Church and Illegitimate Children
I have been thinking about the fate and position of the illegitimate child.
I have been researching Church history and the history of bastardy and have come
to realize that the Church rules put men at risk for illicit sexual involvement both
through its laws of celibacy and its laws against contraception.
History shows that from the beginning of Church laws supposedly celibate men were
occasionally fathering children. The Church claims to care about children so much
that it stands firmly against abortion in any and all cases.
My one question is: What does canon law require of the clergymen as their responsibility
to the children they have fathered? I would guess there was never any discussion
or effort by Church leaders to end the terrible labeling and stigma against a child
thus conceived. The overall history of my Church is incredibly foul and disconcerting.
me observe in the beginning that some married men and women beget children outside
their marriage. Some supposedly celibate or unmarried people conceive children, too.
With that said, let me suggest:
1) Legitimacy has been important in non-Christian
as well as Christian nations and societies. In some countries of the Mideast, illicit
sex is still severely punished.
2) Reflect on the parable of the wheat
field in which weeds were sown. The field represents the Church. Good and bad, saints
and sinners, wise and foolish all grow together. The Church is not made up of perfect
people. If it were, we would have no reason to pray for the living or dead. God acts
even through imperfect people—sinners.
St. Peter was aware of his sinfulness.
And even after the Resurrection St. Paul reproached Peter for not acting forthrightly
with the Jewish Christians and gentile Christians in regard to the Jewish law. It
should not scandalize us if later popes and bishops were not always perfect and shared
the failures and prejudices of their times.
3) In past ages legitimacy was important
in civil law as well as Church law. Illegitimacy was important not only because of
the scandal given by parenting out of wedlock, but also because it mattered to the
The power to rule depended on legitimate
descent. So did legal inheritance and other matters. Property and authority were
passed on only to sons and daughters begotten in marriage. Legitimacy provided for
order in society.
4) Sex outside of marriage and “illegitimacy” continue
to tear families and marriages apart. They are the source of grave social problems.
The current debate over our national welfare system and other social problems is
evidence of that.
5) I found no specific canonical demands
on a cleric toward a child he fathered outside marriage. Most penalties are for committing
the sexual acts themselves. The cleric who fathers a child, however, has all the
responsibilities toward the child that any father has. By natural and moral law he
must provide for the child.
6) It remains sadly true that the sins
of parents are often visited on their children.
Should I Do About My Son’s Wedding?
son is about to marry a Jewish girl. In the beginning, they planned to have both
a priest and a rabbi at the services. His fiancee and family have made all their
arrangements, but my son has done nothing about the priest and it appears that it
will be a totally Jewish ceremony.
His fiancee has told me that in a Jewish wedding the mothers, grandmothers and
great-grandmothers are part of the ceremony and all march down the aisle after the
bridesmaids—wearing special dresses just as the bridesmaids do.
How does the Church view this? It’s all I think about. I even wake up in the middle
of the night trying to find my role in this upcoming wedding.
good and valid reasons a bishop, through his chancery offices, can dispense from the
required Catholic form of the marriage of a Catholic and Jew. In that case, the rabbi
officiates at the ceremony and asks all the questions and receives the consent of both
parties to the marriage. With a dispensation from the form, such a marriage is valid
and is recognized by the Church as a true marriage.
If such a dispensation has been obtained, Catholic parents and grandparents may in
good conscience not only attend the ceremony but also march in a wedding precession,
as you describe it. This custom certainly includes the parents in the joy of the wedding.
You should realize that many Jewish people as well as Catholics have strong feelings
against mixed marriages—perhaps even stronger feelings. Many rabbis will not officiate
at the marriage of a Jew to someone other than a Jew. If your prospective daughter-in-law
finds a rabbi who will officiate at her marriage to your son, that rabbi might not
agree to having a priest share in the service. That may be why you are not hearing
any talk about a priest being present.
If that is the case, I suggest you encourage your son to obtain the necessary dispensation
from the Catholic form if he intends to continue in the practice of his faith and religion.
Be supportive of your son.
Are Divorced/Remarried Catholics Different From Other Sinners?
are divorced Catholics treated differently from other sinners? Convicted murderers,
rapists and other criminals, along with priests who leave the priesthood, can receive
the sacraments yet divorced and remarried people cannot.
the case of a convicted murderer, the action or the sin committed is over and done
with. It can be repented with the intention of never committing that sin again. He
(she) can be reconciled to God and receive holy Communion.
A former priest or religious cannot receive
holy Communion until he or she has received the necessary dispensation from the Church
and been reconciled.
If someone has been validly married,
obtained a civil divorce and then remarried outside the Church, that person has chosen
to act contrary to the command of Christ and the Church. As long as this situation
persists, repentance and reconciliation are impossible because the Church has no
power to dispense people from the marital obligations of fidelity, unity and permanence.
Perhaps the first marriage was invalid
and a way can be found for reconciliation and a return to the sacraments. Contact
am writing regarding the question the 10 widows asked about masturbation (November
1994). That was quite a lengthy answer, but is it or isn’t it wrong? It seems people
decide that for themselves. I don’t see why it would be wrong.
to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an act of masturbation in itself
is serious matter for sin. Any mortal sin requires two other elements. They are sufficient
freedom (willfulness and consent) and knowledge or awareness. I
keep saying it is not always easy to judge how much freedom and consent—or awareness—are
present in an act.
How much sense of sin does this sinner
have? Has anger or passion of another sort blotted out reason or swept the person
away? How much obsession or compulsion has been present in an act of masturbation,
how much ability to resist?
Sometimes a confessor will have much
difficulty evaluating those things. Sometimes the individual himself or herself will
be asking whether he or she fully intended such an act, acted with full freedom.
Theologians and psychologists may differ
about how compulsive an action may have been. In such cases a person should confess
the act and circumstances and put them in God’s hands and to God’s mercy. But if
the rest of a person’s life is holy and prayerful, I would presume guilt is diminished
because of compulsiveness and the strong force of habit or obsession.
But a person may not simply proceed to
self-stimulation, saying it is compulsive. As with any sin, he or she needs to struggle
and attempt to resist the temptation.
Finally, the teaching authority of the
Church in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church says masturbation is an “intrinsically
and gravely disordered action.” The Catechism states, “‘The deliberate use
of the sexual faculty for whatever reason outside of marriage is essentially contrary
to its purpose.’ For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of ‘the sexual relationship
which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving
and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved’” (#2352).
Using one’s sexual powers outside of
intercourse within marriage is disordered. It is self-love rather than love for a
spouse and the fruit of married love.
By now I think I have said all that I
can, as clearly as I can on this subject. I cannot give anyone special permission
or overrule the pope or teach contrary to him and the statements of the Church. With
this, I end the discussion.
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