Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Judgment on Earth

A charming and intelligent lady friend of mine, named Marie, once had the unpleasant surprise of coming home early and finding her husband in bed with one of his male students. As the mother of three kids, Marie told me she had never suspected for a moment that her husband might be bisexual. The shock was so great that she filed immediately for a civil divorce, which she rapidly obtained. Marie then worked for a few months on a novel about her experience, exploiting her writing talents—as a college professor of French literature—to pour vitriol upon her former husband. That was about the time I met up with Marie and her lovely kids. I even ran into her gay husband one day, and found him to be a fine fellow. I urged Marie to abandon her novel, even if the act of writing it had played a therapeutic role. In the French provincial bourgeois context in which they lived, the publication of such a document, with its thinly-disguised personages, would have been a silly burden imposed upon her ex-husband and their kids.

Months later, Marie sent me a strange greeting card. The elegantly-printed document informed me, in the solemn style of a wedding invitation, that the Roman Catholic Church had bestowed upon Marie an ecclesiastic divorce. I asked myself: What was this: an ecclesiastic divorce, adding its weight to the ordinary civil divorce? I learned that good Catholics go about love and marriage in this double-decker fashion. Two separate jurisdictions exist, and they are invoked separately. You get married first at the town hall, and then at the church (or maybe the other way round). Likewise, you get divorced first through a system of ordinary lawyers and judges, and later through the church system.

Church system? Few folk realize (since it's not a terribly fashionable subject) that the primeval system of Canon Law has never ceased to exist in the modern Catholic world, just as strongly as back in the time of the Inquisition. Use Google to look up facts...

Not long ago, a charming and intelligent lady friend of mine, named Natacha, informed me that she has discovered an unexpected vocation: Roman Catholic Canon Law. If I understand correctly, the studies that Natacha has embarked upon could lead her, one day, to playing a role of advocate in tribunals such as the one that once formally divorced my friend Marie.

Not only does the Church maintain these ancient institutions. She also attempts naively [we always accord the feminine gender to the Roman Catholic Church in France] to recuperate things that really don't belong to her... such as tomorrow's Valentine's Day. French authorities have been inviting faithful couples to step forward—in a Billy Graham style—and declare that their union might have something to do with the alleged doctrine of an enlightened Jewish trouble-maker named Jesus who was apparently put to death long ago in the fascinating city of Jerusalem.

The real Saint Valentine—if ever he existed—had little to do with the Beatles-styled concepts of peace and love and sending greeting cards. But the Church would like to convince parishioners that she has something serious to say about such matters in the modern world.

As Bob Dylan put it: Times, they are a-changing...

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