Western society’s understanding of elemental, foundational concepts like “male” and “female” (Gen I: 27) is disintegrating, and I fear we will see more manifestations of this disintegration even within those ranks so precious to our celibate and chaste Lord Jesus Christ, that is, in religious life. A few weeks ago two religious women entered a “civil union” near Turin, Italy. I have neither Italian family law nor the original news stories before me, but it seems that the women entered Italy currently calls (and what ecclesial leadership there holds tantamount to) “marriage”.
First, a deep breath. — Okay, now, shall we look at the situation canonically?
Setting aside that “same-sex marriage” is an absurdity under natural law, under canon law, any attempt at marriage undertaken by two people of the same sex is invalid (1983 CIC 1055), any attempt at marriage undertaken by one, let alone two, persons bound by religious vows of chastity is invalid (1983 CIC 1088), and any attempt at marriage undertaken by one, let alone, two, Catholics in violation of canonical form is invalid (1983 CIC 1059, 1108). So this civil “marriage” between two religious women is null in at least three ‘open-and-shut’ ways.
Indeed, their “marriage” is soooo null that one could hardly, with a straight face, cite Canon 694 § 1, 2° and simply eject these two women from their religious communities, even though the immediate expulsion from religious life of those who “contract civil marriage or attempt it” is called for therein. Mind, it’s not the result (expulsion) I disagree with, it’s entertaining even the possibility that a “marriage” between two nuns could enjoy the slightest shadow of canonical plausibility (such that an inquiry into whether they did “attempt marriage” would be appropriate at all) that I shrink from. I mean, c’mon, seriously?
No, the canonical solution to this array of insults against human nature, the holiness of celibate chastity, and ecclesiastical authority over the sacraments (to name just some of the goods impugned by these two women) lies, I suggest, in Canon 696 § 1, which authorizes thedismissal of a member who provokes “grave scandal arising from culpable behavior”. Religious procedural law provides, of course, for notice of charges, opportunities to repent, and a reliable gathering of evidence (including, I would think, psychological evidence about whether an offender can still tell the difference between right and wrong).
A canonical process of this sort, one which should not take unduly long to pursue, would (in the sad event that one or both women refuse to repudiate their deed) provide the communities in question a chance to reiterate, accurately and charitably, the Church’s beautiful teaching on, say, marriage, sexual morality, the outstanding witness that religious men and women are supposed to offer to secular and Christian society, and soon. A canonical process could, I suggest, help redress the terrible scandal given to the Catholic community by the acts of these two women.
Well, let’s see what happens in this case.
[This post originally appeared on the "In the Light of the Law” site and is posted here by kind permission of Dr. Peters.]