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Kasper family values: GetReligion, February 28, 2014  April 11, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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In a break with 1500 years of tradition a leading Vatican official announced that Catholics should now read the Bible. In an address to a gathering of prelates in Rome last week Cardinal Walter Kasper conceded Scripture might play a role in developing church doctrine. The confession came amidst internal debates over ending the automatic excommunication and damnation of divorced and remarried Catholics — a practice polling data found not to be relevant to most Catholics. The change, experts say, was an admission that the Catholic Church had been out of touch with modern thinking on sexuality — and most other important issues — for centuries.

No, this was not the lede of the Associated Press’ story entitled “Cardinals delve into divorce-remarriage debate”, but the AP did tack very close to the wind with this story on Cardinal Walter Kasper’s address to an extraordinary consistory for the family attended by approximately 150 members of the college of cardinals. The topic of Cardinal Kasper’s address , which was not released to the public, was on the church’s pastoral sacramental support for divorced and remarried Catholics.

The story comes close to hyperbole in its statements about the place of Scripture in the life of the Catholic Church, while also repeating the now rather tired bad Benedict / good Frances (or Walter Kasper) theme.

The tone of the lede sets the direction for the remainder of the story. The “liberal” Catholics are praised while “conservatives” are rubbished.

Cardinals from around the world delved head-on Thursday into one of the most vexing issues facing the church, how to find ways to provide better pastoral care for divorced and remarried Catholics who are forbidden from receiving Communion and other church sacraments. German Cardinal Walter Kasper, a pre-eminent theologian who has called for “openings and changes” in dealing with these Catholics, delivered a two-hour keynote speech to the two-day meeting, which is serving as preparation for an October summit of bishops on family issues.

What does pre-eminent mean? Eminent over whom? Is the point of comparison is the conservative Pope Benedict XVI — the one whose policies call for “openings and changes”?

And, is it correct to say that divorced and remarried Catholics are “forbidden from receiving Communion and other church sacraments?”  The AP doubles down on its assertion in the next paragraph.

Church teaching holds that unless the first marriage is annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, Catholics who remarry cannot receive Communion or other sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned from their church.

Again the tone is needlessly harsh. It is correct to say that divorced and remarried Catholics may participate in the worship service of the Eucharist, but not receive.

Other sanctions include being allowed to participate in communal celebrations of Reconciliation and, visit privately with a priest in Confession but not receive absolution. They may serve as an official witness at a Catholic marriage, but not as a catechist, teacher, Godparent or Confirmation sponsor.

However, they may celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick when in danger of death and have a Catholic funeral and be buried in a Catholic cemetery, have their children baptized and enrolled in Catholic school or religious education program participate in the public spiritual and social life of the parish, but not serve in public ministries or leadership positions. The ban is not universal as the AP suggests — but it is none the less strong.

The article then shifts into the bad Benedict / good Francis mode, adding Walter Kasper to the good team. It states:

Kasper frequently cited the Bible as a source of inspiration in a signal, almost Protestant in nature, that the answer to the problem lay in scripture. He told reporters that Francis had asked him to pose questions to the 150 cardinals to begin a debate on the issue.

This could have come from the Protestant anti-Catholic song book. Catholicism is not Biblical and Catholics are ignorant mackerel snapping left footers. Their teachings float free from Scripture. Which is of course all rather silly.

It is true Scripture plays a greater role in the life of the Protestant churches than the Catholic Church, but the AP’s almost Protestant jib is unfair and unprofessional as it does not explain the role of Scripture in the development of doctrine or in the liturgy of the church. While the Protestant churches have from the beginning encouraged its members to study Scripture and its scholars dominated the field of Scriptural interpretation for centuries that changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu. This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so. It is fair to say the Catholic Church has changed its attitude towards the study of Scripture over the last century, but the AP goes too far when it suggests that it now has discovered Scripture as a source for doctrine.

There was an opportunity here for the AP to tell a fascinating story about an issue close to the hearts of many Catholics. But it chose not to.

First printed at GetReligion.

India’s Christian Divorce Act questioned: The Church of England Newspaper, September 23, 2012 p 6. September 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India.
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The Karnataka High Court has asked the Church of South India and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bangalore to respond to a challenge to the constitutionality of the Indian Divorce Act.

Section 10A of the Indian Divorce Act 1869 requires a two year separation before a decree of divorce is granted to Christian couples. Attorneys have challenged the two year rule, noting that the Hindu and Parsi Marriage Act have a one year separation rule. The Kerala High Court has already ruled the Act discriminates against Christians under Articles 14 and 21 of the country’s constitution.

On 14 Sept 2012 Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen declined to follow the Kerala decision, ruling the country’s principle Christian churches should be solicited for their views before a decision is made. “Divorce in haste makes a marriage waste,” the Chief Justice noted.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Sex and circulation: Get Religion, January 14, 2012 January 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Get Religion, Marriage, Press criticism.
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Jimmy Swaggart

There is nothing like a good sex scandal to boost circulation. A quick glance at the covers of the magazines offered for sale at your grocery store will confirm the maxim that sex sells. The escapades of film stars, royalty, and sports heroes have long been a staple of this genre, (politicians too, but they do not generate the same intensity of interest).

In recent years we have seen reality TV stars Paris Hilton, the Kardashian sisters and so forth — people who are famous for being famous — rise to pictorial prominence. But one of the staples of this genre that never seems to fade is the vicar sex scandal.

