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William Van OrnumJune 02, 2010

“Annulments are just for the rich.”  “The Church makes a great deal of money from annulments.”  “Just more hypocrisy from the Catholic Church--it teaches against divorce but figures out another way to give a divorce.” “Total sham: how can the Church declare a marriage never existed when the couple even celebrated their tenth anniversary!” “We paid for the Hall and the Church couldn’t get the paperwork through in time.” “Why does the Church require me to do this--my fiance is Catholic, but I’m not.”  Comments like these are reported, but sadly, those who are helped by the annulment process often are not heard. As one who has served different Marriage Tribunals as an expert witness (peritus), here are my observations.

A canon lawyer would have to explain the nuances of annulments carefully, but here is my best understanding of one ground. The Catholic Church believes that marriage is a lifetime vow, a commitment in which two individuals freely, fully, and totally give themselves to each other. After a civil divorce, a Church Tribunal can look back and if the marriage was not at this level, an annulment can be granted which frees the individual to marry in the Church. The technical language often is something like this: “Mr. Jones was unable to freely enter into/and or maintain a valid matrimonial union.”  A psychologist or psychiatrist often advises the Tribunal, usually after interviewing one of the parties. Much could be written to explain the countless ways marriages don’t reach the level of total commitment.

Each of the 200+ dioceses in the United States differs in the details of how canon law is implemented regarding annulments. Pastors are the primary persons who explain the process. Volunteer advocates help the person prepare a lengthy autobiographical statement, and assist in obtaining three witness statements and a large amount of supporting paperwork. If there are psychological grounds, the person is interviewed by a psychologist or psychiatrist, or receives some kind of testing. There is a hearing in front of the Judge, who renders a decision which is then reviewed by a higher Church court.

You can imagine how each person’s experience with the annulment process will vary. So many different individuals become the face of the Church (pastor, advocate, clerical and administrative workers, psychologist, Diocesan Judge, finance department) and a person’s experience with each of these people will color their view of the process.

Re: the fee--the going rate for everything is around $1,000-1,500; for truly needy persons this is often waived or adjusted. If one counts the number of hours that go into an annulment, and compares hourly rates of divorce firms, the charge multiplies. Sadly, I have seen too many persons complain about the fee, sometimes rudely, while driving to the interview in a $40,000+ vehicle, or describing multiple vacations to Disney World or similar places in statements and interviews. Tribunal workers and judges too often experience verbal abuse on the phone, treatment they do not deserve.

The annulment process may bring spiritual growth and healing. In reflecting on a failed marriage, most of us will recognize poor judgment we displayed in choice of partner, and even denial or glossing over problems or incompatibilities that later grew to be reasons for separating. There can be regret toward ineffective or hurtful ways of dealing with a spouse, or sadness about our imperfect or broken ways of relating intimately to another. With the divorce rate for second marriages hovering in the 40%-50% range, this introspection--at least in my opinion--lowers the odds for those who have taken the annulment process seriously. One measure of the effectiveness of the process is the manner in which tribunal workers and psychologists handle sensitive information from a person’s past. Every painful detail does not need to be recounted and when meetings with the psychologist and judge are handled with empathy and compassion rather than scrupulous focus on minutiae of canon law, a healing and positive atmosphere is better maintained. The best treatment of doctors causes negative side effects; the word is iatrogenic, and this also happens during the annulment process.

Even given the best intentions and effectiveness of tribunal workers, many persons will react angrily and publicly. When two individuals go through the motions solely to be eligible for a Church wedding, when one former spouse desires to block a remarriage, or when someone brings residual and powerful anger toward the Church on other matters--negativity frequently ensues. Much of the work of those in marriage tribunals is not publicized. As greater transparency in the Church brings these dedicated people into view, I am confident that others will recognize the good work they do.

Annulments--a complicated topic, perhaps in need of a follow-up column or two. Again, comments/questions to me below or to ornum@earthlink.net are appreciated. For those considering seeking an annulment, Terrence Tierney and Joseph Campo’s
Annulment: Do You Have a Case is an essential guide.

