Jimmy Akin versus Pope Francis

It is arrogant and foolish for the ordinary run-of-the-mill Catholic blogger to judge and condemn the words of the holy Roman Pontiff. The vast majority of these bloggers are not even theologians, and their criticisms are not based on a thorough understanding of the teaching of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. Their arguments are facile, and are filled with numerous false assumptions and misunderstandings.

But it is thoroughly absurd and arrogant in the extreme for someone like Jimmy Akin — who is guilty of repeatedly publicly teaching severe heresy — to judge and condemn the words of Pope Francis.

Akin teaches the heresy that at the consecration of the Eucharist, the substance of bread and wine are annihilated (return to nothingness, cease to exist, he says). He teaches the heresy that the Confession of mortal sins need not be done in both kind and number, as if there were exceptions to the requirement of number. And he teaches many other grave errors on faith and morals — including the heretical claim that only baptized Christians have spiritual adoption as children of God.

And yet he considers himself qualified to judge and condemn the words of the Vicar of Christ. In a recent post, Pope Francis on invalid marriages, Jimmy Akin exalts his own understanding of Catholicism and demeans that of the Pope.

First, Akin admits that the comment of Pope Francis on invalid marriages was opinion, not magisterial teaching. And he admits that the Pope later corrected the wording from “the great majority” of marriages are null to “a portion” of them are null. Fine. No problem so far.

Then Akin makes the ridiculous claim that Pope Francis is the only person — as far as Akin knows — who holds the view that most Catholic marriages are not valid.

“I know of no competent expert in canon law, biblical studies, or theology that would hold the opinion that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.” In fact, I don’t know of anybody—expert or not—who would hold this view.”

OK. You don’t know of anyone who holds that view. So what? Akin’s expression of his own ignorance as to whether anyone else holds this view is presented as if the Pope’s words were foolish and thoroughly outside of sound Catholic thinking. But this expression is presented as if no knowledgeable person at all would agree with the Supreme Teacher of the universal Church.

To the contrary, I agree with Pope Francis that many Catholic marriages are probably invalid, and that perhaps a majority are invalid. Here is my post, from a few days ago, explaining why it is possible and perhaps probable that most Catholic marriages are invalid: Reactions to Pope Francis: Most Marriages Null.

More to the point, the Supreme Teacher of the universal Church is not constrained to teach solely what various bloggers and “competent experts” have already taught. It is his role to offer insights into the Faith that are not readily apparent to the bloggers, self-appointed experts, and — as in the case of Jimmy Akin — a person who has harmed many souls by teaching multiple severe heresies, without any retraction.

Next, Akin hilariously claims to present a “theological argument” on the subject. But in the section supposedly offering that argument (#8), no argument at all is presented. Akin merely makes the rhetorical claim that the Pope’s assertion on the invalidity of most marriages is “inconceivable” to him (to a teacher of heresy) and that the very idea would “exceed credibility.”

“That would mean that Christ and the Holy Spirit have allowed conditions to degenerate so far among the baptized that “the vast majority” of those committed enough to follow the Church’s teachings and practice on marriage nevertheless enter marriage invalidly.”

No, Jimmy Akin, the widespread invalidity of Catholic marriages would not mean those things. For the vast majority of persons who call themselves Catholic are not willing “to follow the Church’s teachings and practice on marriage”. The assumption that most persons who attempt a Catholic Sacrament of Marriage are willing to follow the Church’s teaching and practice on marriage is unwarranted. Most persons who call themselves Catholic do not go to Mass. Most Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics do not go to Confession. Most persons who call themselves Catholic reject multiple definitive teachings of the Church on matters of faith and morals, including that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children, and that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, that divorce and remarriage is contrary to the nature of the Sacrament, and more. Most Catholics who attempt marriage in the Church do not believe that marriage is limited to one man and one woman. They even believe the teaching of secular society that same-sex marriage is a true type of marriage. So it is not hard to imagine that perhaps most such marriages are invalid.

In Catholic nations, in places where the vast majority of the citizenry call themselves Catholic, most of these nominal Catholics no longer believe or practice the faith. And yet, when they marry, they often choose a Catholic wedding. It is a matter of serious concern whether those marriages are valid Sacraments, since the couple are not believing and practicing Catholics.

Now Jimmy Akin himself is not willing to believe and teach what the Church teaches. He has repeatedly taught heresy. He has rejected the teaching of the Church which condemns contraception and abortifacient contraception as intrinsically evil — wrong without any exception, regardless of intention or circumstances. He has taught grave errors on the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Confession, and Baptism. He has radically revised the Church’s teaching on ethics so as to justify intrinsically evil acts. And yet he calls himself Catholic.

So it is possible that the majority of attempted Catholic marriages are invalid, and it is probable that many are invalid, even if the number is short of a majority.

I should also point out that Christ and the Holy Spirit — according to the teaching of Sacred Scripture — will permit an event in the Church termed the great apostasy (2 Thess 2:3). So they certainly might permit most Catholic marriages to be invalid. And perhaps this prevalence of invalid marriages, whether or not it is a majority, is a part of the progress toward the great apostasy.

Jimmy Akin then follows this foolishness with a second argument, supposedly based on the words of Jesus in the Gospels. He argues that when Jesus spoke against divorce and remarriage, His words imply that most marriages among the Romans, Greeks, and Jews were valid, despite their misunderstandings on the nature of marriage. That argument is ignorant. Here’s why:

When Jesus taught that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that divorce and remarriage is not permissible, He was speaking only of the Sacrament of Marriage, not of natural marriage. The Old Testament permitted the Patriarchs to have multiple wives. The Old Testament permitted divorce and remarriage. These things were tolerated because the marriages in question were merely natural marriage, not the Sacrament. And even today, the Church asserts the authority to dissolve a natural marriage between a baptized Christian and an unbaptized person, in favor of a second marriage that would be the full Sacrament.

Therefore, these words of Jesus do NOT imply that most marriages among the Romans, Greeks, and Jews were valid. Jesus was speaking about the Sacrament of Marriage.

Canon Law

By the way, the assertion in Church law on this subject — that marriages enjoy the favor of law and should be presumed valid until proven otherwise — does not contradict the assertion of Pope Francis. He was speaking of the objective reality, not challenging a particular marriage. It may well be the case that most attempted Catholic marriages are invalid (since most Catholics do not believe and practice the Faith). The Pope was warning us about the effect on the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage of the widespread failure among persons who call themselves Catholic to believe and practice the true Faith.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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