Can you explain the moral distinctions in these situations? Are these examples of legalism?


Full Question

How do I deal with legalism when I encounter it? For example, on the last day when the books of life are opened, will God care whether somebody had an ectopic pregnancy aborted or had a tubal ligation with the fetus inside, given that both were undertaken with the intention of saving the mother's life and with the understanding that the procedure would kill the fetus? Does God draw a distinction between somebody who marries carelessly and then goes through a Church annulment and somebody who gets a civil divorce then remarries? Will somebody who prays the Divine Mercy chaplet on Divine Mercy Sunday gain a greater indulgence than somebody who walks into a darkened church, pours out his tears before the altar, and begs God's mercy?

Answer

In an ectopic pregnancy (in which conception takes place outside of the uterus), the fetus cannot survive. The other procedure you speak of results in the removal of a viable fetus. This is not merely splitting hairs or an academic exercise. An innocent human being is deliberately being killed. The end never justifies the means—even if the mother will die. God can take innocent life. He has a right to. We don’t. Church annulment is the process by which it is determined that a valid marriage has not taken place, leaving the persons free to marry. Unless such proof can be obtained, a marriage is ordinarily presumed to be valid. One cannot be married to two people. A civil divorce has no power to dissolve a valid marriage. Finally, praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet is not in the least opposed to asking for God’s mercy in other ways and circumstances. These are not examples of legalism. They are reasonable if one understands them. We all have to be careful of making false dichotomies and simplistic conclusions regarding the Church. It is through the Church we meet Jesus in the only way anyone can meet him: through humble gratitude.


Fr. Vincent Serpa O.P.