Q. Many localities are in the process of decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana. What is the church’s view? Is using pot recreationally the same thing morally as having a drink? Is it OK in moderation? (Suffolk, Virginia)
A. The question as posed relates only to the recreational use of this drug. When used instead (with proper controls) for medical reasons, its use can not only be permitted but applauded; research has found medical marijuana effective for certain patients with epilepsy, bipolar disorders, cancer, etc. — as well as for some children with severe autism.
But, as for recreational use, Catholic moralists in general would be opposed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense” (No. 2291).
Pope Francis — speaking at the 2014 International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome — spoke strongly against the legalization of drugs for recreational use.
With regard specifically to marijuana, the cannabis plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC, which often induces hallucinations and delusions and diminishes one’s ability to reason.
Pia de Solenni, a moralist and theologian who was recently named chancellor of the Diocese of Orange in California, has noted that unlike taking a glass of wine to relax, marijuana cannot be used moderately. “Once you’ve gone beyond the buzz,” she says, “you actually lose control over your rational functions. It’s wrong. It goes against our nature and who we’re supposed to be.”
Q. I need some clarification on the church’s marriage laws. I am a Catholic currently married to a divorced non-Catholic whose first marriage was not in the Catholic Church.
I tried to arrange to marry him in the church, but a parish priest told me that my husband-to-be would need to get his previous marriage annulled first. My husband does not believe in the annulment process, so we did not go through with it.
Later, I happened to go to confession at a Catholic chapel in a mall, and the priest there told me that I can, in fact, get married in the Catholic Church; he said that, since my husband is a non-Catholic, since his prior marriage was not in the Catholic Church and since he is now divorced, he would be free to marry me in a Catholic ceremony.
That priest in confession said he himself would not be able to perform the ceremony because he is assigned to a chapel, but that I should reach out to a priest at a parish. So I did that, and to my disappointment that parish priest told me the same thing the priest had said originally — that my husband would first need an annulment granted by the Catholic Church.
I am getting conflicting information, and I am hoping that you can help me to understand what it is that I need to do. (Eastern Massachusetts)
A. The parish priests were right, and the priest at the mall was wrong. In all likelihood, your husband’s first marriage was presumed by the Catholic Church to have been valid at the time, and a formal annulment process would be required to have that earlier marriage annulled before the two of you could be married in a Catholic ceremony.
(Two non-Catholics have no obligation to have their pending marriage approved by the Catholic Church, and it would be hugely unfair — not to mention, an ecumenical disaster — if the Catholic Church were to say that such a marriage “does not count” in the church’s eyes.)
You and your husband should sit down with a priest and have the annulment process explained: In annulling a marriage, the church is not saying that he was never really married to his first wife — or, that any children of that marriage were illegitimate — but only that some essential element was lacking that would have made it a permanent and binding commitment in the church’s eyes.
Often, such grounds involve emotional immaturity or instability on the part of one or both parties — or a flawed understanding of what the marriage commitment involved.
The annulment process, with the necessary paperwork and testimony, can normally take upward of a year. (If it happened, however, that your husband’s first wife was a Catholic and they were married without church approval, that is a simpler process. It is called, technically, a “declaration of nullity for absence of canonical form” and can often be completed within a few weeks.)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.