upon the sacramentality of marital intercourse. Lacking that sacramentality, their "second relationship" is pseudo-marital at best, as their first "relationship" was not. Bonandi wishes to regards their chaste, i.e., mutually continent, "second relation" as already sacramental, and thus as entailing a valid sexual expression.

His viewpoint is simply false. Bonandi's assimilation of two irreconcilables, a non-sacramental and a sacramental union, to the same category of "relationship" implies that these two situations exist in some sort of continuity, which is precisely what the Church has always denied. It should be kept in mind that the Church has no authority over her sacraments: they cause her; she does not cause them.

The then cardinal Ratzinger may have had in view the possibility of a non-sacramental union whose non-sacramentality would arguably rest upon the supposed absence of faith in the parties of the first marriages.

In the first place, it would be more than coincidental to find this absence of faith in both of the previous marriages in which the man and woman of the "second relationship" had been joined.

In the second place, to pose the possible invalidity of that "faithless" marriage is to reverse the indispensable presumption of the validity of the Church's public worship, a point of view reductively Donatist.

A considerable amount of ink has been spent on this topic: at what point the intention of the party or parties to a sacrament may be thought to affect the validity of the sacrament. It is evident enough that the worship of the Church is free, incapable of coercion. Any showing of coercion invalidates the sacrament, because of the obvious absence of a "sacramental intent" -- i.e., an intent to enter into the Church's worship. Apart from Baptism, that intent is required in all sacraments: without it, the ministers of marriage, the man and the woman, cannot enter into the free unity in "one flesh" which the sacrament causes, for they do not intend to do so.

Clearly, there is no empirical test of sacramental intent: its presence can never be proven. In these circumstances, the Canon Law relies upon presumptions: summarily, uncoerced entry of a baptized adult into the Church's sacramental signing raises a presumption of sacramental validity whose rebuttal in the case of marriage has become a cottage industry among canonists, in reliance upon psychological theories which have made a laughing stock of the Church's annulment practice.

We may suppose that pope Benedict is well aware of the consequences of the currently effective reversal of the presumptive validity of marriages by a canonical practice requiring proof of sacramental capacity. Heretofore, all the capacity needed was sacramental baptism and canonical age. Now one must prove one's psychological maturity, one's psychological freedom, and so on: matters which the usual diocesan judicialis knows nothing whatever, but upon which he decides nonetheless, routinely in the negative. This has been going on for more than thirty years with only a few whimpers from Rome. I hope the new appointments to the Apostolic Signatura may bring this long travesty to an end.

Bonandi's position is a direct assault upon sacramental realism. It cannot survive serious scrutiny. There was a time when the editors of theological journals provided that scrutiny, by which exercise of responsibility such fluff as Bonandi produces rarely found its way into print. However, the politicization of theology, not least by the priority given diplomatic agendas over orthdoxy during the past forty years, has made it impossible to rely upon the probity of the journals. Bishops in the United States have lived in terror of liberal theologians since the Council: they are generally more concerned for media approval than for orthodoxy.

Benedict XVI is facing a schism long nourished by the unwillingness of his Polish predecessor to govern the Church. A decade or so after John Paul II took office, a well known and highly influential theologian had observed this reluctance sufficiently to remark in my presence that he did not care what the pope said, only what he did. This stance is now nearly universal.

I doubt that any of this is news, but I've been fighting the Bonandis of this world for too long to let this one's insolence go by.

Donald J. Keefe, S.J.
Emeritus Professor of Theology
Fordham University

Viewed from the other end of the problem, who's more likely to be in charge of marriage instruction in your diocese, a Keefe or a Bonandi?

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Show 18 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Aug. 12, 2006 12:20 AM ET USA

    Pardon my New Jersey idiom but, in my opinion: "Fr. Keefe, SJ just gave it to Satan right in the 'nards". He coughed up his coco puffs like an alley cat coughing up a hair shirt. Oh, and to answer the last question: There's someone in charge of marriage instruction in my diocese? I'll alert the media, as Sir Geilgud said in Arthur.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2006 6:32 PM ET USA

    Altar Boy, I took no offense and I do understand where you're coming from. How? Most of the things I studied and read during my conversion were pre-Vatican II. We converts WANT "the old ways" which is another reason many ex-Protestants come to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is where the old ways LIVE. They are not dead. But ask any recent converts if we are a pre- or post-VCII Catholic and we will look at you, mystified. We simply came to the Catholic Church.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2006 4:45 PM ET USA

    Laity: Yes! Without qualification. Convert: I intended no harm. The call to conversion is heard in many different ways; the source of that call, however, is always the same. As for JPII, he was indeed a holy man, and he'll probably be well treated in the history books. There are so many problems in the Church, though, that I cannot agree with the many proclaiming his greatness. I wouldn’t expect you'd concur with my assessment, since I’m one of those stubborn folks attached to the “old ways."

