Defending Marriage When Church Leaders Don’t

The institution of marriage is under attack; in fact, in many ways it seems to be on its last legs. How have Catholic leaders failed in defending marriage, and how can Catholics rebuild our respect for this sacred institution?

Crisis Point
Crisis Point
Defending Marriage When Church Leaders Don’t
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Guest

John Clark is a columnist, political speechwriter, and ghostwriter. He has authored two books on fatherhood and written approximately five hundred articles and blogs about Catholic family life and apologetics in such places as The National Catholic Register, Seton Magazine, and Magis Center. He holds a degree in Political Science and Economics from Christendom College. John and his wife Lisa have nine children and live in central Florida. His most recent book is Betrayed Without a Kiss: Defending Marriage after Years of Failed Leadership in the Church.

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Transcript

Eric Sammons:

The institution of marriage is under attack. In fact, in many ways, it seems to be on its last legs. How have Catholic leaders failed in defending marriage? And how can Catholics rebuild their respect for the sacred institution? That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your host, Editor-in-Chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, just want to encourage people to hit the like button, subscribe to the channel, follow us on social media, @crisismag on all the various social media channels. Subscribe to our email newsletter, just go crisismagazine.com and subscribe to the email newsletter.

Also, a new feature of the podcast is, if you write a question to [email protected], I will try to answer it on upcoming episodes. So if there’s something comes up in this episode that you’re like, “Hey, I really want to make sure this is addressed,” just email [email protected] and we’ll take care of it. Okay, so we have a great guest today, John Clark. He is a columnist, political speech writer and ghost writer. He has authored two books on fatherhood and written approximately 500 articles and blogs about Catholic family apologetics in such places as the National Catholic Register, Seton Magazine nugget center.

Okay, I actually think it’s got to be more than 500, because as much as I’ve seen your name out there, I think it’s got to be … I’ve actually thought 500 sounded low for you to be honest.

John Clark:

Okay, maybe.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, so he holds a degree in political science and economics from Christendom College. Most importantly, he and his wife Lisa have nine children. They live in Central Florida. His most recent book though, which we’re going to talk about today, is Betrayed Without a Kiss, and what a great title, Betrayed Without a Kiss: Defending Marriage After Years of Failed Leadership in the Church. Welcome to the program, John.

John Clark:

Good to see you, Eric. Thanks for having me.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. Obviously, this is a major topic in the church today, has been for a very long time, but we’re seeing it ramp up right now. What I want to do this, I always like to start at the beginning, so to speak. Can you basically just explain the Catholic view of marriage, both its origins and natural marriage and sacramentally? What is it actually that we’re defending? Because I want to make sure we have that clear before we talk about… We can’t know what the attacks are if we don’t know what it is that we’re defending.

John Clark:

Right. So that’s a great question. So my focus in this book is the sacrament of matrimony. That’s essentially what I’m looking at. So I’m not getting into… I mentioned civil marriage, which in some senses should travel by another name in a way because we’re talking about something different. So in this book, I’m trying to defend the sacrament of matrimony, and specifically the sacrament itself. So I’m glad you make that distinction. So that is what we’re trying to defend. And so, when I give these figures about annulments, this is not a book about… I mentioned annulments, as you know, in detail. I don’t talk much about civil divorce. I mention it, but I’m trying to concentrate on the sacrament of matrimony itself, so that is the key thing.

In terms of origin, when this started a friend of mine was having some troubles with his marriage, looked like a divorce might be on the horizon. So the catalyst for all of this was for me to go back and try to really get to be an expert on what the sacrament of matrimony is, what did God intend it to be and what has happened since. That was basically the origin. So as you know from the book, I go back to the Garden of Eden. What did God intend marriage? So when I’m talking about marriage in this book, Betrayed Without a Kiss, what was betrayed is the sacrament of matrimony.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Obviously, there’s something considered natural marriage. So for example, if two Jews get married, that is a natural marriage. It’s a valid marriage, but it’s not a sacramental marriage because neither party is baptized. And also, if a baptized Catholic gets married to a non-baptized person, that also is not the sacrament of matrimony because, just basic Catholic theology, is you can’t receive a sacrament until you’ve been baptized. So that wouldn’t be a sacramental marriage either. So the focus here is really on the sacrament of matrimony.

