The Pauline Privilege

Question: I wonder if you could explain the “Pauline Privilege” and if it still applies after the Second Vatican Council.

— Carol Sayles, Taylorsville, Utah

Answer: The Pauline Privilege refers to the dissolution by the Church of the marriage of two persons not baptized at the time the marriage occurred. Its name comes from the fact that its biblical protocol is found in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul writes: “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, she should not divorce her husband. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother. Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy. If the unbeliever separates, however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace” (7:12-15).

Explained more directly, the Pauline Privilege is invoked by the Church under certain conditions: First, if neither husband nor wife was baptized Christians at the time the marriage took place. Second, if either husband or wife was baptized after the marriage had taken place, while the other party remained unbaptized. Third, if the unbaptized person abandoned the marriage by divorce or simple departure from the marriage or made life unbearable for the Christian and was unwilling to live in peace with him or her. If these conditions are fulfilled, the original marriage may be dissolved by the Church and the Christian party is given the right to enter into marriage with another Christian or even a nonbaptized person. The Pauline Privilege is still used in the Church’s canonical processes.

Is suffering good?

Question: I grew up in the west of Ireland in the 1950s. I had a brother who had cancer and he was hospitalized for a long time. He was constantly in pain, but the sister in charge of the ward kept telling him that too much pain medicine was bad for him, as it took away the opportunity for him to do penance for his sins and to suffer with Christ. To this day, I have resented the sister’s attitude. Please comment.

— Name withheld, Quincy, Mass.

Answer: I can certainly understand your resentment. If you are representing accurately what the sister said, then it is clear that she was not well-schooled. Suffering is not good in itself; it goes against the will of God. Nor does God take pleasure in human suffering or forgive sins in exchange for our suffering. God’s work is being done, not least in the medical profession, when suffering is alleviated; painkilling drugs are themselves gifts from God.

There is a big difference, however, between regarding suffering in itself as redemptive and connecting our suffering to the suffering of Christ. God gives us Christ as a model of suffering. Suffering is an inevitable aspect of life. How do we handle it? As heroically as Christ did. The suffering Christian always places his or her predicament — especially that of terminal illness — in the perspective of eternity, holds on to the vision of Christ triumphing on the cross and recognizes that Christ suffers in us and with us. Suffering — as awful as it may be — provides the Christian an opportunity to grow in faith.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.