|"Baja un cambio! She's cuter than the first one."|
Please excuse the provocative title, and do not misunderstand. Obviously, neither the Pope nor anyone else can change Church doctrine normatively. That is, Church doctrine remains true and unchangeable whatever people--without or within the Church--believe or say. In the same way the teachings of Christ or the Commandments themselves remain true and unchanging.
What the Pope can do, however, is to say that Church doctrine has changed or, more to the point, imply by his words or actions that it has. Or he can say or imply that Church doctrine wasn't what most people--including most people in the Church itself for almost 2,000 years--said or thought that it was.
I have the impression that some people actually believed that even this was impossible (and I admit that a few years ago, I might have been one of them). If the Pope, say, tried to mislead people on Church doctrine, he would burst into flame or have the Holy Spirit cover his mouth so he would sputter, or a Council would suddenly pop into being and instantly declare him anti-Pope. Or whatever.
But we know now that this isn't true. Do I say this based on some theological argument? No, it's an empirical claim. The Pope did it and nothing happened.
I am of course referring to the two just released Motu Proprio "reforming" the annulment process. The effect will be to concede that the marriage of two people can (contrary to the words of Jesus) be broken asunder.
Making it, as a practical matter, much easier for Catholics to have their marriages declared invalid won't merely legitimize "Catholic divorce" but will remove the Catholic Church as the unofficial leader of the marriage protection business and will weaken the institution yet again (as if we needed even more of that now) for everyone.
Of course, it is quite possible that this pontificate itself may be declared invalid at some future date, a possibility that many Catholics are, if not publicly discussing, certainly whispering more and more about. Ironic isn't it?
But that doesn't help us now.
The Pope didn't change the Church's doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage? He merely "reformed" the annulment process?
Oh, please. Stop it.
Everyone, everyone understands this as the Pope's attempt to show mercy to people in unhappy or "bad" marriages--or to people who bailed years ago and are now claiming that as the reason. The new rules go into effect on the first day of the Pope's own Jubilee Year of Mercy.
But if it's really only annulment--the accurate discernment of a false marriage that was invalid to begin with--then what does that have to do with mercy? If the marriage in question was valid, then there's no dissolving it (according to Church doctrine). But if it was invalid, then discerning that efficiently and fairly is a question of justice or truth, not mercy.
That the Pope intentionally and publicly associates it with mercy, shows how dishonest the whole thing is.
Will the greatly eased rules on annulments (something John Paul II no doubt would have been horrified with and Benedict XVI no doubt is horrified with) lead to millions of additional annulments? Probably not. We've gone too far even for that. Most Catholics in name don't give a damn about annulment anyway. Those who think the concept of annulment (as opposed to divorce) still has meaning (which of course it does) aren't generally the ones who would want to bail on their marriages anyway.
And obviously, annulment as "Catholic divorce" has been humming along at a pretty good clip for a generation or more, at least in the United States and a few other countries, though it has recently dipped slightly for the reasons given above. But the difference is that before there was a feeling that this was largely due to abuses of the process. And the cynical of course pointed this out at every opportunity. See (they argued), the Catholic Church claims that marriage is "till death do us part" but if you grease enough canonical palms or are a Kennedy or whatever, you can do whatever you want to do.
As of today, the Church isn't even claiming that marriage is a lifelong commitment. Not really. Now everyone can wig out of it (without being a Kennedy or greasing any canonical palms--though that was an exaggeration anyway). And lo and behold, the Church is perceived as finally stepping into the 20th century. What a breath of fresh air! How merciful!
But the doctrine is gone, the doctrine that, however much it may have recently been undermined, still appeared to many as a rock standing against the great modern flood of infidelity and, well, selfishness.
Oh, sure. It's not really gone. It's still there, whatever anyone thinks or even what the Pope himself wants you to think. Does that make you feel better?
This is a disaster.