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Saturday, November 7, 2015

On Marriage and Personal Conscience

One Woman's Story 

 by Susan Fox

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke10: 27)

Tora Hutchison had only a high school education, but she could teach a course in the theology of marriage.

Tora Hutchison, 1919 to 2001 
Her life is a testimony to the beauty of the sacrament, which she lived at great personal cost in complete fidelity to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  

Tora was baptized a Roman Catholic as a young married woman in 1953 -- one week before me, her infant daughter. Because of Tora’s fidelity in two Catholic marriages, and one choice not to marry when the Church denied an annulment, I almost feel like I lived my entire life under the shadow of one long Synod on the Family. The questions that came up in the two-year Synod process ending Oct. 24, 2015, were questions answered in suffering and love during my lifetime by my mother.

Tora, who died in 2001 at the age of 82, would have
approved the post-synodal apostolic exhortation written by Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia.  It is a beautiful witness to the indissolubility and procreative nature of marriage between one man and one woman, making marriage a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His Church and the mirror of the interior life of the Holy Trinity. It also opens a doorway for people living in a variety of irregular situations to live again according to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through a step-by-step process of accompaniment. See Love is Faithful; Marriage is Indissoluble until Death, Amoris Laetitia is a Hymn to Fidelity in Marriage, And How to Get There.

None of the 13 small working groups of the Synod on the Family called categorically for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.  Unfortunately, despite the clear teaching of Amoris Laetitia against offering communion to divorced and remarried unless they are living as brother and sister and their situation is not publicly known, the issue is still an open question to some bishops. 

“My hope is the synod will leave us with open doors, not closed ones,” said German Cardinal Reinhold Marx at the conclusion of the Synod. The Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Marx  was among those who supported communion for divorced remarried Catholics. 

The Church has always taught that after having investigated the roots of a marriage, if it cannot find grounds to declare the marriage null, it remains valid. Under those conditions, anyone entering into a second marriage is living in an objective state of adultery, precluding reception of holy communion.

For as Jesus said,  "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (Matthew 19:9)
St. Augustine reminds us: “Who dismisses his adulterous wife and marries another woman, whereas his first wife still lives, remains perpetually in the state of adultery. Such a man does not any efficacious penance while he refuses to abandon the new wife. If he is a catechumen, he cannot be admitted to baptism, because his will remains rooted in the evil. If he is a (baptized) penitent, he cannot receive the (ecclesiastical) reconciliation as long as he does not break with his bad attitude.” St. Augustine is the saint who lived with a lot of women in adulterous relationships before his conversion.

However, in the Synod, the German cardinals opined that  “in an ill-conceived attempt to respect the doctrine of the Church, repeatedly we have had harsh and merciless pastoral attitudes that created suffering,” especially for unwed mothers, children born out of wedlock, cohabiting couples, homosexual persons and those who are divorced and civilly remarried.

Tora would have agreed. She understood this suffering as she spent decades attempting to bring couples in irregular marriages back into the Church, using the same step-by-step process Pope Francis advocates. But she would have answered, “It is not the Church nor its laws that created that suffering. Obedience to the Church is obedience to Christ.”

My Catholic aunt, who regularly attended daily Mass, also found that truth through suffering. She said, “Susan I made a mess in my life. I couldn’t go to communion for two long years (while I waited for the annulment process) because I ran off and married in Las Vegas.” Marry in haste; repent at leisure -- that was her message.

But during the synod process and now in some dioceses, the wrong message has gone out. Some believe that a Catholic priest should lead those trapped in the snare of a second civil union through an examination of conscience, and let the couple decide what to do. Pope Francis did not endorse this approach. He asked priests to mercifully work with couples in a process of accompaniment and conversion, similar to what my mother did in the Legion of Mary. Bring their lives back in conformity with the Gospel in a step by step process that might take years. In the meantime, get them involved in parish activities that will not create a scandal because of their situation. Let them organise coffee and donuts, parish potlucks, be involved in Catholic discussion groups. 

