Killing Christianity

Killing Christians is the goal of various extremist groups that call themselves Muslim, but killing Christianity is the real danger.

In the Middle East and Africa, the Taliban, ISIS (the so-called Islamic State), Boko Haram, and al-Shabab use large and small weaponry to eradicate Christians and all evidence of Christian culture. Each incorporates a peculiar hatred in the name of Islam -- the word means "submission to the will of God."

In Rome, while Francis charms the world, the Curia burns. Lately, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has announced the pope is no theologian. Müller, editor of the opera Ratzinger, has been telling just about anyone who will listen that as head of the old Holy Office, he must "theologically structure" the papacy. Translation: Only Müller can speak about faith and morals.

That's what it boils down to. 

It is about divorce and remarriage. Against a backdrop of dueling German cardinals, with Cardinal Walter Kasper at one end and Müller at the other, Francis wages Christianity and points to the Gospel. Müller is armed with canon law against Kasper, whose pastoral theology seems more in tune with how Francis thinks Jesus would approach the questions.

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Most telling is Müller's perspective. Speaking about second marriages to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, Müller declared: "Il est impossible d'avoir deux femmes!" ("It is impossible to have two women!")

Note to Cardinal Müller: Women are no longer chattel in the developed world. Women are independent human beings made in the image and likeness of God. To "have two women" speaks to the older traditions that terrorists want to preserve in Christian lands: Women are property; women are to be controlled. Remember female genital mutilation? Remember honor killings? 

Such is the attitude toward women Jesus' teachings counter. The whole crowd of marauding men in the Middle East and in Africa wants to preserve that belittling attitude and that distorted view. They believe it is a man's world and no one has any business saying otherwise. Women are for breeding, for cooking, for cleaning. Barefoot and pregnant is their preferred state.

Church teachings can be thus misunderstood. So when a Christian woman finds herself disastrously married to Joe Six-Pack, who comes home drunk every night and beats her before raping her, she's stuck. So when a man finds his wife has moved on to another romance, he's stuck, too.

Francis and Kasper are not so sure, but Müller wants to hold the line. So the clerics who work for Müller look for where Francis and Kasper have made mistakes. There's got to be a law in there somewhere, and if not, we'll write a decree or something.

The synod on the family will not be pretty. Müller and his careerist minions are square in the sights of the followers of Francis who apply the Gospel. Francis, Kasper and the rest want the church to loosen up a bit. Any canon lawyer will tell you that annulments are possible, but both complicated and expensive. 

In the end, however, Müller and Kasper may be saying much the same thing. Müller emphasizes law, Kasper emphasizes accommodation.

The long-term second marriage really should be "accommodated" when it has repaired a youthful mistake. Bring the folks in and do the paperwork if you need to, but don't scream that they are public sinners when they've lived open, honest lives for 15 or 20 or 30 years.

And the woman abandoned by the lout who now lives across town with his trophy wife and BMW needs to have some closure, too. She needs to be told that her awful marriage has truly ended and she may seek a second husband to share her life and help raise her children.

No one is arguing for serial monogamy or for trial marriages or for divorce on a whim. But everybody is recognizing that some applications of church laws have hurt many people and damaged many lives. There needs to be a more general understanding of the church's healing mission. Graced words do not say it's all about men ruling over women or count out how many women any man can "have."

Yes, it is complicated. But Francis has opened the living room doors, and now we are talking about that fat elephant that bedevils so many lives. Now we are talking about the fact that marriages die. Now we are thinking about the fact that women are equal to men in this marriage business, that women are human beings with rights as well as responsibilities.

That is the message of Jesus. That is the Christianity that must survive all its attacks. That is submission to the will of God.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. She will speak April 16 at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland, and April 18 at the Cork Theology Forum in Ireland. Her newest books are Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology and Sacred Silence: Daily Meditations for Lent.]

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