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Is Allowing Divorce a Redefinition of Marriage?

A Xt3 Member asked at 2:12pm on September 9th 2017
Hello Father,

I have been watching Catholic talks on marriage. One speaker gives examples of important pillars within marriage that are under attack. One example is that the life-long union aspect of marriage was removed through no-fault divorce.

The speaker says that marriage before no-fault divorce would probably be best as the statistics in everything were much better. He does say that during this time people needed serious reasons for divorce (abuse, abandonment or adultery) which meant the divorce rate was so low.

My question would be, if marriage was reverted back to the way it was, wouldn't it still be a redefinition of marriage since it allowed for divorce? Would we then campaign for no legal divorce at all? If so, wouldn't this be the opposite of separation of Church and state?

I 100% agree with Catholic teaching on marriage and the talks were really good but I was trying to think of questions an opponent might bring up so I thought of this but couldn't really give a good answer.

Thank you

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Hi again, Miguel, I think the basic point here is the clear distinction between Church and State, as Jesus put it, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's' (Mt 22:21). So whatever laws about marriage the state makes, they don't touch the nature of Christian marriage, which is always a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, which is open to the generation of children.

It's true, as you say, that legalized divorce, and especially no-fault divorce, very deeply affects how people perceive marriage as no longer a lifelong commitment. The reality is that the society surrounding us can either support marriage - as it did in most Western countries until divorce became easier and more acceptable to many. Or it can undermine marriage, by offering divorce as an easy way out of difficult relationships.

The Church has never said that a couple can't separate - which may be necessary due to seriously abusive behaviour or infidelity by one of the spouses. But, following Jesus' words against divorce, 'what God has joined together let no man put asunder' (Mk 10:9), the Church can never approve remarriage, once the first commitment is understood to have been a valid one.

In Ireland many Christians campaigned against the introduction of divorce, which was explicitly forbidden by our 1937 Constitution. But the grounds of that 1986 campaign had to be put forward in terms than anyone, Christian or non-believer could accept - especially the huge impact on children of divorced couples. Now, while Ireland's divorce rates are not as high as neighbouring countries, they're currently around 4,000 a year. Since divorce is allowed in almost every country in the world except the Philippines, I don't think you'll be coming across that many opponents in this matter.

Of course the Christian answer to a divorce culture is the witness of happily married couples and families - I've heard of couples with young families volunteering to live in some African countries where polygamy is practiced, since it's less by preaching than by the example of their lives that people are won over to the Christian vision of marriage in the light of the Trinity. As St John Paul II notes in his 1994 Letter to Families:

'In the light of the New Testament it is possible to discern how the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life. The divine "We" is the eternal pattern of the human "we", especially of that "we" formed by the man and the woman created in the divine image and likeness' (S6).

Very best, Fr Brendan
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Right to refuse: Divorcee Re-marrying vs Same-Sex Couple

A Xt3 Member asked at 12:48pm on August 22nd 2017
Hi Father,

As the postal vote for same-sex marriage is coming up, I have been hearing more debate around the topic.

One objection to Christians who oppose same-sex marriage is "it seems hypocritical for a Christian baker to make a wedding cake for a divorcee who is re-marrying and refuse to serve a same-sex couple's wedding cake because both actions are condemmed in the Bible".

How should one respond to this?


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Hi Miguel, I'd be inclined to reply, 'it seems hypocritical to make arguments that are so strange it's hard to imagine them happening (like the one you mention) instead of discussing the real issue. That is that to apply the word 'marriage' which has for thousands of years referred only to committed relationships between a man and a woman to same sex relationships gives the word a new meaning - is a lot harder to understand than saying say, that in the name of equality, all sports should be called cricket.