And of course, they’re related because the undermining of just marriage, the idea of marriage in general in society then bleeds into Catholic understanding of marriage and what it is, as you talk about some. What is the history of the Catholic Church before modern times? The Catholic Church has always been a promoter of marriage, and you mentioned, though, in the past, in history, there have been other times where the church has defended marriage. What are some of the examples of when the churches had to stand up and defend marriage?

John Clark:

Well, the most classic example, and I’d devote almost an entire chapter to it, is the case of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. That explains the cover of the book, that is Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. And without going into a ton of detail about all this, Henry VIII essentially went from being a very devout Catholic. In fact, he was a daily communicant. In fact, went to mass some days more than once. He would go several times to mass a day. He was a staunch defender of the church and, ironically enough, of matrimony. But there came a time when Henry decided he didn’t want to be married anymore to Catherine of Aragon. He had trouble with the sixth, ninth commandments. I think that’s probably a fairly terrible way of saying it. And he wanted a male heir to the throne. And so he wanted to get an annulment, but the church did not grant him an annulment for reasons that were basically, this is a valid marriage.

He tried to find a few loopholes, he wasn’t able to find them. Sadly, Rome took too long to basically rule on this that this was a valid marriage, but Rome did rule that Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon had a valid marriage. Of course, Henry did a workaround in that and basically established a new church. And so, when we talk about the church defending marriage, the key thing I would look at, the key event was that the Pope realized that he would lose the nation of England to the church, to save marriage, and that is what he did. He did affirm the validity of Henry and Catherine’s marriage, and England was lost as part of the process.

What’s interesting about that is, and I don’t want to go into too much detail, it’s in the book, but Henry essentially issued directives and acts that the English people had to affirm his marriage to Anne Boleyn, and Anne would be the new queen, which most of the English refused to do. They were pretty adamant about not doing that. Alongside of that though, Henry insisted that the same people reject the papacy. So it’s interesting to me that a rejection of the faith and a rejection of marriage were essentially looked by Henry as one and the same thing, one of the same act. And I think that is the key time that the church has defended marriage. There was many times but that is the key one, and I think that started it all, what we’re seeing now.

Eric Sammons:

It is amazing when you put it like that, the idea that the Pope was willing to basically give up an entire nation, one that had been historically devoted to the papacy, devoted to the Pope, devoted to the Catholic faith. It was the crown jewel in a lot of ways of the Catholic Church for centuries. And the Pope was willing to say, “Well, we’ll lose it all because I just simply can’t say that this marriage is not valid.” And I think that’s an amazing statement of the importance of marriage and how central it is to the faith, that if you throw that away, like Henry did, then you throw away the faith essentially.

Now, in modern times though, we see obviously the degradation of the institution of marriage, of the sacrament of matrimony as well. 150, 100 years ago or so, most people believed in marriage, monogamous, lifelong, all the essentials that we would say matrimony has. But now, of course, that’s completely not the case. Can you say how that started? What really were the factors that led to the fact that most people today don’t really think of marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman?

John Clark:

Well, there’s so many different factors, as I mentioned in the book. I think one of the key things is, we talk about the Anglican rejection of the primary purpose of marriage, which essentially was similar to the Catholic Church. But their acceptance of contraception was key to this. And so what you had was, if you want to pinpoint about a hundred years ago or so, the key thing that was happening there was an embrace of contraception in effect. That is what started this. And so, as we know, the Church teaches that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children. That’s infallible teaching. So the church is never going to change that. If people are hoping the Church changes that, the Church will never change that. But the Anglicans did, basically different sects of Protestantism followed, and that essentially started it.

What was happening then was, so you have this idea of overpopulation. People still are talking about that now. Well, there’s overpopulation and so you have to use contraception. And so, from their perspective, oh, the world was going to end, there wasn’t enough food. This was essentially the key thing. And so, people were thinking they were doing humanity a great service by not having children. So a hundred years ago, that’s what started it. From there, there became a breakdown and there became more and more pressure on the Catholic Church to change your teaching, which obviously you can’t do. But I would think if you go back to about that stage, that was what started it all, was the embrace of contraception.

Eric Sammons:

I think you put it well because it wasn’t contraception except, contraception as much that started as the rejection of the primary purpose of marriage.

It was now separating. Yes, you can be married but you don’t have to worry about having kids. If you don’t want them, you don’t have to have them. And that goes completely contrary to this idea. Can you speak a little bit more about though, why the church… I mean, because I think most Catholics today, let’s be honest, do not think or do not know that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation and education of children. Can you explain why it is that the church is insistent that that is the primary purpose? It’s not just a union or love or L-U-V love, or anything like that, it’s this… And why is that?

