The Fox and the Hound and the Red Herring

“The figurative sense of “red herring” was thought to originate from a supposed technique of training young scent hounds. There are variations of the story, but according to one version, the pungent red herring would be dragged along a trail until a puppy learned to follow the scent. Later, when the dog was being trained to follow the faint odour of a fox or a badger, the trainer would drag a red herring (whose strong scent confuses the animal) perpendicular to the animal’s trail to confuse the dog. The dog eventually learned to follow the original scent rather than the stronger scent,” (Wikipedia, “Red Herring”).

What follows is an attempt to follow that original scent through the confusing odor of a red herring left in our path.

Teresa Benns of BetrayedCatholics has posted a lengthy addendum to her latest article in which she attempts to cover her tracks of faulty understanding of canon law but in the process only succeeds in further showing, if not her canon law incompetency, then her capacity for seemingly willful deception.

Benns began by a defensive attack on Laura Wood, ThinkingHouseWife, a sincere and thoughtful commenter, with a refreshingly balanced mind and, yes, a thinking housewife, launching this invective:

“Your article is a grave attack on Catholic marriages!”

So wails the anti-Canon Law crowd that just “liked” the article on the need to obey Canon Law (?) They cite nary one canon in their favor, no papal or conciliar documents, not even theological opinions. But they believe they have the right to disagree, to snipe, even to condemn. Canon Law and scholastic theology require proofs to establish a credible argument, but this is apparently not something they feel obligated to do. Let them prove Traditionalists and some Novus Ordoites were never baptized; that they are not at least material heretics and schismatics and that therefore Can. 1094 does not apply to them. Maybe then their objections would make more sense. Ah, but they have no answer to this either, no proofs. They apparently love to argue, so perhaps they would like to take on the pope, or the Roman Rota below.

These are not the words of a steady Catholic woman who believes she has a duty to defend the Catholic faith against her enemies. This is the acrid response of a venomous woman backed in a corner of an argument she cannot escape. The only option she has is to either admit that she is wrong, and humbly submit to truth, or, as she rather does, throw us off the scent by leaving us to read irrelevant laws and commentaries while she retreats to her foxhole.

The fact is it has been demonstrated to anyone of goodwill and commonsense that if you were married by a non-Catholic at least before two witnesses, your marriage is valid.

Now, Benns wants us to focus on the baptized and unbaptized Traditionalists since, according to her, this is relevant to whether one comes under the law of c. 1094. But we have already seen that, whenever there is no Catholic priest available, one may validly and licitly exchange vows before two witnesses and this, whether they are baptized or not, as even Benns’s source states:

Non-Catholics baptized and unbaptized are exempt from the Catholic form of marriage whenever they marry persons similarly not bound by it.

So, I ask, why are we being told to prove the invalidity of baptism of Traditionalists, when, according to Benns, Traditionalists are non-Catholics? I thought the whole Get-Out-of-Marriage Free Card argument of BetrayedCatholics was that marriage before a non-Catholic minister was no marriage at all under c.1094? The answer is that Benns believes Traditionalists and Novus Ordos are not non-Catholics but schismatics, and this, apparently, makes them fall under the law of c.1094:

Anyone who reads this site knows that we have long considered Traditional pseudo-clerics and their followers schismatic. Schismatics are those certainly baptized in the Catholic faith who publicly joined a non-Catholic sect; they are no longer members of the Church according to Canons 2200 and 2314. They are not only schismatics but are at least material heretics for their denial of the necessity of the papacy. Material heretics are considered as outside the Church until their cases can be decided by the proper authorities (Can. 2200; Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey, others). So according to Pope St. Pius X and Pope Pius XII’s reinstatement of his Ne Temere decree, the marriages of lapsed Catholics and schismatics must be conducted according to the canonical form, which in the past was by a lawful pastor delegated to act as an authoritative witness in such marriages, (but in his absence today, the canonical form can only be Can. 1098). Novus Ordo sectarians and Traditionalists are married under neither.

If you are getting confused, that is the point. It is the point of Benns to make this whole affair much more complicated than it really is. Thankfully for you, that is what I am here for, to do the unravelling and untangling of the knot of confusion Benns has worked so hard to make, all in the service, ironically, of trying to untie the matrimonial knot of Catholics.

It is true that lapsed Catholics, those who where baptized in the Church but fell away from the faith in adulthood, are obliged to follow the marriage laws of the Church. This would demand that they be married before a Catholic priest with jurisdiction. Of course, we have seen that there is an exception to this requirement if there are no Catholic priests available. But now the question Benns puts before us is whether those who were fallen away Catholics actually married or not. Benns writes:

So if as pray-at home Catholics we believe validly baptized Traditionalists are schismatic, (and Canon Law teaches that they are), they also are bound by the proper canonical form to marry. Therefore, we can only say that their marriages before one who was not a lawful pastor were invalid and Can.1098 was never invoked; this is precisely what the Church teaches.

