The Catholic Thing
Tribunal Troubles Print E-mail
By Randall Smith   
Thursday, 25 April 2013

Among the many part-time jobs I did during graduate school, one involved working for an airline. Something I discovered working that job was that, although there are any number of difficulties that will annoy passengers, there is one that is guaranteed to alienate them forever.

Passengers dislike flight delays, no legroom, and rude, uncaring airline personnel, but none of these will necessarily keep them from flying your airline again. Lose their luggage, on the other hand, and they’re done. They won’t be back for years – if ever. The problem is, it’s very easy to get so busy getting people on and off planes that you forget this little side affair, but it carries an extraordinary degree of importance in the lives of passengers.

There is a similar sort of difficulty, I’ve found, that besets Catholic dioceses. Bad music, ugly churches, lousy preaching all annoy the faithful, but they’ll often keep coming back – for a while, at least. Mishandle an annulment, on the other hand, and they’re done. I’ve seen the situation far too often: A faithful, dedicated Catholic approaches the Church for an honest judgment about whether a marriage was valid or not, and they are greeted with rudeness, petty bureaucratic delays, lost paperwork, bad advice, misdirection, and at times, even outright lies.

It’s easy to get so busy taking care of the day-to-day business of running parishes that you forget the little side affairs that carry an extraordinary degree of importance in the lives of the people involved. The pain and bitterness caused by a mishandled annulment proceeding isn’t going away anytime soon.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not calling for easier or more frequent annulments. The standards for granting annulments are set by canon law and Biblical mandate. My plea has to do, rather, with the bureaucratic and pastoral dimensions of the process. Lost paperwork, bad advice, rude secretaries, and a lack of pastoral sensibility among the tribunal staff all do serious damage.

I have no doubt that nearly every tribunal in this country is understaffed. Most bishops are, quite rightly, focusing their attention on the day-to-day workings of parish life. That is as it should be. And yet bishops cannot be inattentive to the competency of their diocesan tribunals any more than airlines can be inattentive to the issue of lost luggage. The result will be Catholics lost to the Church – often forever.

And then of course there are the cases in which wealthy donors pay thousands of dollars to the Church and get their annulments in four weeks, while everyone else’s paperwork is lost or sits on a desk for months. The stories of these little payoffs almost always become known, whether bishops think they can keep them quiet or not.

There are also the foolish priests who cynically advise petitioners (with a wink) that if they simply change their plea, it will all go much easier. This sort of irresponsible behavior merely convinces the people involved that the process isn’t a serious search for the truth, but merely a legal game clerics play that involves moving categories around to dress up the whole unseemly business in a nice package.

And then tragically, we find Catholics who have been granted annulments on good solid grounds, but who still doubt the soundness of that judgment because the tribunal’s work was so sloppy, perhaps even corrupt. Some of these will tragically spend their lives believing (and telling everyone else) that annulment is really just “Catholic divorce.”

The faithful deserve better. They need an honest determination whether they were in fact married or not based on an open and transparent process with clearly defined standards of evidence. They should be afforded this judgment within a reasonable time, and the process should be clearly explained to them beforehand and at every stage along the way. Catholics have a right to well-informed advice and not to have to hear cynical ploys from clerics who think they know how to game the system. They need office workers who don’t lose their forms and who talk to them respectfully, with a sense that the people calling are going through a heart-wrenching process and thus probably will not be at their best.

Above all, petitioners should be told repeatedly that they are going through a process that is both legal and pastoral. It is pastoral in that it involves a journey of serious and oftentimes difficult self-examination that will likely be discomforting, but which, if entered into honestly, can bring greater self-understanding and wisdom for a better future. And yet, while pastoral, it is also a legal procedure with legal categories and standards.

Thus at the end of the day, it isn’t merely a question of whether the spouses feel that they were married or not. The issue is whether, based on the laws of God and the Church, they actually were married. If they were, no power on earth can dissolve that bond.

Catholics seeking annulments have to be ready to go through a tough process. Annulment is heart-wrenching because it touches the people involved at their most intimate and vulnerable places and requires some of the most difficult bits of self-honesty Catholics are called upon to undertake. There’s no getting around the difficulties, and there’s no point soft-selling it.

But for God’s sake, just handle the paperwork and make a decision in a reasonable time. After two or three years go by with no decision, even the most faithful Catholics will have started dating again, setting them up for an extremely gut-wrenching break-up if the decree of nullity is not granted. Lose their paperwork in the process, and even if the annulment is granted, you’re still probably losing someone from the flock forever. You can’t convince them that it’s the Church of the poor and the suffering when people come to you at the lowest point in their lives, and you don’t care enough to keep their paperwork straight.