John Clark:

So the church is not pulling this teaching out of a hat. And I wanted to basically in terms of defending that was again, with trying to go back and develop a theology of marriage so I could advise my friend well, I wanted to go all the way back, so I went back to the Garden of Eden, and what did God intend marriage to be? Because one of the key things that I try to make in this book, the key points is that the sacraments are restorative in nature. So if you really want to try to understand them, we should go back as far as we can. So we can see from the beginning, God’s command, “Be fruitful and multiply.” That’s the starting command.

And so, we can see the aspects there of matrimony as they should be. Now, when we talk about the procreation and education of children, I’m much happier using the word upbringing or raising or something like that because it’s a little bit too vague. When we talk about insolubility, we can see the link between the insoluble nature of marriage and that aspect of upbringing because parenting is meant to be a lifelong project. It’s not an event, it’s a process or it’s a lifelong process. And I think in terms of trying to understand why the church teaches what she does is because you can see it in Genesis. It’s very clear right there. And there are other stories in Genesis too, which I mentioned too that confirm this teaching, but that is essentially why the church teaches because that’s what God commanded us to do.

Eric Sammons:

Now, the church, obviously at the time when the Anglican Church folded on this in the 1930s, the Catholic Church stayed strong. Pope Pius XI, was it? I’m all of a sudden forgetting which Pius it was 11th, right? That then wrote…

John Clark:

Casti Connubii?

Eric Sammons:

Yes. Right, right. Yes, so Pope Pius XI wrote that defending the church’s teaching. And of course then, Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae in the late 1960s, also defending the church’s teaching against contraception, which also then supports the idea of the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education in children. But I think one of the things you mentioned, your subtitle of your book is, Defending Marriage After Years of Failed Leadership in the Church. Clearly, that’s not the whole story that we had a couple popes that wrote some good things because now we had a lot of failed leadership. Can you tell us when that started? When the Catholic Church, the leadership at least, started to crack, so to speak, on this issue?

John Clark:

Well, so yeah, that’s a great question. Obviously, these are questions that I asked myself when I sat down to research this. I think if you go back to around that time, 1930s, Casti Connubii, you did have a Marxist infiltration of the Catholic Church. This is not a conspiracy. At this point, it’s very well documented. So you had people that were trying come in to the church to destroy the church. I think that’s fairly clear.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, we had Paul Kengor on a podcast about his book on Bella Dodd and what she did. So yeah, like you said, it’s pretty well documented. This isn’t like tinfoil hack territory at this point.

John Clark:

No. Sadly, that’s just it. And so, yeah, the Bella Dodd, I should mention that exactly. From that period, so from the 1930s to 1960s, you did see the infiltration. After Humanae Vitae, if you have gray hair like me, you probably remember Father Charles Curran. Now, the name, not many people… He’s not in common parlance anymore, but I can tell you that growing up in the 1980s, Father Curran was very well-known. The Washington Post said, he was probably the most well-known pre-lent in the United States. I think that’s probably true.

Eric Sammons:

Kind of like the Father James Martin of the day.

John Clark:

Well, you said that… But no, I think that’s a fair thing. Can you name your own bishop? No. You know who Father James Martin is? Yes. So yes, it was similar in that regard. Almost literally before the ink was dry on Humanae Vitae, Father Curran assembled a press conference and basically said he disagreed with all of this. And I detailed some of his more direct statements in the book. Now, why that mattered was is that, Father Curran was teaching at Catholic U, which was theoretically the most Catholic university in America, right? It’s called the Catholic University of America. So at first after Father Curran was rejecting Humanae Vitae, and in effect, just to underscore a point here, rejecting Humanae Vitae meant rejecting 2000 years of church teaching. It wasn’t, “Oh, I don’t like that document.” Okay. He was rejecting scripture, he was rejecting Genesis. So when we say he’s rejecting Humanae Vitae, we should be clear with it.

