Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Marriage and the Hierarchy

How about we do a marriage assessment today?  Don’t worry single people; you can participate too because you won’t assess your marriage to someone with whom you exchanged rings and vows.  Rather, you will assess your marriage to the Roman Catholic clergy. 

In case you’re unaware that you’re married to the clergy, here’s a quick summary of the church’s teaching.  The clergy believe they wed the church because they think this is required for them to imitate Christ whom they believe married the church.  You might be wondering, “Isn’t it polygamy when multiple men marry the spouse of the person they’re imitating?”   However, the answer to that is either “it’s a mystery” or “twice the square root of the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin simultaneously.”  I forget which.

You also might wonder, “Do they really believe they’re married to the church?”  I think the answer is, “yes” based upon doctrinal writings and hierarchical utterances.  For example, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in his November, 2011 General Assembly address to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “I look out at 300 brothers each of whom has a ring on his finger, because we're spoken for, we're married.”  Tim definitely thinks he and his brother bishops are married; just look at their rings.

Since the church is the people of God, that means they are married to you and me.  When did this marriage take place?  Well, that is not clear but from the time you are baptized, you’re kind of “in” so let’s say you entered this marriage at your baptism. 

If you’re like me, baptized as a newborn, you probably pulled out your copy of Canon Law and started rattling off all the Canons that are broken by an infant entering this marriage.  However, just in case your life is too interesting to read Canon Law, let me share a few highlights with you here. 

  • Canon 1063: both parties must understand the holy state of matrimony before entering it
  • Canon 1065: both parties need to have been confirmed
  • Canon 1083: minimum valid marrying age is 16 for a boy and 14 for a girl. 
  • Canon 1095: marriage is invalid if either party in the marriage lacked reason, or consent
  • Canon 1096: both parties must understand marriage’s permanency
  • Canon 1103: marriage is invalid if either party is forced or coerced into marriage
Violation of any of these establishes grounds to annul a marriage. Yet, all of them are violated by pulling an infant into this mystical marriage with the clergy by baptizing them as members of the clergy’s spouse, the church.      

Even if the hierarchy thinks the faithful enter this mystical union at Confirmation, it violates several Canons.  Regardless, let’s not get caught up in Canon Law.  After all, we all know how forgiving the hierarchy is when it comes to rules that don’t suit their interests. 

Let’s just play along and say we are validly married to the clergy because if we don’t, how can we take this nifty quiz the USCCB has called “Grade Your Marriage.  What fun!  We can grade the hierarchy as our spouse…using the hierarchy’s very own standards for good marriages!  I’m sure they’d love for us to do this because they are huge advocates for strengthening marriages.  Therefore, I’m confident they want to strengthen their marriage with you, the people of God so as to set a good example.

The quiz asks each spouse to rate their partner on a scale of 1 to 10 in 15 areas.  I’ll relax the rules and permit a 0 to 10 scale, but please, no negative numbers no matter how tempted you may be.  The specific assessment areas are listed below.  Remember, you are to rate the church hierarchy as your spouse.  Therefore, I added some contextual description associated with the clergy / church marriage. 

  1. Shared Values: How well do your and the clergy’s values and priorities align?
  2. Commitment: How committed are the clergy to you?
  3. Communication: How well does the hierarchy communicate with you?
  4. Conflict Resolution: How skilled are clergy members at resolving conflicts with you?
  5. Intimacy/Sexuality: Let’s ignore the sexual dimension on this one.  How much interpersonal intimacy do you have with the clergy?
  6. Spirituality/Faith: How well do the hierarchy’s faith and spirituality align with and support yours?
  7. Money Management: How satisfied are you with the clergy’s management of money?
  8. Appreciation/Affection: How well does the clergy express appreciation towards you?
  9. Lifestyle: How compatible is the clergy’s lifestyle with supporting your lifestyle needs?
  10. Recreation: How satisfied are you with the leisure time you spend with clergy?
  11. Decision Making: How satisfied are you with the hierarchy’s decision making practices?
  12. Parenthood: How satisfied are you with the clergy’s parenting skills and support for raising your children?
  13. Household chores / gender differences: Remember, no matter your gender, in this marriage, you are the female church.  How satisfied are you with the gender roles and division of labor between you and the hierarchy?
  14. Careers: Is there adequate support from the clergy for your career?
  15. Balancing Time: How well do the clergy balance time when it comes to their relationship with you?
The instructions say any assessment area rated at 8 or above is in good shape while anything in the 4-7 range is considered to be in a danger zone.  The instructions then say to total scores for all 15 assessment areas and declare any total score higher than 100 as being an “A” for the marriage overall. 