William Van Ornum


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Bai Macfarlane
13 years 10 months ago
Hello again Bill,
I took to heart your June 03 response (9:23 am) to my comment about the contrast between your description of grounds for annulment and the Popes' annual statements in the Addresses to the Roman Rota.
You stated in your response, ''I think the quote from the Holy Father came from his yearly address to the Roman Rota, which are remarks that are not binding and not taught in an ex cathedra manner.''  I find it notable that you write as if the teachings from the Pope about canon law are not binding.
Coincidently, while furthering my research, I found a statement from a Roman Rota judge explaining the authority of the Popes' addresses to the Roman Rota. 
''[they] have a particular authority for they are both a commentary of the Supreme Legislator on the law which he has promulgated and, what is more, an exercise of the ordinary magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff, to which is owed religious obedience (cf. canon 752).'' [Raymond L. Burke, ''Serious Lack of Discretion of Judgment: a Residual or an Autonomous Ground of Nullity?'' from a manuscript copy of the opening speech of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Convention of the Canadian Canon Law Society, October 19-22, 1992, Toronto.]
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Thank you very much for looking into this. I am glad there are specialists in canon law as it is a difficult topic for most of us.
I hope you will comment on my blog this Wednesday as it involves implementation of certain "Guidelines."
Hope you are having a good summer. bill
Winifred Holloway
13 years 10 months ago
I think the crux of the matter is the punitive stand the church takes with regard to the divorced and remarried.  The teaching regarding marriage can remain as an ideal, but to deny the sacraments, it seems to me, is the opposite of what we want to do.  A clean divorce, if there is such a thing, offers at least some integrity in the process.  It didn't work, for whatever reasons, and the best solution is a divorce.  To muddy the waters with excuses that will please a tribunal, is well, less than honest.  We are all messy, fallible people and I think it's best to recognize that reality and bring everyone to the eucharistic table.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Mr. Lynne:
I am aware of Mr. Sykes. I made reference to one of the posters above who listed "pros" and "cons" or something of that nature.
I'm just amazed at the amount of anger, both toward the Church, tribunals, canon law, and it's expressed in a one-sided manner.
Seems to me the Church gets hit with lots of undeserved anger, and this is a separate issue from when true injustices have occurred, and the difference between this situations has become difficult to discuss.
Very, very, sad.  best, bill
13 years 10 months ago
I had a cursory encounter with the annulment process in the early 80's and can look back at that time with the perspective of a number of years of experience.  After the civil divorce, a priest-psychologist offered to help me with an annulment.  I went so far as to get the paperwork and line up witnesses.  Then I spent a long time mulling this over and decided not to proceed.  The chances of my remarrying were remote considering my life-time responsibility for our children.  Another pressing factor was the effect the process would have on my ex-husband and his fathering of our children, which was problematic already.  My ex-husband became "born again" and went to Mexico to proselytize.  In God's providence he married a Mexican woman who is mother to two daughters. My children and I experienced what Hispanics call "la familia" as we were incorporated into their family.  I grew to be very fond of my exhusband's second family!  This helped smooth the relationship for our children with their father.  When he was very sick and dying my son and I were able to say goodbye to him.  His second family waited until I had returned home from a trip to hold his funeral so that I could attend with our children.    As Robert Nunz commented above, one of the factors considered in seeking an annulment should be the impact on the other person.  I don't believe that the reconcilliation that occurred in my family would have happened if I had pursued the annulment.  I'd be interested in other's experiences and what they think,
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Mr. Nunz: 
I think the process is cumbersome. No doubt, innocent people have been and are hurt by the annulment process. I am not a canon lawyer, but my suspicion is that it is much easier to change a civil law that has collateral damage (legislation, examples of cases in case law that demonstrate where exceptions and prudence may be necessary). A person who disagrees with the divorced spouses' decision to seek an annulment may fight this, but my observations suggest this is a difficult and potentially hurtful road. 
Perhaps if reception of the Eucharist is made separate from one's marital status, the number of annulments would decrease and the number of people furtively attending other churches to receive the Eucharist in view of their own conscience would diminish.
Perhaps we can bolster Cardinal Schoenbrun's thoughts by mentioning the money they are losing from the annulment process. If a diocesan bishop or controller would look at this, they might be amazed at the savings! Money, it seems, sometimes does talk. It also costs a great deal of money to educate a priest to become a canon lawyer.
Priests who now work as canonical judges are increasingly being asked to do double duty at the Tribunal as well as being lone pastor at large parishes. This puts the health of some priests in jeopardy due to overwork and it's hard for them to display the vitality they feel in their hearts and souls.
A very imperfect system; changes are needed. Any "law" which causes harm to innocent people needs examination and possible revision.
thanks for writing, bill
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
You had a tough decision to make and fortunately it worked out well for you. I can only hope that people around you in the Church understood the reasons behind your decision so as not to express judgment or disapproval upon you. 
Wouldn't it be great if each parish could become "la familia" for parishioners in situations like yours? I'm not sure I'm optimistic about this.
For nearly twenty years I worked with Father Bill Murphy, S.A. When he retired as Director of Development at Graymoor, he created his own ministry of helping separated, divorced, widowed, and remarried Catholics. He was able to devote all his time to this, and he had prudence and wisdom for helping people in your situation and the kind mentioned by Mr. Nunz. After he died, the dynamic ministry he created diminished as there was no one to take it over. If anyone reading this remembers Father Bill, your thoughts are appreciated.
I think both comments above suggest a need for greater ministry to those who are separated, remarried, widowed, and divorced. But how do we do this with all the budget cuts going on? We need others who, like Father Bill, can commit all or even some of their resources and time to this ministry.
I hope a canon lawyer, monsignor, or bishop will offer some commentary on some of the issues raised, as I know AMERICA is frequently read by prelates. Your excellencies?
always good to hear from you, Janice. amdg bill
James Lindsay
13 years 10 months ago
I wrote a column about the new Anglican Ordinates and the Question of Divorce. Here is what I suggested:

Divorce is a sticky subject in the Catholic Church. The recent moves to allow certain Anglicans into communion with Roman in their own "Ordinates" will certainly make the issue more complicated.

In prior years, divorce in the Church was considered forbidden - however nowadays, it is not divorce which is sinful, it is remarriage until after the original marriage is annulled. The cynical would say that annullments are big business in the Church and they certainly complicate things when the Catholic party gets an annulment while a Protestant spouse who is divorced does not (and occassionaly the parish priest blessing the union after the fact looks the other way).

When one partner is abusive or alcoholic, it is obvious that this partner was incapable of forming or maintaining a marriage bond - even if this was not apparent when the marriage was made (often because alcoholism and abuse are related and middle or late stage alcoholism is not always apparent on the wedding day). An annulment in such cases is usually not complicated.