No, he was rejecting Genesis. That’s fairly clear. In any case, he ended up staying at the Catholic University for about a generation. He was there about 20 years or so. There was an entire book written about his time at Catholic University. But you’re talking about Father Curran teaching heresy and descent for 20 years in the nation’s capital at the Catholic University. And so, that led to more and more descent. And part of the problem is, and I mentioned this in my book, there was a strong reluctance, and that’s probably putting it mildly, to police heresy and heretics. But the problem is, if you don’t do that, people think, “Well, I guess it’s okay. After all, Rome hasn’t done anything. It’s been 20 years. If they were serious, they would say he couldn’t say these things anymore.” Which in effect, eventually did happen, but it just took so long. But that is what sped up the process. It is worth wondering what would’ve happened if Catholic U would simply have fired Father Curran right away. And that was-

Eric Sammons:

That is an interesting episode because if you think about, you hear stories from the 1930s or ’40s, ’50s, where bishops would basically just, if somebody is out of line, they would make sure it was known. They would even keep Hollywood policed. And there’s great stories of bishops who are like, if you’re a segregationist basically you’re excommunicated, or they were actually standing up. But then, Curran, he’s able to do this for so long.

And I don’t know if you know the story, but I heard that the Archbishop of Washington DC at the time in the ’70s, he did try to go against… Try to, I don’t know if it was Curran, he tried to curtail, but he tried to stand up for Humanae Vitae and basically the Vatican just threw him under the bus and they just were like, “We’re not going to really support your efforts here.” And so, I think he gave a signal to all the bishops, there’s no point in really trying to fight for this one too much. Have you heard that? Did you hear that story about that? I can’t remember his name though, the Archbishop of DC at the time.

John Clark:

I haven’t heard that. I think this is probably detailed in that book. I wish I can remember the title because there was a book written about the whole Father Curran episode. That wouldn’t surprise me based on what else happened. At the same time, the bottom line is, in terms of to your point about why contraception got to be more and more popular. Well, Father Curran was largely… No, he wasn’t the only priest. In fact, I mentioned that, it’s widely reported that Father Curran would get groups together and other priests would get groups together to just say, “No, we’re dissenting from…” I don’t think they used the word dissent, but they would say, “Well, we don’t like Humanae Vitae also.” So you would have groups get together and there would be different groups and they would say, well, they want their church to overturn this. And so, it’s never going to happen. But that’s essentially what happened and that was essentially the issue is that a lot of people started embracing contraception largely because to your point, they rejected the primary purpose.

Eric Sammons:

We’ve always had heretical priests among us. This is something… I mean, Arius was a heretical priest. I think the big difference here is that nothing was done, like you said, and that sends a message. Yes, we have this beautiful encyclical by Pope Paul VI that clearly states that church is teaching, but then there’s no backup of it.

I lived in the Washington DC diocese for a long time, that’s where I heard that story from a number of priests there, that that’s what happened. I wish I could remember the priest’s name, sorry, the archbishop’s name from the 70s. But yeah, so it really was now that we’re not going to do anything about it. And so that sends a message because there were priests who bragged about the fact that they would tell people in confession who would confess contraception, they would say, it’s okay. You don’t have to confess that it’s not a sin. They would openly state that they would do that and nothing was done by them. And so do you think that nothing was done because the bishops or the Vatican didn’t really believe it themselves or it just was like, this is the way we do things now. We are supposed to dialogue, we’re not supposed to be big ninnies or anything like that. I know it’s hard to know exactly why, but I mean, why didn’t they do something?

John Clark:

Well, right. So yeah, that’s the million-dollar question or whatever. So at the time, for at least some of this, you’re talking about Pope John Paul II was in there, and I think that he with Cardinal Ratzinger as the head of CDF, which eventually was the document was sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Father Curran. So again, it’s a speculation. But I think the concern is that when the church excommunicate someone, I think the church is worried, I think I should say the leadership of the church may be worried that a 1000 people go with them and then they start to be a leader of a movement and then a lot of people go, and I think that’s the concern. But the problem is that if you don’t, those 1000 are still with him, except for now he presents himself as a Catholic.

That’s the problem. So I’m with you. If there’s no policing of heresy, where does that leave us? The faithful have a right to know the church teaching and to have them reiterated, frankly. We need to hear that. Again, I’m 52 years old. I go to mass every Sunday, I try to go to daily mass, and I’m trying to remember ever hearing from the pulpit the primary purpose of marriage. And when I don’t hear it, it makes me wonder, who do priests think is in the congregation? These are people who are married or children of marriage in large measure. Why aren’t we hearing it? And so that’s one of the things we need to keep having that reiterated. And a 100%, you’re right. It should have been policed better. It should be better policed now. Let’s be honest, it’s probably worse now. So it should be policed now.