It may be that there were individuals who had been baptized in the actual Catholic Church and not the Novus Ordo sect or Sedevacantist sect, but who later in adulthood fell away from the Church and got married before a non-Catholic minister, like an Sede priest, and who, subsequently fell under the law of Ne Temere. Thus, they would be obliged to have been married by a Catholic priest for validity according to c.1094. The problem, though, is c.1098, which makes this whole discussion about schismatics fluff and stuff and irrelevant, because, quite contrary to what Benns claims, no invocation or even knowledge of law is required for it to come into effect. All that is required for the law to be effective are the conditions which come under the law. The law does not depend on one’s knowledge or will, unless, of course, they are God.

But why is Benns talking about baptism of schismatics now, instead of addressing The Jurist quotation? The answer is simple enough: obfuscation. Benns is hoping that, with the introduction of the idea of valid baptism, we are going to run after that trail instead of following the scent of the wounded animal and track it down into its lair. This is an informal fallacy known as a red herring, an irrelevant point or argument used wittingly or no but with the ultimate effect of confusing and misleading the reader.

In closing out this controversy, I would like to make a final point, not scientific but nevertheless persuasive. If you find yourself struggling to understand what Benns is writing, or, conversely, if you do not have much difficultly reading what I write here, it is not because Benns treats subjects which are more difficult to comprehend, whereas I skim the surface of things, as it were, and never do a deep dive.

The cause of confusion is rather to be found in the mind of the writer. We cannot give what we do not have. If we have no clarity of thought, we surely cannot give it. I pride myself on being simple, it is true. I try to present things in an easy to understand and casual way, to help my readers understand what I am saying. I do not overburden you with needless information, redundant or irrelevant argument, because my intention is that you understand what I am trying to say. Now, ask yourself, what is Teresa Benns’s intention based upon her not addressing The Jurist quotation and evidence I presented, indeed not even mentioning it at all, but rather taking jabs at a deeply concerned and well-intentioned fellow Catholic blogger, Laura Wood.

What is Teresa Benn’s intention in writing up an addendum at least half as long as the origin post which says precisely nothing to the purpose? I would argue, as I think I have convincingly suggested above, that Teresa Benns’s intention is to confuse and deceive There could be any number of deeply personal reasons for why she has published such scandalous and destructive articles to the detriment of Holy Matrimony. But one thing is certainly clear in this writer’s mind: Teresa Benns has not a love of the truth.

I shall leave you with this intolerably but necessarily long quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia on the Sacrament of Marriage which puts it beyond doubt that those who are schismatics are nevertheless married:

“As we have several times emphasized, not every marriage is a true sacrament, but only marriages between Christians. One becomes and remains a Christian in the sense recognized here through valid baptism. Hence only one who has been validly baptized can contract a marriage which is a sacrament; but every one can contract it who has been validly baptized, whether he has remained true to the Christian faith, or become a heretic, or even an infidel. Such has always been the teaching and practice of the Church. Through baptism one “becomes a member of Christ and is incorporated in the body of the Church“, as declared in the Florentine Decree for the Armenians; so far as law is concerned, he remains irrevocably subject to the Church, and is therefore, in legal questions, always to be considered a Christian. Hence it is a general principle that all baptized persons are subject to universal ecclesiastical laws, especially marriage laws unless the Church makes an exception for individual cases or classes. Hence not only the marriage between Catholics, but also that contracted by members of the different sects which have retained baptism and validly baptize, is undoubtedly a sacrament. It matters not whether the non-Catholic considers marriage a sacrament or not, or whether he intends to effect a sacrament or not. Provided only he intends to contract a true marriage, and expresses the requisite consent, this intention and this expression are sufficient to constitute a sacrament. But if he is absolutely determined not to effect a sacrament, then, of course, the production of a sacrament would be excluded, but the marriage contract also would be null and void. By Divine ordinance it is essential to Christian marriage that it should be a sacrament; it is not in the power of the contracting parties to eliminate anything from its nature, and a person who has the intention of doing this invalidates the whole ceremony. It is certain, therefore, that marriage contracted between baptized persons is a sacrament, even the so-called mixed marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, provided the non-Catholic has been validly baptized. It is equally certain that marriage between unbaptized persons is not a sacrament in the strict sense of the word,” (Emphasis added).  

Do not be confused. Do not be deceived. If you and your partner were baptized and exchanged vows before two witnesses, no matter what your religious standing was, fallen away Catholic, schismatic, or heretic, you were validly and sacramentally married.