Then the SSM lobby should be asked, why do some gay activists, once they've achieved their goal of having gay 'marriage' legalized, go out of their way to force their views on those who disagree with them. A week or so ago, Christine Forster, a Sydney councillor, said it was ridiculous to think such things could happen. I'm Irish, and over the last two years, married couple Ashers, who run a small bakery in Belfast, Northern Ireland were targetted by gay activists who ordered a cake with 'support gay marriage' and two Sesame St figures, Bert and Ernie on it. When, as the activists expected, they politely declined, they were immediately sued, lost their case in court, and effectively put out of business, with legal costs well over $200,00. The UK's most well-known gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell said that the

"verdict is a defeat for freedom of expression [and could set a] dangerous, authoritarian precedent. Although I strongly disagree with Ashers' opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be compelled to facilitate a political idea that they oppose. The judgment opens a can of worms. It means that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be required to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial."

There's a lot more than could be said, for example the 2015 court case against Archbishop Julian Porteus in Tasmania, again brought by a gay activist, because the archbishop dared to put into print Catholic teaching in homosexuality. That case was later withdrawn (I'm sure because it just wouldn't look to good at the time, and not because there wasn't a case in terms of Tasmania's notorious Anti-Discrimination Act).

I'd be inclined to ask those folk you mention what they propose to do to prevent a tsunami of such legal cases if the Yes vote in the SSM plebiscite wins and SSM is legalized in Australia. Already Catholic adoption services have been forced to close down in the UK and the US because of such legal challenges. Very best, Fr Brendan
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Same Sex Realationships

A Xt3 Member asked at 6:25pm on June 17th 2017
I'd like to ask if being in a relationship with the same sex is okay. I was recently in a relationship with a girl, and I find girls attractive. I want to know if this is okay. I've been hearing different things like it being okay or being bad and sinful. Please respond to me as soon as possible.

Thank you.

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Hi Katelyn, thanks for sharing your question.

It all depends on what you mean by relationship - if it's a normal friendship between two girls, there's surely nothing wrong with that. Girls have many things in common, and it's a relief to have a friend of the same sex who understands us without any sexual element coming in.

A sexual relationship between two people of the same sex is wrong for much the same reason as a sexual relationship outside marriage between two people of opposite sexes. It's the reason Jesus gives when he says, 'anyone looking at a woman lustfully commits adultery with her in his heart' (Mt 5:28). What 'lustfully' means here is, to love another not for themselves but for what I can get from them.

Jesus also says, 'I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you' (Jn 13:34). In other words, for anyone who wants to follow Jesus, we're asked to love right up to the level of that 'as' - where for Jesus that meant, being ready to die for us. So a sexual relationship between two people of the same sex would be wrong since by its very nature it focuses on the sexual element. I'm sure you would like to follow Jesus, and his 'commandment' - which is really his appeal to our better nature, to love each other the way God loves us, that is, seeking nothing for ourselves, loving each other purely, that is, for their own sake. Very best, Fr Brendan
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same sex marriage

A Xt3 Member asked at 6:06pm on May 24th 2017
Is it wrong to attend the wedding of a family member who is gay? If so, what do you tell your young children who love thier uncle? We are Catholic and our children are being raised Catholic, but their father wasn't raised catholic, but has converted a few years ago, and thier uncle and the rest of the in-laws aren't Catholic.

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Hi Joan,

Thank you for your question. You will find an answer from previously submitted questions on the topic here:

1. Attending a Same-Sex Wedding

2. Attending a Marriage of People of the Same-Sex

We will keep you, your children and your family in our prayers.

God bless, Ask a Priest Moderator
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A Xt3 Member asked at 1:21pm on May 15th 2017
Shalom Father.I've a question.Is masturbation always considered mortal sin?thanks n God bless