Eric Sammons:

If a 1000 go off with the excommunicated priest, will 10,000 stay with him in the church with heretical beliefs and that really impact their lives. This isn’t just some theoretical thing. If you don’t believe procreation of children is primary purpose of marriage, you’re going to live your life a lot differently and engage in a lot activity that is immoral. Now, at the same time in the 1970s that we have this happening with Curran, we see at least in America and other places less so an explosion of annulments that just is unprecedented in church history. So could you first of all make, I just always want to make sure everybody’s clear, what an annulment is, not Catholic divorce, what annulment is, and how did this happen that all of a sudden annulments were given out at an exponentially higher rate than they had been in the past?

John Clark:

So an annulment, you’re right. An annulment is not divorce. There is no divorce as a Catholic. Divorce is a civil procedure. An annulment is a finding that the marriage never existed. And that’s a key thing to remember. So it’s a finding, I’m not a big fan of the word annulment. I would rather say finding of nullity. A finding that there was never a marriage. It’s a key thing, which I think a lot of people have forgotten. So forgive me for reiterating that, but I think this is key. And so in the late 1960s, there was a petition to the bishops to change the current structure of what was necessary for a finding of nullity and make it much, they probably would’ve said they streamlined the process, but I think the process was wrecked because what happened was is that, so if you look at numbers, so in the late 1960s, there were I believe in 1968, there were 338 annulments, I’m going to roll around to 350. 350 annulments. That is every diocese in America total 350. One generation later there were over 70,000 annulments. So 350 to 70,000.

Those numbers in any field would be like, oh my gosh, what happened? So in the late 1960s, there was a push to have what’s called the American procedural norms to change from three judges to a single judge to make the process of a preponderance of the evidence we might call it in civil law. It was much easier to find that. Now, there also came to be something people would say… So in the late 1960s, if you think back to that, it was the golden age of bad psychology, which I guess stayed with this in a way.

But the idea was, if you read some of the articles in the Canon Law Society of America’s magazine, basically the idea was that people didn’t have the psychological capacity to marry. This was the thing. They weren’t psychologically ready. So that became the springboard for many, many, many annulments. So if you start mapping this out, and the problem continues by the way. So what’s alarming right now is people will say, “Well, the annulment numbers are down, John, what are you worried about?” You’re right, it was 70,000, but now it’s in the 20s or whatever. Well, here’s the problem. People aren’t getting married anymore. So we go from the late 1960s, there were 425,000 weddings a year in America and 2020 there were less than 100,000 weddings. So from 425 to a 100. So you got the annulment numbers skyrocketing, and the marriage numbers going way down, it’s a problem. So it’s bad.

Eric Sammons:

What was the argument given for streamlining of the annulment process? Was it just like, we’ve got all these terrible situations and we need to help solve them or it’s too expensive? What’s the reason they gave? Because clearly, it ended up leading to just this crazy increase in annulments. But why did they say, what was the reasoning?

John Clark:

That’s a really good question. They would answer to that. I would simply say that I don’t know if there was much logic other than the fact that the Canon Law Society of America essentially forms a bit of a monopoly in terms of canon law, to the interpretation of canon law. And so I think that when you’re going in to have before marriage tribunal, you’re going to hire a canon lawyer. There’s canon lawyers involved.

I don’t think there was ever a great rationale to that, to be honest. I am not aware of a good rationale, but I don’t think they felt the need to rational to provide one. I think that’s the answer. I don’t think they did. And so the system of that was in place, and again, I always reiterate this. My contention is not that there should never be a finding of nullity. Clearly there should. My contention is that when it goes from the 350 to 70,000, something pretty bad happened.

Did humanity change? What changed? So I think that’s the thing. You’re asking a great question. I wish I knew the answer and I wish they would provide a better one than has been provided.

Eric Sammons:

Now, I’ve heard some today, this isn’t necessarily an argument for when it first started in the 70s or anything like that, but I’ve heard some good Catholics today argue that the large number of annulments, it’s not because the diocese are being too loose in giving them, it’s because most Catholics don’t understand what marriage is, and therefore they go into their wedding without knowledge, which is a potential finding of novelty then, because if you don’t really know what the purpose of marriage is and all this, the argument is, then it’s not a valid marriage.

And in fact, the Pope himself, Francis, I can’t remember the exact thing, but I think he said something effect of like, “Oh, half of all marriages are probably not valid or something like that.” Some crazy comment probably made on an airplane. But what would you say that, do you think it is possible, at least today, not necessarily in the 70s when they might had better catechesis, but would you say today that we should almost assume guilty until proven innocent as far as whether or not a marriage is valid?