“A sincere reflection can reinforce trust in God’s mercy, which is never denied to one who places his or her failures and needs before God,” the German group said. This is true, but when some now say the individual’s conscience should be respected and allowed to determine if access to the sacraments is possible, they deny the Mercy of God. God is not allowed to offer His Mercy when man takes the matter out of His Hands.

And they entirely forget the Catholic Church has its own Conscience. The Church is not required to give communion to someone in an objective state of serious sin, even if their subjective individual conscience says, “It's okay!"

Cardinal Marx, who participated in the Synod’s German speaking group discussion, made it clear in his press briefing, that they were using the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas during their discussions. Aquinas defined the human conscience as the “aboriginal Christ.” Out in the wild jungle of natural revelation, St. Thomas argued that even if a person’s conscience is malformed, they are obliged to obey it. But such discernment would not apply to a situation in which the Church’s position is objectively known through an annulment process.

The Conscience is the place of judgment where through reason – not emotion -- a person chooses the good and rejects evil. For a person to judge that my conscience is superior to the objective moral teaching of the Church is foolish. The Person of Jesus Christ is the Conscience of the Catholic Church. To hold your conscience superior to the teachings of the Church is to say your puny individual conscience is greater than the Mind of Christ.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller
“Under no circumstances can pastoral work be in contradiction with doctrine. Actions of the Church need to – if they want to be Catholic – correspond to faith and dogma,” German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller said just prior to the beginning of the Synod on the Family in October. He co-authored  “Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church.”

Tora was a widow -- my father, James Burkhardt, died when I was four. When I was seven years old, my mother met Gilbert Koch in the Legion of Mary. They were in love with each other, and in love with learning more about their Catholic faith. I remember going to Eucharistic Adoration with both of them on Friday nights. Faith of Our Fathers, the Rosary, incense, and candles! I loved it.

Gilbert introduced Mom to deep sources of sanctity -- True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis Marie de Montfort and the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. In my living room today is a statue of St. Francis de Sales that belonged to Gilbert Koch. Gilbert – also a convert to Catholicism – asked Tora to marry him.

There was only one obstacle, which they both recognized. Gilbert had been married before his conversion. Both he and his ex-wife believed that she had never been baptized.

I was seven years old! It was firmly established in my mind at that age that people married to an unbaptized person could remarry under the Pauline privilege. How funny now to read Cardinal Marx question the very same thing on Oct. 21, 2015.

“There is a lack of synthesis in the (Church’s) theology of marriage,” Cardinal Marx asserted, “If two persons left the
German Cardinal Reinhard Marx
Protestant Church and make their civil marriage, they receive the sacrament of marriage. You will not believe it, but it’s true! Every contract between two baptized persons is a marriage. Is that possible?”

Yes, it is. The Church defines marriage as a sacrament that two baptized people bestow on each other while the Church blesses and witnesses their choice. It makes perfect sense to me. Even in the case of a marriage between unbaptized persons, they make a commitment to each other. They are called to be faithful to that commitment.

So Tora and Gilbert  dated for two years in expectation of marrying once Gilbert received a declaration of nullity in his first marriage based on his wife’s unbaptized state.

Then tragedy struck.  The mother of Gilbert’s first wife recalled she had baptized her daughter. The Church said in fact, Gilbert's first marriage between two baptised Protestants in a Protestant Church was valid. Gilbert had entered a sacramental marriage. Such is an unbreakable bond. To live with my mother would have been an act of adultery.

I’m so glad Pope Francis is trying to shorten the annulment process because I’m sure if any other couple had gone through the ordeal today that Tora and Gilbert faced,  they would have been living together when the first marriage was recognised as an unbreakable bond.  Both Tora and Gilbert had a strong sense of right and wrong, so they did not live together. Added to that, Tora was very conscious of maintaining a good example for her young daughter.

And consider this. Gilbert and Tora were Catholic converts from Protestantism. Once permission to marry was denied, they didn’t think to themselves, "Oh, we'll just go back to being 
Gilbert Koch
Picture taken with the
Brownie camera Gilbert
gave me when I was 9 years old
Protestants and get married anyway.” Tora and Gilbert listened to the Conscience of Christ. They made a heroic choice. They obeyed the Church.

