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MEXICO: Fox and the Church

Ed Jajko clarifies: I have to point out a looseness of usage here that has occurred also in previous messages on this topic and contributes to the fuzziness of the discussion. This is in the words "take mass." One does not "take mass;" one goes to, attends, or better yet participates in the Mass but receives or "takes" communion. If Mr. and the new Mrs. Fox are both Roman Catholics, and were in valid marriages before their divorces and civil marriage, they may attend Mass but may not receive communion until their marital status is brought back in line with the laws of the Church. The civil divorce of a Roman Catholic does not dissolve the ties of a lawful marriage, in, as they say, the eyes of the Church. Civil marriage of a Roman Catholic is not recognized by the Church as valid, regardless of any previous status. (There is an exception: Since the marrying partners confer the sacrament, and the priest only witnesses and blesses the union, marriage without a priest is allowed when it would be impossible to have a priest present, but must afterwards be blessed by a priest when possible.) Within the Church, marriage is subject to a number of rules and conditions. Failure of rules or conditions could make an apparently lawful marriage subject to annulment -- not a divorce, but a declaration that a valid marriage never existed. The Church, as a temporal political organization as well as a religious body, will on occasion do things that serve worldly ends -- Vatican diplomats and spokesmen are as good at lying as any others, despite the Eighth Commandment. But absent the conditions that would permit a declaration that the prior (or, to the Church, the current) marriages of each of the Foxes are invalid and subject to annulment, I can't see John Paul II handing Vicente Fox and the new Mrs. Fox annulments just because it will make things easier for them. Popes don't give their backing to liberalization of laws of divorce. As for Cardinal Norberto Rivera's apparent evasion, this may have been because there are at least two matters of canon law involved. The laws respecting communion suggest giving the benefit of the doubt to the communicant. Priests do not inquire of each communicant as to the state of their souls before conferring the sacrament. So the cardinal may have first thought, sure, they can receive communion. But then he may have recalled the laws respecting marriage, and the status of the divorced Catholic who has remarried outside the Church, and remembered that he could not give communion to someone who is in public breach of Church law. The recent case of Tony Blair may be instructive. Blair is something of an oddity, a fervent, church-going member of the C of E. He is married to a Roman Catholic and attends Mass with her. Until a year or so ago, he made a practise of joining her in reception of communion. But then the local ordinary cracked down and Blair was told that if he wished to receive communion he would have to do so in a C of E church. The Roman Catholic church does not receive C of E members as communicants (although members of other churches, notably the various Orthodox churches, the Assyrian church, and the Polish National Catholic Church, are able to receive RC communion). In any event, it is a question of "taking communion" rather than "taking mass."

My fuzzy reply: "Fuzzy" is a compliment today, as in "fuzzy mathematics". In any case, I was aware of the verbal usage problem, but regret that mine was not kosher. I think the Catholic Church is being a little dogmatic, or at least non-ecumenical. Tony Blair should have the local ordinary "Whom god hath united, let no man set asunder". I bet it was a political rival who denounced Blair to the local ordinary. My guess is that if Mrs. Blair went to the C of E Church, the priest would have given her both species (bread and wine) with benevolence.

I am reminded of the story of the sinning Texan cowboy who got religion and decided to join a church. He went to several protestant churches and asked to join. The ministers all said that he had to prove he had read the Bible, and they asked him "Where was Jesus born?" To one the Texan answered Houston, to the next Beaumont, and so forth, and in each case he was told to go and read the Bible, which he had no intention of doing. Finally he went to the Episcopalian Church, where the minister simply told him to sign the register and offered him some tea, which he refused. Having signed and been assured that he was now a member of the Episcopalian Church, he dared to ask, "Say, where was Jesus born?" The minister replied "In Palestine, of course". The replied "Doggonit, I knew it was somewhere in East Texas".

The Episcopalian Church is broad and undogmatic. Like Jesus.

Ronald Hilton - 7/16/01