For years, I have thought about trying to correct the untrue accounts of this hospital visit. After all, I was at the hospital with them, and saw and heard what happened. But I have always hesitated, as it was a private family matter matter and my mother is a very private person.
Meanwhile, at Father Zuhlsdorf's What Does The Prayer Really Say? (WDTPRS), the combox capers were pretty lively on this one, to the point of speculating that, since his first wife died of cancer while he was cheating on her, that second marriage would have been invalid anyway. That means that the third wife that he was making time with while still married to the second wife is party with him to a valid marriage.
So you see, kiddies, everything is hunky-dory. There's just one problem.
My mother and I have both recently run into quite a few people who hold an inaccurate understanding of this hospital visit. Many think my mother is dead.
So, to correct the record, here is what happened: My mother, Jackie Battley Gingrich, is very much alive, and often spends time with my family. I am lucky to have such a "Miracle Mom," as I titled her in a column this week.
As for my parents' divorce, I can remember ...
She goes on to relate the sequence of events.
So the first wife, we are happy to report, is alive after all, which blows a few would-be canonists' theories out of the water. Try though we may, we don't KNOW the facts that led to up to two marriages being declared null and void. We never will. Marriage may be a public act, but the process of determining validity or invalidity, in conjunction with a petition for a declaration of nullity, is private. Our system of civil law is based upon English common law, whereas canon law is based upon old Roman law, which places a great deal more emphasis on the role of discretion in proceedings. That is also why the details of certain cases of errant priests are never made public. Our desire to dish the dirt stops at the chancery door.
But here's what we do know.
Scandal is an offense in and of itself. It gives the impression that what is not okay is perfectly okay. It compounds the offense which is the subject of scandal, and takes on a life of its own. At one time in the history of the Church, there were three offenses that consigned a member of the faithful to the order of penitents, permanently: murder, apostasy, and ... adultery. That doesn't happen anymore, of course. Our understanding of the role of God's infinite Mercy, which didn't originate with either Vatican II, or the visions of Saint Faustina, has evolved. Our sins can be forgiven, and we can move on.
But that's not the problem here, is it?
Even for those sins which are forgiven in the confessional, we will still be called to account at our Personal Judgment. They weigh into our need for purification (Purgatory), through which only then are we truly ready for the vision of Heaven.
And so, we are left with another problem in this life, one that begs the question. Is it possible for Mr Gingrich to court the Catholic vote, secure not only in the knowledge that past offenses are forgiven, but with the illusion that they never happened? (Personally, I can't help but wonder if an ordinary stiff like ME would get off so easily. Probably not.)
Depending on your answer, over a millennium after a life of sackcloth and ashes, you can beat the rap on a technicality, and be a keynote speaker at the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, where any guy who cheats on two successive wives can still be a Catholic poster boy, if certain other credentials are in order, and thus (ahem!) can serve a larger purpose.
But hey, it's worth it, don't you think?
Or don't you?