Friday, September 11, 2015

Hiding Behind the Law



Just imagine this scenario:
A local politician goes to the bishop and tells him his daughter needs an annulment so she can have a great big wedding, a time of civic rejoicing. The bishop, a timid man, not exactly faith filled, however having looked into the matter is doubtful and says that it should follow the ordinary course. The politician, a bit of a bully, says he will go to the secularised press and insure they put up yet another story of the 'un-pastoral' style of the bishop, and he will certainly complain about him to his powerful friends in Rome. The bishop thinks about it and within 45 days the politician's daughter is organising a second wedding in the Cathedral with the bishop assisting a presiding Cardinal.
The great thing about the 'unreformed' annulment procedure is that having collected the evidence for an annulment a judgement was made by the diocesan tribunal and then the papers were passed to second tribunal for an independent verdict, if it was different in the second instance from the first it was sent to the Rota. The great advantage was that the diocesan tribunal's work was scrutinised by the second tribunal, and occasionally by Rome. This meant that Bishops had to act according to the law, in fact they were protected by the law, they could hide behind the law and one of the purposes of the law is for the weak to hide behind it.

There are certainly problems with the annulment procedure, it is slow and invariably under funded, in some parts of the world it simply does not exist, some diocese do not have any canonists who can run a marriage tribunal, which means people are denied justice. However we saw the madness in the 1970s where US canonists seemed to merely rubber stamp any requests for a declaration of nullity.

I cannot help thinking the Holy Father, out of pastoral zeal, has acted unwisely and is placing the whole Church in the American 1970's situation. Already in my parish a couple of people with less than perfect marriages have been asking if possibly they might not be married after all; doubts have been sown. According to Cardinal Kasper the Holy Father has said he believes 50% marriages could be or are invalid, which seems a rather pessimistic attitude to the sacraments. Of course if one suggests 50% of marriages are invalid, could one not apply the same criteria to ordinations, if bad catechises could be criteria for invalidity, as some are suggesting, could not bad theological formation (or moral formation) be a good reason to suggest one's priest or bishop's ordination was null and void and the same for the sacraments he has celebrated?

That way of course lays theological madness and sees a return to a new Donatist Crisis, which actually one does see amongst certain uber-Catholics of an ultra-'traditional' stripe. The Church has always understood that Christ is greater than the Church, than the sacraments, and certainly greater than the weak and limited people who receive the sacraments, by his Grace he makes up for our sins and deficiencies.

The problem here is the same as lies behind the Synod: do we rely on God's grace or are we merely bound by human weakness?

17 comments:

Independent said...

Where does the doctrine of intention fit into all this? How did President Kennedy's sister, if I remember rightly, obtain an annulment after an obviously consummated marriage?

Jacobi said...

I am concerned about this apparent lean towards easy annulment by the Pope. We have a decreasing number of weddings in the Church and therefore, Catholics in the future. Any suggestion of a “ suck it and see” approach will ensure even fewer.

I suppose I suffer a bit form the stay- at-home son syndrome. (and my wife the “stay-at-home daughter). Well he (they) did have a point after all

I mean who will now be “married” Anyone who wants to run of with the lady next door once the wife puts on a bit of weight, well, why shouldn't he? I mean she, the wife that is, never really was committed to the marriage in the first place now was was she?

This strikes me as but another step down the path of Relativism, the introduction of so much doubt, that in effect, marriage becomes Dissoluble.

GOR said...

I have a bad feeling about this. Pope Francis is not known for legal exactitude. In fact, he seems to dismiss anything that is formal and tightly defined as ‘rigidity’. Logic is rigid - but would we seek to dismiss it on that account? Laws need to be precise with accurately defined terms and conditions.

In the linked article, canonist Dr. Peters notes that Canon 1095 which deals with matrimonial consent - including “causes of a psychological nature” which may invalidate that consent – is, historically, the one most frequently appealed to in annulment cases in the US. Though he might not agree, it is the one ‘impediment’ that, anecdotally, is most frequently advanced as the cause of so many declarations of nullity in the US since the 1970s.

