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For The Floor

May 28, 2009

Should we get rid of annulments?

Annulments after all are an innovation.  The Orthodox, for example do not offer annulments.  Add to this the number of marriages declared invalid due to lack of form, a judicial requirement and not one essential to the Sacrament of Marriage.  It would seem more fundamentally honest to say the Church will look the other way as couples remarry rather than to claim that nearly every marriage that doesn’t work out wasn’t really a marriage, no matter how many children suffer because of it.

I had attempted to keep my disgust quiet, but I’ve really had it.  Our latest celebrity convert Newt Gingrich has a decorated history.  While his wife was being treated with cancer, he was having an affair with the woman who would become his second wife.  His current wife was the result of adultery with his 2nd wife.  Being the good Catholic girl she was though – excuse me, I forgot to insert a devout in there too – she couldn’t marry the guy with whom she was sleeping until Newt’s annulment was rubber stamped.  Being that Mrs. Gingrich II married Newt after having failed at marriage once, the annulment was a rubber stamp.  Having been so impressed by his current wife’s piety, he finally joined the Catholic Church and has appointed himself spokesman for all that is good and holy.  To this, the usually suspects give an amen and thank God for Newt’s libido finally finding a Catholic girl to satiate it and leading him to the Church.  Quite frankly the whole thing makes me sick and smacks of the Church making natural marriage a joke.

  1. May 28, 2009 1:05 am

    In your reference to the Orthodox, you might want to note that, while they may lack annulments, they do allow divorce. I’m not sure if you consider that a higher or lower road.

    I’m not sure if I count as one of the “usual suspects”, but it strikes me as over-stating the matter to suggest that anyone was declaring Gingrich the “spokesman for all that is good and holy”, they simply found what he said had attracted him to the Church congenial.

    The question is probably whether one need pass judgement on the personal morality (sexual and otherwise) of a person before applauding something he says about the Church. I’m sure that judgement on this varies, but given one or two of the Catholic writers who are cited on this blog with approbration routinely, I would assume that continuing or past sexual immorality does not necessarily render all one’s thoughts on the Church (however conventional) to be anathema.

  2. May 28, 2009 6:09 am

    The principle behind the annullment process is one that will not go away and makes sense. The application in the real world is what is making you hurl so to speak. Principle-good/application-bizarre.

    There was a book years ago written by Sheila Rausch who was divorced by Joseph Kennedy II and who was protesting how easily the Church ruined helped ruin her marriage with the annullment. The Vatican reversed the annullment and one wonders if that would have happened had she not written the book…”Shattered Faith”.

    But the principle is that God does not accept the vows of a person who proves by time and experience to never have been capable of a vow.
    Frankly it might be an improvement if only psychologists or priest psychologists are involved period in this matter given as you imply the rediculous number of them in the US (do we really have that many adults who are incapable of a vow?).

  3. May 28, 2009 6:10 am

    Here is the link to the above story:

  4. Muskrat permalink
    May 28, 2009 6:54 am

    “His current wife was the result of adultery with his 2nd wife.”

    Holy Cow– he married his daughter?? ;)

  5. Ronald King permalink
    May 28, 2009 7:25 am

    MZ, I certainly share your sentiments on this subject. I was thinking about the Gingrich conversion and what I think a public figure needs to model for those who are influenced by his behavior. This is what just came to me.
    As followers of Christ we are asked to give up everything for Him. However, beginning with me, who of us has given up everything for Him? I am too comfortable in my position in my comfortable chair with my laptop and typing something that is meaningless but feels good, if only to me and my narcissistic and delusional altruistic defense system.
    Excuse me, I got lost for a second.
    Back to Newt. As a public figure who lives on attention, it seems that Newt would serve his conversion best by making a public confession and take responsibility for how he had harmed the women he had married and divorced. I would need to see him proclaim openly that the harm he had done to them was totally his responsibility and that if had truly been a man of faith and integrity he would still be married to his first wife. I would want him to express the awareness that the culture of death really begins when we men have made those closest to us afraid of us and that this is where we must begin to heal the harm that is at the foundation of the culture of death. It seems that it is as simple as that.
    The same thing applies to Kennedy. I could go into what I think contributed to his divorce but I will not at this time.

  6. May 28, 2009 9:16 am

    I think that, theologically, annulments are on solid ground, given that many partners in marriage are simply not mature enough to accept the responsibilities required. But you do have a poing here. I think it, yet again, reflects the American tendency to mold God in one’s own image, rather than the other way around, the need to for a private religion that conforms to one’s personal preferences. Very Protestant. So yes, God must bless capitalism, the US constitution, the American way of life…and the need to change sexual partners every so often.

  7. ron chandonia permalink
    May 28, 2009 9:42 am

    Shattered Faith ought to be mandatory reading for everyone concerned with the decline of the Catholic Church in America. The Church in Boston, the prototype for what is happening to us nationally, was so thoroughly beholden to the Kennedy family (or, more accurately, to “making nice” with the powers of this world) that the notion of defending a “marriage bond” seemed ridiculous. Unfortunately, not many aggrieved wives in America have the clout that Sheila Rausch Kennedy did.

