I am not a Roman Catholic and not a huge fan of much Roman Catholic theology. But I had long thought that, when it came to social teaching and hard-headed moral thinking, the Roman Catholic Church was light years ahead of most Protestants in both sophistication and precision. That no longer seems to be the case.
I wonder if he has really been following along, or if he just picked the thing up in a vacuum and responded sanctimoniously. The problem is, Trueman in this very article demonstrates that he hasn’t got a good grasp on what Roman Catholicism really teaches in this case, about marriage, nor has he identified what they’re talking about when they talk about “adultery”. In most cases, “Roman Catholic moral thinking” is far more sanctimony than it is “sophisticated” or “precise”.
Earlier in the article, he writes:
Last week I stumbled across the document issued recently by the Roman Catholic bishops of Malta. It is an attempt to establish “criteria” for “applying” the now-infamous Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia…
Paragraph 9 of the Maltese bishops’ document is one for the ages: We are told of “complex situations” that might make it “humanly impossible” to avoid illicit sex. I wonder what those situations might be?
“Illicit sex” in this case, in the real world (not a conservative Roman Catholic view) is simply sex between a legally married couple. Traditional, conservative Roman Catholics view these documents as discussing the fate of a Roman Catholic couple, married according to Rome’s “sacramental marriage”, who hasn’t gone through their Annulment process, who gets divorced and civilly re-married.
Getting so hammered in a bar late at night that you have no idea to whom you are or are not married? This doesn’t seem a particularly complex scenario, and yet I am hard-pressed to imagine any more likely candidates for these nebulously complicated contexts to which the bishops wish to point. The cynic in me simply says this is one almighty “get out of jail free” card—not only for the adulterers, but for the bishops.
Not paying attention to the context.
As inadequate as Paragraph 9 is, Paragraph 10 is worse. Here we are told that, as long as adulterers have concluded that their situation is fine, then there is no problem. Step out of the confessional, Psychological Man, for your sins have been shriven. No—let me rephrase that: Your sins have ceased to be sins at all. The triumph of the therapeutic and the aesthetic is complete. Move over Thomas Aquinas, there is a new guide to morals on Malta: Oprah Winfrey. “I just know in my heart that it is OK.”
The problem here is that Trueman has ignored (or has simply missed) what is the real issue here. He has not really clarified what is being called “adultery”. He has failed to explain that this “adultery” only exists within the arcane world of the Roman Catholic “sacramental” economy. In that economy, a validly-performed Roman Catholic marriage never ends. They do not permit divorce (even though Jesus permitted divorce and remarriage in cases of “sexual immorality”, Matt 19:9).
Rome has got to out-do God in its moral sanctimony. That has always been its problem, and it is where the wedge is in this intra-Roman dispute. That is what makes it so divisive for them. This business about “living as brother and sister”, this “duty to live in complete continence” [married according to everyone but Roman Catholicism] is one of those instance of moral sanctimony given by “Pope John Paul the Great” in his now-famous (or infamous) “Paragraph 84” of Familiaris Consortio, in the discussion of those “Divorced Persons Who Have Remarried” and who have children in that second marriage:
However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church's teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples."
So what Trueman calls and defends as “adultery”, the rest of the world would call “a married couple raising their children in a second marriage”.