No, Tony Esolen, you can’t cure gay with football

I think he’s fallen prey to a dangerous fantasy, almost a fetish, of what the world once was: A world where fathers are always good, kind, and wise, where women are gentle and nurturing but not awfully bright, where the sun was always golden, sheets were always clean, and most of all, no one was ever, ever gay. (And if they were, it was because they accidentally talked to a gay man, who probably got that way by … not thinking about showering coal miners often enough … hmm.)

So here’s my advice to you, teenagers . . .

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Renee Olmstead via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

The Phantom Marriage Vow: A guest post on annulments by Abigail Tardiff

In today’s post, my sister, Abigail Tardiff, responds to Deacon Jim Russell’s recent article Annulments: A Concession to Human Weakness” in Crisis Magazine.


“I Meant My Vows Even If He Didn’t”

I have a friend who was divorced and remarried. She understood that she couldn’t receive communion in such a state, and it was tearing her apart. At the same time, she couldn’t bring herself to leave her present husband (or live celibately with him).

I suggested she apply for an annulment of her first marriage, because I had reason to think there were strong grounds for establishing a defect in his consent. She said, “Oh no, I could never get an annulment. It would be dishonest, because even if he didn’t mean his vows, I meant mine.”

The Phantom Extra Marriage Vow

I have run into this misunderstanding again and again. People seem to think that when you get married, you make two vows: the first is your marriage vow, which requires consent from both of you. But the second is a promise just to God and to yourself to remain faithful to this person. The annulment declares the first vow void, but the second is irrevocable.

This is nonsense. There is only one marriage vow. If the Church declares that you are not married, then you are not required to remain faithful, for the simple reason that there is nothing to remain faithful to. If your spouse did not actually intend marriage, then you may have thought you were making a vow—but you weren’t. If no marriage took place, then no vow took place.

There is no such thing as a unilateral marriage vow. You don’t marry him and then also promise to remain faithful to him; your faithfulness to him is the putting into practice of your marriage vow. If your marriage never existed, then neither did your promise to remain faithful.

Simony: Charging Extra

Why is this so important? First, because of all the bruised reeds out there who are longing to get back to the Church, like my friend. Imposing extra requirements on someone—duties that Christ and His Church never demanded of us—is a kind of simony. (Simony, the selling of something holy, is named after Simon Magus in the book of Acts, who tried to buy the Holy Spirit from the apostles Peter and John.)

Well, buying something holy is pretty bad, but selling it is even worse. If you tell someone that in order to be a virtuous Catholic, he should not marry even when the Church tells him he is free to marry—then you’re charging him (in heroic sacrifice, not in money) for something that the Church has made free.

Faithfulness without Marriage?

Second, the idea that marriage entails two individual vows of faithfulness, essentially unrelated to each other, eats away at the theology of marriage. Faithfulness to your spouse is not a rule stuck onto marriage from the outside; it flows from the very nature of marriage, which is the becoming one of two who were previously separate. The very reason unfaithfulness is such a terrible sin is that it attacks that oneness of the spouses. But if that oneness does not exist, it cannot be attacked. Without a spouse, there is no one to remain spousally faithful to.

Faithfulness to My Own Consent?

In a recent article for Crisis Magazine titled “Annulments: A Concession to Human Weakness,” Deacon Jim Russell makes some beautiful points about annulment. He says no one should ever be pressured to seek an annulment, and he points out that marriage tribunals are required by canon law to encourage the spouses to be reconciled, and to seek convalidation if there is a defect in their consent.

But he also writes, “when two people enter into a covenant, but only one ‘means it,’ the one who ‘means it’ has ipso facto remained faithful not only to his or her own words and will, but also faithful to the covenant itself.” He says it’s heroically virtuous to remain faithful to your own “irrevocably expressed consent.”

There it is again, that phantom second marriage vow: faithfulness not only to your spouse, but also to your own consent. Consent to what? What else but marriage? But if the Church declares a union null, there’s no marriage to consent to.

A One-Sided Covenant?

Deacon Jim says it’s heroically virtuous, in a case where your spouse did not mean his vows, to remain faithful nevertheless to a “covenant” that he admits is not a “two-sided covenant.” Again, this is nonsense. Marriage does not consist of two covenants, one two-sided and one one-sided, so that when the two-sided covenant is declared null, the one-sided one remains. Marriage is a two-sided covenant or nothing at all. Let us defend the indissolubility and sacredness of marriage, and support those who are divorced, without tying up burdens that are heavier than the ones our Faith already asks us to carry.

We Should Be Afraid

“Be not afraid,” says the angel. Be not afraid, and entrust your life to Christ, who wants only good for you.