  8. Ronald King permalink
    May 28, 2009 10:13 am

    There are infinite reasons given for divorce, but, how many of these reasons are valid reasons for divorce? Safety must be the number one priority when considering leaving one’s spouse.
    Humility will save marriages. Leadership that stresses humility as the foundation of all spiritual living will heal the harm that occurs in human relationships.

  9. M.Z. permalink
    May 28, 2009 11:51 am

    The principle behind the annullment process is one that will not go away and makes sense.

    I would agree. The proper forum for mediating that would seem to be the secular courts though. For example, Guiliani couldn’t get an annulment in New York for affinity but could get one in the ecclesial court for the same. What special competence does the Church have in determining affinity versus its secular peers.

    given that many partners in marriage are simply not mature enough to accept the responsibilities required.
    I can’t imagine 100 years ago that a 15-year-old bride and a 20-year-old groom had more maturity than than 26-year-old and 32-year-old bride and grooms today. I think we are condescending to adults if we consider them incompetent to make binding oaths.

    There are infinite reasons given for divorce, but, how many of these reasons are valid reasons for divorce? Safety must be the number one priority when considering leaving one’s spouse.
    I don’t have as great an issue with divorce per se as I do with remarriage being blessed by the Church when the obligations (like children) of the prior marriage are so manifest. Spouses have the right to not have the Church treat their vows trivially.

  10. May 28, 2009 1:47 pm

    I do agree that the annulment process needs a good reformation, but I don’t think the corruption should mean we do away with the system altogether.

  11. Sherry permalink
    May 28, 2009 4:39 pm

    I have long held that this is a weakness in the RCC that needs addressing. Divorce may well be sinful, but so are a myriad of other things, and we look as always to God’s forgiveness. We accept that forgiveness and we move forward attempting to do better. The Church’s rather liberal granting of annulment to its American members smacks of simply doing what is necessary to stop the collapse of the church in America.

    Now if they could just do something about this silly NFP concept…..but one thing at a time.

  12. ben permalink
    May 28, 2009 5:03 pm

    I’m with MZ on this one. The idea that a man or woman just doesn’t know what the words mean when they pronounce their marriage vow is ridiculous. If the spouses don’t understand what the vows mean then revise them. Ask them on the spot durring the marriage ceremony itself to publicly acknowledge that they fully understand that they will never be allowed a divorce.

    For that matter we could even ask them to promise never to use contraception.

    But I think it is just silly that people have an escape clause for marriage because they didn’t understand what they were doing.

    We hold people to a higher level of responsibility for their student loans!

  13. May 29, 2009 9:01 am

    The Orthodox approach is sensible. A second marriage after a divorce is not sacramental.

    While adultery is often the bridge between divorce and a second marriage, the two are not the same in the eyes of Roman Catholicism. A divorced believer may receive the sacraments. It’s the remarriage that complicates the Eucharistic life.

  14. Gabriel Austin permalink
    May 29, 2009 3:34 pm

    Divorce is permitted in the Church. It means no more than living separately.

    Remarriage while the other spouse is living is not permitted for a reason no more complicated than that you cannot break your word – your vow – your oath.

    I know little about it, but I have often wondered about the status of Claire Booth who married Henry Luce after he abruptly divorced his wife, whom I did know.

  15. May 31, 2009 1:41 am

    “The Church shouldn’t forbid divorce; that’s an Old Testament mentality.”
    “Actually, the Old Testament allows divorce; Jesus forbids it.”
    “Well, see, that’s an Old Testament mentality.”

    an annulment does not say a marriage didn’t exist. It says the marriage wasn’t sacramentally valid. It’s based upon Jesus’ condition that a divorce may occur if the marriage was “illicit” (He was specifically referring to incest)

    Of course, the interesting paradox is that a couple can still choose to *stay* married with an illicit marriage and there’s no problem.

    The difficulty comes from the ever-increasing grounds for annulments that have been invented since Vatican II, as well as the basic fact that, due to rampant liturgical abuse, I’m sure it’s possible to find canonical fault with every Catholic marriage in America.

    Pre-Cana instruction, rather than being about a lifelong marriage, is rather about creating a paper trail for an annulment: much like an under-the-table pre-nup.

    Most annulments appealed to Rome get overturned, but that doesn’t matter to the people already living in adultery.

    (I thought there was some kind of exception generally made for converts who had multiple marriages before their conversions, anyway.)

    All of this, though, derives from the feel good Catholicism that’s been preached for 40 years. We’ve come a long way since the advice given to people in troubled marriages was to read Hosea, to remember that marriage is a reflection of God and the Church, and sometimes that’s a good reflection, and sometimes it’s a bad one.

    Boy, imagine if God could annul His covenant with us!
    When we stray for false gods, we “divorce” from God, but we do not annul our baptismal covenant. And, thank God, God is always willing to take us back.

    But that’s more than can be said for spouses, whose love is supposed to reflect that of God, in this era of “irreconcilable differences.”

    Spiritual wimps.

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