The ‘Bad-Marriage’ Dilemma

August 15th, 2011

The classic article that got Catholic Digest banned

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When readers started leafing through the pages of their March 1954 copy of Catholic Digest, they may have been startled to see the following notice on page 10:


The ‘Bad-Marriage’ Dilemma

By request of the Archbishop of Saint Paul, we publish herewith a communication concerning an article that appeared in our January issue under the title, The ‘Bad-Marriage’ Dilemma.


“Gentlemen: In the next issue of the Catholic Digest please publish a notice in the same relative prominence as was given to the article under the title of The Bad-Marriage Dilemma prohibiting the circulation of the January issue of the Catholic Digest within the Archdiocese of St. Paul.


Very sincerely yours,

+J.G. Murray, Archbishop of St. Paul.”


I imagine that readers (except for those in the archdiocese, of course) quickly searched for their January issue to see what the fuss was all about. There they would have found the classic article we present here, written by a well-known and respected English Dominican, Gerald Vann, OP.


Vann was tackling one of the toughest and messiest pastoral subjects, then

or now: how do we respond to people whose marriage is invalid and cannot be validated (divorced and remarried without annulment, for example) and yet who wish to remain in and stay close to the Church?


Church law was quite clear, and Vann upholds it. These persons, then and now, are barred from receiving the sacraments. But the basic pastoral approach at the time was that these “sinners” had no choice but to leave their invalid marriages or live not as a married couple, but as brother and sister.


It’s that pastoral approach that Vann wonders about, asking if there might be a way to uphold the law and yet respond in a more compassionate way that might help these couples stay closer to the Church.


I don’t know what in the article led Archbishop Murray to ban that issue of Catholic Digest. Maybe he didn’t like Vann’s pastoral speculations. More likely he was afraid that people would think that the Church was changing its position and it was fine to enter an invalid marriage. In any case, the three priest editors of Catholic Digest were priests of his archdiocese and had no choice but to obey. Certainly they knew the article might be dangerous. They went to the trouble of adding a long editor’s note at the beginning of the article listing some of Fr. Vann’s considerable credentials and qualifying exactly what topic he was and was not addressing. I can’t think of any other article at that time that carried a similar note. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough.


So here from the “banned in St. Paul” January, 1954 issue, is “The ‘Bad-Marriage’ Dilemma.”


Click here to read this classic article