The Motu Propio’s dubious list of factors which may enable expedited judgments – lack of faith, abortion, extra-marital affairs, brevity of marriage, incarceration (!), etc. – seem to me to be adding fuel to the annulment fire. Once officially promulgated, and unless more strictly defined, I foresee bishops being swamped with requests for judgment. This may have the opposite effect by further slowing the process rather than expediting it as intended - not to mention confirming in some people's minds that this is nothing more than 'Catholic divorce'.

Matthew Roth said...

His nephew, RFK’s son, attempted to get one. His wife appealed to the Rota and the court of first instance was overturned.

Sixupman said...

I love the analogy Father!

Therese said...

thank you Father. I pray that more clergy realize the danger to souls this new changes bring. even with the Existing annulment process ; the mention from a liberal priest to my spouse of the nearly guaranteed handing down of one from our liberal diocees trubunal , gave more incentive for my spouse to abandon our ( in my opinion validly entered into ) Catholic marriage after 20 years . leaving me in poverty , depression and our children given bad example of marital indissoulity. my spouse who up till that time had been faithful , committed husband , entered into extramarital relationships . to someone like myself who ( unlike my spouse who ditched his wedding ring the month this priest suggested he could get our marraige annuled for some psychobabble nonsence reason ) I remained faithful to the marriage. for 7 years. separated but I knew we were still married. in our case we are still married both in the church and civilly. shocking was the amount of people who either suggested I "date " especially coming from " catholics ". please keep me in your prayers Fr as now we are in the process of a long drawn out divorce ( 2 yrs ) our dear Popes " changes " hit me like a knife in the back. it makes me look like a stupid fool for honoring our marriage vows that I dont believe are invalid. meanwhile my husband travels and has fun with his adultery partner and with my diocee beimg as liberal as it is - thanks to Pope Francis hes almost guaranteed that they will " annull" our valid marriage.

Mary Kay said...

Therese, please stay the course! It won't be horrible forever, and there is life afterward. Try to focus on your children and on your work or studies. You must keep your mind busy. That is what I did in a situation much different than yours.(My former husband is now deceased, which I did not know for several years.) My children are both practicing Catholics, with their own children who are being raised Catholic. It can be done. Try to avoid bitterness. For some reason God has allowed this suffering for you, maybe to raise up great saints among your offspring! I hope so in the case of my sweet family and yours. In the meantime, I can rest at night knowing that I did what was expected of me by God.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Would it not be good to think that those at the Synod would read Therese's comment and get an idea of what happens in real life?

Therese said...

Mary Kay , thank you for your reminder. I have realized that keeping my focus on our children , on doing what God expects of me and in trying to let go off unforgiveness And anger/ bitterness is what I need to do. what brings me sorrow is my husband , and children loosing the faith. God has been ever present and such a sweet Father to me and It gives me peace to rest in his arms . I forget - in moments of focusing on my situation - to keep the focus on HIM. thank you again.

Lee Gilbert said...

For the love of God, Mary Kay, keep this up. God bless you and everyone like you.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

The late Fr John English SJ, who worked at the Jesuit Retreat House in Guelph, Ontario, for many years, spoke to a group of us there in 1982 about persons in situations like that of Therese, individuals whose marriages had been declared null and void, even though they knew in their heart and soul that they had been validly married. These were persons left high and dry because of unjust decisions by Church tribunals. Fr English found himself counselling many in that position, victims of a process that ignored the truth.

When I was growing up in Ireland more than 50 years ago 'till death do us part' was the norm in society. Then the people in the Republic were asked in 1986 to change the provision in the Constitution forbidding divorce. They voted by a large majority to leave the Constitution as it was. However, they were asked again in 1996 and this time they said 'yes' by a small minority. this was supposed to deal with a large backlog of broken marriages. (There was indeed such). But since then many don't bother getting married at all, just live with their 'partner'. And last May the voters decided to change the definition of marriage, in the name of 'equality', so that the Irish Constitution is now the only one in the world that recognises the absurdity of two persons of the same sex being able to 'marry'.

