Sunday, September 21, 2014

Annulment reform: the problems

The Pope has appointed a commission to look into the annulment process, with a view to its simplification. They may come up with some good ideas: training, funding, dealing with delays and backlogs, and better marriage preparation. As a way of solving the 'Communion for the Divorced' issue, however, it is fraught with difficulties. I've mentioned them before on this blog (and here), here is an aide memoir.

1. Quicker and easier annulments are not what the progressives are asking for.

Readers will probably have encountered this attitude: 'I'm divorced and remarried and I don't want an annulment'. They don't want to say that the first marriage was not a real marriage. A famous example of the genre is journalist and former editor of the Catholic Herald, Cristina Odone. Basil Loftus has expressed the same idea. It comes down to the idea that the concept of 'putative marriage' is regarded as derogatory. It is a bit like convert Anglican clergy wanting their Anglican ministry to be acknowledged in some way. I can't help feeling, in the case of marriage, that there may be a fear of asking and being told not that the first marriage was never valid, but that it was...

2. Quicker and easier annulments undermine the certainty that the subsequent marriage is valid.

If the confidence of the Faithful in the annulment process is undermined, we will end up in a situation in which those who have been through the process and remarried are regarded, explicitly or not, as in a dubious or second-class situation. They won't get what they actually want, a publicly recognised valid new marriage, unless the process of annulment is seen by everyone as serious.

Did I say 'we could end up...?' Sorry, in places where the annulment process has been speeded up successfully, we've already arrived.

3. Quicker and easier annulments undermine Catholic marriages.

Since annulments are not considered until after a civil divorce, the prospect of an easy annulment will encourage people in rocky marriages to split up. They may also be influenced by the idea that, since apparently so few marriages are valid, theirs might not have been.

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  1. As someone who is considering marriage, I find the whole idea of making annulment process easy diabolically evil and I am angered by it.

    I agree with everything you have said. I am angered by the fact that our prelates think it is a good idea to solve the problem of a divorce culture by making it easy to move on to the next "marriage". Don't they know that making things easier only lead more and more people to actually try to obtain one?

    How would a Catholic start a marriage anymore with the hope of it being a lasting one? As soon as one of the spouse feels it is "too hard", there is a simple annulment process to help their cause. I am pretty sure there will be priests willing to convince the other spouse (for the sake of the spouse that wants an annulment) that the marriage was indeed invalid. Perhaps they will make that spouse who is refusing to go forward with an annulment feel like they are being "unchristian" or as "hindering the temporal and even the spiritual well-being of the other spouse".

    Overall, my expectation is that the Church was suppossed to encourage families to stay together. An annulment should be a serious matter which requires serious analysis. It cannot be some analysis based on cutting corners with the intent to somehow find some reason to just grant the annulment. *It should be a devil's advocate process where the marriage is held as valid unless it is extremely clear that there is reason to think it invalid.*

    Otherwise, how can one enter in to a Catholic marriage with joy that it is something till death when they know that the Church is just trying more and more to simplify getting an annulment (which after being "simplified" to a certain extent, might as well be called a fancy name for a divorce).

    It just feels like the attack on the Catholic family is now coming from places inside our very Church.

  2. The Church, in reality, is proposing that all marriages contracted since the Second Vatican Council (or some other unspecified date from the past), are effectively invalid if so desired by one or both of the contracted parties.

    Does this development now extend to the other sacraments? If so, then at a future point, another Walter Kaper could advise a future pope of this fact and declare the entire post-Vatican II period effectively null and void.

    The example of the cycling Lance Armstrong is worthy of investigation. Did he or did he not win the Tour de France? Of no less interest is that he was never exposed by an external agency but the exposure was an 'inside job'. It's as if erstwhile teammates went 'long' with him for profit and the shorted him when his stock was highest. On both trades making a profit. In other words, the uncovering of 'truth' has been exposed by a dubious and arguably amoral mechanism.

    To conclude from the above example, the whole sport of cycling is in such a mess that even what goodness there is may be tainted and open to doubt.

    Does that sum up the contemporary Church?

  3. Rather than reforming the annulment process, it would be better simply to abolish it altogether, as being inherently dishonest. The Church does recognise divorce and remarriage, seeing that nobody can marry again in church, even after an annulment, unless they are legally divorced. This shows that the Church does not own marriage and must operate according to the legalities of it. The Church could bless all those who are legally married and celebrate mass for them if they desire it - and where they are divorced leave open the question of whether the first marriage was indissoluble or not - let God sort that out. After all a couple sacramentally and therefore indissolubly married may well have only a sham marriage, whereas we probably all know couples who have never married and yet are as intimately and unbreakably united in every real sense as anyone could be. The inner reality of a human relationship like marriage cannot be made to fit legal or doctrinal formulas.
    Needless to say abolishing annulment would save the expense of the tribunals and would relieve people of having to go through what is often a harrowing ordeal ending in disappointment. Only the Catholic mania for impossible exact definition prevents us doing the commonsensical thing.

    1. Actually, 'Savoranola', most people want to know that they are embarking on a valid marriage. Marriage tribunals exist only because people appeal to them.

    2. I agree very much, people do want to know that their marriage is valid - legally or doctrinally or both. But that will not in itself help them grow into a lasting successful marriage - this is what I was talking about as well as the complex relation between marriage in that sense and the external legal or doctrinal side of it.
      People appeal to tribunals, I would have thought, because if they are Catholics annulment is the only way by which the Church allows them to be remarried in church. I know people who might have appealed for an annulment and could well have got one, but knowing what is involved could not face it, and so prefer to remain in an irregular situation - and that cannot be good either. But reforming annulment or making it easier is not the answer. A fundamental rethink is what is needed.

