Monday, May 09, 2011

Jackie Gingrich Cushman Explains It (Almost) For You

Jackie Gingrich Cushman, daughter of former Speaker of the House (and potential Presidential candidate) Newt Gingrich, is out to clear her father's name. There has been considerable misinformation about him, in relation to the circumstances of his two failed marriages.

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?


Daniel Nichols said...

There is an ancient canon against marrying an adulterous partner, even after the death of a spouse. I believe that the Orthodox still hold to this. Would that Catholics would reinstate it. Gingrich is only the most public case- I know others- where the Church's policy seems to be "Yes, you get the annulment, plus you get to keep the girl".
It is truly a scandal.

David L Alexander said...

Since the spouse has not died, that provision would not apply here. Still, and even without knowledge of the canonical proceedings, this is a separate issue from the matter of annulments. A man who suffers no consequences from a less-than-exemplary life might end up being touted as "the Catholic candidate."

Daniel Nichols said...

I said "even if" the spouse is dead; how much more it applies if the spouse is still alive!
I have a good friend who committed adultery, left his wife for the other woman, divorced and then got an annulment, then married the adulterous partner in the Church (and the bride wore white). THAT is a scandal.
I do not question that there are valid reasons for declaration of nullity- my sister's "husband" slept with one of her bridesmaids the night before the wedding- but the current situation in the USA is pretty pathetic. Anyone can get an annulment and marry his honey, if he can still his conscience.
And old Newtie, kissing up to the Catholic voters with Old Number 3 on his arm? Mr Instant Catholic? Give me a break. If his conversion was more than skin deep he would lay low and shut up for a good while...

David L Alexander said...

You wrote "even after the death of a spouse." I took it to refer only to that event. My mistake.

Yes, we are agreed on the matter of annulments, and on the prospect of scandal even as they apply here. What is perplexing is that someone like this is feted by ostensibly faithful Catholics, who would (most likely) be loathe to associate with a next-door neighbor guilty of the same, but who wasn't so valuable politically. And these people would claim to organize "the Catholic vote."

Come next year, we're in more trouble than we thought.

Tina in Ashburn said...

So Newt has 2 living ex-wives? I am confused. LOL.

Yes, their situation makes me uncomfortable too.

The whole modern annulment situation doesn't help anyone achieve the best possible life-choices, IMHO. But then the influences of today's lost society and morals blurs what we think we know.

I consider that so many people lost future spouses through abortion and contraception, that the Church's looseness and ambiguity could be a mercy to those who might be otherwise unbearably lonely. I dunno.

Callista is gorgeous and seems devout. But I'd prefer a Presidential nominee who has a stable marriage without all these questions.

David L Alexander said...


Thanks for writing.

The "modern annulment situation" has no more to do with it than the not-so-modern one, but it does seem to call into question its use (for all practical purposes) as a panacea for a free "do-over." If a guy's gonna be a dog (generally speaking), an annulment will not make him any less of one. Perhaps he has truly had a change of heart. But the organizers of the NCPB are effectively touting this man as the key to "the Catholic vote."

My question is the one my Mom and Dad asked about Kennedy in 1960 (before voting for Nixon): What's so Catholic about it?

Gail F said...

I am perfectly willing to accept the tribunal's ruling on these cases and give Newt the benefit of the doubt as a relatively new Catholic "in good standing."

I would never vote for him for president. Ever.

But the whole "what the heck is up with those marriages and how can he be a Catholic?" question is, to me, a lesser deal than the "how can Nancy Pelosi, Kathleen Sebelius, and their ilk be considered Catholic?" question. Sins of the flesh have always been considered differently from other kinds of sin. You can make a case for the bizarre climate of our country as far as marriage is concerned influencing anyone's personal behavior. The actions by Pelosi, Sebelius, et al as far as their public offices are a completely different thing and a far more troubling one.

David L Alexander said...

"The actions by Pelosi, Sebelius, et al as far as their public offices are a completely different thing and a far more troubling one."

... which is precisely why Catholics deserve a choice which is above scrutiny, above scandal. Anyone can talk a good game. Some "Catholic leaders" here in Washington are lapping it up, wrapping it in the mantle of orthodoxy. At the end of the day, Catholics (and their potential as a voting bloc) will still be split, just like the last two or three elections.

Anonymous said...

Jesus may have forgiven him, but I look on past behavior as a predictor for future behavior. I'd be more inclined to forgive him for his adultery than appearing in a television commercial with Nancy Pelosi promoting global warming. :P