There is truth in the old saying, 'Give him an inch and he'll take a mile'. We saw that too in the 'spirit of Vatican II' approach to liturgy, which affected nearly all priests, especially younger ones, in the the late 1960s and in the 1970s, and through them the People of God. I believe that this is one of the causes of the rejection of the Christian faith by so many in the Western world. I know that I cannot prove that but one notices things and makes connections.

And I know of couples who were disheartened by the reality of so many priests being dispensed, especially in those same years, so that they said, 'If Father can get released from his commitment why can't I?'

Therese, pray for strength to your namesake and to her parents Blessed Louis and Blessed Zelie, soon to be canonised. God bless you and your family. Be assured of my prayers for you.

GOR said...

Mention has been made that the new laws – especially as regards the ‘fast-track’ process - proposed in Mitis - take away or weaken the objective nature of the annulment process. Dr. Peters emphasizes that the declaration of nullity - or decision to not declare the marriage null - is a legal process and cannot be of a subjective nature. It is a matter of fact, not feelings.

The implication in the fast-track process is that if the petitioners are agreed in conscience that it was not a valid marriage then the bishop should (must?) proceed to fast-track it. That has the aura of a ‘done-deal’ and inevitable approval of the annulment – not by an objective consideration of fact, but by an appeal to ‘conscience’.

We have been here before. In the tumult following Humanae Vitae in 1968 there was a similar appeal to subjectivity. Then, too, it was an appeal to individual conscience. The argument went something like this: while artificial contraception is generally wrong, if the spouses believe in conscience that, due to their particular situation, it is not wrong, then it is not wrong for them.

Confessors were urged to ‘respect the conscience’ of the individual and not badger them about objective right and wrong. This was the appeal to the ‘primacy of conscience’ in the wake of Vatican II that was deemed to supercede law and doctrine.

We know how that worked out. While some urged, rightly, that conscience must be an ‘informed conscience’ (informed/guided by Church Doctrine…) that got little attention. It became a very 1960s “If it feels right, do it” - what we used to call “Situation Ethics”, or as we know it today: Relativism.

I fear the same for some of the proposed changes to the annulment process.

geneticallycatholic said...

Therese, would you mind if I copied your comment (including the link to it) in a letter to the Congregation of the Faith? I think it is very important that Catholics write to the Vatican about the effects of what Pope Francis did on Sept 8. By the way, this action (of writing the Vatican) just occurred to me. If you respond with a comment giving me permission, I will do so.

I was once told by a priest who is a canon lawyer, that all the faithful have recourse to the Holy See. As such, I think- the faithful should be bombarding the Congregation of the Faith, etc with letters regarding this ill-fated move of Pope Francis, either showing comments like yours, or with the great analysis of the effects of this move that I 've seen on blogs.

I know that Petitions have been already been sent to the Pope Francis, such as the one asking the Pope to be clear about marriage, and also the latest about protecting Humanae Vitae. But to my mind, a petition is one letter with many signatures. The CDF, the Apostolic Signatura at the very least should get a deluge of letters in opposition to what the Holy Father has done - in other words the sensus fidei in action.

Therese said...

geneticallycatholic, yes please do forward my comment with its link. I was very shocked that our Holy Father proposed this change that only will weaken marriages and promote more divorce mentality among the Faithful. God reward you. Therese

geneticallycatholic said...

Thank you, Therese. My letter will be mailed after the weekend. I will write it this weekend. God bless.

Full disclosure: I also post in other blogs as MSDOTT- not because I'm trying to hide - but because I still have to figure out social media. I couldn't figure out how to get geneticallycatholic to be my name on the other blogs.

