30 January 2009

Slowing Down the Annulment Mill?

In a post sure to please reader and commenter "marriedforlife", this post contains an interview transcript from an Australian radio program concerning the recent comments from the Holy Father to the Roman Rota, and an AP story on those comments underneath.

The AP article is the main story, but I just love this Australian radio interview because of some hand-wringing of the "expert" guest, who seems a little afraid of "reactionary" Archbishop Burke.
The interview:

AM - Vatican sharpens message on marriage annulments

AM - Friday, 30 January , 2009 08:24:00
Reporter: Nick Lucchinelli

PETER CAVE: The Vatican has sent a strong message about what it sees as the concerning trend of Catholics citing psychology as a reason to annul a marriage.

Pope Benedict XVI is concerned about what he calls the "almost automatic declarations of annulment under the pretext of no matter what psychological immaturity or weakness."

An annulled marriage means the church considers that it never existed and for Catholics who remarry it's critically important - they can be denied Communion without one.

Nick Lucchinelli has been discussing the issue with the Catholic social commentator and former priest, Paul Collins.

PAUL COLLINS: About 30 to 40 years ago they started, with the increasing incidence of divorce, the Church started to develop these psychological grounds; that is a person was too immature to make a lifelong commitment and so if a marriage breaks up, a Catholic can apply for an annulment on the grounds of what is called lack of due discretion.

Essentially this means that the person was simply unable because of immaturity to make a lifelong commitment. The way the process works, it can take 18 months or more, is that friends and family are consulted as to the level of maturity of the person at the time of the marriage.

NICK LUCCHINELLI: And based on these latest comments by Pope Benedict XVI, it would seem he thinks that this is a bit of a fig leaf to allow Catholics to avoid the responsibilities that they have when they enter into a marriage.

PAUL COLLINS: Well that's been his opinion for quite a long time. When he was a Cardinal working in the Vatican he certainly gave expression to that point of view and in the latter part of the papacy of Pope John Paul II, there are a number of public statements which really were basically pressurising the American bishops to back off this grounds for the granting of a marriage annulment.

NICK LUCCHINELLI: The basis upon which people enter into a marriage under the Catholic Church is pretty black and white isn't it? That it is a valid contract entered into between two willing parties and ratified by divine sanction; that's the official church law, is it not?

PAUL COLLINS: Yes, that's quite correct. That is exactly what the Church says but there are, people can say that they are doing that but the question is whether at the time they are sufficiently mature to be able to make that level of serious commitment. And what this provision does is try to provide them with some type of pastoral grounds if their marriage breaks down irretrievably so that they can continue to practice as Catholics and to have their, if they were to enter into another marriage, to have that celebrated in the Church.

NICK LUCCHINELLI: And is there a broader political play going on here within the Church?

PAUL COLLINS: Well there could be. I mean I was a little surprised as to why this would suddenly be announced at the present moment and the only connection that I can make is that just recently Pope Benedict XVI has appointed an extremely, a hyper-conservative I would say, a reactionary American Archbishop, Archbishop Raymond Burke.

The former Archbishop of St Louis has been appointed to what is essentially the Vatican's Appeals Court. It is called the Signatura. Burke is a Canon lawyer, an extremely conservative one, and I suspect that there may be some influence coming from Burke and from others like him within the Vatican if you like pressuring Pope Benedict to do something about this.

And probably the signal is largely to the American bishops rather than to anyone else. And of course Benedict agrees with them so I don't think he would need a great deal of persuading.


Pope decries pessimism about marriage

By NICOLE WINFIELD – 22 hours ago

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI decried what he called a spreading pessimism about marriage, saying Thursday it is not the impossible undertaking many make it out to be.

Benedict was addressing the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal that decides marriage annulments, the process by which the church effectively declares that a marriage never took place.

Circumstances for granting annulments include refusal by a husband or a wife to have children or the "psychological incapability" of one of the spouses to contract a valid marriage.

The pope says that granting too many annulments on the grounds of "psychological incapacity" risks giving people the pessimistic impression that marriage is almost impossible.

He said the judges and lawyers of the Rota should follow guidelines that say there must be a "specific mental anomaly" that seriously impairs the use of reason either when vows are exchanged or during the marriage.

The Vatican's concern largely is directed at the United States, where the annulment approach has been more common among Catholics and where annulments are considered to often be granted too easily.

According to Vatican statistics, the Holy See estimated that about 70 percent of all annulment requests worldwide came from the United States in 2002. In that year, of the 56,000 requests worldwide, 46,000 were granted...


Fr. Andrew said...

I saw this article earlier this week. Gratefully, our tribunal had moved away from these grounds already and had advised us to do so as well. There are times where I'm unsure of our tribunal and others when I say: "Good job."

That would also seem to be anecdotal proof to put a hole in this former priest's (May the Lord soften his heart) theory that Archbishop Burke's arrival is the source of this.

Anonymous said...

Psychology plays into every facet of our life, including for better or worse...
I tend to think the root problem is something different.
Marriage is a resolution for the problem of fornication. It does not resolve the problem of contraception, one to which a majority of couples are shackled. While a marriage can be valid when contracted by two people living in grave sin, the issue is not are they pshcologically mature to contract marriage in as much as are they free and honest when they answer yes to "will you accept children lovingly from God?"

