Question: If a priest who has had five years to discern his vocation can be laicized, why does a couple who may court only six months to a year need a Church annulment, especially if it was due to abuse or alcoholism and the like? Doesn’t a person who wishes to remarry deserve happiness without having to go through a long, emotional process?
Answer: Your question seems to imply that laicization is a simple process. It is not, and often takes investigation, the preparing of a petition and sometimes the gathering of testimony. This may take years to complete. Annulments, while not easy, can often be accomplished in six months to a year, depending on the diocese and complexity of the case. Neither are easy.
Laicization does not generally seek to prove an ordination never took place or was invalid. It presumes the man was validly ordained and only releases him of his ecclesial obligations to live all the disciplines of priestly life.
Annulment, on the other hand, is the recognition by the Church that a valid Catholic marriage never occurred, as something essential was lacking. This requires proof that must be presented and then considered. Like laicization, this takes some time.
Both processes ultimately involve matters of great sadness and have significant pastoral implications. For while recognizing human struggles, the Church must also seek to uphold the gravity of vows that are made. Showing compassion to the individuals who seek annulments or laicization must be balanced with the common good, the reality of sacraments and what Scripture teaches. Hence the pastoral process involved must necessarily be thorough and careful.
Question: Why don’t the bishops excommunicate self-proclaimed Catholic politicians who not only dissent from Church teaching, but actively work to undermine the Church’s mission?
Answer: When it comes to excommunication, or denying holy Communion to someone, we are dealing not only with Church Law, but also with the prudential application of that Law. It would seem that most bishops consider the application of these penalties, in public ways, to be imprudent.
In Scripture, we see that Jesus himself gives answers as to how to deal with sinners in the Church. He offers that for unrepentant sinners who will not even listen to the Church, they should be considered as a tax collector or Gentile (i.e., excommunicated) (Mt 18:17). But elsewhere Jesus tells a parable that, when the field hands urged the owner to tear out the weeds from the field, the owner cautioned that to do so might harm the wheat. He then said, let them grow together to the harvest (see Mt 13:30).
Hence we see that a prudential judgment is necessary. Currently many bishops have expressed concerns that to excommunicate would make “martyrs” of these public figures and further divide the Church.
What is clear is that the pastors of such politicians, and other wayward Catholics, should meet with them privately, to call them to repentance.
And, if their repentance is lacking, they should privately be urged to stay away from holy Communion and be mindful of their final judgment before God.
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 blog.adw.org. Send questions to Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN, 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.