I can’t help noticing that if you scored your spouse an average of 6.66 out of 10 (66.66% or a “D” on most grading scales) on every single question (solidly in the “danger zone” for every question), that results in a total of 100 and an “A” for your marriage overall on the hierarchy’s scale.  Evidently in “bishop math” fifteen “D”s = one “A", a phenomenon closely related to Jesus’ loaves and fishes gig.

I will not influence your assessment by providing mine here.  I do hope you take the survey and discuss it with your hierarchical leaders.  If people send me their responses, I can tally them and provide stats in a subsequent blog article or send them to the USCCB.  However, based upon listening to people, I think the results will indicate the hierarchy needs some serious marriage counseling with their spouse.

Survey aside, I have a few other thoughts regarding the clergy’s marriage to the people of God.  What’s up with excommunication?  The hierarchy should never set aside their spouse via excommunication.  The official viewpoint is that excommunication is “medicinal” versus a “divorce” but, how many of you stop feeding your spouse if they disagree with you?  “…You don’t want my mother visiting???? I think you can bloody well go without any food until you change your mind.”  And how many of you consider withholding nourishment as an acceptable form of “medicine?”  “…You’re sick, dear?  No food for you until you’re healthy…it’s for your own good, honey.”  

Canon 1135 says there’s equality between marriage partners, but that isn’t the case when it comes to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is it?  In a healthy marriage, both parties make amends and forgive, recognizing they both err.  However, with the hierarchy, those of us constituting their wife are always the erring party, always the ones needing to confess, always the ones receiving penance, always the ones needing forgiveness…and from them.  “We’re equal, sweetie, it’s just that you’re always the one to screw up.  But don’t worry because I’m here to forgive you for all these screw ups.”  There are marriages like this where the husband is always right but they are typically categorized by one word, “abusive.”

Finally, what’s up with Canon Law calling me a “subject” if I’m married to the hierarchy?  Have you ever heard a wedding end with, “I now pronounce you man and subject?”  If Christ is king, then his bride is queen, not “subject.”  If the clergy fancy themselves princes, then we’re their princesses, not their “subjects.” 

Do you think the hierarchy is married to the people of God?  Do you think the marriage is healthy?  If not, do you think it can be saved?  What kind of marriage therapy might work?


  1. As a couples and family therapist of over 40 years, my recommendation would be this: "Since the two of you made a commitment to work on this marriage when you started therapy, and it appears that only one of you is following through on this commitment, here is the business card of the divorce attorney down the hall. My services are no longer working." RS

  2. I LMAO; Dolan is a joke. Most of the bishops are talking heads, have no brains and are out of touch with reality. I believe this is an easy annulment and far from a divorce. One does not even have to spend thousands on Canon Lawyers; it is an easy call.

    Canon Law needs to be coherent and it is not. Too these so called princes of the church make things up as they go along. : "Give me that old razzle dazzle.............." All these multiple marriages sound incestuous to me, no matter how you slice and dice it. I have lost much respect for the Roman Catholic & Eastern Orthodox bishops. They play their games while the faithful walk away..........

  3. Frankly, it creeps me out to think of priests, bishops, cardinals, and even the Pope being married to the people of God. That would mean that they were in my marriage too. The Only other being that is in MY marriage is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I don't think of the clergy as God. Or Jesus. Or the Holy Spirit. I would never even go to a clergyman for marriage counselling. What advice could they possibly give me that would be remotely helpful? Especially as a woman.