But an undocumented immigrant's life is different from the life of a citizen. A traffic stop, a minor misunderstanding, an encounter with an unsympathetic police officer--any small incident can turn an illegal immigrant's life upside down and trigger the process of deportation.
If you want to visualize just how tenuous an undocumented immigrant's life is, watch The Visitor, a terrific movie starring Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, and Danai Gurira. Sleiman plays Tarek, an undocumented Syrian living in New York City. One minute everything is fine and then Tarek is wrongly accused of jumping a turnstile in a New York subway station. Two plainclothes police officers arrest him, and he is whisked away to a detention center. Eventually he is deported back to Syria.
Although I wouldn't press the point too strongly, divorced Catholics are the undocumented aliens of the Catholic Church. According to Catholic doctrine, divorced people may not receive the sacraments of the Church unless they live a celibate life.
Divorced Catholics who wish to remarry or divorced persons who wish to become Catholics must have their marriage annulled by a diocesan tribunal, an expensive, time-consuming and humiliating process. Unless they are able to prove their prior marriage was not a true marriage at all, their annulment application will be denied.
The annulment process is truly bizarre, a throwback, one might say, to the Spanish Inquisition. I am told a majority of annulment applications are denied, but I have heard stories about people getting an annulment simply by writing a large check to the Catholic Church. And I know it is possible to get a marriage annulled even if there are children from the union. One woman I know got an annulment of her marriage even though she and her husband had been married more than 15 years and had four children together.
Most Catholic skip the annulment process altogether and continue to receive the sacraments--or at least the Sacrament of Communion. Sympathetic priests sometimes counsel there is a "local solution" to divorce and that Catholics can receive communion if they make a good confession. Other priests say this is nonsense; and no bishop, as far as I know, endorses the idea of a local solution.
Thus, divorced Catholics reside in the Catholic community like undocumented immigrants. Year after year, they attend Mass, make financial contributions, and volunteer in Catholic works of charity. Just as undocumented immigrants begin to feel like American citizens, divorced Catholics begin to feel they are Catholics in good standing. Indeed, sympathetic parish churches might be described as"sanctuary cities" for divorced Catholics.
But then one day, a priest of the old school finds them out and tells them they are forbidden to receive communion or go to confession unless they obtain an annulment. Much like Tarek in The Visitor, they are whisked into spiritual detention; and for all practical purposes, they are kicked out of the Church.
It would be pleasant to believe that the priests who condemn divorced Catholics are the Church's best priests; but in fact, they are the worst. The priest who denied me the sacraments was one of the priests who tried to cover up child rape by a fellow priest years ago.
I know many divorced Catholics who have left the Catholic Church because of the Church's harsh official stance on divorce. They come to realize that for many priests and bishops, the thief on the cross, the woman at the well, the adulteress Jesus forgave--all those Bible stories are simply tales for the nursery.
In fact, in the minds of many Catholic priests and prelates, the Catholic Church is not the Bride of Christ. Rather, it is an exclusive civic organization, much like the old whites-only country clubs where only the "best people" were allowed to play golf.
Pope Francis would like to bring divorced Catholics back into the Community of Faith, but even Pope Francis, a truly holy man, cannot overcome the mean-spiritedness of a large segment of the Catholic clergy,
Monsignor Richard Mouton was the spiritual cop who tried to deport me from the Catholic faith. I imagine he believes I will burn in hell for going to communion more than a thousand times before I got picked up in a random traffic stop in a communion booth.
And perhaps Monsignor Mouton is right. If so, the most frightening aspect of this prospect is the sure certainty that I will share a cell in Hades with Monsignor Mouton himself.