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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25 thoughts on “3 Radical Changes the Catholic Church Can Make: Marriage, Divorce, Annulment, Remarriage, & the Body of Christ”
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Excellent. I have asked almost the same question as you: “…why the Church should wash Her hands of divorce and force me to go through this alone”. They (the Bishops) could help, however, and they should, as it’s mandated in Canon Law to seek spousal reconciliation. It is surely a travesty of justice, as well as charity, that they do not do so. I am acquainted with a good many abandoned spouses, and recall few as having said they received any help in preserving their first marriage, though I am sure there have been some. It appears to me to be the exception rather than the rule, however.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that notion is going to change if recent changes in the annulment process become applied full-force. As you indicated, it will serve to only cause more abandoned spouses to question the validity of an annulment.
This is not what Catholic marriage is supposed to be: having to defend one’s marriage in a civil court that doesn’t allow any defense, as well as an ecclesiastical one, in which it can’t really be defended against either because of the current “seek an annulment” meme being stressed as the placebo to “fix” not the marriage, but the “happiness” of an abandoning spouse.
Like you said, everything is backwards…
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Is your first name Strahlen?
I really enjoyed your article. I heard about your story somewhere a few months ago and started following you on Facebook. God bless you.
Question: What were the grounds for the Church granting an annulment for your marriage?
Hi Tyler, Thank you for saying you enjoyed the article and for liking my page. I always intend to thank people who like SingleMomSmiling but then am concerned that the people who have already liked it will be insulted since I didn’t thank them before. It’s quite a predicament! lol
Strahlen is the name I chose after my husband left, for many reasons: #1 (FAR above any other reason) I want to protect my children and there are some creeps online. 2) I no longer feel an attachement to my married name, but I don’t want to change it because I want my boys to have that connection to me and my family. Besides, I couldn’t go back to my maiden name because I had changed too much to pretend to be that girl. 3) In the Bible, when someone’s faith is tested or they undergo major increases in faith, their names were often changed too (Think Saul – Paul, . That’s how I felt. I went from being a lukewarm cradle Catholic thinking I was good enough to realizing how much more I need to grow. Every time I learn something new, it makes a little more sense to have changed my name.
As far as where I got Strahlen – My Grandparents are the MOST AMAZING, WONDERFUL, LOVING, BEST PEOPLE EVER. They are my inspiration. My Grandmother was German and when I was searching for names and deciding who I was going to be one day, I simply typed “smiling” into Google Translate and that was it! lol I’ve since heard Strahlen doesn’t mean “Smiling,” but it always will to me! ☺ It’s been a long time since I read this post, but it talks about choosing my name. You might find something more there: http://www.SingleMomSmiling.com/how-i-chose-my-name-strahlen-smith
As far as the grounds for the annulment…that is harder to answer. My husband tossed out many accusations. When I was given such a hard time by the “judge” (I’m drawing a blank on the title of the man who I met with.) and thought I’d never go back for more proceedings, that I’d ignore whatever the Church decided because it was so heartless (I’m being honest here because some things do need to change. The annulment process was awful, and this one priest was just mean! I sat sobbing alone, despite requests for an advocate etc, in a small room for over an hour until I had to leave. No one offered to help or asked if I was okay. I was very alone surrounded by people in the busy Marriage tribunal offices).
Fortunately I can be stubborn and didn’t give up but next time down went to see the head of the Tribunal. He read over everything and said only reason my ex had mentioned might be a valid reason for an annulment and that’s the one I should answer. The rest he said were just nonsense. I’ll have to find the paperwork. Honestly, that time was so traumatic and then that meeting with the head of the Tribunal was so comforting, I felt I didn’t need to stress over it anymore and just kind of put everything, reading the documents, filing things neatly (A challenge for me anyway lol) all became just…whatever. It was in God’s hands and I didn’t pay too much attention to it anymore. I do feel that, maybe from that meeting forward and from refusing to give in, there has been not much that could bother me about the Marriage, divorce, annulment, or my ex’s remarriage anymore.
I wrote several posts about it and my reaction to getting the document in the mail etc. on SingleMomSmiling. Try https://www.singlemomsmiling.com/waiting-for-the-annulment-my-experience-calling-the-archdiocesan-headquarters/
and https://www.singlemomsmiling.com/annulment-decision-came-mail-today/ to start.
Anyway, that’s a VERY long response. Hope it answers everything and didn’t overwhelm you! Thanks for commenting (and for liking! 😉 )
Thank you for the responses.
Okay, I read Annulment Decision, Opening the Letter, and the letter from the Archdiocese and I didn’t see anything about the grounds or reasons for granting the annulment. Am I missing something or is there another post that explains that? The letter from the Archdiocese was very short and vague. Did you ever receive the explanation?
What I’ve learned (as I’m waiting for my annulment from a sexually addicted military attorney to whom I was married for 29 years and with whom I had 5 children) is that the Grounds are not specified in the Declaration of Nullity. To my mind, that’s a crock of poo. I believe the Grounds should be as public as the marriage.
You can read more about my experience of discovering my ex-husband’s sexual addiction, our lengthy painful divorce, and my thoughts on annulment (I wanted one!)
I thought my website link would show up on commentary. Here it is. You’re welcome to look. It discusses some of the Grounds for Nullity.
I’m not so sure, Heidi. My ex filed for the annulment so he could marry his paramour. I question some of what he told the tribunal and some of what was said in his documents. I think there is protection needed for some innocent spouses. Of course, he also filed for a divorce claiming I had treated him with cruel and unusual punishment or some such rubbish so I guess whatever anyone thinks they’re going to think. It doesn’t bother me anymore. It sure did at the time though and back then I would not have wanted the annulment to be made public. It should be between the couple and God.