John Clark:

No, it’s the opposite. So if you go to canon law, marriages are presumed valid unless and until proven otherwise. The problem is no… So to your initial question, if that’s the argument… By the way, it’s very rarely and it’s hard to get exact numbers on these cases because there is some degree of privacy involved. But it is not a common argument to say, no, I didn’t intend fidelity. So you have openness to children, permanence, fidelity. I think most people do understand that on their wedding day. I think if you asked them, yeah, they understand that. I’m familiar with a case recently where someone had gone to a priest wanted to have a Catholic wedding, and the priest mentioned that. He asked him, “Well, are you open to children? You’re open to children.” And they said, no. And he said, “Well, I can’t marry you.” So that’s the correct response. That’s a good thing. Well, it’s a bad thing from the couple’s perspective.

But I think that in terms of the presumption that there is a marriage, I mean, this is in canon law. So there’s always that unless and until proven otherwise. But simply think that, I think people do understand that quite well on their wedding day. And I do challenge the priests on this and the bishops on this because if that continually is the argument, yeah, Bill was, yeah, he got married, but he was planning on dating another girl the night after or the wedding, and it was this big thing. And when you have diocese that are approving 100% of applications for nullity. So this is a new argument now. Essentially, somebody who holds that would basically argue that humanity has changed, human nature has changed. I don’t see that and I don’t know that that’s actually a fallback position. Usually have the psychological incapacity issue.

So now we have a scenario. And what’s interesting about that is, and again, you should have go down these rabbit holes trying to… The argument for in many of these cases, and again, to reiterate, there should be some cases where there is a finding of nullity. But in many of these cases, they’re a little bit like a time travel movie. And by that I mean that, you ever watch a time travel movie and you think you have to try to follow it enough to make sense of it, but if you follow it too much, it doesn’t make any sense.

So it’s like this time of travel paradox. So you have this annulment paradox. What’s happening now is the psychological incapacity question. Somebody was mentioning to me the other day that he knew a priest, he was I guess involved in his parish. He was saying the priest was reviewing somebody who was applying for the sixth annulment, his sixth annulment. And so one of the arguments they’re using now is, and this has I guess been in place for decades at this point, is that, well, Bill didn’t have the capacity to marry Julie but he does have the capacity to marry this other lady.

I mean imagine that. So the idea that, well, no, it would’ve been a valid marriage except for she didn’t like the kind of car he drove or something. And some of the reasons that are given, it’s not serious. It’s not a serious discussion.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Now, another reason that I think that annulments have dropped, not just because obviously less Catholics get married in a church or elsewhere, but because a lot of Catholics, especially in the last 20, 30 years, they don’t even bother with the annulment. They just get a civil divorce. And to them then it’s over. The marriage is over, there’s no need to do anything else. And of course a lot of them end up getting remarried. Remarried, just for everybody clear. It’s not a real marriage, but that’s the terminology used. And they go through another wedding and get remarried.

So I know this is such a mess right now. It’s unbelievably a mess. I helped run the RCA conversion class at my parish, and this is just such a big issue. On day one, you have to address this. Somebody says, I’m thinking about becoming Catholic or something like that. The first thing you have to do almost is try to do it in a pastoral way. But the first thing you have to do is be like, okay, what’s your marriage history? Because often it’s just multiple and things like that. So that’s become a big issue is the divorce and remarried, because a lot of them, they get civilly divorced, they get remarried, and then they want to participate in the life of the church, the sacramental life of the church.

And so how has this also helped to undermine marriage? And I should say, how have we had failed leadership on this in the church on this particular issue?

John Clark:

Well, the failed leadership here would be to the point where you’re getting at typically manifests itself in the approach to the Eucharist. So if your key thing is we’ve got to get them back to the Eucharist, I’m all for getting people back to the Eucharist. But the problem is, if somebody comes to me and they said, John, if I talk to a priest and I said, look, I’m in the state of mortal sin, but I want to go to the Eucharist. What’s the first thing you ought to do?

Well, I can tell you what it isn’t. It’s not to give me the Eucharist, it’s to go to confession. We seem to have lost sight of the idea that, well, we’ve lost a sense of sin. This is nothing new. We’ve lost a sense of sin and that’s pretty clear. I think a lot of people have written about that loss of sense. And so the problem is, I think when you have people in a situation that you’re outlining, it does them… There’s a subordination of doctrine to what they would call pastoralism. While I’m a pastor and this is my job. When you start subordinating doctrine to pastoralism, it’s no longer pastoralism, or it might be pastoralism if we’re looking at it as an ism, right?