Further, speaking from personal experience, the grace of God through the sacrament can not act in the daily lives of couples when both are shackled by contraception.


Anonymous said...

For the life of me, I don't know what the answer is to the problem of divorced Catholics who want to remarry. I think way too many Catholic marriages, especially in the United States, are annulled. I'm guessing that one of the reasons for this is that the great majority of divorced Catholics seeking annulments desperately want to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, especially Holy Eucharist--and the Church tries to accomodate that under the fiction of annullment. As things stand right now, annullment is the only way. It's not a good answer to tell all divorced Catholics who want to remarry: "If you want to go to Communion, you shouldn't have gotten divorced." I suspect most, if not all of us know of marriages that needed to be terminated; e.g, rampant infidelity, emotional and physical abuse. To say such marriages were invalid from the outset-- I don't agree with that. On the other hand, I think that some marriages end way too easily. So as I said at the outset, I don't know what the answer is.

Anonymous said...

Yes, WHAT is a good answer? I have a sister-in-law that was beaten regularly, even had a gun put to her head. NO ONE should have to stay in a situation like that. Is it possible to get a civil divorce through the courts so you can be separated from the person and not re-marry? I, personally, couldn't imagine having children to raise and not have a spouse to help out.

* * * * ON ANOTHER NOTE * * * *

Tomorrow is the last day of the month! Timman, you have anything up your sleeve you are going to share with us SOON!?!?!?!?

thetimman said...

cmziall, recourse to a civil divorce if an abusive situation such as you describe is possible. No remarriage is part of that "better or worse" thing one agrees to. It is easy to say, "offer it up", but much harder to do, obviously. I feel for all of those in such a situation. But our Savior on the cross is the answer to these and other situations in life. I can't do better than that.

Anonymous said...

This is long, but I wanted to tell my story:

Before our marriage, both my husband and I sought annulments because of very grave circumstances from our former "marriages".

My husband's first spouse at 18 was unfaithful before marriage, even with his best friend the day before the wedding. She then continued to be unfaithful after marriage with various men, openly. She never took her vows seriously and had no desire to be married, so she filed for divorce after a few short years.

I was in a very abusive situation with a mentally disturbed man that was so before marriage and after. I married young, thinking I could change/cure him. He also insisted that married couples should not have relations, because they should live as brother and sister. So children were out of the question.

We both had witnesses to attest to the charges we made about our exes. We were granted annulments, but were shocked and disturbed to see that they were granted for something so stupid as lack of due discretion. We had no idea what that had to do with our cases, as clearly we had spouses that weren't willing to contract a valid marriage!

This makes me wonder if other very serious cases like ours were simply slapped with "lack of discretion" without really caring what the real reason was, because that requires the least amount of work on their part!

I am sure there are soft cases that really had no reason to divorce, except they fell out of love, quarrel too much, or someone was unfaithful once, but we really don't know if there may be legitimate cases that were granted under the wrong grounds.

Faithful Catholic

Anonymous said...


Anybody like that title?

After 45 years of "Renewal," it seems like we are getting the Catholic Faith back again.


GOR said...

The plight of divorced Catholics is tragic and widespread and admits of no easy answers, as both the current Holy Father and JP II have noted.

That said, I have never been comfortable with some of the 'psychological reasons' advanced in support of annulments. While undoubtedly there can be valid psychological reasons for an invalid marriage, it is open to abuse. For some it is an 'easy way out' and in a sort of 'repressed memory' type of justification they claim "I didn't know what I was doing at the time".

That's difficult to believe at times and certainly difficult to prove or disprove.

Anonymous said...

When the Catholic Church invests equivalent resources to the reconciliation of valid, abandoned, marriages as it does to finding nullity under just about any excuse AND when it issues FORMAL EXCOMMUNCIATIONS for all unjust divorces(the reality of which it can usually easily discern in its nullity proceedings) to the party or parties who sought them, then this former Catholic will think about returning.

Until then, the Papal ruminations, seemingly sincere but far short of real action, are like faith without works.........DEAD.


Anonymous said...

I am afraid agree with Karl. Pope Benedict XVI's comments are not that different than earlier concerns raised by Pope John Paul II. North American bishops (Canada included) will continue to ignore concerns raised by the Vicar of Christ and nothing but nothing will happen to correct these abuses at the diocesan level.

Most diocesan tribunals actively sabatoge the institution of marriage by actively promoting "healing" annulments and divorce. Yes, parishoners read the articles in diocesan newspapers describing how to get an annulment and how healing they are. It provides a tempting spiritual incentive for divorcing your spouse. Why just promote "healing" annulments in newspaper print? I attended a mandatory diocesan marriage preparation course where the instructor dissed her first husband for buying a fridge without consulting with her. This certainly sounded like good grounds for an annulment - NOT. I think attending the marriage preparation course was in and of itself grounds for annulment. The message was clearly communicated that marriage is NOT FOREVER.

Why carry your cross and work on your marriage when you are virtually guaranteed the healing grace of an annulment?