We have all been inspired by Pope Francis’ and Cardinal Kasper’s gestures of compassion to the divorced and remarried. Indeed, we are all sinners, and these wise prelates know that the Lord’s table is no place to exclude those who refuse to submit to Jesus’ statements on remarriage. However, it should be remembered that selective mercy is often a greater cruelty to those who remain outside its graces. Let us not forget those other sensitive Christian souls who have for so long suffered judgement and exclusion from the Church. I refer, of course, to that other subset of unrepentant adulterers, the ones who haven’t abandoned their first families and civilly remarried.
Consider, if you will, the dilemma of a believing Catholic man who has found himself in a relationship with a mistress. Rosary-counting Catholics–more Pharisee than Christian!–would condemn this man for his sins of “lust”, but I know that many extramarital relationships involve genuine friendship, love, and spiritual fellowship. We acknowledge that the love in this man’s marriage has failed, and we have to feel the pain of the failure; we have to accompany those persons who have experienced this failure of their own love. Not to condemn them! To walk with them! And to not take a casuistic attitude towards their situation.
What do adulterers actually hear from us though, when they earnestly desire to participate fully in the life of the Church? Do we not presume to judge them? Do we not cruelly demand that they severe those extramarital attachments that bring them so much joy and comfort? Do we not hold the Lord hostage, saying that adulterers may not receive the Eucharist until they conform to our ideas of an acceptable level of monogamy? Yes, we acknowledge that it may not be practical for a man never to see his mistress again, but we insist that when he does spend time with her they should behave as brother and sister. But this is cruelly unrealistic! A man may have an intensely meaningful relationship with his mistress. Illegitimate children might be involved. Plus, she might be totally hot.
Consider also the utter perversity of the fact that if this man were to abandon his wife and children to poverty and fatherlessness and “marry” his mistress, he would be welcomed with open arms in the Church of Pope Francis the Merciful. Is it not bizarre that we accept a man who breaks all of his marital vows but not a man who only breaks one of them?
What should the Church do in such situations? It cannot propose a solution that is different from or contrary to the words of Moses. The question is therefore how the Church can reflect this command of fidelity in its pastoral action concerning adulterers. It is always the case that those in mortal sin are called to spiritual communion with the Church even though they can’t receive sacramental communion. But if one, why not the other? Some maintain that non-participation in communion is itself a sign of the sanctity of the sacrament. The question that is posed in response is: is it not perhaps an exploitation of the person who is suffering and asking for help if we make him a sign and a warning for others? Are we going to let him die of hunger sacramentally in order that others may live?
Now, it is true, alas, that the Church cannot disregard the biblical teaching that cheating on one’s spouse is sinful. However, while doctrine teaches us what is true in the abstract, it doesn’t judge concrete particulars. Thus, just as we now know that although sodomy is abstractly speaking always a mortal sin, every particular homosexual relationship is wonderful and deserving of civil affirmation, we can say that although adultery is wrong in the abstract, human beings are not abstractions, and we may not judge any particular extramarital dalliance. We shall not presume to tell the husband with a wandering eye whom he may and may not love! Look, the same bible that teaches us about the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say to the married man who’s on the side proudly banging his secretary “Bravo“.
Yes, we may say that monogamy is ideal, so long as we don’t proudly imply that open marriages among our sincere Christian brothers and sisters are therefore inferior. Nor may we imagine that a man’s sexual desire for his wife is somehow more wholesome than a desire for some random other woman. That would be to encourage the sin of pride in those who happen to be attracted to their spouses, an inclination that is not in itself praiseworthy.
Acceptance of adultery means compassion toward everyone: the cheater, the mistress,…, um, yeah, everyone.