In the ancient Church, if someone was married to a pagan and converted, they could get married again in the Church for the very sound reason that staying married to a pagan would involve apostacy when the family made offerings to the pagan spouses deity or celebrated pagan feasts (in the days before the Church began coopting such events).

When the Reformation happenned, many Protestant sects read the scripture on divorce where it referred to immorality as adultery - although the Catholic Church has never endorsed this view. I can see the logic behind this, since this would seem to allow someone to cheat and then put away his or her spouse scott-free. This is hardly just to the wronged spouse.

Adultery, as the word is defined, is not about adulthood but the adulteration of the marriage. It was originally considered a property crime to be punished by death (as all such crimes were, but are no longer). Jesus teaching on divorce was actually meant to level the playing field between the sexes, since males could put away their wives but wives could not put away their husbands. Jesus solution was to restrict husbands from easy divorce. This lesson has not been learned in other monotheistic sects, where the man is still priviledged in divorce in Islam and some Orthodox Jewish sects (where the husband can object to the Gett disolving the marriage).

Once a marriage is adulterated, is this not the same thing as saying that it has been ended? Perhaps the answer to the question of adultery in divorce is to recognize the absolute right of the wronged party to decide if the marriage is to endure, while the adulterous party has no such right to resist their decision (and indeed would always have an impediment to marriage with the party with whom the adultery was committed). This seems entirely reasonable, especially given the meaning of the word adultery and the intention of Christ's teaching to level the marital playing field - raising women to equality from their status of property. While it is certainly virtuous to forgive a cheating spouse, it should not be required - especially if the cheating spouse is unrepentent.