Randall B. Smith is Professor at the University of St. Thomas, where he has recently been appointed to the Scanlan Chair in Theology.
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Comments (44)Add Comment
written by Joseph P. Lindsley, April 25, 2013
Dr. Smith, the problem of marriage annulment is far greater than diocesan offices of circumlocution!
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, April 25, 2013
With annulments running at 60,000 a year, it is a curious fact, though true, that there must always be a considerable number of Catholics who could not say off-hand whether they were married or not. It is only when the question has been decided by a marriage tribunal that their doubts can be removed. But although they do not know if they are married, and no one could tell them with certainty till their case has been heard, it is nevertheless true that they must be either one or the other. There is no half-way house.
written by Manfred, April 25, 2013
You have nailed it, Mr.Smith! Some years ago, the former mayor of New York, Robert Wagner, realized he had married an alcoholic. He approached the A'diocese of N.Y. and was told the annulment application would take some years. He was advised by his attorneys to set up his residence in the Diocese of Brooklyn where EVERY ANNULMENT APPLICATION WAS GRANTED. He was granted his annulment. When Ted Kennedy divorced his wife Joan, he did not bother to seek an annulment. After he had received Communion at Jackie Onassis's funeral, a reporter asked a priest/spokesman for the A'dioc. of Boston how this was permitted. The priest responded that the second marriage had been "blessed". The reporter responded that he was Catholic and had never heard of a "blessed" marriage without an annulment. The priest stood up and left the press conference. Thank you, Prof. Smith. You have shown the light on an area where Catholics need mature, practical assistaance. They learn that the Church is replete with mediocrities and mental midgets. Think of how long Boeing Aircraft, as one example, would exist if it admitted it had not made an airplane in sixty years, but had piddled around with unsupervised schools, hospitals and soup kitchens.
written by Sue, April 25, 2013
But on the other hand, our time and place is so much more efficient at dishing out annulments than that of Henry VIII. If only he had reigned in the 21st century, (and in annulment capital-of-the-world US of A) he would been able to get his dearly sought freedom to remarry.
written by Titus, April 25, 2013
Prof. Smith is surely right that many diocesan bureaucracies make the Sarbonian Bog look like I-40. But as others above me in the comment box have suggested, the scandal goes deeper. The scandal is the absurd range of flimsy justifications on which ecclesiastical tribunals purport to grant annulments.

Lateran IV is rather clear on the requirements for a marriage: a man and a woman, neither being under an impediment, exchange vows in the present tense expressing a lifelong, unconditional commitment. Modern law requires a witness having faculties from an appropriate ordinary.

What part of that test do the thousands and thousands of annulment petitioners fail? Did you intended lie about his ability to consummate the marriage? Were you actively coerced? Were your vows improper or are you barred by consanguinity from marrying this person? Oh, you were just nervous? You went through with the wedding because you didn't want to disappoint people? Tough cookies, people: you stood up and took a solemn oath before God and man. The martyrs were broken on wheels and disemboweled for refusing to be forsworn: you could have demurred if you weren't sure you were up to discharging the duties of that vow. If God is just, there will be a reckoning for those who claim that an oath is rendered meaningless because the person taking it has butterflies.
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 25, 2013
The basis of far too many annulments is the purported psychological status of one or both of the parties prior to the marriage. These psychological disorders often fall into the category of gross immaturity or 'personality disorders' of one kind or another. Based on this, a case could be made that most people getting married these days, including Catholics, would qualify for a later annulment and there is no trouble at all (given the right fee paid) to get a mental health professional to sign an affidavit to this effect.

How do I know this? I am a licensed mental health practitioner and have been asked on numerous occasions after seeing someone for counseling to testify that conditions existed prior to the marriage that would have impaired a full engagement of the will in entering into the union. My stance has been and will always be that I did not know and examine the person years prior to seeing them and can make no honest determination about a defect of will based on a purported personality disorder at the time.

Apart from the more straightforward reasons to grant an annulment such as an irregularity of a prior marriage due to form and obvious gross psychosis, most annulments are a sham. We have trivialized the commitment to lifelong marriage in our Church. In fact, one would think that marriage annulments should be getting fewer and fewer if we were truly examining whether the couple had the requisite mental faculties to enter into the union. We don't and should. But if we applied the same personality criteria that qualifies a married couple for annulment to the pre-marriage discernment process, a vast number of people would simply not pass the muster.

Oh how the Church has changed to accommodate the secular world view. Basically, the problem is that many people are flying these days who have no business getting on board an airliner. Then they won't run the risk of getting their baggage lost. Better yet, if you do get on board a plane and check in your luggage, accept the fact that there are risks involved and quit blaming everyone else when a problem arises. The world, after all, is not a perfect one in case you hadn't noticed.
written by william manley, April 25, 2013
Simple solution: follow Christ's teachings and end the practice of granting annulments.
written by Bangwell Putt, April 25, 2013
Professor Smith uses easily understandable terms to describe a process: "The faithful ... should be afforded this judgement within a reasonable time, and the process should be clearly explained to them beforehand and at every stage along the way." (This description presupposes knowledge and correct understanding of canon law and Catholic teaching.)

Several of the comments support his point that the subject of annulment has not been "clearly" understood by clergy and laity; this lack has caused much suffering, even bitterness, and alienation.

