Wednesday 9 September 2015

Annulment Stuff

Some of you are here to escape the latest news out of Rome. Some of you are no doubt curious to read what I have to say about it.

Nic nowego. Nothing new. Well, one thing: I am sure sorry for the bishops. I am reminded of the story of Paul VI trying to cope with the snowstorm of laicization requests on his desk in the wake of Vatican II. That will be nothing compared to the coming blizzards about to hit bishops.

How to stop Catholic divorce? Stop Catholics marrying. But Catholics have the right to marry if they are above the canonical age and have no impediments, e.g. being married already. Besides, we'd rather Catholics reserve their sexual activities to marriage, the best state for children to grow up in, and so raising the canonical age to 30 (my favourite armchair solution) would raise a few eyebrows, to say the least.

If I had access to the documents--and who does?--plus funding, I would research why it is that Catholics divorce, and then what it was that prevented their marriages from being sacramental. I would then make recommendations based on my findings to the Holy Father, or at very least my national Bishops' Conference, on how to catechize Catholic children so that they are properly prepared to enter into Catholic marriages.

Based on my own experiences of 1999, I do think the annulment procedures needed fixing.  These would have been my recommendations, had anyone asked:

1. Stop the climate of secrecy about the procedure. Be very clear, when you make the Catholic take an oath of secrecy, that you tell them what parts are secret and why. Is it okay if they tell others how traumatized they now feel, or is that supposed to be a secret, too? Can they tell others the grounds?

Incidentally, the Tribunal secretary (i.e. typist, etc.) knew my grounds long before I did. When I went in to ask, she just read it out to me like it was my mediocre Grade 11 math grade. It's been 16 years, so I don't remember exactly, but I am pretty sure an emergency appointment with my therapist happened.

2. Speaking of secrecy, what happened to the tapes of my interviews? Where are they? Are they under the seal of the confessional? Are canon law students listening to them for kicks? Have they been destroyed? (Please someone write in to tell me what happens to the tapes.)

3. Stop employing sisters to do the interviews. You might as well employ space aliens, for all divorced women think they have in common with sisters, no matter how hip the sister. There are a million of underemployed female Catholic non-sister M.Divs, many of whom know firsthand what an unhappy sexual relationship is like. We will also work for crap pay. Employ us instead.

Oh, as for our supposed inability to keep secrets, there's nothing like listening to a marriage tribunal sister rant, "Are these women STUPID?!" some years after you have had an annulment yourself.

4. Don't send people home distraught. Pastoral fail.

Update: I'm not satisfied with this post, which strikes me as quite beside the point in the face of the new motu proprios. I read Father Z on the subject; he's not happy. When B.A. comes home, we will listen to Cardinal Burke's lecture at Steubenville. But so far B.A. isn't happy either. He keeps wandering around shouting "Forty-five DAYS?"

Well, my own blogging goals haven't changed. I don't want you girls to marry whomever, get divorced and get annulments. I want you to find so much satisfaction in your Single lives and mature so much as adults (hopefully much faster than I did) that you never settle for less than the right man (or religious order), having become the right woman.


  1. I think the bit about making it much cheaper sounds like a very good idea though. I know that the whole procedure is very expensive in some places. Divorce is already horrible and expensive enough, and after paying for all of that I can see how not having the money would be a significant hurdle for some (already wounded) people.

    1. My divorce was $900 (Canadian and Australian $ are about the same, I think). My annulment cost me $600.

      That said, it may have been open and shut because it took just under a year.

  2. I think so too, Shiraz! I wish our local churches would stop bugging us for money to pay for things like the totally unnecessary full-time staffers and renovations that will make the church look even uglier than it already is, and start raising money for things like making annulments cheaper and so that they can stop charging for the sacraments, or at least ones like First Holy Communion. :P

    Also, why is it a bad thing to make the annulment process faster? (It seems like it can take an insanely long time in some places, from what I've heard.) Especially in places where you must have a civil divorce before you can apply for an annulment. It seems like making the process easier might cut down on the number of Catholics who divorce and remarry without one? (Although I'm sure the flip side is that there may be more that slip by that shouldn't actually get an annulment. So I guess the advantages and disadvantages would have to be weighed.) I'm really curious about this, because I've heard good arguments on both sides.

    And Seraphic, I think your suggestion about education in particular is key!! I've heard that the reason that there are so many annulments has a lot to do with the fact that so many Catholics have very little understanding of marriage at all.

    1. I agree with faster. I am not sure I agree with 45 days. For one thing, I keep thinking about poor bishops (already busy doing regular "safeguarding" training, recycling, wreckovating, interfaith meetings with Starhawk, and then their actual jobs) with piles of marriage on their desks, their souls on the line as they sign piece of paper. YEEK! Who'd want to be a bishop? Not me!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Oh, you know, I hadn't thought of what it would mean for the bishops, but that makes total sense.