we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Michael:
Now it's even more complicated! I have also heard there are other regulations if a Catholic is marrying someone of the Greek Orthodox faith. I recall at least one situation where a Jewish person had already gotten a "get" (only way I can think of saying this!) and then had to get an annulment.
Re: big business. I have heard that the "big business" part is not in the fees for the annulment itself but for the increased contributions that hopefully occur if the individuals start to go to Mass every Sunday. But maybe this is just good business and good stewardship??
Best wishes to all Anglicans. bvo
James Lindsay
13 years 10 months ago
What are your thoughts about changing the rules on considering adultery and alcoholism/abuse?
David Pasinski
13 years 10 months ago
Many years ago, as an associate pastor with cursory training in canon law and no disposition towards it, I becasme very involved in ministry with divorced persons... and subsequently in becoming an advocate in the annulment charade. I had about 80 cases over the years.... little interaction with petitioners, a paucity of insight for all that trouble - never lost a case. A veritable Perry Mason!
Read Sheila Rausch Kennedy's "Shattered Faith"- not a great book, but valid points and experience from the other side. Tell me how often ecclesial courts annul other sacramental encounters for lack of "ability to make a commitment" or "coercion"? A lot of teen Confirmations may come into question!
The whole history of marriage legislation and sacramental development would shock many laity. This process takes some of the Church's fine minds and well disposed canonists and expects them to discern the indiscernable...unfair to all... and increasing percentages of Catholics know this as "Church marriages" continue to decline.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
My own thoughts:
1. Divorce in itself is heartbreaking and traumatic and non one should be "coerced" through any process that makes them "eligible" to receive the Eucharist. 
2. The Church has a right to maintain certain standards for those who wish to marry in the Church. Can someone join the American Medical Association without accepting certain demands made on one? No. Can Masonic Temples limit membership to those who agree with their beliefs and requirement? Yes. Can the Newspaper & Journalist Club expect members to have met certain standards? Of course! Can Apple Computer require its employees to not badmouth the iPod and not recommend Microsoft on work time? Of course!
We often forget the complex, onerous, and coercive requirements organizations frequently utilize.
My two cents. amdg. bill
Jim McCrea
13 years 10 months ago
The Catholic Church effectively gives tacit approval to divorce with what has become the charade of annulment.  In their 2002 book, “Catholic Divorce:  The Deception of Annulments”, Joseph Martos and Pierre Hegy state:
“Because the grounds for annulment have become so broad that practically anyone who applies for one can obtain it, many observers now regard annulments as ‘virtual divorces.’  After all, the same grounds for divorce in a civil court have ‘become grounds for the nonexistence of marriage in an ecclesiastical court.’  (Page 23)  To add to the deceit, many couples who receive annulments do so believing that their marriage was, in fact, sacramentally valid – that the marital bond did exist but that, over time, it began to break down.  These couples, understandably, choose not to disclose this part of the story to marriage tribunals so that they can qualify for an annulment.”
In other words it is the Catholic game of nudge-nudge, wink-wink.  It's time to call it what it is:  divorce.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
As usual, right to the point.
How can anyone know someone's state of mind in the past? Might this procedure have evolved over the years in order to change a canon law that was rigid and of no help to almost everyone? I have a cop friend who says, "you always have to use discretion with a any law." But you have articulated a viewpoint of more than a few concerning the possible "shamlike" nature going on.
Sad to hear about the lack of satisfaction when working with those 80 cases.
Along with you, it breaks my heart that some of the best minds in the Church are buried, not only in the meetings connected with annulments, but with the incredible paperwork. We are working some of our best priests to death.
as always, thanks for writing. bill
13 years 10 months ago
When I took RCIA classes to become a Catholic, the facilitator of the group suggested I get an annulment ( I was married for about a year, both of us were not Catholic) but I put off thinking about it until recently.  When I went to the tribubal website to check it out I was  depressed at seeing that my ex-husband would have to be contacted (things ended very badly), and that it was so expensive. I gave up on it.  It does seem hypocritical to me  for the church to say divorce is always wrong and then to make a business of  it.
Gregory Popcak
13 years 10 months ago
I appreciated your comments, Bill.  I get a lot of questions about annulments on our shows and from my clients and while I agree that the process is cumbersome and needs to be more pastoral, I think the biggest problem is more catechetical than institutional.
To my way of thinking, the annulment process is supposed to be a period of discernment.  When a couple gets engaged, the period of proximate marriage prep is SUPPOSED (although its never explained this way) to be a period of discernment.  The couple should approach the church with an attitude that says, ''We think God is calling us to marriage, let's discern the next steps together.''  Very similar to discerning the vocation of the priesthood. Preparation is a process of discernment between the person who believes they have a calling and the church.
Similarly, when someone enters into the annulment process, it is SUPPOSED (though it is never explained this way) to be a period of discernment.  The divorced person approaches the church and says, ''We can no longer live together, but I don't know what the status of the relationship is in God's eyes.'' And the church says,''OK, let's check our original discernment and figure out what your next steps should be.''  Through the process, the person and the church work together to determine whether the person is obliged to remain faithful to the marriage vows or if, for some reason, the marriage was not valid and they are free to pursue the relationship that God IS calling them to.
When I explain the process this way, people don't seem quite so put off by the whole thing, and even if their annulment experience is less than ideal, they can approach it with a better mindset, more equipped to experience the healing that can come from the process when one is properly disposed.
I realize that there will be those who will criticize my explanation as too idealistic, but as Catholics, we have to deal with ideals.  My job as a therapist, is not to encourage the church to lower the bar (because she didn't really set the bar in the first place) but to give my clients healthy ways to reach the bar.  The relationship between the theologian (or, in this case, the canon lawyer) and the counselor is the relationship between the architect and the general contractor.  In other words, the architect gets to draw some crazy, wild design and it is the GC's job-not to square off all the curves and eliminate the cantilevers-but to figure out a healthy way to make those crazy scribblings an exciting and dynamic reality.
My problem with a lot of therapists-and pastoral ministers-is that the church hands them the plans for the Sydney opera house (or CCTV's new Beijing headquarters) and they respond with, ''That's nuts!  Here's, let's do it this way'' and, instead, they build the same old square box they always built. We didn't need the incarnation to do that!   I think the annulment process gives us therapists a great opportunity to do some really creative and authentically pastoral work without naysaying the process.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Mr. McRae:
Thanks for mentioning that book. I have not seen it and would like to look at it.
I believe that if a marriage breaks down due to certain factors one can receive the annulment based on "difficulty to maintain a valid matrimonial union."
Would we be better off if there were no annulments for any reason and no one who was divorced could remarry in the Church?
I have seen many people helped by annulments, and many priests who have created effective ministries. A procedure/law that can give freedom to many of the faithful might not be perfect, but I think it would be worse for many if this opportunity did not exist.
I entirely understand the nudge-nudge wink-wink bit, but I can't think of any human organization or group of people that can go through life without using this defense at least occasionally.
I can't think of a perfect solution.
thanks very much for writing. amdg bill
David Nickol
13 years 10 months ago
William Van Ornum:
It seems to me we have an interesting situation when Pope Benedict XVI, on the one hand, and those Catholics and non-Catholics who are extremely cynical about the annulment process, on the other, come close to expressing the same view. See this article, for instance:
According to statistics I have seen, those seeking annulments in the United States almost always are granted them. And the United States accounts for somewhere between 50 and 75 percent of all annulments in the world! It is rather difficult to believe that almost every marriage that breaks down was not validly entered into. One has to ask why the Church in America is performing so many marriages that turn out later, upon close investigation, not to be marriages.
You say the following: ''I believe that if a marriage breaks down due to certain factors one can receive the annulment based on 'difficulty to maintain a valid matrimonial union.''' But it is my understanding that an annulment can be legitimately granted only if a valid marriage was never entered into at all. So annulments are not for marriages that break down. They are for marriages that never existed from the beginning. The article notes:
Pope Benedict said tribunal judges must remember there is a difference between the full maturity and understanding that people should strive to develop over time and ''canonical maturity, which is the minimum point of departure for the validity of a marriage.''In addition, he said, granting an annulment on the basis of the ''psychic incapacity'' of the husband or wife requires that the tribunal establish and document the fact that the person had a serious psychological or psychiatric problem at the time the wedding was celebrated.