A post at yesterday by Rob Schwarzwalder is pertinent to this piece and the comments: "Does Reason Still Matter?". The author notes that appeals to emotion, aspersions casing doubt on the opponent's motives and/or personal integrity, use of words carrying implicit cultural meaning (words which outweigh the effect of reasoned argument), and use of anecdotal evidence have begun to characterize public debate. Loss of clarity, loss of trust, an increasing sense of isolation are the tragic result.
written by Jim Thunder, April 25, 2013
My understanding is that there are numerous dioceses around the world that have NO marriage tribunal. I never see this discussed.
written by Randall B. Smith, April 25, 2013
Gentle Readers,

Please note that I have not criticized the findings of such tribunals or the criteria upon which they judge. Nor have I bemoaned the number of decrees of nullity granted. I actually trust canon lawyers and the work of tribunals for the most part. I have found that many people do not understand the nature of annulments or the difficult work tribunals must do.

So, for example, if you say (quite rightly, in one sense): "Hey, people, you stood up and made a promise." The problem is, although that may have been true for one spouse, it may not have been for the other. If one's spouse had sexual relations with the maid-of-honor the night before the wedding, and sex with the neighbor down the street two days after the wedding (think Don Draper from "Mad Men"), one might question the honesty of his vow to remain faithful for life.

Tribunals have an extraordinarily difficult task. My sole point is that tribunals must do their work speedily, effectively, and with supreme pastoral concern for the parties involved. They must also never, ever take bribes.

Botched annulments are spiritually deadly. Bishops cannot afford not to pay serious attention to the workings of these little fiefdoms.
written by Michael, April 25, 2013
My concern is in this sentence:
After two or three years go by with no decision, even the most faithful Catholics will have started dating again, setting them up for an extremely gut-wrenching break-up if the decree of nullity is not granted.

The concern isn't in the author's position, it's in the seemingly correct observation that even our society's "most faithful Catholics" feel entitled to their right to have a relationship due to their special circumstances. If we can't even expect restraint from this very group of people (the faithful waiting for a decision), then we will continue to weaken our stance in the debate about what marriage actually is.
written by Elizabeth, April 25, 2013
Excellent piece, and I agree that no judgement is made here about the decisions being granted, simply the inefficiency and lack of pastoral care in the process. One thing that is important to note is that many of those approaching the tribunal are non Catholics who seek to marry a Catholic. My husband is one of these. There is a huge ecumenical and evangelical opportunity missed by tribunal staff here. In my husband's case, his encounters with the tribunal were disheartening at best. After his first meeting with the nun who runs the tribunal, he called me almost in tears (and he is not a tearful guy), due to the lack of compassion and "strictly business" attitude she showed. He is a faith filled man who only wanted to do right by the Catholic woman he loved. I'm so thankful he was able to see beyond the process and faithfully and gladly attends mass with me.
written by Tyler, April 25, 2013
I can think of a few ways the process can be streamlined. First, prioritize and categorize the annulments by reason for separation/divorce (physical abuse, mental abuse, abandonment, etc...). Doing this will allow the more serious cases to be identified and processed accordingly. Second, identify cases by the degree of civil legal acrimony. Did the couple write-up their own divorce agreement, did they go see lawyers, or did they go to trial. Knowing the legal acrimony between the couples is probably another good indicator of the complexity of the annulment. Also by knowing the legal acrinomy the tribunal can be sensitive to the fact that the couple may have had to already go through the self-disclosure process already and is, more than likely, eager not to have to do anything resembling a legal matter.

I would also suggest that Church's develop support groups for those abandonment spouses who still wish to honour their marriage vows. If these support groups are not developed, it really does appear that the Church really doesn't believe in the indissolubility of marriage.
written by DS, April 25, 2013
I find much irony in the fact that "The Catholic (i.e, universal) Thing" is often a provincial, American-centric perspective. And sometimes a narrower Fox News/Tea Party perspective.

Today, however, that narrow perspective is appropriate. Annulments should be a cause for introspection in particular for US Catholics because their growth from the 1970s onward was largely an American phenomenon. After seeing Michael Seymour-Paterson's comment about 60,000 annulments globally per year, I found out that about 35,000 (~60%) are in the US, while only 6% of global Catholics are American. The next largest number is Italy (2,600). By contrast, Africa has 14% of global Catholics and only 0.9%(!) of annulments. Now admittedly, the US has fallen from a peak of 64,000 in 1991, but it is still the only global annulment superpower.

I agree with the columnists that petitioners are entitled to both pastoral care and a reasonable legal process. But the expectation that we can imitate corporate America and litigate everything (including a marriage's validity) should cause American Catholics to do some soul-searching. Should American Catholics feel entitled to such a robust marriage tribunal infrastructure when many global Catholics do not have the necessities of life?

Something has gotten badly off track.
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, April 25, 2013
Randall Smith said: "So, for example, if you say (quite rightly, in one sense): "Hey, people, you stood up and made a promise." The problem is, although that may have been true for one spouse, it may not have been for the other. If one's spouse had sexual relations with the maid-of-honor the night before the wedding, and sex with the neighbor down the street two days after the wedding (think Don Draper from "Mad Men"), one might question the honesty of his vow to remain faithful for life."

