Dishonesty Compounded by Error
I do not like having to write article after contentious article against one who I thought was a fellow Catholic. After this series of controversial articles written against Teresa Benns of BetrayedCatholics, I have had considerable doubts as to the Catholicity of the woman. It just defies comprehension how one could a priori seek to invalidate the sacrament of Holy Matrimony based upon specious and disproven arguments in canon law by actual canonists. I am sorry, but either Benns is a non-Catholic sectarian heretic or else she is a megalomaniac who can’t help it.
In her most recent tirade against Holy Matrimony, Benns has blithely back-peddled to the effect that she actually says, of course, she was going to explain everything in due time and that we her critics (read here simply faithful and reasonable Catholics) were hasty in publishing criticisms of her position. She writes:
Marriage is a very complex subject requiring careful study and the clarification of many fine distinctions. Those critiquing this difficult canonical work would do well to let the author complete the explanation of the current situation before arriving prematurely at any conclusions. Those involved in serious research, especially, should know that one proceeds from the general to the particular. What is presented below will not answer all questions but should serve to help readers better understand points mentioned in the previous two blog posts. Because of the confusion created by our critics, we must make certain the following is understood.
First off, it is not this man, nor Laura Wood of ThinkingHousewife who has created the confusion. On the contrary, it is I, not Benns who have attempted to open a window to let in the breeze and sunshine of authentic Catholic thought on marriage, to air out and illuminate the stuffy nonsense which Benns is addicted to publishing. The canonical work that Benns is trying to do is neither necessary nor is she competent to do it, as has been demonstrated by the series of articles published last week. Nor am I trained in canon law to reason against her specious argumentation, not because she is right and I am wrong, but because neither of us have any business doing so. The whole difficulty and danger of BetrayedCatholics is that Benns relies on canon law to show that one should not go to Traditionalists, when what she should have been doing was resting her claims on what is certain and demonstrable from the scope of her competency to know, which is a catechism. She has no business fabricating arguments (and, reader, that is what she has been doing, fabricating) to advise people to stay away from the Traditionalists sacraments. The reasons why are are follows:
Teresa Benns is not a trained canonist. Indeed she is not even a college graduate. It is simply incorrigible presumption and arrogance to think one can pick up the tools and materials of a science one has no training in. Imagine if I were to presume upon my abilities and knowledge to conduct experiments in the lab with the tools and materials of microbiology, perhaps in an attempt to replicate the Bubonic plague in a Petri dish. The effects would be astoundingly tragic, since I wouldn’t know the first thing about lab protocol, biological ethics, or any number of things about biology or microbes. Likewise, the consequences of Benns meddling in a science she has no training has been astoundingly tragic, even more so than were she to attempt to replicate the Black Death, because at least then it would only be the body that comes to an agonizing end. Now it is marriage, family life, childhoods, the domestic church, and above all individual souls which are coming to an agonizing end. That is on Teresa’s conscience–if she has one.
Marriage is not complex, contrary to what Benns claims. The conditions for its valid reception can be summed up in a sentence: If you are baptized, exchange vows before two witnesses, you are sacramentally married. As I published last week the scholarly statement on the topic found in the Catholic Encyclopedia: “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.”
Benns lists those things we should keep in mind that she believes:
- We speak here only of marriage between two certainly baptized Catholics.
- In cases of marriage, doubtful baptisms are presumed to be valid until proven otherwise.
- The Church teaches that the marriages of those not Catholic are valid, but not fruitful regarding grace and not recognized by the Church as valid Catholic marriages. This would include Traditionalist and Novus Ordo marriages since these sects are schismatic.
- The marriage of two Catholics acting in a time period when no Catholic priest is available appear to be invalid if held as a religious ceremony before a non-Catholic minister in a non-Catholic church.
- It cannot be admitted that an after-the-fact invocation of Can. 1098 as a kind of “supplied jurisdiction” or application of epikeia can be said to validate Novus Ordo or Traditionalist marriages given the implications of Can. 2319.
- The only situation anticipated in these discussions is that of a Traditionalist or Novus Ordo person who decides to become a pray-at-home Catholic, renounces his/her previous errors, makes a Profession of Faith, arrives at moral certainty that the marriage was not valid and now wishes to rectify matters.
To the first bullet: no, Teresa, you have spoken and passed judgment on non-Catholic as well as Catholic marriages. Indeed your whole argument has been predicated upon saying that marriages before non-Catholic ministers are not sacramental.
To the second: you presume that marriages conducted before Traditionalists are not valid.
