Is the church ready for that? How much should the new member know about a Catholic’s sex life before committing for the second time to marriage? Does the church offer an open-door policy for new members who may have sexual problems? How should priests explain to a newly baptized priest or nuns why they will not be available for the parish parishioners’ next confession? And when will the church recognize a woman who uses contraception as the legal spouse of someone else? What if she has been living alone and has children from the marriage? Should a nun be eligible to marry?
While these questions are important and important questions, they are not the only questions to discuss when getting married. How much is a divorce worth to the church in a new life? Is a divorce “just” a temporary setback or does the church believe a lifetime of conflict and struggle over the issue of a divorce or remarriage may be far greater and more destructive than an abrupt end to a love affair? How many times can the divorce and remarriage occur before a parishioner becomes “unworthy” of the parish? It’s not too late for us to start thinking with all these questions in mind. But before we even delve into these difficult questions, we need to consider how much our understanding of these questions is influenced by the prevailing theological doctrine of the time.
A New Kind of Marriage
The church’s definition of marriage today in the United States has drastically altered over the past fifty years from its origins in the early 1800s and continues a process which began in the seventeenth century after the publication by Pope Gregory XV of the Encyclicals The Institutes of Consecration and The First Instruction in the Christian Doctrine. These encyclicals argued for the authority of the church’s magisterium as the final authority for determining what marriage means in society and the state and also asserted that God’s true church is one that includes married couples as one of its three orders. These encyclicals set forth the idea that while marriage in itself is an act of God, marriage is defined in the church and the state by its role as spiritual and familial expressions of marriage in the Christian community. Thus in the church we are to act as husband and wife or husband and wife and father and mother, husband and wife and neighbor, as husband and wife or husband and wife and friend, as husband and wife or husband and wife and parent, and so on.
This teaching was adopted by many Roman Catholic bishops throughout Latin America and the Caribbean during the early
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