Cardinal Burke, bless him, explained that the process was a lot looser between 1971 and nineteen eighty-three*, and was tightened up thereafter. Now, this is perhaps not so consoling for those who were granted decrees of nullity in the 1970s, but as my papers came through in the 1990s, I am terribly relieved. It confirms what I was told at the time: my case was judged and double-judged. Thank heavens.
If I want to terrify myself into fits, I could imagine how my case might have been heard prior to 1971, but I was not even born prior to 1971, and anyway at university I would have had a LOT more clerical backing in my most heartfelt desire to marry a fellow Roman Catholic. (Indeed, I had an embarrassing interview with a priest about the pressure I felt under from unwanted suitors, and he just laughed.) Before 1971 it was acknowledged that a mixed marriage presented extraordinary difficulties; it was not used to show how wonderfully ecumenical and modern we are. And, incidentally, back then the non-Catholic party ALSO had to take an oath to raise any children Catholic.
But I digress.
There are too many Catholics, simple good-hearted Catholics, who do not even bother to apply for decrees of nullity because of all the myths. The biggest myth is that it is expensive. I was presented with a bill of $600 and was permitted to pay it in installments. And I could have claimed it on my taxes as a charitable donation.
I had one friend, an atheist ex-Catholic, who kept making jokes about my offering to pay for "the church roof." There are countless antiquated jokes like this. They are jokes, bad jokes. Perhaps they were fine back in the days when all Catholics were growing up in a pro-marriage Catholic mono-culture at a time when divorce laws were stricter and relatively few Catholics divorced. But they are totally inappropriate today. They are a scandal for they lead simple-hearted people to despair.
Myth 1. It's expensive. No, it isn't. And you don't pay until it's all over anyway, and you can negotiate the when, and perhaps the how much.
Myth 2. The whole point is to enrich the coffers of the Church. No, it isn't! The fee is to pay everyone who works on the case. My divorce cost more than my annulment, and my divorce lawyer charged me the Legal Aid rate.
|After almost 20 years, I think the analogy still stands.|
Myth 4. It's unbearably painful.
Myth 5. It's a doddle. No sweat. Piece of cake. A laugh. My condolences to any Catholic who met people from the Marriage Tribunal who yukked it up. The people I met took it all very seriously although I think they may have been surprised that I took it even more seriously than they did. I suspect many people don't bother to seek one until they find someone else to marry. For me remarriage was not the principal issue. Dissolving the bond was the issue.
I found the process very painful. But here I am alive to tell the tale. And married to a very nice Roman Catholic my mother rightfully adores.
Myth 6. Any faithful Catholic knows all about annulments and can give solid advice. So wrong. I'm not even sure I didn't make a mistake by using the expression "dissolving the bond." I'm not a canon lawyer. The more I know about annulments, the more I know I don't know. Any remarried Catholic who wants to regularize her/his situation should go straight to their parish priest. They shouldn't talk to their Aunt Betsy, their friend's friend who "got an annulment", or me. Parish priest. Even if he doesn't know that much, he knows how to START the process.
Myth 7. It's a compromise with the world's attitude towards marriage. It isn't. Personally, I attribute the high number of annulments not to the divorce rate, per se, but to the artificially prolonged immaturity of the Baby Boom and Baby Bust generations.
I believe that very few unhappy couples born after 1945 actually understood/understand what marriage was/is and how difficult it is by its very nature when they married. And I also believe that marriage has become even MORE difficult in societies where marriage is under constant attack by the sexual revolution and consumerism.
And I also--alas--think that many Roman Catholic priests have been remiss in the ways they have prepared or not prepared Roman Catholics for marriage in anti-marriage societies. It is not enough to bellow at us "Marriage is not a contract, it is a COVENANT" without warning us that without a shared commitment to our core values (and for devout Catholics that includes Christ), we're toast. Again, priests should talk less about how beautiful mixed marriages are (though certainly they often are, on a case-to-case basis, if not as an institution) and more about how they are a difficult exception from the norm.
Of course, the laity is probably also greatly to blame for the unpreparedness of themselves to marry at a reasonable age in ways too many to enumerate here. I, for example, was shockingly immature when I was 25, despite everyone telling me from childhood how mature I was. But I was never mature; I was just terrified of authority. Life hurt so much, I took refuge in daydreams, make-believe and story-telling, never more so than when I went to university and found, not Arcadia, but Sodom and Gomorrah.
*When the number three begins to appear all the time, you will know that I have a new laptop.