Gilbert moved to Riverside, Calif. It was a good hour’s drive from Anaheim where we lived. They ceased to see each other, but not to love each other. Two years later he died from a heart attack. My mother was present with him in the hospital when he died on Oct. 30. Later, she said to me because she and Gilbert decided to separate when the annulment was denied, Gilbert now had the hope of eternal life. Love denied opened the gates of heaven to Gilbert Koch!

That is true love. Love seeks the good of the beloved even at the expense of one’s own happiness.

Quoting Pope Francis, Cardinal Marx in an address before the Synod on Oct. 14, said the Eucharist is not “a reward for perfection, but a generous remedy and food for the weak.” Who apparently could be weaker than a couple living in objective adultery (a second marriage not blessed by the Church) trying to raise their children in the Catholic Faith? This can cause some consternation.

During one Sunday Mass, the young son of one of my friends discovered two consecrated hosts, apparently received into someone’s mouth and then discarded and stuck wet underneath the pew in front of him. They found it the Sunday after the parish celebrated the children’s first Holy Communion. My friend -- without thinking -- pulled what she could off the pew and swallowed it, knowing it was the Body of Christ. I was sitting in the pew directly behind her, and witnessed the whole ordeal. We suspected two embarrassed parents left it there after they went to communion lacking the courage to tell their child that they themselves were barred from receiving communion.

Tora found similar difficulties when she was doing  door-to-door evangelization in Southern California in the 1960s. She came home one night, and said repeatedly: “Susan, thank God your father died, and we didn’t lose him through divorce.” What she meant to say is that divorce is one of the greatest horrors that she – a widow -- had ever encountered!

I experienced the same thing in the 1990s doing door-to-door evangelization intensively for one week in Iowa. A teenage girl answered the door. I told her I came from her local Catholic parish to give her greetings from her pastor.  She immediately had a change of heart. She said she was baptized, had her first communion and confirmation, but her parents divorced. The family never went to Church again! With her innocent little brother standing by watching, she said to me in a very resolved tone, “I am going to talk to my mother. I want to go back to Church.” She was a child, who had to grow up when her parents would not.

Pope Francis understands the horror of divorce, and its effect on families. That’s why he doesn’t want divorced families to feel excommunicated. They aren’t, of course, and if they remain faithful to the vows of their first marriage, they can receive all the sacraments. That’s paragraph 83 in the Final Synod Document. But even if they remarry civilly, they should still feel welcomed in the Catholic parish where they can come, participate in parish activities, and bring their children to Mass.

Tora had another opportunity to prove her faithfulness in marriage. In 1971, she married Byron Hutchison. I was her 18-year-old bridesmaid. Hutch suffered from post-traumatic syndrome, paranoia and bi-polar disorder, but we had no idea of this when she married him.  I came back from college to visit six years later, and my mother wept in my arms. This had never happened before.

“Hutch is so mean to me,” she wept. I encouraged her to get him mental health assistance, but he would have blown his stack. So I said, “Mom, YOU have to go to the doctor and find out what’s wrong with HIM.” And so she did. And finally she understood she could not take his behavior personally. He was ill.

At this point I said to her, “You know Mom, you could get the church to make a determination of nullity of your marriage because they generally don’t do Catholic weddings for people who have been in mental institutions (as Hutch had).” Mental illness can make a person legally incapable of marriage, according to Church law. But she said, “Hutch didn’t know he was mentally ill when he married me. He has a right to my faithfulness.”

And so she made the heroic choice to remain in a marriage where she suffered emotionally. On a daily basis, for 29 years until she died, she was nailed to the cross of her marriage bed. After she died in the hospital, Hutch was upset because he couldn’t find her wedding ring. But I thought to myself, “God has removed it because the marriage is no more. My mother is free in death.”