It seems to me you (and Greg Popcak) - insofar as you are discussing the annulment situation in the United States - are defending a system that the current pope and his predecessor were critical of. 
I am, by the way, on the side of the cynics. I think the liberal granting of annulments is a reasonable and compassionate thing to do . . . except that it raises serious questions about the Church's teachings regarding marriage. You can't on the one hand seriously maintain the indissolubility of marriage and on the other hand grant an annulment to practically everyone who wants one. I personally don't think it is reasonable to interpret Jesus's words on divorce as an absolute prohibition. 
Pearce Shea
13 years 10 months ago
Frankly, having done a little anullment work and knowing a few tribunal priests, I would hazard a guess that the staggering number of annullments made in the US has more to do with shoddy catechesis than anything else.
Gregory Popcak
13 years 10 months ago
Hello David,
I'm not really in favor of annulments any more than I am in favor of amputations.  I just understand that sometimes they need to be done.  I also agree that we need to get to the point where we have better ways of dealing with the cultural problem.
I agree with Pope Benedict (I'm sure he's thrilled to hear it) but the problem is that "canonical maturity" is virtually meaningless.  Unless canonists come up with an operational definition (and perhaps they have, I claim no knowledge here) then that phrase is going to mean whatever someone says it does.  That said, I do agree that emotional illnesses such as mood disorders and even substance abuse disorders contracted AFTER marriage have no bearing on marital validity, nor should the pursuit of "psychic maturity."
But beyond that, things break down.  Personality disorders are relatively common, affecting at least 15% of the general population (according to the J. of Clin Psychiatry).  All of those begin in early childhood and would be significant impediments.  The breakdown of the family leads to an incomplete and improper remote preparation for marriage.  Children whose parents divorce are 41% more likely to divorce and if those parents remarry after divorce, children are 91% more likely to divorce.  I've heard more than one canonist argue that widespread use of contraception use can be taken to be an intention to willfully defy the church's definition of a valid marriage (the willingness to accept children as a gift from the Lord).  I think our society is deficient enough to cause a host of serious psychosocial disorders that can render one incapable of entering into marriage as the church defines it.
Honestly, though, if the church really wants to get serious about annulments.  Stop requiring a couple to get a civil divorce first.  That's just policy, not canon law.  It's meant to be concrete proof that there's no hope of reconciliation, but frankly I help couples reconcile after divore all the time.  Anyway, requiring divorce before allowing the anulment to go forward paints couples and the church into a corner.  Let a couple see if they can get an annulment first based on whatever grounds the church sees fit to impose, then the couple can choose to seek a civil divorce (or not) based on the findings.  The ex post facto stuff leads to all the largely legitimate kvetching from couples about "jumping through hoops."  For that matter, enforce the canon requiring couples to seek permission from the bishop before separating except in emergencies.  There are legitimate and pastoral remedies available.  The institutions church  just don't have the courage to educate others in them or the deftness to use them pastorally.
David Nickol
13 years 10 months ago
I have one further thought about marriage, Jesus, and annulments. Jewish marriages in first-century Palestine were arranged marriages. If Jesus really intended an absolute prohibition against divorce, he was not talking about marriages in which the bride and groom had "canonical maturity" or psychological maturity. He was talking about two people who were stuck with each other because their families had made what was essentially an economic arrangement. By today's standards, probably the overwhelming majority of married couples living at the time of Jesus had grounds for annulments.  
Barbara DeLorenzi
13 years 10 months ago
I have not felt compassionately served by the annulment process, unfortunately. My husband (a nonCatholic) left me and I still haven't a clue where in the world he is. I have tried to find him, out of pure curiosity, but to no avail. I live in a different country from the one in which I was married. When I approached the local archdiocese and presented my history, I was told I seemed to have a good case, but they could not try the case in their tribunal. I would have to forward the data to the archdiocese in which we were married. I did this and was told my case was insufficient for an annulment. They did not even return my dossier to me. There was no way my ex-husband could be interviewed because no one knew where he was. I just fell through the canonical cracks.
I felt deserted by my church as well as by my husband. Actually, my ex-husband treated me better in that, nine years after I last saw him, he telephoned to tell me he was sorry. That was nearly forty years ago and he was vague about his location and expressed no desire to reconcile.  I never pursued the issue of annulment further and I never felt free to remarry. I spent years estranged from the church, although I eventually reconnected, being convinced of God's acceptance of me.
I wish there were a more pastoral approach to the annulment process. Legalisms are cold and can leave innocent victims in their wake.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
The most effective and pastoral approach for you and many others, I think, involves a trained advocate (who volunteer their time) listen to your questions and try to find answers. I am sorry that did not occur in your case, and so many others. I made the title of this article "the varieties of annulment experience" to emphasize there would be continuum of experiences, depending on the diocese and the workers contacted in that diocese. 
It is a huge commitment to be an advocate and most of us, I think, find it too hard to take on this role. 
How do we inspire more persons to become advocates? This seems one of the issues to me. In your situation you did not receive the kind of treatment that was helpful. 
If you want to send me a private email I might have an idea or two for you.
Thanks again for your thoughtful reading and comments. amdg. bill
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Not sure what you mean by question on adultery and substance abuse...if you are asking if these can be grounds...if they are symptomatic of a chronic psychological condition such as narcissism..then they can support the existence of a psychological condition relevant to an annulment...hope this is clear..if not, please write back. bill
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Greg:
Thank you for your comments and for your ongoing and helpful ministry.
A civil divorce must be granted before the Church in the United States will grant an annulment. This has been working policy for 35 or so years. Back then, I believe the Church granted someone an annulment prior to the civil divorce and was sued (successfully) by the other party for alienation of effection. amdg. bill
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Winifred:
We agree. As noted in my response to Michael above, my own personal opinion is that reception of communion is independent of marital or annulment status. Too much harm has been caused by this Church rule, and it is a Church rule and not dogma or belief. Church rules can and many times should be changed. And many more people in the Church need to be more compassionate towards those of us who are divorced. bill
Jim McCrea
13 years 10 months ago
I prefer honesty to the time-honored Catholic practice of convoluted reasoning to allow up when only down if permitted.
Divorce is divorce.  The reasons behind it, in the final analysis, are irrelevant.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear David Nichol:
I think I'm more a reformer of the annulment process than a defender. I think in the article and my comments i have suggested changes and things to work on that will keep any Tribunal or Bishops Conference busy if they were to put this on the agenda:
1. Psychologists and Tribunal Judges do not need to ferret out every painful detail in a person's past. They need to be compassionate and non-judgmental and there is a "range of experiences" depending on the diocese, psychologist, and judge.
2. There should be greater transparency about the annulment process.
3. Innocent people have been hurt by the annulment process.
4. We are are burning out some of our best priests and putting their physical health at risk when a priest is required to hold down two full-time and demanding jobs (Pastor and Tribunal Judge) at the same time.
5. The sheer amount of paperwork in the annulment process breaks my heart.
6. It is regretful that many people do not experience the annulment process as effective or respectful. This can be helped by better training and support of those who work in this ministry.
7. We desperately need more trained advocates. They are volunteers. Most of us don't have the stamina to take on this tremendous responsibility.
8.. No one should be coerced into obtaining an annulment so that they are then "free" to receive the Eucharist.
So here's eight specific areas of criticism from me toward the process. I'm not yet cynical, bur discussion of reform must also be in a context of appreciation of the great amount of work done by those in the Tribunal ministry who are under-appreciated or misunderstood.
Thanks for saying good things about our Pope. He needs support this week. I started reading one of his books and found he quoted C.S. Lewis on the first page! How more ecumenical can one get?
keep writing to us. thanks, bill
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Peter Shore:
Agreed. We need better catechesis. I would place a great deal of this responsibility on our lay people. How many of us can devote the amount of time, energy, and commitment to be part of this process in our parish?
keep writing. bill
13 years 10 months ago
Having extremely limited knowledge in canon law and no personal experience with the process, I'm deliberately going to refrain from commenting directly on that point. However, a great deal of the discussion seems to be revolving around, at least implicitly, questions as to the authority of the Church, which is a separate issue.