The same holds true for the vow to be open to children. How many women stand at the altar and profess to be "open to children" while at that moment are on the pill and actively contracepting? How can you say with your mouth what you are not doing with your hormonal system? I would guess that all marriages where the woman is on contraceptives at the time of the sacrament have actually made a false statement since how can you be open to children when you are taking a drug that prevents same? Just asking....
written by belle, April 25, 2013
Dr. Smith please expound well why annulment is both "legal and pastoral.?" Kndly explain how is it "LEGAL?" church annulments are not recognize by the civil court/civil government, right? I will wait for your reply.

Thank you very much.
written by andrea, April 25, 2013
To those who seem to think that the only people seeking annullments were Catholic when they got married - that's just not true. Any one coming into the church with a secular marriage and divorce has to do it if they expect to later get married. I know, as I had to. When I got married the first time, 12 years before I became Catholic or even Christian, I had no idea what marriage really was, to me it was just a roommate agreement, an agreement to get car loans easier! It lasted all of 8 mths. I don't think I even ever agreed to until death in my 'vows'. I did not take a 'solemn oath before God and man', that's for sure. I was not a Christian. Yet, I still had to go through an annullment. 2 1/2 years of annullment and paperwork and disappointment and yes my faith, as a brand new Catholic was very sorely tried. I dropped into a deep depression during the process that lasted over a year AFTER my annullment was granted. On the other hand it gave me an appreciation for Eucharist that I would not have had otherwise, no taking it for granted for me!
My point is, not everyone who is seeking an annullment was married as a Catholic to a Catholic in the Catholic Church, nor even as a Christian. These are the ones that are the most vulnerable to losing faith and walking away from the Church. And to insinuate that they knew better when they got married, I don't know how they could have!
written by Vespasian, April 25, 2013
All annulments given by bishops and Popes are evil.
They are not metaphysically valid.
They have no standing before the Trinity.

There should be no annulments or marriage
tribunals anywhere ever.
Canon Law, in this regard, is Pharisee evil.

Those with annulments are still adulterers.
written by Richard M, April 25, 2013
I think Prof. Smith highlights a serious issue for the Church.

"After two or three years go by with no decision, even the most faithful Catholics will have started dating again, setting them up for an extremely gut-wrenching break-up if the decree of nullity is not granted."

In all honesty...the goal really ought to be one year, whatever the judgment turns out to be - unless it truly is a complex case. There's no question there's been abuse of annulments, and that some have been too easily granted...but Catholics properly applying for an annulment have a right, I think, not only to efficient handling of their case, but an expeditious handling as well. To leave a petitioner hanging for two, three, four or even five years (I know of such cases) raises serious questions of injustice. It may well be that the tribunal finds no reason to grant the application. But petitioners deserve an answer, yes or no, in a reasonable timeframe, as resources allow (and we know how many tribunals are short-staffed).

And there are other areas in need of improvement. Priests need to be better trained to do up front assessment of cases - that can save all involved a great deal of trouble and heartache. And, as other posters have noted, the Church has never done enough to set up better support systems for the divorced.
written by Titus, April 25, 2013
Kndly explain how is it "LEGAL?" Church annulments are not recognize by the civil court/civil government, right? I will wait for your reply.

He means canonically legal.

As for Prof. Smith's own comment, it is clearly evident from reading his essay that he himself was not offering a critique of the results of the tribunal process in the United States. But those results nevertheless deserve critiquing, and they deserve critiquing from Catholics who do understand the canonical and theological dimensions of the Church's teaching about marriage and nullity.

DS cites the damning statistics: this country has been an annulment factory. The rate at which American tribunals have found nullity, and the absurd grounds on which such rulings are at times issued, require one of two conclusions. Either (a) American tribunals have been issuing false declarations of nullity by the truckload or (b) the Church has suffered a near-complete loss of Her ability to dispense grace through the sacrament of matrimony.

Yes, the validity of a marriage requires mutuality of valid consent. But so what? Both parties to the wedding exchange facially and presumptively valid vows. The criticism of the basis of many decrees of nullity as irrelevant psycho-babble (I intend no insult to Rev. Mr. Peitler) is not any less appropriate just because the basis focuses on only one party. That is a non-responsive defense. Indeed, given that the standard of proof for a declaration of nullity is moral certainty, I am not at all confident that even Don Draper automatically escapes his vow.

Is slipping into the broom closet with the maid of honor probative of whether the groom lied when he said "I do"? Sure. Does it demonstrate it with moral certainty? That's laughable. Drawing that conclusion requires a wholly wrongheaded view of concupiscence. That a man acted immorally in the (even recent) past might suggest that he is likely to act immorally in the future. But it does not, by itself, demonstrate that his expression of an intention not to do so is false. If that's enough to prove that a marriage vow was sacrilegious, it's enough to prove that almost every confession is as well.

In his second comment. Rev. Mr. Peitler mentions openness to children. I think his comment is perfectly correct. But I do not think it relates to validity: openness to children is an obligation born by married persons, but it is not itself a constitutive element of the sacrament. Permanent vows in present tense, mutually exchanged before a qualified witness and without impediment: that's all.
written by dms, April 25, 2013
Hopefully, the author has taken all these serious allegations to the proper authorities and not simply referenced them on a blog, or whatever this is.
written by John M, April 25, 2013

The Catholic Church has a legal code, called the Code of Canon Law, and hence canon lawyers and tribunals. Church law is a different breed than civil law, and it affects only one's standing in the church (which in our society you can voluntarily leave), but it's still a legal process.