  4. By the way, when TC is says annulment might as well be a fancy name for divorce it already is! That is exactly what it is!

    1. Hold on there. As you might have read in my post, I am very much against a divorce culture. I want to see laws, norms and other sort of cultural things put in place to discourage divorce.

      What I am against is the reduction or simplification of annulments to such an extent that it is merely a "ask and you shall receive". The entire idea of wanting to simplify annulment process seems to communicate a presumption that many who are divorced or remarried already had invalid marriages as well. All of this suggests to me that if the Church continues down this road, she will only foster a divorce culture rather than do anything to oppose it.

      To put this another way, the reason I dislike this move (and granting of annulments abundantly even in this current system) is because it leads many like you to think that annulments are just another fancy word for divorce. Thankfully, this is not the case globally. But if the Church makes this move, pretty soon it will be the case globally.

      Also, annulments must exist and be granted because there is such a thing as a null marriage. If a spouse married the other under manifest coercion for an example, it would be right for the Church to grant an annulment.

      To say that annulment process should be abolished because it is prone to abuse is like saying that we should abolish the justice system because it doesn't always make the right decisions. I think the real solution lies in tightening the process to take a devil's advocate view toward those who want an annulment and taking the time to analyze the facts rather than do short cuts.

  5. I've never understood why one cannot obtain a decree of nullity without a civil divorce. If a person made a binding promise, one may wish to keep that promise, even if one would prefer, mutatis mutandi, that the promise were not binding. One ought not to be compelled to walk away from the commitment before obtaining the canonical determination of whether or not it actually exists.

    1. The reason is, as I mentioned before, that the Church must operate within the law. Annulment in the Church has no legal standing, so that anyone who wants to marry again in church, if it is to be a legal as well as an ecclesiastical ceremony, has to be legally divorced - to this extent the Church does (and has to) recognise the validity of divorce and remarriage.
      This is one reason why annulment is a very questionable procedure. Another is that, as interpreted now (apart front he rare cases of defect of form), it implies that people are properly, validly married if they have the right attitudes and motivations when they get married, are truly intending to be faithful and so on. If it can be determined that they did not have these dispositions the Church argues that it is was never a true marriage. But these are things impossible to assess in another person, and in any case marriage as a relationship does not work or not according to its beginning. People grow into marriage as they go along, they develop the appropriate dispositions by being married.
      I am not wanting to criticise the Church really. I think it is doing what it can to help people in the impossible dilemmas they get into, and I no more want to foster a divorce culture than TC does. But the Church is trying to do the impossible - hold its doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage together with the evident fact that some marriages, real marriages, do dissolve. Whatever the way forward may be, it can only start with acknowledging this truth and reality.

  6. No one has to be a Catholic a Catholic as the good Cardinal recently said, but if you are, you must accept Catholic doctrine.

    It is Catholic doctrine that valid marriage is indissoluble. Historically certain reasons have been demonstrated as making a marriage invalid, an example would be a female forcibly made to marry against her will.
    The annulment process does not and cannot cancel an existing valid marriage, whether recent or lengthy. It can only declare that an apparent marriage does not and never has existed.

    Non valid marriages between intelligent consenting individuals are very rarely invalid. Therefore declarations of annulment are by definition likely to be rare and must come after specialist investigation involving the input of both parties.

    Any process which hastens, or worse still, makes easier a declaration of annulment, is likely to be defective in essence, meaning that the marriage is probably still valid and the parties, should they continue to receive Holy Communion are still objectively in a state of Mortal Sin.

    That is simple, objective logic. It has nothing to do with judgementalism, or “mercy” or “pastoralism”, or whatever.

    Therefore, within Catholicism, there is no place at all for making the annulment process “easier”.

    As for civil law, the divorced and remarried, just like any other grievous sinners cannot and should not be excluded from going to church. Quite the contrary. They must however, within the rules of the Catholic Church, be forbidden to receive Holy Communion without Confession and a firm purpose of amendment

    We are after all required to receive Holy Communion only once a year, so what is all the fuss about?

  7. Simple objective logic maybe, but in the real world people make mistakes, things go awry in their lives, marriages fall apart through the stress and difficulties of living. Should not the Church temper its iron laws in practice with mercy and compassion?
    Maybe it would be enough to receive Holy Communion only once in a lifetime or only ever attend one Mass. The fuss surely is that the Eucharist is central to our lives as followers of Christ and being barred from communion is a real painful loss. But never mind, no doubt that is good for sinners' souls and keeps them firmly in their place outside the charmed circle of the orthodox and righteous. Funny, I thought is was the unrighteous God has most concern for.

    1. If a person who has messed up, repents and agrees to live chastely, they can come back to confession and receive communion even today.

      What you are asking for is the Church to simply allow someone to continue in sin and damn themselves even more by receiving communion.

      The Church stands firms so that

      1) Those who are affected by her stance will repent of their ways and come back in to the fold (and in the case of communion, so that they don't bring about more guilt upon themselves)
      2) Those who are inside the fold will be deterred from falling in to the same sin or 'messing up'

      As you can see, the Church has not alienated anyone.

  8. Would that everything was as simplistic and mechanical as that. Fortunately for us God entered into the fullness, variety and often messiness of human life as it actually is