Third: You have changed your tune. You wrote:
Here you are presuming that the marriage was validly contracted and that the spouses can possibly reconcile their differences in the future. Of course the Church has always allowed separation; this should go without saying. But we are not just talking about tensions here, but very real moral and spiritual calamities — including possible loss of faith — that afflict many of those believing themselves to be validly married. As another reader has also pointed out, the very fact that such calamities occur, that there are “irreparable divisions,” is only backhanded proof that the graces that should have been received in a sacramental unionwere never received; the marriage was not valid, hence not sacramental. The Church’s “mercy and realism” extends to the sacramental reality of things, don’t you think?
Here you call into question, not just the Catholic nature (what is this exactly?) of marriages before non-Catholics, but you even chide Laura Wood for presuming upon the validity of the contract of marriage. Further, you argue that the apparent absence of grace in a union is proof that the marriage was not valid, and “hence, not sacramental.” But this is a direct contradiction, not only to the bullet point under discussion, but to the Catholic Encyclopedia article which expressly states in no uncertain terms that even a marriage contracted in a sect is to be regarded as “undoubtably a sacrament,” and so able to give grace.
Next, as to the appearance of invalidity of those who marry outside the Catholic Church, this, too, is flatly contradicted by the Catholic Encyclopedia article oft quoted:
“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.”
Did you read that? It doesn’t matter if you are a heretic or schismatic or infidel, if you are baptized and marry, you are sacramentally married. This has been the constant teaching of the Church, the denial of which is at least theological error, if not heresy, since it touches upon the nature of the sacraments.
Next bullet point: It can be admitted that invocation of c.1098 is not necessary, because that is commonsense and simply a positive application of the legal maxim, Ignoratia legis non excusat. Nor is Benns ignorant as to what the Church teaches regarding the conditions of matrimony, since these articles should not have left her in any doubt.
And, finally, as to the statement: “The only situation anticipated in these discussions is that of a Traditionalist or Novus Ordo person who decides to become a pray-at-home Catholic, renounces his/her previous errors, makes a Profession of Faith, arrives at moral certainty that the marriage was not valid and now wishes to rectify matters,” I say this: How can one arrive at the moral certainty that a marriage was not valid? What are the conditions of invalidity, because the only conditions which were listed thus far have been proven specious and theologically erroneous and not found in the law at all.
Now, as to the rest of the article which Benns pens in order to obfuscate and confuse her readers and avoid stating the obvious, that she was dead wrong about all this travesty, she relies upon a funny little word in order to make her case that those who are unhappy in their marriage may have a Get-Out-of-Jail Free card in their hand it they should so happen to require one. That word is seems. Here are the instances:
“Woywod-Smith seem to be explaining above that because no latae sententiae sentence is prescribed for two Catholics marrying in a religious ceremony before a non-Catholic minister, this is only an attempted marriage…”
“This seems to indicate that both those contracting mixed marriage AND those attempting marriage do incur the excommunication.”
“This seems to be in harmony with the decree.”
“The truth here seems to be that two baptized Catholics presenting before a non-Catholic minister and engaging in a religious ceremony only attempt marriage…”
As has been shown above, a marriage officiated even before non-Catholic ministers is considered to be undoubtedly sacramental. No amount of canon lawing can change that, and those who would attempt it, who are not themselves canon lawyers, are simply playing the part of pharisees, trying to put asunder what God hath joined. What I have quoted from does not use such Gertrudian language. And I would add that the character Queen Gertrude in the Shakespearean play of Hamlet is incapable anymore of determining in reason certainties, such that she cannot even understand the sorrow of her own son! This is because she herself is guilty of not having enough sorrow for her late husband, and so she tries to dowse the reality and darkness of sorrow with sunlight, but Hamlet has within the truth he knows so well, which will not yield. That is why, Hamlet, above all the other characters of the play, is, quite contrary to what everyone believes, the only sane man in a kingdom of lunatics. Claudius is a murderous madman; Gertrude a sorrow-less widow; Polonius a moral relativist; Ophelia a relativist and tool. With Laertes, Hamlet’s murderer, being perhaps the only other sane man of the play, but even he is ravaged by the thirst for vengeance, whereas Hamlet has been disposed to control his desire for vengeance like a saint.
The whole point of Hamlet is that he does not act or decide or think based upon what seems but rather acts according to what is. He tries everything to see what spirit it is of, because he knows the feebleness of man’s nature, not because he despairs of that feebleness. He trusts rather to what is, what can be known for sure, than to what seems to be, for it is sanity and sanctity that certainty resides in what is, whereas madness dwells in what seems. You are perfectly at liberty to follow BetrayedCatholics, but if you do, think of the consequences:
What if it tempt you to the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff That beetles o’er his base into the sea, And there assume some other horrible form, Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason And draw you into madness? Think of it.