But you’re not acting pastorally. If you’re not telling people the truth, you’re doing them no favors. All of a sudden, that’s a revolutionary statement I just made. Again, we have to act in truth is truth. So the problem is that, I think that just simply to get people back at all costs, I think they’re thinking, well, we want to get people back.

But you can’t do that. So end of sentence, end a paragraph, but there’s another problem to it, and that’s this, the immediate cause of serious scandal is pretty obvious. You think, well, my gosh, she left her husband, she’s married him, she’s on a new marriage, she’s buying to communion. Who’s not likely to go back to church is the rest of the family. Why are they going? The church doesn’t seem serious. And to the extent that this is the push, it’s not serious. We have to be in the state of grace. Again, it’s in the Bible. The church doesn’t just think, well, it’d be good idea. No, this is divine law. And so I get that’s an issue. But the fact of the matter is that we’re not only not helping them, we’re now betraying future generations by having this sort of policy. We got to get those people back to communion.

It’s kind of funny, the most emphasis… There’s a eucharistic revival going on right now, and I hope it bears a lot of fruit. I really do. But first of all, it has to accompany a revival of the sacrament of matrimony. I think that’s key. I just think that we need to realize what Eucharist is. The second Eucharist has been betrayed also, and I think that’s a clear to make. I try to make that point in the book that the sacraments rise and fall together. We need to start realizing that.

Eric Sammons:

You mentioned how when Henry rejected the sacrament of matrimony Henry VIII, he ended up rejecting the church. You’ve already mentioned a little bit, how has our lack of defense for the sacrament matrimony and allowing it to be fall into such dire straits, how has that impacted the whole church and the whole faith in general?

John Clark:

So that’s a good question. So I would say it like this, I guess. So when I was in doctrine classes is Wednesday morning, 8:30 AM Father Mark Pilon was my doctrine professor first class. And he said, “If you deny one truth, you deny them all.” Well, I wrote that down and I think that I’ve tried to live my life that way where, look, you may not like the truth, but that doesn’t change it. It doesn’t make it falsehood because you don’t like it. And I think that denial of truth becomes a domino effect. I think it’s always going to do that. Do you accept truth or not? I think that’s the answer to your question. So when you have people… When our Lord instituted the Eucharist and people left, he didn’t say, wait, come back. This is hard teaching. Each of the sacraments can be hard teaching quote unquote, “Hard teaching.”

But we can’t change the teaching simply because it’s hard. The sacraments are also beautiful teaching. That’s our faith. So I think to your point, if you start denying truth sooner or later, yeah, you’re just going to deny them all. When did you start denying truth? What was the first domino? That might be different for people. For some it’s a teaching on marriage, for some it’s the Eucharist, for some it’s confession. I don’t know. Maybe for some it’s a confirmation.

I think that the first denial of truth does frequently occur with one of the seven sacraments. But then you start denying things. Are there Marian doctrines true? Are they real? That’s what happens. You have to accept truth. You got to accept all truth to teach the faith whole and entire. That’s what we should be doing.

Eric Sammons:

Now, your book details a lot of the failed leadership in the church when it comes to sacred matrimony. And I think one question I have then is, what can we as lay people do or even just the regular parish priest can do to try to defend marriage and really make it so it really is respected again in the church? And I want to say, before I let you answer that question, I’ve worked for diocese for five years. I’ve been involved in parishes for a long time. I have developed an allergy to, well, this new program will fix it. And so my question is, how can we really make an impact and start defending marriage that isn’t just, oh, this new program will do it?

John Clark:

Yeah. So it’s essentially a two-part question, and I like that. So let’s think about the priests first. So from the priest’s perspective, the priest should be cheerleaders. For lack of a better term the priest should be cheerleaders from marriage. So we need to be hearing about the joy of marriage from the pulpit.

We need to be hearing about the joy of the primary purpose from the pulpit. Children are good. We need to hear that. We need our basic things. We need to hear Casti Connubii quoted in sermons. We need to hear Humanae Vitae quoted in sermons because they’re beautiful teachings. We somehow forgot that marriage is beautiful. So I think the priests need to do that. And by the way, it’s not simply sermons to married couples, it is sermons to everyone in the congregation. And so there was years within recent, it was within I want to say within about 18 months ago, this was big news at the time that, there was a trial balloon that maybe we should have an 18 month or 16 month Pre-Cana program. Do you remember that?