Tora’s marriage to Hutch -- an unbaptized man -- was that case I learned about when I was seven years old. They could have sought a declaration of nullity because he was not a Christian. But she did not. As a result, Hutch, who had been very anti-Catholic through most of the marriage, began to be attracted to the faith. I suggested to Tora  that when she suffered emotionally and physically (she lost one leg in her 70s due to peripheral artery disease) that her sufferings would benefit Hutch. "Oh, I so hope and pray so," she said, sitting in the chair with only one leg. Both legs pained her terribly, the visible and invisible one. 

And with that choice, God created a fascinating dynamic. By the suffering Hutch created in their lives together, which Mom united to the sufferings of Christ, he was saved. She even had a vision of herself going to communion, and Hutch following behind moving towards God. "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife; and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband: otherwise your children should be unclean; but now they are holy." (1Cor 7:14)

Though priests talked to Hutch about Catholicism after Mom died, they never asked, “Do you want to be baptized?” In the nursing home, the priest showed Hutch where they had Sunday Mass. Afterwards, Hutch went to Mass every Sunday until he died.

I once asked him, “Dad, why don’t you get the Catholic sacraments and become Catholic?” And he answered, “Susan, I don’t qualify.” But he wanted it; don’t you see? And so he had it -- Baptism by desire.

For every Sunday he went to Mass, he didn’t go for the great sermons or to hear the Word of God. Hutch was deaf as a doornail and wouldn’t wear hearing aids. He went because he believed in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I had seen him looking covetously at the host when I gave Mom communion during one of her illnesses. He wanted Christ. The witness of Tora’s life bore good fruit.

Whereas the decision not to marry, opened the gates of heaven for Gilbert, the decision to stay married opened the gates of heaven for Hutch.

Ultimately, we have to thank Tora’s marriage to my father,
My parents, James and Tora, on their

wedding day
James Burkhardt, for Hutch’s conversion and my own. Tora converted to Catholicism because of his witness and that of his mother’s, my grandmother Dora. He was the fisher of men, who caught such an incredible swordfish (Tora) that on her tail came countless others into heaven.

Tora’s first marriage was emotionally very happy, but lasted only seven years before he died. Yet in this marriage too there was incredible suffering. My father had tuberculosis and had to have one lung removed. Tora told me of that time in the hospital when he used profane language, something she had never heard from him before, because the pain was so great.

Then he spent a year at home recovering, and gradually all their friends except one – Dean Howard – stopped coming to visit. Because of that experience of abandonment, she made a point of inviting all the little people with no families to Thanksgiving dinner every year when I was growing up.

She remembered my Dad filing the needle on his daily shot because unless it was sharp, it hurt! But that year offered great happiness as well because they had only each other, and they spent hours playing Scrabble and talking together.

Tora, Susan And James Burkhardt
When Mom discovered she was pregnant with me, my father was at the point where he nearly died. My birth came with a lot stress for her as she had to keep a baby happy, and allow her ill husband his sleep.

By the time I was four, he was recovered. We were immensely happy. People remember my father for his incredible sense of humor. So that year – 1957 – we set out for Detroit on vacation to buy a new car.

We visited family in Ohio where I came down with the measles. We drove south to New Orleans in the new car with new seatbelts on our way back to Los Angeles. But people then weren’t used to using them, so they weren’t on when we had a head-on collision on a three-lane road that allowed people to drive both directions in the middle lane.

My father’s remaining lung was punctured by windshield glass and he died three days later on April 28, 1957, the feast of a saint as yet unknown to us -- Louis Marie de Montfort. My Dad was wearing a medal of the Sacred Heart, and had just been to confession the previous weekend.

I was in the back seat when the accident occurred. I had looked up just before the accident and I saw my parents looking at one another with deep longing and love. In that last second of their lives together, they taught me what life itself was all about.