  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2006 3:13 PM ET USA

    The 500 character limit does not allow a full thesis of why communism fell. Certainly JPII played a big part but so did President Reagan, Prime Minister Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and many others. Whomever stated that communism also collapsed from within was also correct -- but it had to be pushed! I sincerely believe the Blessed Mother had a role, too. A strong military presence -- peace through strength -- was also a factor; I was commissioned as an Air Force second lieutenant in 1986.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2006 2:21 PM ET USA

    altar boy: I like convert1994's conversion story. I was initially attracted to my wife for her outer beauty, but married her for her inner beauty. If someone is initally attracted to the Church by the charism of an individual, and then discovers the fullness of truth, that's OK isn't it?

  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2006 1:45 PM ET USA

    We converts are inspired by many things, most notably the Truth which totally exists within the Catholic Church. However, there are other inspirations which embolden our faith and desire for conversion; I fell in love with Mary along the way, for example. In the pro-life movement I met many holy priests and lay Catholics as well who prayed for me. In the Bible I saw the Catholic Church. And, last but not least, there was Pope John Paul II who I saw as my father leading me to THE Father.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2006 11:36 AM ET USA

    So, Convert, communism fell because of the actions of JPII? I don’t think so. Communism fell because the commies lost the will and the means to GOVERN effectively. The USA, of course, helped by providing some external motivation for the commies to grab the money and run, but the commie empire, like all evil empires of the past, collapsed from within. BTW: JPII aside, I’m sure you meant to write that converts are inspired, not by any man, but by the Church’s message of authentic Revelation.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2006 8:59 AM ET USA

    Govern, shmovern! So many of we converts were inspired by JPII and, personally, I KNEW I wanted him to be my shepherd. Besides, what was the Church's big opponent from the 1930s to the 1970s? Communism! Pius XII excommunicated communists, Paul VI threatened excommunication to Italians who voted communist, but John Paul II beat communism to a pulp. "How many divisions has the pope?" asked Stalin. Ol' Joe never knew the likes of Pope John Paul II!

  • Posted by: Neri - Aug. 08, 2006 10:48 AM ET USA

    Just for the record, Fr James Keenan is no longer a full time professor at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. He now has the rank of Adjunct. His full time work is at Boston College. One would think he moved to BC from WJST to escape the Vatican's oversight.

  • Posted by: Gene Church - Aug. 08, 2006 9:53 AM ET USA

    Let us not contribute to the Fall. While Bonandi is clearly wrong, my loyalty is to this Pope and the Magisterium of the Church.

  • Posted by: miasarx - Aug. 07, 2006 8:35 PM ET USA

    IMHO Fr. Keefe is the greatest living theologian. He should be called "Doctor of the Eucharist" for his incredibly beautiful theology of the Eucharist. He understands the Fall better than anyone I have ever read. Favorite Keefe quote: "Man and his world have no truth other than the mystery of the Eucharist, and no meaning or significance which does not find there its culmination". Read Keefe. Now. It doesn't get any better than Keefe, except at Mass.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Aug. 07, 2006 5:10 PM ET USA

    altar boy beat me to it. "Benedict XVI is facing a schism long nourished by the unwillingness of his Polish predecessor to govern the Church." I second altar boy's position and can only add, alas. Would that it were too harsh. For all his apparent personal piety and his undoubted popularity, and for his splendid writing, John Paul II did lack one thing a great pope needs: precisely what Fr. Keefe said, willingness to govern.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 07, 2006 3:22 PM ET USA

    "Benedict XVI is facing a schism long nourished by the unwillingness of his Polish predecessor to govern the Church." Exactly!And this is why all the cries of "John Paul the Great," though well intentioned, ring hollow. Under the reign of JPII, the Church, to its great detriment, has spawned generations of Bonandis. But at least we have World Youth Day, LifeTeen and a new set of mysteries (Praise the Lord!).

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Aug. 07, 2006 2:41 PM ET USA

    Uncle Di, in regards to your final comment: Fr. James Keenan, S.J. professor of Moral Theology at Weston School of theology once laughed at the restriction the Church once placed on a proportionalist, dissentient moral teologian. The Church prohibited him from teaching in seminaries but was permited to teach graduate courses. The Church in effect let him form moral theologians. Because of policies like that the marriage instruction in your dioceses is most likely done by a Bonandi clone.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 07, 2006 12:08 PM ET USA

    Sticker1898, I admire you! WOW! I hope and pray your marriage will be even stronger when blessed by the Church. "Benedict XVI is facing a schism long nourished by the unwillingness of his Polish predecessor to govern the Church." Isn't that a little harsh?

  • Posted by: - Aug. 07, 2006 9:22 AM ET USA

    I can only respond personally to this story. Twenty five years ago, a great priest gave us as our only option in order to recieve the Church's Sacraments. For all that time my wife and I dedicated ourselves to follow the example of Joseph and Mary in our relations. The miracle that took place was, not only did our spiritual union survive, but it grew deeper than we thought possible. Now the way is cleared for a legitimate Church wedding. Score 1 for tradition and 0 for Jesuit indoctrination.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 07, 2006 9:02 AM ET USA

    Score one for the GOOD Jesuits!

  • Posted by: Ignacio177 - Aug. 07, 2006 8:32 AM ET USA

    Yes, there are still Catholic Jesuits. This is a fine example.