Hope that helps.
written by Former Monk, April 25, 2013
Sometimes, one who deals with parishioners in a pastoral setting who
Are waiting on this and years for an annulment, or who have been turned down,
But they wish to remain faithful Catholics, one turns to the internal forum to help
People remarry in the church so that they can s,chart a new life together with the person
They love. This was taught to me by the Judicial Vicar of a Diocese I served in.

The couple who wish to remarry has one person who attempted to get an annulment
But it did not work out.
So, the couple marries civilly somewhere.
Then, in private, the couple come before a sympathetic priest,
Alone in the Church.
They recite their vows, have their rings blessed, receive The Nuptial
Blessing, and, if both are Catholic, Holy Communion.

There is no record or certificate. Was the marriage blessed by a priest? Yes,

The Judicial Vicar said there were many different kinds of death that could apply
To either parties first marriage as a just reason for the nullify of the marriage
(emotional, psychological death, etc). although not done often , this pastoral
Solution has proven the saying that there are many more 2nd marriages
That are way more valid than first marriages.
written by Titus, April 25, 2013
"To those who seem to think that the only people seeking annullments [sic] were Catholic when they got married"

Not even the trolls in this thread made such an insinuation.

"When I got married the first time, 12 years before I became Catholic or even Christian . . . I don't think I even ever agreed to until death in my 'vows'. I did not take a 'solemn oath before God and man', that's for sure."

Well, then a statement about what happens when people do take such oaths isn't discussing your situation, even by its own terms, is it?

Not every event we label a "wedding" results in an indissoluble marriage. Nobody disputes that. Individuals who become parties, on their own initiative or someone else's, to an annulment proceeding deserve an efficient and well-operated process. Dr. Smith's comments in this regard could not be more accurate.

But we have a bigger problem with the process in this country than mere fecklessness by tribunal officials, as truly terrible as that is.
written by YoSure, April 25, 2013
"And then of course there are the cases in which wealthy donors pay thousands of dollars to the Church and get their annulments in four weeks, while everyone else’s paperwork is lost or sits on a desk for months."
That says it all.
written by Fr. Duesterhaus, April 25, 2013
Many interesting observations, but one of the things to note is that many annulments (and the vast majority that I have worked on for over 20 years) are non-Catholic marriages.

You think it is hard to approach an ex-spouse about the validity of a marriage in the Church? Try contacting the ex-spouse who is Baptist and the wedding was in a Baptist church to another person who - at the time - identified as Baptist.

When Protestants want to convert to Catholicism and/or marry a Catholic is where a large number of cases before Tribunals arise.

And while many a priest or deacon may have a divorce mentality, they are not the norm.

Oh, and do remember, many of the stories about quickie annulments are just that - stories, similar to the diatribes years ago that those who went to Catholic schools in the 50s and 60s were all beaten by the nuns. Things did happen, but much is the fog of ignorance and the resentment of the fallen away.
written by Msgr. Kee, April 25, 2013
I have spent the past 10 years working full time as a canon lawyer, while also balancing the demands of being a full time pastor. I can fully understand the gripes and heartaches that many can express with ease on this subject. However, I wish some could "walk in my shoes" for a week or two. The decisions we render are not based in any way on bribes or conniving. The decisions we render are arrived at after very detailed study and deliberation. Do I wish the speed of the process were improved? Clearly. But in my circumstances, the only way to do so would be to abandon virtually all parish ministry for the sake of 100% effort devoted toward Tribunal ministry. An additional option for help is to employ more canon lawyers, however they are not "cheap" or "easy" to come by. Now it takes 3 years of license, graduate study AFTER the graduate level of study in theology. It's time consuming and expensive, and not a discipline that is suited to everyone's intellect and temperament. I have not encountered "fiefdoms" anywhere in my travels of the USA. What I have encountered are many good canon lawyers, trying to do the best they can with limited resources. I and my colleagues never attempt to be uncaring or pastorally insensitive. However, I cannot provide the spiritual counsel from my office that rightly should be given to clients by the pastors "in the field" who are guiding these persons in bringing forth annulment petitions. I find too many times individuals coming into my tribunal offices who have been poorly prepared by the priests and deacons of their parish, wherein they have begun the process. I can appreciate the author's stated disgruntled feelings, but some of the sentiments expressed seem based upon "story" more than fact, or at least facts as encountered in my ministry. Take a moment and pray for the men and women working in the Tribunals. This is highly skilled ministry for the sake of the Church, and is in my experience thankless work. Can we do better? YES. Do I and others I know wish to do better? YES. Do we try to do better? YES. But I can't turn water into wine, and I can't create trained canon lawyers out of thin air. To get canonists I need clergy and laity who are willing and skilled, and I need bishops with willingness to part with the monies and talents of these people long enough for them to be trained. And of course, once trained, we would like to pay a living wage. It's not a ministry that will improve by mere ranting and raving.
written by Karl, April 26, 2013
The Catholic Church does NOTHING to work to heal wounded people and wounded marriages. It is ALL about divorce and annulment. I am going through the second go round and have opted out of it this time, having seen quite enough of the corruption
throughout the Catholic Church, for a life time.

