This weekend wraps up Pope Francis’ Synod on the Family, part of which addressed the issue of divorce, the annulment process, remarriage, and one’s ability to receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion.
Two camps have emerged in recent times: German clergy, led by Cardinal Kasper, who push to accept remarriage of the divorced without an annulment and allow those remarried to receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist (Wasn’t Martin Luther also German? My faithful, German, Catholic Grandmother would have much to say about all this – must be where I get it from!) and those who want to preserve the indissolubility of Marriage and the Sacredness of the Eucharist and deny its gift to those living with another outside of the Blessing of Catholic Church Marriage.
There are countless heartbreaking stories of wronged women and men who were once half a pair, who’ve had their flesh torn from them as a spouse repeatedly cheated or gambled or was abusive or who just picked up and left out of the blue one day. Some of the heartbroken have become inspirations by letting go of anger, bitterness, and fear to go on to Love, Trust, and Hope again as evidenced by their new relationships and, in some cases, by their new marriages.
The ignored question is whether those new marriages are legitimate. Just as the departing spouse leaves because he feels like it, because he deserves to be “happy” so too do many divorced enter into a new relationship because they feel like it, because they deserve to be happy. Too often the question of whether there was Sacredness to the first Marriage (despite its present state) is is traded for the abandoned spouse’s right to be happy.
But the question about the Sacrament bestowed on the first Marriage, asked aloud or not, will not be denied, and it leads us to the second question. If the first Marriage was valid but the abandoned spouse remarries, should she receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion in her present state?
It is a question that tugs at the heartstrings of both sides. No one wants to be told the expression of love is wrong, especially one who has overcome such incredible odds and loved twice in a lifetime!
In fact, sometimes the second union of Marriage is the one God truly Blesses. Sometimes the first union is truly invalid, but how are we to know? Who is to decide? Can two people overcoming divorce, even years down the road, be objective enough to look at their relationship and judge whether God bestowed the Blessing of indissolubility on that union? Is there a need for an annulment process at all and, if remarriage outside of an annulment, remarriage outside of the Catholic Church is acceptable, what Good is being Married in the Church at all?
I address several of these issues in my recent Catholic Stand article, but here, I give personal anecdotes arguing for radical changes which could be made without changing Catholic Church doctrine. Rather than finding ways around marriage indissolubility and the offering of the Eucharist, we should be asking what other radical changes the church might make to prevent this in the first place, to save wounded souls, and to prevent generational heartbreak.
Here Are 3 Radical Changes the Catholic Church Can Make to Marriage, Divorce, Annulment, Remarriage, & Receiving The Body of Christ to rock people’s worlds without rocking boats.
1. Put Annulment Before Divorce
My husband left suddenly. I was alone, struggling with five small children, and looking for spiritual guidance. What do I do next? Where do I go? He was having an affair. Was this for better or for worse? I was pregnant with our 5th little boy. He texted when the baby was 3 days old to let me know he had filed for the divorce. Was he sick? Was this in sickness and in health? Who was this man?
There were so many questions running through my head as I met with the Bishop and told our story, trying to figure things out as words poured from me, sometimes in torrents and tears, sometimes as stuttering, uncertain gasps. I held nothing back. I told of my love for my husband but also of my sinful failings and things I wished I’d done differently.
When I had finally gotten my story out, the Bishop asked is I was planning to file for an annulment. At that point I hadn’t thought much of it. I guessed I probably would eventually but wasn’t in the shape to think much of it yet. I was still struggling with day to day survival. I needed time to let the dust settle before moving on to a new project – and an annulment would be quite a project!
The Bishop said he thought we had grounds but also that we had to wait until the divorce was finalized because the Church never wants to be seen as doing anything to encourage divorce.
That conversation stuck with me, and I left thinking that, while I understood his well-intentioned comment and the Church’s well-intentioned policy, they were so backwards.
I felt alone again, questioning why the Church should wash Her hands of divorce and force me to go through this alone. I did not want to be perceived as encouraging divorce either, but here I was having to accept it, having to appear at court, having to hand my children over to a father who had proven time and again to be hard hearted at the very least. Why could the Catholic Church wash Her hands of divorce but I couldn’t? Did the Catholic Church see me as encouraging divorce?
More importantly, I wondered about the Catholic Church’s timing. While God’s timing is perfect, the Church is not God and it’s timing in divorce and annulment struck me as questionable at best.
If the Church looked at each Marriage
before divorce was filed,
how would that change divorce?
Are more couples likely to split believing an annulment is almost guaranteed? Would adulterous partners be less likely to leave if they went through Spiritual accountability first? Would fewer third parties continue to cheat with a married spouse if they knew an annulment was not possible and they would be spending the rest of their lives outside of Marriage? Would the third party be less likely to offer an ultimatum if she knew the loyal spouse was standing for her Marriage, willing to forgive, grow, and change in the Marriage? Would witnesses be as willing to offer testimony that might reward the divorce rather than Marriage if they thought the Marriage stood a chance? Would deserting spouses be as willing to force resiliency on children if they looked into their own pasts more closely first? Would clergy be less likely to grant annulments and more likely to counsel couples to stay together if they met before divorce?
Who cares how the Church is perceived as far as the timing of divorce and annulments? We must be more concerned with how souls will be perceived when accounting for their relationships on earth. Putting annulment before divorce may make the Church look bad to those who do not understand – There will always be critics, but this may save countless Marriages and Families too – better perception longterm – if you care about that sort of thing!
