HART: The Pope knows marriage

Ron Hart
Ron Hart

After directing the focus of the Catholic Church away from gay marriage, and saying even atheists who do good deeds can also go to heaven, the new pope has now decided to lighten up on divorces. Pope Francis granted more leeway for clergy to give Holy Communion to divorced people. This is evidence the Catholic Church, under a liberal pope, is wrestling internally to evolve its moral teachings.

Full disclosure: My wife is very Catholic (I think she is a Shiite Catholic), which makes me either biased or objective. I’m truly not sure which. And in further disclosure, I lean toward taking my annual Communion at Rosemary Beach Church or the Buckhead Episcopal churches because they offer extensive wine lists. No one can better pair the right wines with Kashi Grain sea salt crackers than an Episcopal priest.

Divorce can be good for Christian kids who want to celebrate two Christmases every year. But the Catholic Church has historically taken a firm stand against it, doing all it can to discourage divorce in favor of keeping families together, which is smart long-term.

The Vatican released the 60,000-word apostolic exhortation (which is like a papal executive order) entitled “On Love in the Family.” It is like the Bible and the iPhone User Agreement; we just automatically click “I agree.” It’s much easier that way.

Previous Church doctrine said divorced persons could not receive Communion until a church court grants an annulment of their last marriage or they abstain from sex with their new spouses. Both seem very practical and workable propositions. Annulments take time and lots of money (interestingly, paid to the Catholic Church or its lawyers). Rich Catholics have famously paid millions for annulments.

Grounds for annulment can include “failure to consummate the marriage,” a leading source of new priests and hairdressers. Annulments are also approved for “psychological immaturity,” a condition affecting 9 of 10 of us American men.

The pope said marriage is “a mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures.” He is quite the salesman for marriage. Basically, for every good thing there is an offsetting bad thing. At best it’s a 50/50 proposition, which is why kids today are postponing marriage.

It has always interested me that the most prolific sources of advice on marriage and child rearing have been unmarried and childless: Jesus, priests and Oprah.

The church has modified some of its views on birth control, which historically was: Just have unprotected sex and pray for the best. But with the Zika and AIDS viruses, the pope has allowed some leeway on condom use.

He did ask kids today to spend less time on social media and more time on their spirituality. Today’s youth cannot understand why Jesus had so many followers when he wasn’t even on Twitter.

Having said that, the pope joined Twitter for the first time in an effort to get his message out to young people. It is the Catholic Church’s concerted attempt to reach out to kids in a way that isn’t followed by hush money.

Social media is so easy today. When I was young, connecting socially was difficult. I had to walk 50 feet through thick shag carpet to the hallway and dial a rotary phone in order to be online socially. Dialing a rotary phone was difficult. If a friend had more than one 9 in his phone number, I refused to call him.

The Catholic Church has grown worldwide and provides many great outreach programs. The Church does produce Mother Theresa-types who do good, educate and care for more people worldwide than any other religion.

The Bible has modern-day appeal with its stories of violence, death, revenge, family fights, debauchery, treachery and adultery – so much so that Fox would like to turn it into a mini-series. The story of the Virgin Mary, if played out today, would be on The Maury Povich Show.

Yet the Church, while making strides under this liberal, Bernie Sanders-like pope, remains contradictory. Its logic is often confusing. The pope is still stridently pro-life and wants his flock to have many kids. Yet he opposes in vitro fertilization and forbids the use of a surrogate mother to have children. But because the Vatican paperwork would be so extensive, it refuses to excommunicate the Virgin Mary for this.

A libertarian op-ed humorist and award-winning author, Ron’s a frequent guest on CNN. He can be contacted at Ron@RonaldHart.com or @RonaldHart on Twitter.