You seem to be responding to this issue in posting #9 above. In the 2nd bullet point you make the relevant point that membership is always subject to requirements/standards, seemingly defending the Church's authority and right to define our common beliefs as well as the implications of those belief in how we lead our lives. (I would also argue further that membership itself is defined by the common beliefs and rules of conduct.)

At the same time, in your earlier statement (the first bullet point in posting #9), you appear to chafe at the idea that the Church defines how we are to be disposed to receive the Eucharist. I'm having trouble squaring your two statements. Perhaps I've misunderstood you, but the language you've chosen to express yourself almost seems to suggest you believe we have some fundamental right to receive the Eucharist, regardless of how we are disposed. If so, why would you accept the Church's authority to define requirements to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony and not accept the Church's authority to define requirements to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist?


we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Barbara DeLorenzi:
Much of what I have written to Crystal Watson applies to your situation also. I would like to think your experience might have been different had you approached another person, another diocese. Send me a private message if you still desire to seek an annulment and I will try to connect you with a better experience. bill
13 years 10 months ago
Thanks for the info about annulment advocates and the kind offer of help - I may someday take you up on that. You were right in what you said about children of divorce often ending up divorced, at least in my case - my mom was married/divorced three times.
I can imagine one way for the church to resolve these annulment problems but I'd guess it wouldn't be acceptable .... to allow people to discern for themselves or with  a spiritual dirctor about divorce and allow the decision to be between them and God, not up to the church.    Anglican Keith Ward wrote a bit on what Jesus might have had in mind with his words on divorce, which I posted a while ago at my own blog -
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Hi Susan:
Maybe I am being inconsistent...not sure...but don't think I am. Will try again.
1. In each case, Sacrament of Marriage and Sacrament of Eucharist, the Church has the right to set down the rules.
2. My own personal "opinion" or "thoughts" is that the Church should think about separating marital status from reception of Eucharist. This does not mean we all get to do what we want right now. Part of maturity in any situation is going along with demands that life makes of us. My "opinion" has no bearing on what other people should do. I am not advocating going against what is now the Church teaching.
I am saying that as a psychologist who has worked with over 1,000 persons going for an annulment, I have seen much undue hurt and pain caused by someone's inability to receive the Eucharist because they are being faithful and following Church rules. Many divorced persons would benefit from being able to be present at the Lord's supper, especially those with children. 
I think I'm free to have my thoughts, as I think anyone is allowed in the Church. Recently I read Mother Teresa's autobiography and was amazed at her struggle with doubts.  Thoughts or internal doubts do not make us unfaithful to Church teaching.  (BTW I have been credentialed by the Church as a Peritus or expert witness and am eligible to submit opinions to the Supreme Court of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Rota. I would like to think I have some helpful ideas in view of this experience.)
I don't see anywhere where I am doubting the authority of the Church. I have made a few suggestions that might be helpful to those who job it is to formulate teaching for us. Even Cardinal Egan expressed a few "personal thoughts" regarding the possibility of married priests. He wasn't challenging Church teaching. (BTW, he was the primary author of the 1983 Code of Canon Law).
thanks for writing. bill
Claire Mathieu
13 years 10 months ago
My marriage was annulled.