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I do.

John Clark:

So I thought, well, that’s a really bad idea. There’s a natural all right to marriage. And the fact of the matter is these are two people in love. Why are we trying to prevent it? Again, my major beef, well, not only do I think it may be an occasion of sin for people to wait 18 months, which is I think pretty obvious. But also too, it’s if the primary purpose of marriage is as to have and upbringing children, why are we preventing that for a year and a half? There are only a certain amount of years we can have babies. We were very blessed. We’ve had nine children, right?

Would’ve been happy with more. So priests need to talk about the joy of marriage. I think one of the things they should do is talk about to maybe the younger people, the teenagers in the audience, what to look for in a spouse. If you want to prevent troubled marriages, why not have that sermon? If that’s your goal, what should I be looking for? I think there’s that. I think there should be annual masses and celebration of marriage, bring the family and… Some parishes are doing it. I think it’s great. So there are many things that priests can do. And I always like to say my Pre-Cana, if we’re going to talk about Pre-Cana, forget the 18 month, how about make it lifelong? My first Pre-Cana teachers were my mom and dad.

They loved each other, they loved me and I could see marriage. So question from the priest and the parish. Those are the sort of things they can do. I was going to say from the couple’s perspective, we have to remember that I have a lot of recommendations in the book for things that church can do. But ultimately this is about the couple. And to them, I would say live sacramental lives, which is what? Go to confession regularly, try to go to daily mass. If you certainly go to Sunday mass, it’s obvious. Try to go to daily mass with your spouse.

There are things we could do. We need, and I always tell people. When I walk out of confession, this is where you see the symbiotic nature of the sacraments. When I walk out of the confession, I feel closer to Lisa. It’s great. When we go to community together, we feel closer. We kneel down together and say prayers of Thanksgiving after the year. These are things we could do. We need to live sacramental lives. It’s basic things. There’s nothing very revolutionary, I’m mentioning in my book, and quite the contrary, it’s anti-revolutionary. It’s to say, look, let’s not forget the basics. Let’s just go back to that. But at the end of the day, the couples need to live sacramental lives, grow closer, pray together. That’s what I think what they can do.

Eric Sammons:

And another thing they can do is get your book, Betrayed Without a Kiss and get one for your priest. Get one for your pastor. Get one for people that you think it would matter for and let other people know about it. It is a great book and it does address, I do think the attack on marriage and the family we always know is one of the great evils of our day. And so we have to address it head on, which is exactly what you do. I will put a link in the description to get the book. It’s TAN Publishing. Yes. TAN Publishing. Do you have anywhere… I know of course you write for National Catholic Register and other places. Do you have a place people can go to find your writings and everything you’re up to?

John Clark:

Well, you said I’m all over the place. I appreciate that. So National Catholic Register. I think I’ve got like 130 columns there. I’ve written for setonmagazine.com, Merger Center and Crisis Magazine as it turns out. So thank you. Thank you very-

Eric Sammons:

The most important one. Of course.

John Clark:

I should have started with that.

Eric Sammons:

Of course.

John Clark:

So yeah, I’m there. And then I have a few books you can get on amazon.com as well. But yeah, book comes out October 31st, tanbooks.com. And I really appreciate you saying that, Eric. I would simply say to your point, buy a copy for your parish priest, because the chances are pretty good they didn’t learn about matrimony very well in the seminary. That’s just the reality. So I think that’s what will help them.

Eric Sammons:

And I found that even good priests are uncomfortable at times speaking about marriage because they’re not married. They feel like, okay, I can’t really speak on that, but I don’t think that’s true at all. I think that as our spiritual fathers, they can definitely… They were children of marriage, most cases. They’ve seen more good and bad marriages than the rest of us have because they’ve counseled people, they’ve heard confessions, they’ve lived with these people, they know these people. So I think priests should not feel like they can’t speak on marriage and what it is, even though they’re not married.

John Clark:

Amen. Yes.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Well thank you John. I appreciate it. I’ll put links to this in the description. Like I said, I encourage people to get the book Betrayed Without a Kiss. Let me make sure I get the subtitle correct. Defending Marriage After Years of Failed Leadership in the Church. Thanks a lot, John, for being on the program.

John Clark:

Thanks Eric. God bless you. Thanks so much.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Until next time everybody. God love you.

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