Rules against Remarriage Driving Souls Away

Article excerpt

In one of the more distant Chicago suburbs where there are no alleys, there is a mega-church that can draw over 15,000 worshipers on a Sunday in Ordinary Time and over 30,000 on holidays of the first class. From time to time, I'm told, the minister will ask for a show of hands. "How many of you are Catholics?" he asks.

And half the crowd stands to acknowledge their cradle faith.

One reason that Catholics take their souls to a heretic church is that they feel they have forfeited their membership in the Roman church because they violated one or more of the complex marriage laws. Their numbers are growing faster than some other branches of the tree of Christianity. But the church does not seem inclined to relax the rules. In fact, just last July 6, the Vatican announced that divorced and remarried Catholics are prohibited from receiving the Eucharist while sacramentally bound by a previous valid marriage. Fortunately, I can't think of a parish that bar codes its parishioners in order to insure adherence to this cruel prohibition.

In the Dec. 16 issue of America, Michael Hout, professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, presents some disturbing statistics on the impact of the current discipline in the church.

According to Hout, one-half of American Catholic marriages end in divorce. Half of the divorced Catholics remarry, thus affecting about 10 million people. Perhaps as many as 10 million Catholics will marry these divorced Catholics.

Currently, 17 to 20 percent of divorced and remarried Catholics leave the church. Sixteen percent of the 51 million adult Catholics in the United States are currently divorced, and 9 percent have been divorced and remarried in the past. All told, some 17 million Catholics have experienced divorce. In fact, by the 20th anniversary of their first marriage, Hout concludes, 48 percent of Catholics have been divorced.

While divorced Catholics attend Mass as regularly as married Catholics their age, about one in five of those who remarry consider themselves ex-Catholics, and at least one-third join and become active in a congregation of another faith.

If any other faith or social group were experiencing such leakage, its leaders would be in a panic. Further, in the church's canon of sins, an invalid marriage may be the only sin left that bars one from a place at the table. Sadly of late, the pastoral church has become the Pentagon church, drowning in rules and regulations.

I am saddened when I scan the obituary notices in the public prints each morning and discover people with names and detailed backgrounds that reflect a Catholic heritage. I discover that they are being buried from the funeral home or following a service at another Christian church. Many list stepchildren that suggest a second marriage and thus an exit visa from the Catholic church.

The information brought me back to a cluster of theology courses I took at Fordham University during summers in New York over 40 years ago. …