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Hi Christopher, yes, masturbation is mortally sinful since it's a misuse of one of one of the most sacred functions of our bodies. Already in the Old Testament it was condemned as seriously sinful in the actions of Onan, so it was also called the sin of onanism. When hearing confessions, I often spell out some tips for avoiding falling into this sin: i) to rely completely on God, saying, you God are everything, I am nothing. That's what St Paul meant when he said, 'when I am weak, then I am strong.' When I don't depend on being the great Apostle Paul, but only on you, God, then can I overcome this temptation. ii) Watch for one of the most common tricks the Devil uses with us. When we're being tempted he says, you might as well go on, you've already committed a sin! But one of the reasons Jesus allowed himself to be tempted by the devil for 40 days and nights was so that we'd recognize him, the Tempted One, with us in our temptation, and with him learn to overcome it. iii) Another tip: watch out for how we may try to fool ourselves, by letting in 'small' temptations without immediately resisting them. The devil can see that we want to have our cake and eat it--we want and don't want to sin at this moment. But by allowing these missed opportunities to pass us by (a bit like a player avoiding difficult tackles in some tough contact sport), we're signalling to him that we're not really focused on God. So those little compromises sooner or later lead us to slide into sin. Hope that's a help, very best, Fr Brendan
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Couple obligations

A Xt3 Member asked at 8:23am on May 5th 2017

According to the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church we should not deny our spouses intercourse if they so wish. But in the case when I feel tired, am I still obliged to satisfy my spouse? If one of the spouses does not feel like to have intercourse why should we oblige him or her? Does this not mean that to please one another one of the partners may be obliged to do things against his or her will? And if you deny your spouse sex is it a mortal sin that needs to be confessed?



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Hi James, I think the most important thing here is an open dialogue between the couple, so that each learns to respect the needs of the others. Certainly the marriage vow obliges each partner to live for the other, but many couples at their wedding ask for St Paul's hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul tells us that love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

That means the couple should have what's been called 'a pact of mercy,' where each is ready to show mercy to the other, which could include respecting the other's readiness for the act of marriage. If it turned out that one of the spouses wanted to refrain from this act for a long period of time, it might be an idea to call on a Catholic marriage counsellor to see what could be done. I don't think it's all that helpful to either spouse to bring up things like 'mortal sin' here, even though each spouse has a real obligation not to deny the other without serious reason. Very best, Fr Brendan
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Single-Parent Households and Same-Sex Adoption

A Xt3 Member asked at 1:40pm on April 21st 2017
Hi Father,

I was recently speaking with another person about marriage and proposing to them why it would not be in society's best interest to re-define it. We spoke about the importance of children and right to a mother and father but he said to me "How can you be opposed to same sex couples having children and not be opposed to a single mother raising her children after her husband passes away".

I hadn't heard of the argument or a response before this conversation so I was admittedly a bit stuck to respond. How should I respond to this? I know there are many responses to the argument on sterile couples and same-sex marriages but it was the first I'd heard of objecting to a biological mother taking care of her kids on her own due to no fault of her own (her husband passing away).

Thanks for your help.

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Hi Miguel, rather than depend on my own limited knowledge and experience in this area, here's some points from an excellent article by Rick Fitzgibbons, a US psychiatrist with 35 years of experience - you can easily find the full piece, 'Same sex adoption is not a game,' with all the references, at MercatorNet, 18 November 2011. Here are some of the points he made, which I doubt have changed much in the last 6 years:

First, same sex couples tend to be promiscuous. One of the largest studies of same sex couples revealed that only seven of 156 couples had a sexual relationship which was totally monogamous. Most of these relationships lasted less than five years. Couples whose relationship lasted longer incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity: "The single most important factor that keeps couples together past the 10-year mark is the lack of possessiveness," observed two scholars who were also partners, David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison. "Many couples learn very early in their relationship that ownership of each other sexually can be the greatest internal threat to their staying together." (2)

Second, the unions are very fragile. The probability of breakup is high for lesbian couples. In a 2010 report, the US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, 40 percent of the couples who had conceived a child by artificial insemination had broken up.(3) Lisa Diamond reported in her book, Sexual Fluidity, that "more than two-thirds of the women in my sample had changed their identity labels at least once after the first interview. The women who kept the same identity for the whole ten years proved to be the smallest and most atypical group." If a woman in a same-sex relationship changes her identity label, the relationship breaks up.

And third, the couple may not necessarily be physically healthy. Dutch research has found that most new HIV infections in Amsterdam occurred among homosexual men who were in steady relationships. The researcher concluded that: "Prevention measures should address risky behavior, especially with steady partners, and the promotion of HIV testing." (4) Research shows that same sex unions suffer a significantly higher prevalence of domestic abuse, depression, substance-abuse disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases.(5) Should adopted children be placed with a couple at risk of a serious and emotionally draining illness?

