Church Law–Not Always Just

On numerous occasions, Pope Francis has expressed concern about the judgmental stance of the church on issues of sexual relations, annulments, and remarriage of divorced Catholics.  Part of his concern, I suspect, is that our faith teaches that God is the one true judge and His ways are not our ways.  When we set ourselves up as judges for one another, we get littered with incongruities and ironies that are tough to reconcile.

A friend of mine recently petitioned for an annulment so that he could remarry with the church’s blessing; but it was denied by the local tribunal—the ecclesial office that makes judgments on behalf of the church.  An annulment is a statement by church authorities that frees a previously married person from his/her prior bond because the union is determined to be non-sacramental.  Annulments are granted for various circumstantial reasons.  Some are due to loopholes, like if the couple in the former marriage did not follow the proper form of the marriage rite.  But most petitioners have to present convincing evidence that they did not understand or live out aspects of the sacrament; for example, annulments are often granted because of abandonment, addiction, adultery, physical abuse, or some forms of deception or mental illness.  This annulment was denied essentially because the petitioner did not want to indict his former spouse.  While enduring the two-year annulment process, he was schooled by two priests handling the case on what it means to honor a sacrament—ironically, both have been restricted in their priestly service because of their own sexual improprieties.

It is obvious, on occasion, that life is not fair and laws are not imposed justly.  Fortunately, God is ultimately in charge, not those who impose laws.  Sometimes people, from judges to common folk, make crucial mistakes and have to pay for them the rest of their earthly lives.  Those who find themselves in such difficult situations are left to follow their heart, their well-informed conscience, and Christ who continuously went out of His way to welcome legal castaways like themselves.

In this, Jesus did not teach us to ignore the law but to rise above its injustices.  The task of the Church is to help people come closer to The Lord, not to push them away, not to judge but to help them reach back to the outstretched hand of Christ.  Our canonical law, like our civil law, does a good job in offering structure for us to operate in an organized moral fashion; but sometimes it gets things wrong and does not deliver justice.  For that, we must rely on the eternal judge.

We are each imperfect.  We have all, at one time or another, been judged unfavorably by others.  Let us pray for those placed in positions of earthly judgment and those who are currently suffering because of judgement rendered upon them.  As our Holy Father reminds us, let us be careful in our judgments and remember that our one true judge is God.