Mary Pope-Handy 408 204-7673

When pets die, do they go to heaven?

Do dogs, cats and others pets go to heaven when they die? This is a question that children (as well as some adults) ask when a beloved non-human family member passes away.

The Catholic Church doesn’t actually pronounce whether pets go to heaven or not. Sometimes, though, in a moment of pastoral insensitivity or because of a lack of proper grounding, an adult – and sometimes even an authority such as a priest or a parent – incorrectly states that according to the Church, animals do not go to heaven.

Lancer (our former Black Lab) and Pookie (our former rat) got along well as friends

Lancer and Pookie, pets of ours from years ago

My family ran into this at our parish when the associate pastor announced to a full church of families with children that his cat had died and that “we all know that pets don’t go to heaven”.  I can’t imagine how much harm he did that day from the pulpit, pretending to be authoritative on an area out of his depth. If nothing else, even had he mistakenly believed this to be Catholic teaching, there was no pastoral benefit to his statement – only harm.  What was he thinking? (more…)

How Does Annulment Work?

With Catholic marriages failing at a rate fairly similar to that of the general population, the Catholic Church works to help its members after divorce through support groups and other avenues.  Often the question of annulment arises and there are many misconceptions about it, so I wanted to discuss it today.

An annulment is a finding by the Church’s tribunal that the marriage was missing a significant component which would be required for it to be a sacramental marriage.

Common myths about annulment: An annulment is not a statement that there was no marriage at all (there was, in reality, the equivalent of a civil marriage or non-sacramental marriage – the technical term is putative marriage) and it does not make any children illegitimate.   That is simply not true.

Another common misunderstanding is the idea that if the couple was not married in the Church, it’s not a sacramental marriage and therefore no annulment is needed if they want to marry again after a divorce.  In fact, when baptized Christians marry, the Catholic Church considers that a sacramental marriage no matter who is presiding at the ceremony.  In the western Christian tradition*, it is not the priest who “marries” them – instead, the couple exchanging vows give the sacrament to each other, they are the ministers of this sacrament. The priest is an official witness and the Church insists upon it as a practice.  When Catholics are married in a service presided by a judge rather than a priest (this would be without permission) it is “valid but illicit” – it’s a true sacramental marriage but not permitted to have been created that way.    (more…)

Nasty comments, myths and anti-Catholicism

The other day, a friend of mine thanked me for starting this blog. She asked if I could address the topic of what to do when people say nasty things to you about  being Catholic.  In other words, how to respond to myths and prejudice.

Right now, with the terrible pedophilia and cover up scandals ravaging many parts of the church (both in dioceses and with “regular” or ordinary priests and also within religious orders, in many countries), on top of misunderstandings and bias we have genuine and deserved anger from both within and without.  So perhaps the unpleasant comments are coming a little faster and more openly than usual.

But how to respond when faced with nasty comments?  Often they are based on incorrect information.  It can be hard to answer when you may not have a solid footing on the topic yourself.  Ideally, then, it can be an opportunity for you to talk to others who might be able to fill you in on that subject and have your own knowledge (and maybe even your faith) grow in the process.

There’s a wonderful little book, light reading with solid content, that I have given away probably 2 dozen or more times.  For many Catholics, it goes over “the basics” in an easy to digest way that makes sense and is easy to read and absorb.  Written with humor (and cartoons) at times, it was something I found helpful when I was a teacher of high school students.  The book is titled “How to Survive Being Married to a Catholic” and is published by Paulist Press.  It’s really a book aimed at explaining basic Catholic tenants in a simple, matter of fact way.  You can order it online or see if Ave Maria Community Book Center*, our large, local Catholic bookstore, carries it.