SCHOLL: The sacred and the invalid

July 12, 2014 

I like Erick Erickson. We had lunch together. A nicer, friendlier and more thoughtful person would be hard to find. I look forward to another lunch sometime. However, I must challenge his thinking in the columns he wrote supporting the private Catholic school, Mount de Sales, which fired a gay teacher about to marry his partner.

Mount de Sales has a nondiscrimination policy based on sexual preference. Everyone might agree the firing is not based on his homosexuality, but on his upcoming marriage. Though, the distinction is a bit of a dodge with semantics. The problem with the marriage is the homosexuality. Erickson bases his argument on the same-sex marriage being an affront to the Roman Catholic sacrament of marriage.

A sacrament is defined in various ways, but essentially it is a holy event, a ritual, divinely instituted and intended to strengthen the faith of the believers. There are seven according to Catholic theology: baptism, confirmation, holy eucharist (communion), penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders and matrimony.

The Church canon has but one view of marriage -- that it is CCC 1601 “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”

What Erickson and others are not considering is that Catholic canon law gives marriages a different “status” (my term) for any given marriage. Some marriages are sacramental, some not. A marriage between two baptized people is sacramental. If either of the intended spouses is not baptized, the marriage is not sacramental, but it’s “valid.” A “marriage” between two Catholics is neither sacramental nor valid if, say, they are married before a judge or justice of the peace without first obtaining the church’s permission. In the church’s eyes, it understands the word “marriage” one way while it is understood differently by civil law.

A remarriage is neither valid nor sacramental if either of the couple is divorced. Of course, there may or may not be appropriate exceptions for any given set of circumstances, and I may have omitted many additional details, but the point is this: Not all marriages are regarded as sacramental by the Roman Catholic Church.

Obviously, homosexual Christians will stumble over the canon requirements “between a man and a woman,” as well as “and the procreation and education of offspring.” But, Flint Dollar’s marriage could be viewed the same as if one spouse was divorced and remarried; it would be an “invalid” marriage. Canon law, then, protects the sacrament from sacrilege by identifying marriages which, though in their midst, are outside the sacramental boundaries, and which may be invalid as well. And, even if not sacramental, the church promotes commitment to marriages when calling them “valid.”

One must wonder, however, if other teachers’ marriages have been examined. Are there remarried-after-divorced teachers present? Which couple hasn’t been baptized, yet is living together as husband and wife? What of teachers living together who were married by a judge? One wonders if divorced and remarried teachers should be fired along with Dollar in order to be consistent?

If Mount de Sales is seriously enforcing church teaching on the marriages and lives of all the teachers equally, the justification for their action with Dollar is strengthened, even though the sacramental attack argument still fails miserably.

It seems to me the Supreme Court ultimately will decide this case or another like it. The justices will consider the church/state issues and whether the school can be shielded by the First Amendment. Will they consider whether the application of canon law, if applied differently and rather arbitrarily on equally invalid marriages, weakens its First Amendment argument?

Erickson concludes with several logical leaps and excessive conclusions about those of us who might have a different opinion on the situation. The many facets to this problem do make it frustrating and emotional. His column would peg me a secularist, but I think I march with the faithful, just maybe not in lockstep. If we must wear uniforms, we will need more than two kinds.

Though I may disagree with Erickson’s point of view today, on one thing I must remain adamant: Erickson’s generosity must be reined in. Next time I get the tab.

Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. His email address is

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