St. Paul on marriage

Question: With all the talk about annulments and the synod lately, I have heard of something called the Pauline privilege. Someone on the radio was saying how this is just another example of how the Church plays loose with Jesus’ teaching anyway and should further loosen her rules.

Ed Jensen, Tampa, Florida

Answer: The Pauline privilege is the dissolution of a natural (not sacramental) marriage, which was contracted between two non-Christians, one of whom has since become a Christian. It is called the Pauline privilege because it is based upon St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians.

“If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her; and if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to go on living with her, she should not divorce her husband. ... If the unbeliever separates, however, let him separate; the brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace” (1 Cor 7:12-15).

Such marriages began with neither party as a Christian or a Catholic. But at a later time, one partner converts and is baptized.

The Pauline privilege is not really an annulment because it dissolves a real and natural marriage, whereas an annulment is a declaration that there never was a valid marriage to begin with. But it is possible to see at least some “natural marriages” as meeting Jesus’ own exception to forbidden divorce and remarriage. For Jesus only forbade the dissolution of “what God has joined together.” But note, as St. Paul says, if the non-believing party agrees to live with the believer in peace, then they should remain married.

It is hard to argue that the Church is “playing loose” with Jesus’ teaching when the Pauline privilege is drawn right from the same inspired Scripture — and from the writings of one of the apostles whom Jesus commissioned to teach in his name. In hearing St. Paul, we hear Jesus (cf., Lk 10:16).

No love for Church

Question: My daughter says she loves Jesus but just doesn’t like the Church (for lots of reasons). She doesn’t see any problem with this and doesn’t think going to church is necessary. Is there anything I can say to her?

Name withheld, via email

Answer: The Church is the body of Christ (cf., Col 1:18; 1 Cor 12:27; Rom 12:4-6). Hence, to declare love for Jesus but disdain for his body is inauthentic. We cannot have Jesus without his body. How would your daughter feel if someone said to her: “I love you, but your body is awful, ugly and I can’t stand it.” She would not appreciate this and discard any artificial distinctions between her and her own body. It is the same with Jesus. Perhaps if she can be taught to understand the rather insulting quality of her position, she will reconsider.

Certainly there are sinners and imperfection in Jesus’ body — the Church. But even historically, Jesus was found in the “strange company” of sinners. Many in Jesus’ time were scandalized by the associations he maintained. But he is found where he is found, not merely where we want him to be. So if your daughter loves Jesus and really wants to find him, she needs to join the rest of us poor sinners.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.