On the good side:
- I am happy that my official status with the church corresponds to the reality
- Since the annulment, I get along much better with my ex-husband's new spouse, now that I know that my marriage was never meant to happen anyway

On the bad side:
- I feel guilty when I see some friends who are divorced remarried and have to forego communion. They are marginalized, and instead of sticking by them I took the chance to get back to the rank of the approved Catholics in good standing. I left them behind. As a Christian I can't help but feel that I should have stayed with the beaten up, the suffering, the poor, the marginalized, and that it was rather cowardly of me to leave the ranks of the people threatened by unjust exclusion from Communion.

Bai Macfarlane
13 years 10 months ago
This position of this article is contrary to the position of the One Holy Catholic Church.  The author writes, "In reflecting on a failed marriage, most of us will recognize poor judgment we displayed in choice of partner, and even denial or glossing over problems or incompatibilities that later grew to be reasons for separating."
The authoritative teacher for Catholics, Pope Benedict teaches, "One must avoid pseudo-pastoral claims that would situate questions on a purely horizontal plane, in which what matters is to satisfy subjective requests to arrive at a declaration of nullity at any cost, so that the parties may be able to overcome, among other things, obstacles to receiving the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist." . . . "In this sense, existential, person-centred and relational consideration of the conjugal union can never be at the expense of indissolubility" . . . "there is a grave risk of losing any objective reference point for pronouncements on nullity, by transforming every conjugal difficulty into a symptom of failure to establish a union whose essential nucleus of justice the indissoluble bond is effectively denied."
See original, Address to the Roman Rota 2010
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Bai Macfariane:
Thank you very much for writing and sending along the quotation from the Holy Father.
I think if you read the paragraph from which you quoted that sentence of mine, you will see that I am not expostulating that these grounds constitute in an ipso facto manner both necessary and sufficient grounds for annulment on a vertical plane, thereby negating the formulations of Canon Law referring to the appropriate psychological grounds that require a serious psychological anomaly, not merely difficulties or problems of the garden-variety human nature that are typically encountered amongst the human condition and are therefore considered as being grouped on a horizontal plane. 
Please, Bai Macfarlane, this is also a blog where there is a certain informality and back and forth of information. Can you imagine my reaction when, after doing my best to help others understand this topic, the first sentence reads that my article is contrary to the position of the One Holy Catholic Church, without in any way allowing for an answer from me? If there were to be a formal paper, I would certainly consult with a canon lawyer to make sure I wasn't going against the Church.
I think the quote from the Holy Father came from his yearly address to the Roman Rota, which are remarks that are not binding and not taught in an ex cathedra manner.
I would hope and ask that all participating here keep in mind St. Ignatius's presupposition that ''every good Christian ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor's statement than to condemn it.'' This has been more strongly phrased as a direct commandment elsewhere: ''Judge not, lest ye be judged.'' These binding teachings certainly supercede any differences of opinion we might have on difficult topics we talk about and grapple with as we try to help each other. I think Papa Bendedict would agree, strongly.
About fifteen years ago I worked on a book with Cardinal O'Connor, and sent this to Cardinal Ratzinger before publication and asked if there was anything contrary to Catholic teaching within. I received a beautiful note in response, which I treasure.
Thank you for bringing up again an important topic, but also an important issue relevant to future postings on other matters, and I hope my response can guide you a bit in future postings, which are appreciated in advance. best, bill
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Marie C. MacFarlane is the contact person for "Mary's Advocates: Upholding True Marriage." I certainly agree with the overall theme here as well as the commitment and devotion which appear to be part of this organization. Readers can learn more at http://www.marysadvocates.org/about_contact.html.
Marie, I also  see that you have a canon law advisor from Ave Maria Law School. If you can send me contact info for this person, I'd like to send to him your letter and my response and ask for his overall opinion. If you'd like me to do this, please email me privately. best and amdg, bill
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Claire:
Your comments are in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas who took great pains to list pros and cons on various topics. And thanks for reminding all of us about the many kinds of marginalization across the globe and their need for our compassion. thanks for writing. bill
James Lindsay
13 years 10 months ago
I was actually not talking about annulments but about the acceptance of divorce in some circumstances. While abuse and alcoholism have antecedent roots (the prior as the result of childhood abuse or alcoholism, while 80% of alcoholic cases have a genetic predisposition), adultery has to do with sin by one party. Since we no longer stone the guilty party - which would free the injured party to remarry - allowing the injured party to divorce seems appropriate.

As for the Church holding fast to the Gospel teaching - I think holding people to the letter of that passage is the kind of proof texting that we often accuse the Protestants of. As I said in my article, what our Lord was talking about in this instance was leveling the playing field between the sexes, not forcing people to stay married. He was asserting the women were no longer property. Our marriage regulations should be updated with that fact in mind. I believe that forcing either party to endure a bad marriage where they are being victimized or were abandonned turns Christ's teaching on its ear.
James Lindsay
13 years 10 months ago
The "Church Rule" about reception of Eucharist when remarried but not annulled has to do with the fact that one is considered to be committing adultery against the spouse to whom one was married before. Adultery is considered a mortal sin, which prevents reception of Communion. Being divorced itself is not grounds for avoiding Communion - or at least should not be.

Of course, there can be debate as to whether the teaching on reception of the Eucharist is simply a bad example of bad proof texting, since what we now consider to be unworthy of reception is much different than what St. Paul was talking about. There was a much smaller list of "mortal sins" in those days.