      And SO true!!! I'm so glad I'm not a bishop. :)

  3. I am so very sorry to hear how traumatic the experience, or at least elements of it, were to you. Tribunals tend not to be very forthcoming to the parties to a marriage about their rights in the process. Indeed, many tribunals have their own policies and procedures that are not in accord with canon law and play loose (I won't say deny) with the rights of the faithful in the process. For instance, you may have agreed to appoint a procurator not having been informed that by doing so you are effectively signing over your ability to participate in a meaningful way in the process. You may not have been informed of your right to have a canon lawyer advocate, etc. That having been said, many tribunals do such things to ensure that the procedure doesn't grind to a halt due to delaying tactics (surprisingly, exes can be spiteful).

    Secrecy: Clearly, all the officials in the tribunal are bound to secrecy of office. Those who participate are often (though not necessarily under canon law) obliged to maintain secrecy too. The reason is that it allows parties/witnesses/experts to speak candidly in the knowledge that nothing they say will be used in another context (e.g. a lawsuit in civil court). Also, it's there to protect the reputation of those involved. For instance, since you have the right to read all the evidence that had been gathered (documents, expert reports, testimonies, etc.) before it goes for judgement to make your own comments, arguments, etc., you may very well learn things about an ex that could be damaging (psychological/psychiatric diagnoses, previous dissolute living, etc.) to their reputation if it became public. It's not supposed to silence your own experience.

    The tapes: They would have been erased right after the transcription. The complete original case is preserved for twenty years, absent microfilm or digital archiving, and the final sentence is preserved forever. Rest assured that no one is listening to those tapes. Also, the only cases that students of canon law ever see are all 'sanated.' Names, dates, locations are all changed.

    For what it's worth, I think that any tribunal in the world would be lucky to have you! The pay isn't even that bad - definitely better than what a 'youth minister' would hope to earn :). Also, female religious communities don't really have the sisters to spare anymore :(. The best auditors are those who have an keen insight into the motivations and dynamics of interpersonal relationships as well some acquaintance with the canonical jurisprudence of the grounds of nullity. It really helps the judges if good questions and answered in the interview.

    Tribunal staff tend to develop gallows humor among themselves. They deal with trauma and pain every day while having to maintain a certain critical distance to do their job properly (judging, deposing parties and witnesses, defending the bond, etc). Also, they are bound by secrecy not to reveal anything to anyone outside the other members of the tribunal. When a married judge returns home at the end of the day and his wife asks him how was work, all he can say was "Fine... Someone brought in cupcakes this morning." In my first weeks, I remember being so emotionally overwhelmed that I was worried I'd break down crying any moment. Regardless of that, you should never have been exposed to that, and I'm sorry that it happened.

    Anyway, back to work...


    1. Thank you for all this inside information. It is all very useful and interesting, and I may have to turn it into its own post.

      Meanwhile, 20 YEARS??! That said, it almost is 20 years. Burn, paper record, burn!

  4. Where's the 45 days coming from? I heard it was 60 days.

    I think, whatever the merits of the length of the expedited process, it seems the Holy Father had in mind places like Argentina, where routine trials could take four years due to shortage of staff.

  5. My diocese handles annulments free of charge. I think it is the most fair and eliminates any criticism that the Church uses them to generate money.

    1. Oh, Lord. Do people still say that? All a diocese has to do is send priests to the ambos on Sunday morning looking sad and saying, "We're broke. The Archbishop invested heavily on racehorses, and it didn't work so well." Then Joe and Mary Catholic reach into their wallets and produce a million dollars. The generosity and resilience of J&M Catholic never cease to amaze me.

    2. Heather in Toronto14 September 2015 at 14:46

      The racehorse comment just about made me lose control of my coffee, coming as it does after the final pledge drive weekend of our parish's portion of the archdiocesan fundraising campaign. At least it wasn't racehorses, more along the lines of "there are all sorts of great programs that need funding, but also, well, they started working on the restoration of St. Michael's cathedral and discovered some massive structural instability causing them to close it down so it might be a wee bit more extensive (and expensive) than we first thought..."

    3. The racehorses--and the generous bailout by the faithful--were inspired by events in British Columbia some time ago.

      My mother always says St. Mike's was built in the expectation that it would burn down one day and then the whole block could be used to build a proper sized Cathedral fit for the projected larger Catholic community. Sadly, this has not happened. Of course, maybe not sadly, as I can only imagine what post-modern horror might be built on poor little Bond Street.


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