Thursday 6 August 2015

Divorced and Remarried, Catholic Style

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.


  1. Expat Housewife6 August 2015 at 14:11

    This talk of the church not being welcoming is so tedious and insulting to people who follow the teachings through difficult times. The phrase simply means accepting that some Catholics are quite content in their mortal sin and patting them on the back for it. I guess the expectation these days is that people simply can't do any better and that the church must not ask them to change and - God forbid - sacrifice something.

  2. I'll say. Meanwhile, I'd like to know where the inspiration for the latest insult came from. Did Pope Francis overhear someone at church praying, "Thank you, Lord, for making me a Happily Married Man who sticks to my wife through think and thin, and not like this Divorced and Remarried Publican weeping over there as he beats his breast and says, 'God have mercy upon me a sinner?'" Because, honestly, it's the only explanation I can think of. There is no grand, ginormous plot among the whole Church (except Francis) to discourage sinners from coming to Church.

    However, there does seem to be a grand, ginormous plot among some people somewhere to confuse and alienate the Faithful, not to mention anyone with an eye for art, or an ear for music.

  3. Yes, I'm confused too, where all this "unwelcoming" is happening.
    My gut reaction says middle aged faithful singles are far more shunned than divorcees, any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

    As an EMHC I am put in the awkward position of administering holy communion to a friend at my church, who is twice divorced, no annulment, and "getting around". When I asked our priest for advice, he warned me that I am not in a position to know the state of her soul, and it's not my place to refuse her, or even make a kind suggestion that she at least approach a different EMHC than myself.

    Meanwhile, I was talking with my recently divorced brother and his live in girlfriend, about possible annulment. They have the paperwork, but are dragging feet because they know the other parties get to read their reasons for dissolving the marriage. They think it will be hurtful to their kids. (Teens and 20s)
    I was encouraged when girlfriend said, they must do it.... Just think we will be able receive communion again. But I wanted say, " you can still receive communion, you just have to go to confession and stop sleeping with each other." But I thought better of it to keep the peace.
    So confounding that they they value their sex lives over communion.
    Particularly form the eyes of a single celebit !

  4. It does not confound me. I think it is different for the Over-40 set, but for the Under-40s, the awakened sexual instinct is a massive power, a potential tyrant. If there have to be chastity speakers, then they should underscore it to the chaste celibates over and over again: sex is extremely powerful--don't kid yourself!

    1. They are approaching 50, and I'm a few years behind them. The difference is, they each married young, had children and presumably enjoyed healthy sex lives throughout their past marriages. While I have never married, and realize it's more important to live for God than to give in to such desires outside of marriage. Not to say it hasn't been a struggle! I'm certainly not kidding myself.
      Chaste women still have sex drives.
      I am, however, disappointed that my family can't seem to live Catholic values because they can't practice discipline. ( unmarried nephew and niece both have children while I wait, not so patiently for a husba

  5. By the way, the solution to your own problem is to give up being an EMHC. If you are no longer an EMHC, you will no longer be assisting your friend in her...What should I call it? What did Saint Paul say? "Eating and drinking in judgement against" herself. And if your friend asks why you quit (unlikely), you can say, "Because I care about you, and I couldn't stand seeing you do that to yourself anymore."

  6. When I studied canon law, one thing that my professors drilled into me was that in marriage law, there are no 'annulments,' but 'declarations of nullity.' This is no mere fussiness of terminology, as the two words express two very distinct concepts. The tribunals of the Church do not make marriages void. The presence of impediments to marriage, problems with the necessary formalities of contracting marriage, or defects of consent by the parties to marriage are what annul the marriage, so to say. The tribunals are entrusted with the task of discerning whether it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt (moral certitude) that such invalidating conditions were, in truth, present. Neither the tribunal nor the Church, but it is the truth that sets you free. The process of seeking a declaration of nullity is merely the procedure by which the Church assures herself of the truth of the matter and proclaims it to the parties.

    Msgr. Cormac Burke has an excellent short article on the matter on his excellent website:

    1. Ah, yes. Thank you very much for that explanation. All the same, I felt total gratitude. I didn't think, "Well, OF COURSE, they'll see the truth of it!" (This was, after all, the same Church that once warned people not to marry non-Catholics but then took away a massive support to the Catholic party in their ability to raise their children as Catholics.) My ex wanted nothing to do with the procedure, and I was so scared that they would "side with him". Looking back on it, I was a complete mess. When I think of that poor 25/26/27 year old, I just want to get in a time machine and whisk her away to the Historical House for a firm talk and a lot of cookies--or, rather, frozen yogurt, as she is practically allergic to fat.

      The theological realities of marriage-and-annullments are over here, and pastoral care of annullés (is there a word for us?) is over there. Annullés who are going through a divorce are probably (if temporarily) mentally ill, either from the marriage, or from the divorce, or both.

    2. Oh, and so to explain to annullés what is actually going on must be a real challenge. I was so frightened, hurt and sad, and I think anyone else my age and background must also be frightened, hurt and sad in such circumstances---unless she has met someone else, as happened to one girl I know. She was "lucky", and when I heard her story, I felt awful for her, and huge kinship for her, but at the same time, I wondered if God loved her so much more than me. (Which is a feeling I am sure long-term Singles also have.)

      Anyway, sorry to dump all this on you, when your comment is a very good and helpful one, which I do indeed appreciate. Truth is what is.

    3. Sorry--I should say, "Potential annullés who have been THROUGH a divorce". In Canada (at very least), you may not apply for an annulment unless you have had a civil divorce (or, I presume) annulment.


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