I’m sorry I didn’t see your response. I didn’t mean that the testimony should be public. I do believe when the annulment is granted, the Church should acknowledge the Grounds under which it was granted. Your husband would have had to have had testimony to back up his claims. It is quite possible that the Tribunal made the decision based not on his accusations of your behavior, but on the basis of HIS behavior as evidenced in how he answered the questions supplied to him, as well as your responses and those of the witnesses.
The way I look at it, if the Church allows someone who has displayed grave lack of discretion or inability to assume the essential obligations of marriage to remarry, it’s now all on the Church. As we realize when we have a marriage annulled, just because people get married in the Church does not mean their marriage is actually sacramental.
Your ex and his new wife may have had a nice wedding in a Catholic Church performed by her loving brother. It doesn’t mean their marriage is sacramental.
Ha. There was no explanation. Just a lot of unanswered questions. I’ll look through my paperwork again when I can pull it out, but I think everything I got was posted minus identifying details. If you think you have questions, imagine what the one on the receiving end asks.
In one of the articles you mentioned how the Archbishop said that there’s only one circumstance to consider for granting an annulment. What was that one thing?
Maybe he wasn’t the Archbishop, but rather the superior of the priest you had a bad experience with. In any case, he said something to the effect that your husband’s request for an annulment would only be considered on one particular ground.
He was not the Archbshop. I am not sure of his title offhand. I honestly don’t remember and will have to dig out paperwork, which I know is not going to happen quickly with my schedule and responsiblities. I believe it was something like not knowing what Marriage entails or something.
I’m sure it’s hard to understand, but I was still stuck in survival mode and a lot of it was overwhelming. When I spoke to the higher level priest (again I’ll have to find his exact title) I had such a feeling of Peace and the ability to let God decide the outcome that I no longer cared what the grounds or any of the other stuff that was said or done were.
What exactly is the reason you’re so interested?
Because it seems so bizarre and it feels like a great injustice to you, your kids, and the Faith. I don’t understand a lot of the reasons why people walk away from the Church, but I could understand why you or even someone who heard your story would be scandalized and lose their faith.
How can you claim ignorance of what marriage entails after twenty years and five children? It seems to me that it makes a mockery of the Sacrament and anyone can simply get a declaration that their marriage never really existed as long as they ask nicely.
I understand I don’t know all the facts, but from what I gather from your writings, something seems incredibly unjust.
I think it happens more often than the average Catholic thinks. I think unless you know it through experience or through REALLY talking with someone about it, you don’t realize it exists in the Church. There are huge numbers of Catholics who are just quietly fading away because of this kind of stuff and because no one reaches out to them or people reach out but the abandoned spouse is so overwhelmed or hurt he/she doesn’t know how to respond and no further efforts are made. This s hurting the Church and the people fading away to other branches of Christianity, or FAR worse, to nothingness.
We were together 17 years, married for 14, but yes. Same basic theory applies and is part of why I question the validity of our Marriage, the annlment, and his new marriage. The only thing I’m sure is real, in fact, is the divorce. That is very real.
I wondered about the calidity of it all as far as new relationships go etc. I have not begun dating. There is much I have to do right now in other areas, but I have begun thinking about it. I’ve wondered what an invalid annulment might mean at Judgment Day. I’ve wondered so much. I guess for now I’m open but guarded and going to try (although I am very fallible) to follow God’s laws for dating in the future. It’d be easier if I felt positively one way or another about the Marriage and annulment. I guess I just have to trust the Lord to open or shut doors. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m okay with that all – for now anyway 🙂
I think part of the reason that I don’t know for sure about some of the annulment questions you’re asking is because of that trust in God. I understand the need for and believe there should be some sort of annulment process, but I also know how bad our present system is – or at least was for me. I basically have come to the conclusion that the men deciding the validity of Marriage have a herculean task. Half the time I can’t figure out what God wants from me today nevermind what He wanted to happen between two strangers x years ago. I wouldn’t want the task of the men on the tribunal and don’t envy them or bare hard feelings toward them, but I don’t entirely trust their decisions either. I did a whole series on Why Remain Catholic Through Divorce too, but in a nutshell, it’s not the people that make me Catholic. Heck, I’d have been an atheist a long time ago if I let disappointment in people (most of all myself! ) get me down.
It’s Jesus Christ. It’s knowing that ONLY Catholics took Jesus literally in the, “eat my flesh, drink my blood” and didn’t take that as a nasty thing but as another Miracle given to followers through which Jesus Christ is as physically present today as He was 2000 years ago. It’s the scriptural Rosary and meditating on the life of Jesus, not blindly repetiting prayers, but reflecting on His life and what He’s given through each individual bead. It’s spending time in Adoration and just BEING – still and silent – in God’s company. It’s so much of the Catholic faith and, as much as I LOVE my Catholic family and friends and as much as I crave their fellowship, none of my being Catholic is tied up in how they look at me or treat me. It’s tied up in how I look at and treat the Trinity. For the first time, I’ve realized I am worthy of The Father’s Love, The Son’s Mercy, and the Holy Spirit’s crazy power to bring both Strength and Calming Peace at the same time. The annulment has noting to do with that. I understand why some people would turn from faith. It pains me partly because I do understand and almost did so myself, but for me it matters little what that document says or what injustice has been done. I have a great life and deserve far worse than what I’ve been given. I am truly Blessed and that’s why I am Catholic. ♡♡♡
And one day I’ll be Blessed with pithy speech too! 😉
3 Radical Changes the Catholic Church Can Make: #Marriage, #Divorce, #Annulment, #Remarriage, #Catholic #Eucharist https://t.co/TDcA8xDI71
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