The first person to say anything nasty to me about my being divorced was another Catholic divorcée. This was during a "writing centre" session at theology school, about six years after the annulment, five years after the divorce. Once or twice a week, I met with fellow students to advise them about the papers they were writing--sometimes to explain essay structure, sometimes just to check their spelling, and sometimes to suggest cures for writer's block. As these there theological papers, the conversation sometimes flowed to the personal, and one fellow student--ten or twenty years my senior--confided that she was divorced.
"Oh," I said, and followed that up with something very few people at the college knew, "I'm divorced, too. I got an annulment afterwards," I added, as I always, always did, to remove the sting of scandal.
"Well, I guess that makes you better than the rest of us," snarled my fellow divorcée.
Being attacked for having submitted myself to the annulment process was a new experience. Years before, at a dinner in the basement of the Oratorians' Saint Vincent de Paul Church, locus of old school, orthodox, rather traditional Toronto Catholics, I had responded to a polite question about my ex-husband with, "I don't know. The marriage has been annulled."
"It never happened then," said the chap--lay or priest, I don't remember--warmly, and may God shower blessings on his head now and forever. My inner wounds, let us say, were still fresh, and I was spiritually bleeding, and I was rather afraid of all these old school, orthodox, rather traditional Toronto Catholics. I cannot begin to imagine why I was at that dinner at all. However, I am so glad I was, and even though "it never happened" is not an exact explanation of what an annulment is, that was the best possible thing anyone there could have said.
One thing I could count on, among orthodox Catholics in the 1990s, was consistency. When it came to annulments, nobody made nasty remarks about rubber stamps, and only ex-Catholics made jokes about paying for repairs to the church roof. Roma locuta, causa finita seemed to be the motto, and I felt glad and strengthened after the abysmal, painful, unavoidable, blessed, freeing annulment process. Despite allowing me to marry an anti-Catholic, the Church had saved me, given me the certificates, dusted me off. Toronto ruled in my favour, and then so did the Papal Nuncio. Ottawa locuta, causa finita. I kept the papers in an orange gift box. In case of fire, I would have grabbed it first. This was not so much because I hoped to marry again--although I did--but because the papers proved that I was not still married. To have gone through all that, and I did everything one after the other--Abandonment, Separation, Divorce, Annulment, and have people tell me my ex still had claims on me was just unthinkable.
And, indeed, it did not happen until after I announced my engagement to B.A. on Seraphic Singles and got a long and nasty comment from a very unhappy male stranger, who apparently resented the money he thought my diocese had spent on my behalf, etc. However, I got a handful of strange comments and emails from male readers at that time--two virtually broke up with me--and although it shocked me that a complete stranger resented my happiness, he did not have the same impact as either my fellow divorcée or that blessed man in the church hall who so warmly said, "Then it never happened."
So when Pope Francis alleges that the "Divorced and Remarried" are not already welcomed by the Church, I cautiously agree that there may be a few isolated individuals who take out their own disappointments on Catholics who have gone through a divorce, got an annulment, and been remarried in the Church. Twice-married "Professional Catholics" like me--it's not a term of pride, incidentally, but it's currently a fair description--get grilled before we are allowed to peddle our wares in European Catholic magazines and on European Catholic radio shows. It's not particularly pleasant, but tough beans. There's an important principle at stake, and both Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher died for it, Saint John Fisher quite horribly.
And that's it. That's the only kind of "unwelcome" I have had from my Church, insofar that I was divorced and remarried: unhappy people being surly and media people fulfilling their responsibility towards their Catholic audience. If you write a book called "Seraphic Singles", and it is marketed as a Catholic book, you had better have been single when you wrote it, as I discovered in a recording studio in Warsaw. Fortunately, I was.
But we all know that by "Divorced and Remarried" nobody is really talking about people like me, are they? The existence and experiences of Catholics faithful enough to put themselves in the hands of God and the Church by applying for an annulment have been swept under the carpet. Nobody notices us or talks about us: all they can talk about are divorced people who never bothered and are not so much remarried as married to two people simultaneously, or married to one person in the eyes of God, and married to another person only in the eyes of the state. I was so annoyed by how little attention was being paid to Catholics who are divorced and remarried licitly, I decided to come out as "divorced, annulled and remarried" in my column at the Catholic Register.
Well, I guess that makes you better than the rest of us.
The Boomers are such a hoot. Their creed was "We don't need a piece of paper to prove our love for each other," and now it is "We don't need a piece of paper to prove that we're free to marry somebody else." I assume it is the Boomers--particularly the German Boomers--who are clamouring to receive communion, since my generation and Polish Pretend Daughter's generation are not that excited about church attendance, particularly those members among the vast numbers who rate their sex lives over the teachings of Christ and His Church. And as it was not well rubbed into my generation how spiritually damnable it is to receive the Eucharist when you are in a state of mortal sin, I would bet my last dollar that most "Divorced and [Illicitly]Remarried" Canadian Catholics who still go to Church are receiving communion ANYWAY. In a big urban parish, who's to stop them? A EMHC? Don't make me laugh. The priest? Does he know the couple from Adam (and Eve)?
I am amusing myself by imagining scenes in which a man and a woman and their (or "their") children are socializing after Mass and casually mention that one or both have "former" spouses elsewhere. I suppose it could happen, although "Gosh, your son doesn't look like his father" isn't really the first after-Mass remark that comes to mind.
I suppose it might happen that a Boomer, approaching retirement and bored senseless by his priest's sermons, which he thinks he could write better, decides to give ministry a go himself, and asks his priest about his becoming a deacon. The priest might say, "Well, you realize that if your wife dies, it's a life of celibacy for you," and the Boomer might reply, "You mean my current wife?" Then the priest says--incidentally, they're speaking German--"How many wives have you had?" And the man chortles and says there was Greta, back in 1972, but they're been divorced for yonks, and he hasn't seen her since their daughter's wedding last year. He and Mitzi got hitched at the Rathaus in 1984. The priest, staggered, then says something awkward like, "Wait a minute. Have you ever had that marriage regularized?" And Gerhardt (his name is Gerhardt) is dead shocked and says, after a pause, "Well, I know we've never had children of our own, but we have also never indulged in Greek practices." Then he goes home and writes an outraged letter to Cardinal Kasper and maybe one to Bild.
Honestly, I cannot imagine any situation in which a divorced-and-remarried Catholic who isn't trying to become the Henry VIII of his parish church would reveal to all and sundry that he has never bothered to get an annulment. It would surely only come up if, like me, he set himself up as some kind of spokesman for Catholicism. We do not turn away children from baptism or Catholic schools because their parents are bigamous/adulterers, so I really do not understand what is going on, or why Pope Francis seems to think "the Church" has been unwelcoming to the "divorced and remarried" any more or less than it has been to other notorious--and by notorious, I mean widely known, scandalous, out-and-proud, public, sanctimoniously unrepentant--sinners.
As for public adulterers who indignantly say they are no such thing receiving Communion, someone on Father Z made a really excellent analogy. A bleeding-heart with a faulty understanding of the Eucharist as "a family meal" suggested that to invite the Divorced-and-Remarried to Mass but not give them communion was akin to being a warm Italian Mama (nice stereotype there), who invites you in, and lets you smell the delicious food, and then doesn't feed you anything. However, this was countered by a wit with a much better understanding of the Eucharist as "the unbloody sacrifice" who said the Church was like the Italian Mama who, after inviting you in, discovers that you are bleeding from a hideous gut wound, and stops you from eating anything because it could kill you.
UPDATE (Aug 7): Voice of the Family announcement here.