Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, September 05, 2007

NEWS FLASH: Catholic Church expects faithful to follow her rules!

Did you hear the shocking story about the man who got arrested for walking home?

Well, it happened. This guy broke out of prison, see, and there he was, walking down the street toward his home, not bothering anybody, and the cops drive up and arrest him.

That's shocking? Says who?

A spate of stories this summer (maybe the same few stories recycling themselves on slow news days) describes folks bringing wrongful termination actions against Catholic employers (usually schools). Today's features a man who claims he was terminated "for not getting an annulment." I doubt it.

I don't know who said exactly what to whom (that's what courts are there to sort out), but I do know this: there is no canon law that requires people to "get an annulment", so the failure to get an annulment can't be the basis for a termination. My guess is, though, it wasn't.

Analogy time: There is, pretty obviously, no civil law that requires people to go out and get nursing licenses. Rather, the law says "If you want to work as a nurse, get a nursing license". If one works as a nurse without a license, there will be negative consequences, but that is not the same thing as saying the law requires people to get nursing licenses. The law does not punish the failure to get a license (else, almost every citizen would be in violation of it!); rather the law punishes people working as nurses without a license.

Similarly, there is no canon law that requires Catholics to go out and get annulments (else, virtually every Catholic would be in violation of it). Rather, the law punishes those attempting marriage in violation of Church teaching. One way to run afoul of Church teaching on marriage is to violate Canon 1085 which basically says "If you have been previously married, and your ex-spouse is still alive, the nullity of your earlier marriage must be proven before you attempt a marriage." If you try to get married against Canon 1085, there will be a variety of negative consequences, beginning with Canon 915. Okay, well, what's so wrong about that?

The negative consequences relevant to employment with Catholic institutions are typically found under "morals" or "Church teaching" clauses of employment contracts, but they are amply reflected in a wide variety of authoritative Church documents (e.g, here, here, and even Precept 6 here). Notice, the negative consequences would be imposed for attempting marriage outside the Church, not for something like "not getting an annulment". Just as people don't get arrested for walking home, they don't get terminated for not getting annulments.

When someone says "I got fired for not getting an annulment", I think what they probably mean is, "I got fired for attempting something as publicly wrong as marriage in violation of Church teaching, and I don't like it when the Catholic Church expects Catholics to live by her rules."

Shocking, eh?