What's the difference between a child adopted by a gay couple and one brought up by its widowed mother? The child of a gay couple is always the child of a father and a mother, whether naturally conceived, or by IVF. If the couple are male, then the child's mother has been excluded by some legal and financial arrangement from her natural role as the child's mother, while the child of the widowed mother will always have their true mother, and through her, the memory of their father as one who, with their mother, loved the child into existence, and never rejected them. If the couple are female, the child's father has been excluded, but that doesn't mean the child's biological connection with their father is non-existent.

I well remember a woman conceived by her mother whose father had donated his seed through some kind of international service. While that woman ended up being adopted by an Australian couple who were immensely kind to her, she spent years getting the English legal system changed so she could locate her true mother and then her father. I suggest that a child of gay adoption will always feel the loss of one or even both of its parents who have abandoned it - generally for purely financial reasons. But a child of a married couple will be far better able to live with the loss of a parent who never choose to reject him or her.

Again Rick Fitzgibbons on what a mother (including of course a widowed mother) can bring to her child's upbringing:

Among the many distinctive talents that mothers bring to the parenting enterprise, three stand out: their capacity to breastfeed, their ability to understand infants and children, and their ability to offer nurture and comfort.

Social science studies confirm this. Numerous reports indicate that infants and toddlers prefer mothers to fathers when they are hungry, afraid or sick. Mothers tend to be more soothing. Mothers are more responsive to the distinctive cries of infants; they are better able than fathers, for instance, to distinguish between a cry of hunger and a cry of pain. They are also better than fathers at detecting the emotions of their children by looking at their faces, postures, and gestures.

Children who were deprived of maternal care during extended periods in their early lives "lacked feeling, had superficial relationships, and exhibited hostile or antisocial tendencies" as they developed into adulthood.(6) Clinical experience suggests that deliberately depriving a child of its mother, motherlessness, causes severe damage because mothers are crucial in establishing a child's ability to trust and to feel safe in relationships. All cultures recognize the essential role of the mother

If you search the internet for articles critical of gay adoption I think you'll find more recent materials to fill out what I've drawn on here. Very best, Fr Brendan
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NFP and Serious Reason

A Xt3 Member asked at 11:02pm on March 21st 2017
Hello Father,

Thank you so much for all you do. I am writing, because I am conflicted about the "serious reasons" for using NFP. My husband and I really want children and look forward to having them. We do not want to use NFP with a contraceptive mentality. However, he will be going overseas for 7-9 months starting in July, as he is in the military, and I cannot go along with him. Then, about 3-4 months after he returns from being overseas, we will most likely have to move about 3,000 miles across the country to a new location. If we were to conceive a baby before he left for his deployment, there would be a good possibility that he would miss the baby's birth. Then, we would have to relocate across the country with an infant a few months afterwards. I don't want to be selfish, and we are very open to life, but at the same time, having a baby in the situation I described above is not exactly the most convenient. Would our situation be considered a serious reason to postpone pregnancy?

Thank you, and God bless you!

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Hi Nicole, first of all, congratulations for using NFP, which demands sacrifice from both you and your husband. And that you both want to avoid a selfish use of NFP, which as far as I remember, Blessed Paul VI also warned against. In the light of that, the reasons you give for not wanting a child just yet seem more than adequate. But the Church has always left to married couples the decision (always accepting that each child is a gift of God) as to how many children and when they should have. So I agree with you completely, in postponing a pregnancy till your husband returns.

But you can also be sure, if you both draw on the grace you have received, and continue to receive from your sacrament of matrimony, that you will have the wisdom together to arrive at these decisions. I always think of that line from the Gospel, 'where two or three are gathered together in my name [that is, in my love], there am I among them.' In your marriage, it's this presence of Jesus among you that will give you the wisdom to make the right decision (which will always be in line with the Church's teaching anyway). And we're told by Christian writers in the early Church that you can have Jesus among you even at a distance.