There are bishops who want to give communion to divorced and remarried Catholics not living chastely. Perhaps they don’t understand the resiliency of the Catholic laity, or the hunger of the human heart for God. With the right teaching, I have seen ordinary people literally give their lives in horrific daily suffering to remain in love and union with Christ.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? ...What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? ... No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Read More about Tora's pro-life passion here: A Passion for Life

Vox Populi! In the Catholic Church, the cause for sainthood can begin with the voice of the people. 

Would you like to see Tora Hutchison beatified by the Roman Catholic Church? Please write to her bishop and tell him her story has touched you, asking him to open the cause for her beatification, which is the first step towards canonization. 

Please do ask Tora to pray for your intentions! She died on June 29, and my family and I go to Mass every June 29 and ask for big miracles. God has gloriously granted all our requests. We are not the only ones who have been so blessed through her intercession. Report miracles and ask the bishop to begin the process of her beatification. He is: 

Paul D. Etienne
Archbishop of Seattle
710 9th Ave.
Seattle, Wash. 98104-2017

Send a copy of your letter, if you wish to her pastor: 

Father Peter Adoko-Enchill
St. Mary Star of the Sea
1335 Blaine Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368


  1. This is a phenomenal post. AA wonderful reflection as to what all the talk really means at the family and personal level. Agreed! we must obey Christ!

  2. Life is not all that easy to get through; esoecially if you follow the teaching of the Church. Life can be beautiful,but one must look for the fun in life and still stay within the church-easy said difficult to do. Many sad stories are told of people's life here on earth. It seems all along that life here is very trying. What really is fun and happy is to recall the happy times or be reminded of funny happenings & joy filled forgotten stories of life. This will bring laughter to tears of joy. So great to recall or be reminded of life stories. This is fun. Its fun to look at pictures or video's.This brings many memories,some sad, (part sad) some nice warm memories.The happiness is so great & warm;but we deal with sadness to. This is when life's reality hits.STRANGE, we go forward with joy and laughter,we tuck sad away. I knew this lady. She was placed in an orphanage with her brother, as a baby and a toddler,(2 of 14) these were the only 2 Put in this Protestant Home. The others older stayed on farm with Father & relatives.The girl Gloria& boy Micheal. By age 9,& 7 they began to run away from the home & cruelty within. By some miracle they made it to St. Pauls Shrine. Long story short each time they ran away & made it to the Shrine, they were taught The Catholic Faith; first cleaned up,and fed.A lady,Mercedes, who lived in the DelPrado and in the shrine all her free time, took them under her wing and she she became sponsor for all. It took court, then the two went to Catholic Homes. During one of the run aways, the two children were hit by cars going the opposite direction.Gloria had all ribs broke,hurt spine & Micheal had a fractired skull. The street was really a highway-they did'nt know. Time passed. Age 15 Godmother brought nephew to home. Gloria had completed school. Answer to problem was marriage. Mercedes accepted responsibility. Signed for the marriage betwee Gloria& Joseph. Joseph was in College& working. His Father owned a grocery store. Micheal stayed in home till graduated, with job and place to live. Beautiful marriage in Shrine. 4 children later, Micheal died at 21, Married not knowing of his daughter to be born. Everyone Catholic. Noseph decided he could not deal with famil scene. No family Dr or Priest could change his mind. He left married a prostitute. Gloria went to school and work. The nuns at the Catholic School would watch children for Gloria. Her hrs near same. Gloria never married. At the time she could have received annulment, but no co-operation. She still lives this way.Her children all near, her husband still married enjoyed, she thinks. Gloria, I don't know, only that she is lonely ,but strong in faith. SO.... What is the answer?

  3. Ivory Snow wrote the above Anonymous comment, and forgot to put her name on it. God bless. Susan

  4. +JMJ

    "One Woman's Story" is poignant and inspiring and a perfect example of fidelity all rolled together! May her soul and all the souls she touched and have passed on, rest in peace....and may we gain much from her rock solid faith and witness. I'm so blessed to be part of a Twitter community/ payer warrior group because Tora's legacy continues through Susan her daughter. Thank you Holy Trinity and Mama Mary & St Joseph n all Angels and Saints.. Ma'am may you continue to Evangelize in your unique way. Keep me in your precious prayers....n my little family unit too.Thanks again.

