Ironically, the divorce was finalized on Valentine’s Day 2012, three years after we had renewed our vows. In those three years, the boys and I had lost our home and moved into another (thanks Mom!). I achieved those two years of college credits attaining 7-12 math certification only because I loved teaching and math was more marketable than my expired elementary certification had been. When I couldn’t find a teaching job even with the math certification, I started an education and college prep business.
I’d also given birth and continued raising five wonderful sons.
Any one of those accomplishments would have been a big deal. Doing all in such a short time and under the circumstances took more hard work and determination than most will understand and was nothing less than miraculous, but it also left me no time to breathe. I hoped, once the divorce was finalized, I could catch a bit of that break, but it wasn’t to be. I hadn’t yet caught my breath when I opened the mailbox to find the annulment papers awaiting me.
I understood the desire for the Catholic church to decide whether a Sacrament had taken place, but I needed time. I was still overwhelmed and stressed. I had too much going on and just needed a break. I called the diocese and asked if I could get my paperwork to them a few weeks later than they required it. I was told that deadlines were mandated and could not be changed – orders from Rome.
I wanted to break down. I wasn’t trying to prevent my ex and the other woman from getting married. I just couldn’t do it all. I thought about how unforgiving the annulment system was, how similar to the divorce courts, how that left a pit in my stomach. I thought about how unjust the demands were on a single Mom. I’d heard the annulment process could be painful but healing, but I wondered if both parties found it healing or if only the filing party did. I wondered if the filing party would be seen as innocent where I would be seen as guilty. It certainly seemed that way at times.
I travelled almost four hours round trip to a city far outside my comfort zone to read the testimony provided by my husband and his witnesses. One made me cry with thanksgiving. One made me question what my ex had told others. There were untruths in the testimony, but how did I counter them? Who would believe me? I’d just look like a bitter, scorned woman.
I met with the tribunal judge who took what my ex had said and questioned me harshly. I cried uncontrollably. I could not pull myself together as he demanded to know my husband’s thinking almost 20 years before. I wasn’t trying to stop the process, but I truly didn’t know. I just didn’t know. I couldn’t figure out what my husband had been thinking in the past three years. How could I figure out what he was thinking decades earlier? It was a question I’d asked myself more times than I could count. I just didn’t know. It seemed I didn’t know anything anymore. I asked for an advocate but was told cutbacks and a lack of volunteers meant there were no advocates available to me. The priest who was my judge was cruel in his questioning. I was devastated and sobbed as I stumbled through the city streets on the unfamiliar walk to the train.
Finally, the annulment was almost done, I just needed to make one more trip to the city, and I thought really hard about whether to go or not. At some point over the five or so years between my husband leaving and annulment being finalized, I had come to a sense of peace. The turmoil had ended inside me. I had admitted my wrongdoings. I had looked myself in the eye and had seen the plank I had implanted there. I had gone to Confession. I knew I had things I needed to work on before getting into a relationship again. I knew my ex and his girlfriend would face obstacles in their upcoming marriage that I wouldn’t understand. I knew if I didn’t wish divorce on my worst enemy, as I’d often said, I needed to pray for them. I had no desire to put my will into the annulment decision. Today might still bring challenges, but I was at peace with whatever had happened years ago, whatever decision my ex had made that led me to this path. The annulment would not change my immediate plans. I would not begin dating or change the course of my immediate life. I might hope to have a loving relationship one day, but right now, I had too much other stuff to do. I would begin with breathing – one day.
The Catholic church had let me down again. The annulment process had not been healing. It had added hurt and pain and hardship. I had left my marriage in God’s hands. I didn’t feel I needed to down to headquarters again. My non-Catholic friends thought the process was ridiculous. If I tried to explain my experience to them, it resulted in a trashing of the Catholic church. I had to watch what I said, and I wondered why I was defending the church that had provided so many obstacles and such additional pain instead of healing.
I wondered why I would bother traveling the distance and exposing myself again to complete the annulment which seemed so inconsequential, but the process required one last trip to the big city, and with trepidation, I walked those streets and entered the immense building with its overstated lobby and check in station. I rode the elevator silently, not making eye contact with fellow passengers. The last time I had been here I had left humiliated, wounded, unsure of myself. I didn’t want to be here, but my church said this was the right thing to do. I’d offer it limited trust for this last annulment meeting.
The secretary called me in to read statements and write my last rebuttal, and I told her of the anxiety caused by my last visit. She was kind and patient and suggested I speak to the priest in charge of annulments and then, on my agreement, she went to get him. A few moments later, I was summoned to a large, glass-enclosed corner office that looked out over the bustling city below. The man who greeted me was impressive, strong, yet gentle and he reached out to put me at ease before asking if he could read the file. He made several comments about things contained within. As he read the transcript of my interview with the tribunal judge, he mentioned that the priest who had interviewed me may have brought some cultural bias in to our meeting. He agreed that advocates were hard to come by but said I should have been assigned one.
At the conclusion of our interview, I felt a level of peace I had never known before. I went back to the room with the testimonies and piles of paperwork which I was to read through, but I no longer needed to dispute what my husband had said or cry over the treatment I’d received. My husband was wrong. The tribunal judge was wrong, but they were men, and men make mistakes. I forgave them both sitting there. I read the testimony and wrote my response, but I no longer felt I had to defend myself.
Perhaps for the first time, as I sat there writing my annulment response I fully realized the Sacredness of marriage, the need to determine whether a Sacrament had taken place, and the weight such a decision must place on the men determining the outcome. It was not a job I envied.
Yes, the annulment was a painful process, and it is one I feel has many misconceptions, a process I feel needs to be changed, but it is not a reason to leave the church. It is not a reason to turn your back on your faith the way your spouse turned his back on his vows.
Tomorrow, I will finish my piece on Why Remain Catholic Through Divorce. I cannot wait for this final piece although I have no idea how to put to words the Glory of God or what He has done for me. I have no idea how to fully explain why I remain Catholic, but I will do the best I can. Pray that the Lord gives me the right words.
For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.
Thank you for joining me sharing some of the obstacles divorcing Catholics face. Please stick with me for one last post in this series as I attempt to explain why I Remain Catholic Through Divorce and why I hope you choose to do the same. You are not alone.
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