So I'm praying that you both experience His presence and support during that long separation of over a year, keeping you united in His Love, and also that your dear husband returns to you safe and sound after his service abroad. Very best, Fr Brendan
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A Xt3 Member asked at 2:21am on February 28th 2017
Hello! This probably sounds like a ridiculous question, but what does the church teach on young relationships? What is acceptable and what's not?

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HI Jacob, I remember when I was a young priest giving retreats to high school students not all that much younger than me at the time. A favourite question was (in terms of boys' relationship to girls) 'how far can you go?' It took me a while to see that this was the wrong question, and that trying to answer it was a mistake. I can't remember how I dealt with it at the time, but I'd be inclined to say now that the real question should have been, 'how can I love a person of the opposite sex?'

We get the answer in about the only thing Jesus said explicitly about sexual relations: 'Anyone looking at a woman lustfully commits adultery with her in his heart' (Mt 5:28). He didn't have to say much more, since if looking at a woman lustfully is ruled out, I guess a lot more serious sexual activity is included there. What 'adultery' means here is betraying the other as a person. There's lots more in the writings of Sts Peter, Paul and Jude about sexual activity outside marriage, all of which, if we want to follow Jesus, we have take seriously.

St John Paul II has a beautiful commentary on that line in Mt 5:28, where the Saint focuses on the positive meaning contained in what Jesus is teaching. He notes how Jesus uses the word 'heart' - that he wants us to love each other from the heart - that is, from our deepest core. Which is how God loves us, for our own sake, for who we are, not for his own sake. It's the relation between men and women that's expressed in the marriage ceremony, where each promises to love the other for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. That is, each says to the other, I love you for you, no matter what changes you undergo. It's a high standard, but one that deepens those who put it into practice. That kind of genuine, non-exploitative and non-instrumentalizing relationship doesn't ever repress our love - as you'll often be told by people who don't understand the Gospel's call to true fulfilment, including true psychological fulfilment - but lifts it up to the level Jesus invites us to, when he asked us to 'love one another as I have loved you.' The 'as' there means, ready to lose our life for the sake of the other - that's the source of true romantic love.

In the light of that, what about relationships between a teenage boy and girl who are not necessarily thinking of marriage, at least not in the near future? There's no doubt each can help the other to grow, since even if they have shared interests, they'll nearly always have different ways of looking at things. I never had any sisters, and I think I might have been helped if I'd had a few friends of the opposite sex, to gain from their perspective on things. Maybe the best context for these friendships would be in a group or club, where the friendships would take place along with the shared activities of the group. Given the massive pressure of media, entertainment and society on young people today, I'd be inclined to suggest that the relationship would need to be lifted up and given a Christian spirit by prayer and other religious activities so that it doesn't conform to the standards of the world around us. Very best, Fr Brendan
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A Xt3 Member asked at 12:59pm on February 16th 2017
I am a Teenager and I believe that True Love happens after Marriage and not before that. I believe that MARRIAGE is what that makes LOVE Real.

I want to know whether or not the Completion of LOVE happens after Marriage, or if TRUE LOVE can happen without Marriage?

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Hi Aldrin, thanks for your question. A lot depends on what you mean by true love. If you mean the physical act of marriage between a husband and wife, then that is morally acceptable only between validly married spouses. If you mean the genuine love by which each spouse is ready to give their life for the other, modelled on Christ's love for the Church, then that should be there before they actually marry.

Since the act of marriage should occur between spouses who love each other in that Christian way, then, as you say, the completion of love happens within marriage. Just last week (Feb 27th), Pope Francis pointed out that 'Marriage, is the icon of God, created for us by him, who is the perfect communion of the three persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.' And that the love of the Trinity and of Christ's self-sacrificing love for the Church is the basic model for married love.

I wouldn't want to deny that people who have no understanding of the Church's teaching couldn't themselves arrive at genuine love, but surely without the grace of the sacrament that would be incredibly difficult. Very best, Fr Brendan
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