  5. Ma'am, I wrote a note,expressing my views on this wonderful testimony. But I don't know how it's disappeared. May be it's gone for moderation or approval. I don't have a backup copy so I'll rewrite when time n circumstances permit. In a nutshell....it's poignant, an account of heroic virtue & fidelity to the Magesterium & Holy Mother Church.

  6. One of the best articles on love and marriage -ever. Thank you. Here's St Thomas Aquinas on adultery etc., from his Catechetical Instructions. Not much wiggle room here for those German Cardinals worried about the decline in the kirchnsteuer, the German church tax. : “Now, it must be known that, although some believe that adultery is a sin, yet they do not believe that simple fornication is a mortal sin. Against them stand the words of St. Paul: “For fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” And: “Do not err: neither fornicators, . . . nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind shall possess the kingdom of God.” But one is not excluded from the kingdom of God except by mortal sin; therefore, fornication is a mortal sin. But one might say that there is no reason why fornication should be a mortal sin, since the body of the wife is not given, as in adultery. I say, however, if the body of the wife is not given, nevertheless, there is given the body of Christ which was given to the husband when he was sanctified in Baptism. If, then, one must not betray his wife, with much more reason must he not be unfaithful to Christ: “Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid!” It is heretical to say that fornication is not a mortal sin.” Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

    1. Thank you Guy. Great reminder of what St. Thomas Aquinas says about adultery. Ultimately, Christ is the victim of all the acts of illicit fornication. And the greatest commandment is violated, "Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind, and you whole strength." And of course, "your neighbor as yourself." God bless you. Susan Fox

  7. Edwin, Thank you so much for this comment. I appreciate it greatly. The reason there was a delay between your posting it and it's appearing in the blog is because comment moderation is in place. That means I have to get to the computer look at the comments and then press a button and then they appear in the blog. God bless you. We are so happy for comments. Thank you for taking the time to write. Susan Fox

  8. This is a Wonderful story of True Love, True Life and Devotion. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. "I saw my parents looking at one another with deep longing and love." My favorite part of the article.

  10. God’s Gift of Marriage

    God’s gift of Marriage allows one to experience some of the infinite love of the Trinity, and enables one to love and be loved, as they unite with one another with the Trinity.

    Marriage demands all that Salvation demands (in that it is an instrument of Salvation): sacrifice, tolerance, forgiving, to protect, to encourage, to appreciate…etcetera!

    Note: …
    This poem is an extracted from “The Galilean” by Dr. Dennis L. Siluk.

  11. Tora's story is an inspiration and perfect witness to the gift of love consummated in the sacrament of Marriage.Tora was deeply convinced of her love for Christ and nothing could separate her from that, not even her personal happiness and desire to love. She's a perfect ambassador and apostle of the gospel conveyed in Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis.
    There's so much to take from Tora's Life and witness to the Faith. I will adopt her as example and model in all my pastoral engagement with families and young people. I will propagate her story so that many family here in Nigeria may benefit from her faith and life.
    May she interceed for all families facing difficult in their marriage life.Amen

    God bless you Susan for this inspiring and educative write up.
    Keep it up!
    God bless you.

  12. Thank you Jude! It's wonderful to have met you online. God's blessings on your studies. Susan Fox

  13. This is such a wonderful reflection of a life well lived. The desire to be with God surpasses all human barriers. If God is for us who can be against us. I love this. I will beseech Tora to intercede for me and my family. Her life is a true reflection on the gift of marriage and the joy of belonging to a family. God bless you Susan Fox for sharing.

  14. Thank you so much John Paul. It was a privilege to know her. Remember you can always write to the bishop in Seattle. He is keeping a file for all the letters. (see the address at the end of the post) God bless you. Susan Fox

  15. Darn SpellcheckI knew you meant beatify instead of beautify

  16. Thank you so much. I sure misspelled that word so faithfully and consistently, didn't I? But I fixed it now. God bless you Chris. Susan Fox