Note: The following true story by Daniel C. Maguire Professor of Ethics at Marquette University appears in his very concise & recommended book 'Ethics - A Complete Method for Moral Choice' (2010) will help many Catholics to better understand the Christian ethics benind divorce and remarriage. Reprinted here with kind permission from Professor Daniel C. Maguire.
Living in Sin?
"I'll call them Jim and Sally, though those are not their names. Members of Jim's family called me and told me this story. Jim, they said, was not an icon of generosity or considerateness, but surprising things were happening to him. After their Tuesday night bowling, Jim's family gathered as usual for pizza and beer. Suddenly Jim was insisting that they sit at the table waited on by a young woman named Sally, and the usually tight-fisted Jim was insisting on huge tips for her. Love was in the air, but there was also pain. Sally had been married to a violent man. She had three children. She stayed in this marriage because she was a strict Catholic who had promised to take that man "for better or for worse? She got the "worse" but felt bound by her vow. When the last child was born with problems related to beatings Sally had sustained from her husband, Sally finally took the children and left. Life was difficult. She had to work, get help from friends and family to look after the children, and ward off unfriendly visits from her husband.
During this time she met Jim, and both fell deeply in love. They could not marry in the church and could not consider marrying anywhere else. They would tearfully decide to stop seeing one another, but one or the other would break down shortly thereafter and check in to see how the other was doing. Finally they decided to marry in a civil ceremony. Life immediately got better for the little family. Jim took on these children as though they were his own. He was offered and accepted a job in Los Angeles, and now Sally's ex-husband, left behind in Phoenix, was no longer a problem. A year later Sally became pregnant. They were thrilled that they would have their first child together, but their happiness was clouded by church teaching at the time that said they were "living in sin:'
Two months into the pregnancy, doctors told Sally that she had a tumor that required surgery. Sally was in a panic. Her life was in danger and she was "living in sin:' It was at this moment that her family contacted me.
At Catholic University we were in our final week of class. I went in the next day and told the story to the class. Applying what I had taught them in theory, I told them what I thought should be done. I said, "Given what I have told you, that first marriage had failed. The second marriage was a success, a great success, one that brought healing and beauty into the lives of Jim and Sally and their three children, who had their first experience of a peaceful home. A priest should go out there and tell Jim and Sally that he could marry them in a private Catholic marriage in their home. This would be strictly forbidden by the church hierarchy, but it is the right and moral thing to do, because of new developments in Catholic theology. The priest should celebrate a private liturgy for them to wrap the moment with all the reassuring symbols of their faith tradition. Then, with their minds at peace, and feeling themselves truly husband and wife, Sally could proceed to surgery:'
Exorcising Demons of Habit
When I finished my evaluation, the bell rang, ending class. I wondered how my transfixed class of nuns and priests would react. The answer came quickly. A nun who had been in the convent for some twenty years approached me with a red face. I expected a rebuke. Instead, she said with impatience: 'Don't just tell us about this. Get a priest out there to do it!" I told her I planned to. Next in line, and speaking softly, was a priest who had never spoken a word during the class. He said, "I am a priest in Los Angeles, and I will be going there tomorrow after your exam. I would be glad to do that for Jim and Sally:'
This priest could not tell anyone he was going to do this because his archbishop was one of the most rigid of Catholic hierarchs and would reject him from ministry. So the next morning in our last class, before the afternoon test, I announced that a priest from this class was going to go to Los Angeles to take care of Jim and Sally in the way I had suggested. The class rose in a standing ovation for this unknown priest. The priest himself, with his face bright scarlet, rose and clapped, with only he and I knowing he was clapping for himself.
When the class settled down, I completed the theoretical teaching on the right to remarriage after a failed first marriage. I said the ideal of a permanent, faithful marriage cannot always be realized. When such an ideal is realized in a second marriage, that marriage is not to be called unholy. Not a single doubt about that was raised in that class or in the exam that followed.
The story had a happy ending. The operation on Sally's tumor was successful and did not interrupt the pregnancy.
Now to the role of Gemut in this incident: Did my theoretical and historical lectures on marriage and divorce do the main teaching? Or did the intense feelings act like an exorcism to drive out the demons of habit in the minds of my hearers? Was affect or reason the main teacher? The answer is not an either/or matter, but more in the realm of reciprocity. The affections played a critical role, but the teachings that had been poured into the minds gave some freedom to the heart. Better yet, both routes to truth, reason and affect, aided and abetted one another. Of such stuff are we knowers made."