I will remain faithful to our vows. I was there. No one can judge THAT reality better than I. If the Church choses to find nullity, so be it. I will remain faithful. If it does not find nullity, so be it. I will remain faithful. It is the souls involved which concern me, my wife's, her lover's, all of our children and those who have and continue to support the adultery which has plagued our marriage for decades, as the Church openly accepts and encourages it, on a daily basis.

I have little respect for our clergy, all the way up to and including the Popes, from John XXIII on. The Catholic Church is a mess, top to bottom. I am convinced very few clerics care anything about marriage, except for posturing according to their political, and to a far lesser extent, their limited religious beliefs.

The Church will continue to rot from within, as those in positions of governance have
abandoned marriage. The practices of the Church regarding marriage are simply scandalous. It is a joke that the process toward sainthood for Woytyla, continues. He
destroyed marriages with his disasterous governance.

It is very disheartening to see the Church, presently. Francis will do nothing to help those of us who have been abandoned by our spouse and by the Catholic Church, which supports their adultery. We have moved from bad to worse.
written by polycarped, April 26, 2013
Having been through an annulment process myself (well handled I might add - but also quite straightforward), I think a huge issue is marriage preparation (or the lack thereof). If solid (i.e. genuinely Catholic) marriage prep was required as mandatory and some observations/judgements were recorded and noted by the parish priest about the readiness of the couple to marry at that stage, i think a lot of time would be saved in annulment cases. Interestingly, I have heard of instances in which a priest (or another concerned third party) has given a sealed/dated envelope to be kept with the parish records, before the marriage, containing a statement giving reasons why that person believes the marriage is not being fully/freely consented to, etc. The idea being that such a statement could be opened and read if an annulment was ever sought. But my main point is that the tribunals are in many cases dealing with the mess left behind due to bad prep (and bad catachesis in general).
written by Elizabeth, April 26, 2013
As a previous commenter said, expecting a decision in one year is just. The Church has very smart people working for her, and can find a way to accomplish this. In my diocese, the annual budget is published in our diocesan newspaper, and the tribunal receives one of the largest amounts of funding, but 2 1/2 years is considered a "quick" timeframe. Msgr. Kee, do you know what the cost is, the makes these offices expensive, but with such slow results? Is is the cost to train canon lawyers? If so, perhaps there is a better way. Lots of reform needed, I know, but the dividends are eternal. Msgr. Kee, I will pray for your office, and hope you have the sense that you are doing good work for the faithful.
written by love the girls, April 26, 2013
"But for God’s sake, just handle the paperwork and make a decision in a reasonable time."

In other words, it's alright to ruin peoples lives by not taking their marriage seriously, as long as one is efficient about it.

Efficiently ruining peoples lives makes about as much sense as advocating for the use of handguns over knives to murder people.

It's the murdering that's the primary error, not the causing of pain and suffering during the killing.

The separation and annulment scandal is causing serious harm because those in authority willingly sell out the Faith in the name of misguided compassion.

"This sort of irresponsible behavior merely convinces the people involved that the process isn’t a serious search for the truth"

That's because it is not a serious search for the truth, the stories out there are far far too common for it to seen as serious.

written by Sue, April 26, 2013
Polycarped, thank you for the candor in sharing the "secret envelope" information. Those priests who practice this marital mental reservation should be first in line to receive an annulment of their own priesthood.

Also, Karl: I feel your pain, but don't blame the Church but its (many) faulty members, some of whom are in fact fifth column terrorists. We have the beautiful teachings of the Church, they can't take those away. And remember what John Paul II wrote: the "Jeweler's Shop", as eloquent a testimony to the marital bond as you will find.

As with Congress, I'm happy for the annulment mills to work slow as molasses, especially on cases where innocent children stand to be cut adrift. Think of the sisters in "Sound of Music" who stole the Nazi's sparkplugs to help the Von Trapps escape. Or the wiles of the girls in "The Parent Trap", resorting to extreme trickery to thwart the adulterer and reunite her parents.