After I posted here, I read David Warren's post on marriage on "The Catholic Thing" blog. I automatically come up there as MSDOTT. In the comments section of his post, there were comments on the Pope Francis' annulment procedure. So, I posted my suggestion on individuals writing (i.e. deluging) the Holy See with letters, rather than putting their name to a petition. "Givelifeachance2" responded and it made me realise that not only troubled marriages are affected, but ALL Catholic marriages - i.e. strong marriages or not. So, in my humble opinion, I think that everybody who cares about the permanence of Catholic marriage should be writing the Holy See.

Here is givelifeachance2's verbatim response:


givelifeachance2 > MSDOTT • 4 hours ago

I think if the deluge were not just complaint letters, but very real requests for the Church to render a judgment on one's own marriage, to provide the security that one THOUGHT one had at the time of the wedding...well, if enough people made this request, the hierarchy would see such a "mess" of work that it would see to it that the original marriage "sticks" in the first case.

Therese said...

I live in an Archdiocese where even with the existing annulment procedure close to 100% of the petitions for nullify result in an annulment. When my husband went through his period of questioning whether he " wanted" to stay in the marriage ,( meeting a younger actress , model skantily clad type who communicated with him via text , email .. convinced him that I his wife and mother of his children no longer was " compatible " for him ). one of several liberal clergy " assured " him that since he now claimed that he had " never loved me really " and somehow had been " pretending " for 20 years of marriage plus the years of dating and year of engagement - plus we were as he now claimed " incompatible ", so therefore this was " grounds " for an annulment. These new changes put all Catholic marriages in danger even more. it means that anyone can leave their spouse and still continue to think themselves a Catholic in good standing. After all , how many of us had theology degrees in the faith or where really " mature " when they married in their 20s? Later , decades later, a dissatisfied spouse is told or encouraged to divorce and run off with a new flame. This is promoting divorce. what should happen is that they are reminded by their pastor , or in confession , that marriage is a solemn sacred sacramental commitment they made and that by dying to selfishness and instead choosing the decision to love even when they don't " feel " it, the love feelings return in the marriage and the couple grow in sanctity. Jesus clearly taught the indissoulubily of the sacrament. Therese.

geneticallycatholic said...

Therese, just to let you know that I sent a letter to one of the orthodox cardinals who will be attending the Synod- using your comment verbatim on the effects of Motu Proprio on your marriage given your "liberal" diocese. The Motu Proprio is based on the local bishops searching for the truth, and if they don't, then there is a grave danger that they will determine that a marriage is not valid ( i.e. no marriage existed), when actually there is a undissolvable, valid marriage.

If this happens to you, I understand that you have recourse to Rome - ( and you should and must pettion Rome in an appeal).

God bless you, and you are included in the people for whom I pray.

P.S. On the 23rd of September, Father Gerald Murray, who is a canon lawyer and who consulted with other canonists, wrote an essay entitled 'Scrap the New Annulment Rules" on "The Catholic Thing" blog. In addition to your verbatim comment, I also included Fr. Gerald's whole essay in my letter to the Cardinal ( I was delayed in writing the letter- and was glad for the delay when I saw the post by Fr. Gerald Murray).I quote the three paragraphs at the end of his essay below:

"This new shorter process cannot be described as impartial set of rules aimed at arriving at an informed and fair determination by the diocesan bishop as to whether a petitioner’s claim that his/her marriage was null is proven or not proven. If the rules were impartial, then either outcome would have equal legal force. That is not the case here.

The unmistakable aim of this kind of legislating is clear: declare marriages null whether it takes a shorter time or a longer time. The shorter process is clearly not thought of by its authors as possessing sufficient integrity to arrive at a determinative finding upholding the validity of a marriage, since such a finding has no legal effect, but is rather simply an automatic cause for re-hearing the case in the ordinary process.

One is left to ask: why should the Church institute a process that can only be trusted when it produces one outcome – a declaration of nullity? In fact, such a process does not respond to the demands of justice, and does harm to the Church’s effort to uphold the indissolubility of marriage. This flawed innovation is just one of many reasons why it would be best simply to set aside this new legislation".