2. Get Rid of Time Constraints to the Annulment Process
Most realize that the annulment is a lengthy process, but few realize the it comes with time constraints already imposed by Rome. Fewer, including those high up in the Church, realize those time constraints can hurt faithful spouses.
I am again speaking from experience.
The ink on our divorce had barely dried when my husband filed for the annulment. I still had a baby and four other boys. I was losing my home due to lack of child support, dealing with a husband I loved dearly but whom I discovered had been having affairs behind my back, a husband who told me I was a good friend but he never really loved me, with the loss of faith, the lure of more exciting Christian denominations, and the unbelievable overwhelmingness of being a single mom of five small, hurting, struggling, and confused children, children who suddenly had no home of their own but a mom’s house (I hoped!) and dad’s house instead.
My head was still spinning when I opened my mailbox to find the unexpected annulment petition.
The dust hadn’t settled yet, but my husband forced another project upon me.
The annulment process required my traveling close to two hours each way to the Tribunal on a limited budget with even more limited time and placed an hardship on my family and on my emotional well being. It made me question the heart of the Catholic Church, a heart that seems to be hardened to the plight of those in my situation, and yes, there are more of us than you think!
The Catholic Church demanded its paperwork be received within a short time. Responses had to be submitted for review. Witnesses had to be called to testify with no consideration for the fact that I had 5 small children and was overwhelmed with mere survival. No consideration was offered for the fact that I was searching for a job and going to school and providing for my family. No consideration was taken for the fact that I was still in the reeling from a divorce I didn’t want and didn’t expect.
The Catholic Church cared most that I made it within the time imposed when the annulment was filed by my adulterous husband and his current mistress. This man can be heartless in ways I won’t discuss here, and yet the Catholic Church was protecting his right to a speedy annulment rather than my right to recover and process and exist.
The question we should not be
how we can speed up the annulment process
but whether there should be time restrictions placed
on the annulment process at all.
Do we not trust those entrusted with the discerning the validity of Marriage to see an annulment through as quickly as compassionately possible? Do we not trust the speed at which a husband and a wife can get paperwork together, call witnesses, and present cases, but trust them to be truthful in their responses? Do we not trust the tribunal with the timing of the annulment process but do trust them to honestly determine whether God was at work on the wedding day?
Should not each case be judged individually? Why impose blanket time restrictions when each situation is different? We must trust our priests to decide who has valid reasons for requesting extended time and then grant wounded souls the time they need to do this process right.
3. Make Marriage Harder to Attain than an Annulment
It took about 2 and a half years for my annulment to be finalized. By the time it was done, so was I. I was ready to move on. I didn’t like my husband nor his new wife and wouldn’t trade what they have for what I’ve gained for a second. I’d forgiven them their human failings, their falls to temptation, and even their continued cruelty directed at me and (although harder to forgive) toward my children.
And 13 months after the annulment was completed, my ex and the other woman were happily married in a big, fancy, Catholic Church ceremony – she resplendent in her white gown and looking forward to her Hawaiian honeymoon.
The wedding was performed by her brother, a priest in the diocese, and I wondered about the restrictions that probably should have been on my ex and his ability to marry again so quickly. I wondered what kind of influence this might have priest had and whether restrictions had actually been placed or not. I also wondered if restrictions are investigated before they are dismissed or not.
I wondered if annulments were brought to a more local level, how much more easily influenced those decision makers would be, how much more pressure they would be under from those they served to grant annulments. I wondered how many more people like me would hold that annulment paper and question its validity.
I thought of those who had learned of my ex’s wedding and asked me about it in disbelief. I thought of their amazed faces as they questioned me about the Catholic Church’s Blessing and the influence the brother-priest might have had in pushing the wedding through. I wondered how many people would look at marriages like my ex’s with raised eyebrows and scorn the Catholic Church and question the integrity of the priest who, for all I know, is a deeply faith-filled man who honestly believes his sister and my ex are in a union Blessed by their Creator.
I’ve felt a deep, indescribable Peace that I’m sure comes from the Holy Spirit covering me lately, so their union didn’t bother me on a personal level. In fact, I was amazed that day waiting for emotion to hit and realizing I didn’t actually care or notice too much (I’ll be posting more on this soon), but I still wonder what it says about Marriage in the Catholic Church. I wonder why the annulment had taken so long and been so taxing while remarriage had been so easily granted.
Again, it seems backwards.
There are those who say too many annulments are granted today. I wonder, like others, if too many marriages are granted instead, if priests will one day be accountable for uniting couples who should not have been united, if we aren’t doing a greater disservice by allowing couples who shouldn’t be married to have the ceremony, if we are so afraid Marriage is dying out that we are just thankful anyone wants to get married nowadays.
I wonder if, by offering Marriage to anyone, we have downgraded marriage to the point that we might as well have people simply living together without the ceremony. Would they not at least be living knowing the truth behind their living together rather than living together thinking their vows were real?
It’s no wonder fewer people want to get married today. What good is Marriage if it’s not something to strive for, if it’s not something to show you’re worthy of? What good is Marriage if it’s offered to anyone and you can always get remarried to someone else if things don’t work out?
I do believe in Marriage. I believe Marriage is a Sacrament and the Union is Blessed by God. I believe in the indissolubility of Marriage and the value of chastity outside of Marriage. We have gotten so much wrong in trying to make people’s lives easier. As any custodial parent knows, easier is not always better.
We must soften our hearts, strengthen our backbones, and change our ways of thinking if we are going to protect and preserve Marriage and the Family. Let’s commit to doing so now!
What do you think of the changes I propose? What changes would you make or would you keep things as they are now? I’d love to hear from you!
If you are interested in having me speak for your group, please contact me today!
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