Priests should be aware of the violence done to families (and to society (and to the Church)) by unworthy annulments.
written by Louise, April 26, 2013
Former Monk, you are mistaken...that is not a solution of which the Church approves and for priests to be involved is simply scandalous.
written by Msgr. Kee, April 26, 2013
As to the "question" of expense. The "fees" which are established for a Tribunal to charge the clients is established with the consent of the local bishop, this in concert with the other bishops of that province. The bishops have the "say so" on the fees that are charged. They are to discuss among themselves the fees to be asked for, and agree among themselves to the amount. This is done for each Province/Archdiocese, so that the amounts decided upon are relatively uniform within that region. This is the same process, by canon law, to be used for the establishment of mass stipend fees, baptismal fees, etc. The fees that are charged in my tribunal haven't gone up in about 15 years. They are relatively little, and we encourage the parishes to pay for this, on behalf of the client coming to us from a particular parish. Most of the times this occurs; sometimes, the pastor "forces" the client to pay. We never deny anyone a case being processed due to "lack" of payment, in that on occasions we do have to do the "pro bono" case. Our fees are quite mild, compared to the overall cost of operation. The operation costs can be high because it is skilled work - as a canonist I have 2 graduate degrees (one in theology and one in canon law). However, as a priest, I get a "flat" stipend for work, the same as any other priest in my diocese who works, regardless of the jobs we do or the number of tasks we are asked to do. However, we have many skilled and talented laity who have the right to a just wage, and they too have to have this level of education and training. So, pay them a living wage and of course, rather exhorbitant health care coverage, and the expenses of the office add up. So, sadly, it's not a "cheap" operation to run. It's a professional office, with trained professionals, offering service. However, in my office we certainly run things as "cheaply" as possible - i.e., use those pencils down to the NUB! The prices or "fees" charged vary a lot across the USA, that being due to the cost of living differences around the USA, and the numbers of cases. My offices run to the MAX all the time, and we stay about 1 year on a case. We strive for 1 year, and at times it has slipped longer, up to 2. I'm ashamed of that, but we have limited personnel, so we boogy as fast and hard as we can. To do better means we need more people. Some dioceses, though, in very heavily catholic populated areas, can take SEVERAL YEARS due to the case loads. LOTS of cases in one year, and only a limited staff. And, case loads will fluctuate from year to year, up and down like the stock market. In the past 12 months, my offices have had the case load go up by 50% - all of sudden, this spike in one year. So,sadly, that diverts us from being as free as possible for all the cases we already have in the pipeline. Honestly, I do have to say that for all the aches and pains, I feel that this is a vital ministry, and I wouldn't be doing it unless I felt that way. And, the folks I associate with feel the same. If I could "change" anything, it would be on the FRONT END - namely, beef up marriage prep and make the couples be rigorous and dutiful in their preparation, to ensure a well celebrated sacrament. When the persons come to my office, it's like trying to unscramble scrambled eggs. As to fees - if they are TOO HIGH for someone, they should not let that stop them. Introduce your case, plead poverty, and COMPLAIN loudly. All cases introduced have a right to be tended to speedily and sincerely. I get passionate about this work because I truly believe that what we do is service to the truth. However, we don't have the time or monies to hire a "public relations" firm to better educate the public at large.
Just my passing thoughts.
written by Mark J, April 27, 2013
Msgr. Kee,

Your complaint about finding qualified tribunal staff ignores all the posts here about abuses in the system. If annulments were only granted for valid causes the tribunals would be much smaller and less expensive for the [arch]diocese's.

Re-read Deacon Ed Peitler's frist post. There is no disputing that the vast majority of annulments in the U.S. are granted on the basis of Canon 1095. I would guess that 99.9% of the INVALID annulments are granted based on Canon 1095.

Fix the abuses with that Canon and the problem you describe will vanish.
written by Mark J, April 27, 2013
Former Monk,

Hey! That's a great idea! Not only should the "internal forum" be used for adulterers, we should find another obscure procedure for rapists, child pornographers, murderers and all folks who commit horrendous grave sin so that they can simply walk into a priests office and get 'permission" to go out and commit more horrendous crimes!

The so called "internal forum" is not a valid form of annulment. It does NOT give a person permission to remarry without an annulment.

Use common sense . . . "What God has joined let no man put asunder". The "internal forum" is a direct violation of that statement. At least a tribunal has specific canons to follow and the goal is SUPPOSED to be to determine whether there was a valid marriage in the first place. The "internal forum" just says "You may or may not have valid marriage but I (as a run-of-the-mill priest without any training on this issue) am giving you permission to remarry without any formal process of investigation to the validity or your current marriage".

Can anyone deny this is exactly what is happening in the "internal forum"?
written by Randall B. Smith, April 27, 2013
The Author Replies:

Msgr. Kee, I believe you misunderstood Elizabeth's question. Her comment was about the diocesan budget, not about fees. You wrote to her as though she had complained about the fees, but she did not. She wondered why, given that the tribunal took up so much of the diocesan budget, their work was so slow.

Msgr, your comments are, of course, well taken. But please notice they are about process, not about end results. Here is the bottom line: an annulment decision (yes or no) should take one year, give or take a couple of months. How the bishop makes sure that happens is up to him. But that is what's needed.

My experience has been that whenever I talk in terms of results, people who work in offices want to talk about all their problems and all the processes they're engaged in and how hard they're working.

Needless to say, I don't think you're making the many women who have written me telling me how they wept when they read this piece feel any better about their delayed annulments.

"Elizabeth," for example, knows that it is a hard job. She says, and I have no reason to doubt it, that she will pray for you. So will I. I respect what tribunals do, and I know it is a hard job and in many respects a thankless task. But don't imagine for a moment that women such as "Elizabeth" feel better about the Church's botched annulment processes having read your comments.

Instead of speaking with love and compassion about THEIR situation, you chose to speak solely about bureaucratic complexities. This is, dare I say it, the sort of response that makes so many Catholics feel so uncared for when they have to approach the tribunal at one of the worst times of their lives for a difficult decision that will affect their entire future. I'm not suggesting that this is the sort of response you give to plaintiffs who come before your tribunal. You seem to me to be a caring, dedicated priest and canon lawyer. But it is, unfortunately, the sort of response too many Catholics get.