In a Church with a natural law tradition, things are wrong or not wrong, regardless of "the rules." In some cases, when we change "the rules" it is because we have discerned the truth differently, not changed it. This is what makes Canon Law so much fun. While binding and loosing does transfer moral risk in following teaching to the Church from the individual - it does not manufacture truth or serve as an excuse to ignore conscience.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Michael,
Thank you for clarifying many things for us on your last post. I'm glad that you and others find enjoyment in canon law, at this point I feel a need to go fishing, listen to a Yankee (or Mets or Red Sox etc.) game, or relax with a good novel.
And thanks for all your time and expertise the past two days.
best, bill
13 years 10 months ago
I think in days of yore, complaints about the rich getting annulments was more prevalent and perhaps accurate.
Annulments have become quite easier to obtain on psychological grounds.
What is hard for people to appreciate is the impact on the other person not seeking the annulment, especially if it occurs after a number of years and children are present.
Also, the canonical process may strike many as cumbersome and labyrinthine.
Finally, we've recently seen Cardinal Schoenbrun ask about Communion for divoreced/remarred Catholics - if that area opens up, what impact wil that have on the annulment process?
Gregory Popcak
13 years 10 months ago
Hi Bill,
I was aware of the alienation of affection issue.  It is my understanding that no states except Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah still allow alienation of affection and they might overturn those laws within the decade. 
Perhaps its time to rethink the policy so that couples can stop being forced into an untenable situation, pastorally speaking, and the church can stop feeling obliged to grant annulments to simply ratify the civil divorce. 
13 years 10 months ago
You, Mr. Ornum, wrote: The technical language often is something like this: “Mr. Jones was unable to freely enter into/and or maintain a valid matrimonial union.”

That would pretty much cover V’s case. He married M and they lived happily for 32 years when V decided he had not been happy, divorced M, breaking her heart, petitioned and received an annulment, crushing her soul and has lived “happily” ever since with J.

Meanwhile M gets around these days with a walker, her life partner taken from her by the “church.” I don’t think it was the “church” that did this damage, but on to another story.

V’s brother L had as much reason to divorce his wife R, but instead he pushed her around in a wheelchair as she became increasingly unable to care for herself. He cut up her meat, washed her, dressed her, and packed that wheelchair in the trunk of their car to take her everywhere he went.

Now I will make a judgment because not to judge my brother makes me worse than he (St. Augustine). If both brothers, V and L, die in their present state, are both going to enjoy the eternal pleasure of heaven, or will one be begging the other for a drop of water? God is just. To welcome both brothers as they live now would not be just, charitable nor merciful.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Sharelle:
Thanks for writing, and I am also reminded of Lazarus. I have met many people like L.  They serve as an inspiration for all of us. I especially wish young people today had many, many role models like this. At this point, I am sincerely more concerned about where I might be headed on Judgment Day, and I hope to learn more from people like L. Thanks for writing, amdg,  bill 
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Hi Greg,
Many thanks for researching this. I'm way over my head now, so I am going to refer any questions on canon law to the Canon Law Society of America.
If you want to contact them, or attend this year's meeting, it  is in October in Buffalo, NY. Information about CLSA and the convention can be found at: https://clsa.site-ym.com/
On the left, one can click the link for their bookstore and order the CD, "Jurisprudence: A Collection of U.S. Tribunal Decisions". It is a bargain for only $17.50.
amdg, bill
Sheryl Temaat
13 years 10 months ago
The Canon Law Society of America, Mr. Ornum, is the place to go for answers to questions about annulment if you want to know what is really going on. I have a copy of Jurisprudence: A Collection of U.S. Tribunal Decisions. Case #9706 is about a couple who were married before Vatican II in 1951 and their marriage was declared null under the new interpretations in 1991 under lack of due discretion. This case is noteworthy because the attending psychologist for the petitioner (the husband) declared that he “is now ready and prepared for marriage” (his second after the annulment). His age by that time? Seventy!

The rest of the case is educational as well, but that fact alone makes us think we are dealing with clowns. There is no concern for the salvation of souls among modern tribunalists. And I am sure there are exceptions, but there are too many who care about the interpersonal relationship between the two parties and nothing else.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Sharelle,
Please, our guidelines for the blog at AMERICA ask everyone who participates in the blog to use a full name that is their real name. The reason behind this is that in many newspapers/magazines that lack this policy, the forum turns into a melee of name-calling and dissension. I'm sure you understand this.
Your recommendation of the Canon Law Society is a good one. Perhaps this fine group deserves more visibility in the Church. Perhaps even this magazine might consider an extensive feature story on CLSA including interviews with some of its members, and we could ask readers like you what kind of questions to ask.
Are there any other interesting cases you'd like to point out for the benefit of all of us?
amdg. bill
Jodi Wagner
13 years 10 months ago
Greg's comments about the need for US tribunals to rethink their working policy of requiring a civil divorce before accepting a petition for a decree of nullity is dead on. There is really not a coherent argument for the requirement for civil divorce. The threat of an alienation of affection lawsuit is a non-existant and a civil divorce does not prove that the spouses are beyond reconciliation. The ''working policy'' of the US tribunals simply highlights a reluctance to get involved in any kind of discernment regarding unhappy marriages. But this is precisely an area where the Church needs to get involved and has a responsibility. Sadly, decrees of nullity often seem to be nothing more that a rubber-stamp of a unhappy spouse's decision they could no longer keep their vows.
we vnornm
13 years 10 months ago
Dear Jodi:
This idea, then, along with the emphasis on discernment, is intriguing. I wonder if this approach is used in any of the other countries of the world? best, bill

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