All right, but what about when someone else’s life is entrusted to us? What about when we have the power over someone else’s life — the power to alter it forever, even the power to end it?  Remember what happened to Uzzah, who saw the Ark of the Covenant wobbling, and without even thinking, he stepped forward and grabbed hold of the thing. “And The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; and he died there beside the ark of God.”

Fear of the Lord means that at very least we should hesitate. Sometimes we should not be comfortable and confident. I wrote the post below for Crisis magazine in December of 2008. It’s relevant again, and over and over again, when we bluster and grandstand about executing criminals, waterboarding terrorists, or any time we hold power over the life of another human being. Human life is where God resides in this world. When we stretch out our hands to take hold of it, we should be afraid.


A New Hampshire jury must decide
 whether to sentence Michael Addison, a convicted cop killer, to execution.
He is a terrible man who bragged about his plans to shoot a cop, if he needed to, while committing his many crimes. His defense team is concentrating on his unhappy childhood. The picture that emerges is of a self-serving jerk who grew up to be cold and evil, and he isn’t sorry now.
My husband argues that the Church’s teaching on the death penalty — that it must be reserved for cases in which it is necessary to protect the community — can apply in cases like this: If people who shoot policemen are not executed, then we are tolerating the murder of policemen, an intolerable crime. The safety of the community depends on criminals’ knowing that they will not get away with killing a cop.
I don’t know if he’s right or not. It may be so. Either way, the problem terrifies me.
Many years ago — when I was a new mother, the world was black and white, and the subtleties of Dr. Laura Schlessinger guided my thinking more than any other intellect — we had an upstairs neighbor who was a drug addict.
She was a mess. She was clearly high most of the time. Her hair was chopped and frazzled, her skin and mouth were a wasteland, and she could hardly string two sentences together. She stumbled up and down the stairs past my door, not knowing if it were day, night, or the end of the world.
The only thing she could communicate clearly was that she had just had a baby girl, and she was always looking for a ride to go visit her tiny little one at the hospital. The baby was, of course, sick. She was very premature, probably suffering from withdrawal from the moment of birth.
Miraculously, the child survived, and her terrible mother became almost radiant as she reported the baby’s progress to me. Soon the baby would be able to leave the hospital, she told me — but I didn’t believe her.
Then the day came. The baby was strong enough to be discharged. My neighbor fell into my apartment, half-undressed, sobbing with a terrible sound. “They’re going to take my baby away from me!” she cried. “They’re taking her away!”
Well, of course they were. I couldn’t believe that she didn’t know it would happen. This woman didn’t even know whether she was wearing clothes or not, and she expected the nurses to release a fragile, sick preemie into her care.
It was terrifying. It was absolutely necessary that this thing be done — that the baby be taken away from her mother. The mother clearly deserved it, and the poor baby deserved it, too. But it was the worst thing in the world. You should have heard that mother cry.
Here is another short story: My grandmother died last month. She was 89 years old, and she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 19 years ago. It was like watching a sand house torn away by the tide. She just dissolved.
She had been a rock-hard, funny, sarcastic, boundlessly generous visiting nurse, and now she was a quivering collection of wasted limbs and a ghastly vacancy where her mind used to be. Everyone suffered. She did; her husband did, before he died; and my mother, who cared for her for years, suffered very much in many different ways, and it went on and on and on.
When my grandmother died, it was a relief for everyone. We were so glad for her release from the dark and fearful cell her mind had become. My sister said that she felt that Nana had been out of touch with us for so many years, but now that she was dead, she had been given back to us. We could talk to her again.
At the funeral Mass, it wasn’t hard to stand there and remember these things — her baptism, the Last Rites, the tender mercy of God. The Resurrection.
It was only at the end, when the undertakers braced their hands against the smudgy shroud that covered her coffin and began to heave this burden down the aisle of the church, that it became a terrible thing. She was leaving.
As a Catholic, I know what happens after death. And yet I do not know. They began to sing that drippy hymn “Be Not Afraid,” and suddenly I was afraid. It was right that I should be.
All we really know is separation. We try and hope, but what do we know? We do the best we can to deal with the enormous, shattering burdens of life. But we should be afraid. There is much to hope for, and we trust God. But in the moment, unless we are already dead ourselves, there is much to fear.
So now the jury must decide if this terrible man, this unrepentant murderer Michael Addison, should be killed. Maybe it’s the right thing to do. Maybe no one will even miss him. He deserves it. It’s the way life goes, and sometimes these terrible things need to be done.
But I hope that, when we do it, we are afraid.