A journalist named Ljubomir Milasin has just written an online news article for the Associated Foreign Press entitled “Pope breaks taboo by marrying couples who ‘lived in sin'”, quickly proliferated in several outlets such as Yahoo! News and France 24, among countless others. Cue the “Fantasy Francis” alert!On 14 September 2014, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, in a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis presided over the marriages of 20 Roman couples. This event had been in the works for weeks, and the identity of the various couples were revealed in the buildup to the ceremony. Among them were couples who cohabitated and bore children without having been married in the Church. One of the men was entering his “second marriage” (I use that phrase loosely)– his first had received an ecclesiastical annulment. Obviously, Francis is sending a clear message– but not the message that the mainstream media and culture may have you believe.
What Milasin’s article implies is a flat-out falsehood. Francis is not breaking any taboos. These ceremonies happen in the Church all the time. By using the polemical term “living in sin”, Milasin implies that something revolutionary is happening here, as if the warm and merciful Francis is benevolently shattering the cold, restrictive tradition of the Church, as if the Church forbids marrying people who “live in sin”. In fact, what the Pope did was simply to apply the Church’s remedy to couples in irregular situations. Dr. Edward Peters, that indomitable canonist, explains on his website why, canonically and theologically, this is a non-issue:
No divine, natural, or canon law impedes a wedding between cohabiting persons (cc. 1083-1094) and therefore the fundamental right of the faithful to the sacraments in general (cc. 213, 843) and to marriage particular (c. 1058) should prevail in such cases. Unquestionably, these couples can, and must be allowed to, wed.
Dr. Peters is by no means a Kasperesque antinominian; yet he says, “unquestionably, these couples can, and must be allowed to, wed”. Furthermore, canon law provides no impediment to these couples who seek marriage in the Church. Why?
The answer is simple: by marrying in the Church, these couples resolve their situation, and the Church has always encouraged unmarried, cohabitating couples to do so, for the sacramental benefit of the couple. If they have children, resolving the marriage in the Church is to the children’s benefit as well, that they might benefit from the sacramental graces which flow from their parents. The bonum sacramenti perfects the bonum fidei and the bonum prolis. Having been present at such ceremonies, the insinuation that the Pope is breaking new ground on this matter is simply mind-boggling to me. On the contrary, to regularize those in irregular situations is precisely the mission of the Church.
Yet– whether disingenuously or carelessly– Milasin’s article fails to point out another way in which the Pope is not breaking new ground. I mean that in his homily, Pope Francis, once again, explicitly and strongly reaffirmed that marriage is fundamentally a union of a man and a woman. After telling the new spouses that marriage is difficult and will inevitably bring moments moments of trial, he reminds them of the remedy which can restrengthen their bond– the power of Christ’s love.
[Pope Francis] L’amore di Gesù, che ha benedetto e consacrato l’unione degli sposi, è in grado di mantenere il loro amore e di rinnovarlo quando umanamente si perde, si lacera, si esaurisce. L’amore di Cristo può restituire agli sposi la gioia di camminare insieme; perché questo è il matrimonio: il cammino insieme di un uomo e di una donna, in cui l’uomo ha il compito di aiutare la moglie ad essere più donna, e la donna ha il compito di aiutare il marito ad essere più uomo. Questo è il compito che avete tra voi. “Ti amo, e per questo ti faccio più donna” – “Ti amo, e per questo ti faccio più uomo”. E’ la reciprocità delle differenze.
[My translation] The love of Jesus, which has blessed and consecrated the union of spouses, has the power to maintain their love and to renew it when, in a human manner, it is lost, wounded, and exhausts itself. The love of Christ can restore to the spouses the joy of walking their path together, for this is marriage: the common path of a man and a woman, in which the man has the task of helping his wife to be more of a woman, and the woman has the task of helping her husband become more of a man. This is the task which you share between yourselves, as if to say: “I love you and for this, I will make you more of a man”–“I love you, and for this, I will make you more of a woman”. It is reciprocity within differences.
Once more, Pope Francis takes for granted the complementarity of the sexes as the foundation for marital union. Isn’t it interesting that, when the Pope expresses the perennial Catholic doctrine on marriage, the Anglophone media conveniently omits those words, while frantically attempting to depict Francis as a patron saint of licentiousness? Shame on Milasin and the countless news outlets who have grossly mischaracterized not only Church doctrine and practice, but Pope Francis himself.
As the Pope said in an interview earlier this year, referring to the phenomenon of Francis-mania, “I don’t like the ideological interpretations, a certain ‘mythology of Pope Francis’… Sigmund Freud said, if I’m not mistaken, that in every idealization there is an aggression. To depict the Pope as a type of superman, a kind of star, seems offensive to me.” He understands that the media has hijacked his public persona in an attempt to make him into somebody he is not. We see how this is done: secular modernists and “journalists” like Milasin invent ecclesial controversies ex nihilo, to be vanquished by their deus ex machina of choice, the Fantasy Francis. Of course, the Fantasy Francis always wins, mostly because his opponents are made of straw.
The aggressive media offensive against the real Pope Francis continues in earnest. Let not Catholics be fooled: by marrying couples in irregular situations, the Pope is doing what the Church has done for centuries: sanctifying and ratifying the love between a man and woman so that, to use the phrase in Milasin’s article, those couples will live no longer “in sin,” but in the love of each other and of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his grace, let no man put asunder the holy union of one man and one woman which he divinely ordained.