Every so often there will be a U.S. press feeding frenzy about naughty vicars — Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, John Corapi — but this is one area where in quality and quantity the English press continues to outshine America.

The naughty Church of England vicar caught with his pants down with a member of the choir is a story that never seems to grow old. The Daily Mail, which loves these stories, ran one the other day with the title “Queen’s chaplain takes a blonde from the church choir as his third wife (what would the royal flock say?)”

Here is the opening:

He is a senior Church of England cleric and Queen’s chaplain who has written guides to marital harmony. But the Reverend Canon Andrew Clitherow’s own affairs of the heart are causing quite a stir in his parish. He has divorced his second wife, Rebekah, and taken a third bride, Nicola, a glamorous soprano.

His congregation is in uproar and so is the local bishop. For Canon Clitherow, 60, is said to have assured the diocese there was no one else involved when he split from the second Mrs Clitherow last year. Now, less than a year later, the father of four has married Nicola Howard, 44, who has sung worldwide and released several albums. She has moved into the sprawling Georgian vicarage with him.

Although he is still at home, the Canon is no longer performing any church duties and is said to be on ‘sick leave’. Parishioners say his latest marriage to the mother of three is yet another episode in a bizarre clerical soap opera which began last year and is ruining the reputation of the church.

We then learn the details of Canon Clitherow’s personal life.  He married his first wife in 1982 and they had two children, but they divorced in 2002.  He married his second wife that year, a women he had first met in 1992 when she was a high school student and he the chaplain of her school.  This marriage also produced two children, but in March 2011 he announced to the congregation that he was divorcing a second time.

The Mail lets us know that rumors at the church swirled around this second divorce, with tongues wagging about the vicar’s affair with a blonde divorcee who was a member of the choir.  At the time of his divorce the vicar informed his bishop that the marriage had broken down but that there was no other person involved. The vicar went on sick leave following Easter services, citing stress as the culprit — and then married the blonde divorcee at a private ceremony at a registry office over the Christmas holidays.

The story makes great play with Canon Clitherow’s having written a number of marriage manuals as well as his position as one of Queen Elizabeth’s chaplains — a very great honor in the Church of England. It also offers the voices of angry members of the congregation, who want their thrice married layabout vicar — who continues to draw a salary and live in the rectory but does no work — to be gone from their parish as he is an “embarrassment”.

So you have it — a sex scandal (with pictures of the glamorous blonde) that one can read with moral relish and no embarrassment.  Too embarrassed to read about the trashy behavior of the Kardashians? Here is the genteel option, a Daily Mail story that allows the reader to be titillated and express opprobrium at someone who should have known better. What fun!

Now criticizing these sorts of stories is akin to taking a shovel to a souffle. This story has no pretense to being a morally improving tale or a work of cutting edge reporting — it is celebrity/gossip journalism. But in my secret heart I would have liked to hear something from the man’s bishop or some church voice to explain what exactly is wrong with this picture.

What is the Church of England’s view on divorce and remarriage? What is its view on divorce and remarriage of the clergy? There is a religion ghost here that could have been addressed without making the story too heavy.

I noticed one item — the timing of the first divorce in 2002. With the introduction of civil divorce and civil marriage in the nineteenth century, the Church of England was able to bear its witness to the evangelical expectation of marriage by refusing remarriage in church to divorced people without absolutely denying marriage to them.   This position, though never maintained without some sense of strain, continued to be the official position of the Church of England until November 2002.

Canon Clitherow could not remarry in the church until 2002 — and that coincidentally was the year that he divorced and remarried.

The Daily Mail ran a second story last week that touches upon these issues. “History’s repeating itself: Ex-Archbishop tells of the Queen’s ‘despair’ over Charles’s split from Diana and love for Camilla in a revealing new biography” offers excepts of a new biography of the Queen.

A new biography of the Queen reveals for the first time her despair over the divorce of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and the Monarch’s fears that  her eldest son was about to ‘throw  everything away’.

In Elizabeth The Queen, by Sally Bedell Smith, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, recalls the moment that the Queen finally confronted the problems in her son’s marriage. The Archbishop reveals she was terrified that history was about to repeat itself – that Prince Charles would give up his place in the line of succession for Camilla, just as King Edward VIII gave up the throne in 1936 to marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson.

Lord Carey says: ‘There was a moment when we were talking very candidly about divorce. I remember her sighing and saying, “History is repeating itself.” I saw despair. What she was talking about was the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

‘She was concerned that if they divorced, Charles would marry Camilla. She thought Charles was in danger of throwing everything out of the window by rejecting Diana and forging another relationship.’

In this naughty vicar story there are some strong echoes of the Charles/Diana/Camilla affair — Canon Clitherow after all is a chaplain to the Queen, as well as underlying religion motifs.

In 2005 the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams refused to marry in a church wedding Charles and Camilla, as conducting a new marriage would be tantamount to consecrating old infidelity. It would be compounding the wrong according to the Church of England’s teaching on remarriage — when the partner in the new marriage has been a significant factor in the breakdown of the old marriage.

The question I ask is how can these be reported? It may be too much to expect People or the Tatler to make these links. But is it beyond the Daily Mail? Is it beyond any newspaper? Given the prevalence of divorce in our culture can this topic even be addressed?

What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.