Pope Francis is making headlines after his statements on May 20: "Separated Married Couples: Never Take Your Children Hostage!" And speak well of your spouse to them. 
 
When Pope Francis asks separated spouses to speak well of each other, is he putting a gag order on those who would ever speak ill of the other?
 
If a husband were beating his children in front of the whole community, those who are responsible for the enforcement of justice (in a just system) would work to protect the children. If the mother (and wife of abuser) were to ‘only’ speak well of the father, then she would be unable to let her children know she empathizes with them. By her silence, she would confuse them.  Maybe they would think they deserved the beatings.
 
In such circumstances, their father committed a wrong against the children. He did something objectively and gravely wrong.
 
Maybe Pope Francis doesn’t mean to give a gag order.  But for all the children whose families are separated because one spouse chose to either have a long-term adulterous affair, or who chose to abandon marriage for no just cause (i.e. malicious abandonment per Jurisprudence of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota), when the culture refuses to acknowledge the wrongdoing, children are given scandal.
 
The English translation on Aleteia’s website shows Pope Francis talking about the spouses (plural) separating, “They had difficulties, and they separated.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes the distinction between the one who is unjustly abandoned and the one who destroys a marriage.  To say “they separated,” is misleading for situations where one spouse separated and the other was unjustly abandoned. In Argentina, under the 2015 amendment to the Civil Code, there are now no-fault divorce causes, according to US.practicallaw.com.  Earlier, there was no unilateral no-fault divorce wherein one spouse could force a separation on the other against the other’s will for no morally legitimate reason.  The Argentina Independent website shows that previously,  “the courts only grant divorce in two situations: when a couple has been separated for more than three years and both parties are willing to separate, or when a wrong has been committed against one of the parties in the marriage.”
 
If Mom abandoned her husband (when he was a decent husband) and the husband forever only speaks well of his wife, the children will conclude that marital abandonment is normal and acceptable. From their perspective, their own father never teaches them that it is wrong to abandon a marriage, for to do so, the father would not be speaking well about the other spouse. And Pope Francis, according to the story, doesn’t want Dad to do that.
 
If Dad abandoned Mom so he could live with his adulterous partner, is Pope Francis suggesting that the children are being held hostage by Mom if she doesn’t want the children to be scandalized by being forced to spend overnight visits with Dad and his adulterous partner? Mom doesn’t want her children to be taught by Dad and the new sex-partner that abandonment and adultery are acceptable behaviors.
 
We need both truth and love. Jesus is our model. He called a sin a sin AND he loved the sinner. An innocent spouse who is wrongly abandoned by the other should not be forbidden from teaching the children that marital abandonment is wrong. 
 
When Saint Pope John Paul was in office, the Pontifical Council of the Family recognized the phenomenon of so-called "free love" which is particularly dangerous because it is usually suggested as a way of following one's "real" feelings. 
 
     "Free love" exploits human weaknesses; it gives them a certain "veneer" of respectability with the help of seduction and the blessing of public opinion. In this way there is an attempt to "soothe" consciences by creating a "moral alibi". But not all of the consequences are taken into consideration, especially when the ones who end up paying are, apart from the other spouse, the children, deprived of a father or mother and condemned to be in fact orphans of living parents. 
 
Why is Pope Francis teaching that it is wrong to speak ill of a spouse, without teaching that it is wrong to abandon marriage?  Perhaps he gave a clue in his morning meditation on 8 May 2013:
 
     Jesus listened to everyone and when he said a word of condemnation, it was at the end, when there was nothing left to do […] Paul teaches what the path of evangelization should be, to follow with courage. And “when the Church loses this apostolic courage, she becomes a lifeless Church. Orderly, perhaps — nice, very nice — but barren, because she has lost the courage to go to the outskirts, where there are so many people who are victims of idolatry, worldliness, and weak thought”. In order to curb the fear of making a mistake, you have to realize that you can rise and continue to move forward. “Those who do not walk for fear of making a mistake — concluded Pope Francis — make the most serious mistake”.
 
Is Pope Francis teaching us that one who abandons his marriage is a victim of weak thought – who needs to be encouraged that the solution to his marital dissatisfaction is not abandonment, but to “rise and continue to move forward,” to work on rekindling again that love which he promised to his spouse on their wedding day?
 
I pray for the day when Pope Francis teaches all those who separated from their spouse for no morally legitimate reason to go home.  That way, rather than children growing up to hear only one parent talk about the other, the children will grow up hearing their parents talk to each other—regularly—at home, in one intact home.
 
Spero columnist Bai Macfarlane is the founder of Mary's Advocates.

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