As for those who wish that annulments should move "as slow as molasses," you have no idea what you're saying. People deserve a decision, yes or no, in an expeditious manner. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that all annulment petitions are granted. I guarantee you, they are not. If the answer is no, Catholics deserve to know. Justice delayed is justice denied.

And as others have pointed out, many of the cases that come before the tribunal involve non-Catholics who are in the process of entering the Church and who may have had a rather dubious sort of "marriage" that failed before they met some good Catholics and decided that the Church was the way to true happiness and human flourishing. If such a person were to meet and wish to marry a good Catholic spouse, then he or she would have to approach the tribunal to discern whether the previous "marriage" was an actual marriage (in the Catholic sense) or not. The Church is missing out on a major opportunity for evangelization if we don't treat these potential new converts with love and concern. Too many potential Catholics who are marrying Catholic spouses become totally alienated from the Catholic Church because their first experience with the Church is with the tribunal. If the shepherds lose these sheep, they will have much to answer for.

Some tribunals may work well and do their work expeditiously and with love and concern. But the horror stories of botched annulments are legion, and they come from all across the country. If the shoe fits.
written by Agnes Goh, April 27, 2013
I'm not a canon lawyer, but I had a little experience many years ago helping a priest canon lawyer go through his large backlog of cases, some of which have been dormant for years. Many files were rejected outright by the Judicial Vicar, and this priest could not understand why. ( I had attended his talk on the marriage tribunal. When he learned that I was a retired civil lawyer with time on my hands, he asked if I would help him. I accepted because I found the whole topic fascinating and quite different from civil law.)

On perusing the dormant files, I discovered that the rejected petitions did not even show a prima facie case. So I set about trying to contact the petitioners and re interviewed them. Their stories are quite heartbreaking. And many of them seem to find relief just to have someone listen to them for one or two hours while they unburdened themselves. I could afford to give the time as a volunteer, but how many priests and paid canon lawyers and staff can do that?

The other dormant cases resulted from neglect either on the part of the priest or the petitioners or both.

A big problem is ignorance by both priests and laity about the subject of Catholic marriage. Catholic understanding of marriage is so unique that few Catholics, let alone other people, have a clue. All they know is that Catholic marriage is for life and you cannot divorce. But they have no clue about validity, annulment and dispensation. It took me awhile to get my head around these areas. Understanding came only when I removed my civil law blinkers.

The Catholic faithful badly needs education is these areas, but how we go about achieving this is the big question. It's very hard to explain such matters. People's minds go blank because their mistaken understanding blocks attempts at explanation. But I think this topic needs to be an integral part of marriage preparation courses.

As for trying to bring non-Catholic petitioners to understanding, good luck! :- )
written by Micha Elyi, April 28, 2013
If only he [King Henry VIII] had reigned in the 21st century, (and in annulment capital-of-the-world US of A) he would been able to get his dearly sought freedom to remarry.
--Sue (April 25, 2013)

I disagree. Perhaps you don't know that Henry VIII had to get the Pope's permission to marry Catherine of Aragon in 1509, for she was his brother's widow. No way was that marriage going to be annulled. And it wasn't, despite the money and political favors the English crown offered to the Pope.

History. Learn it. Love it.
written by Sue, April 28, 2013
I am well aware of the H-VIII circumstances. My point was that the Amchurch establishment tend to IGNORE papal stances - in this case, the pope has pleaded with American bishops to make sure annulments are warranted (the Rota has overturned many, and as noted by others, our country is disproportionately disfigured with annulments).

History - learn it - the bishops of the US also ignored papal pleas against slavery, claiming that, somehow, it didn't apply to them. Love that pope!
written by John, May 06, 2013
More on Henry VIII, with a side trip to Henry's sister Margaret's annulment.

Henry VIII had solid grounds for an annulment. As noted, Catherine of Aragon had previously been married to Henry's brother Arthur, who died a few months after the wedding. Henry and Arthur's father, Henry VII, wanted to keep Catherine's dowry (several million dollars in today's currency), so he went to the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, to get a dispensation for the impediment of affinity.

Warham was then involved in a political fight with King Henry, so he refused to grant the dispensation. Henry twisted Warham's arm, and Warham gave the King what he wanted. Then, to make sure the 't's were crossed and the 'i's were dotted, he had the dispensation rubber stamped by the Vatican. Henry VIII and Catherine were duly married in 1509, the day before Henry's coronation.

Some 20 years later, Henry wanted out of his marriage. He requested an annulment on the quite legitimate grounds that Warham had granted the dispensation under duress. Catherine did not want the annulment, so responded with a two-pronged attack, one based in Canon Law, the other not.

Catherine claimed that she and Arthur had not consummated their marriage. Thus, the matter of the dispensation would not apply, since her marriage to Henry would actually be her first marriage. This claim should have gone absolutely nowhere, because the burden of proof was on Catherine, and she had only her unsupported word; and the presumption in dubious claims is "in favor of the bond".

However, the second prong of her attack kicked in. Catherine had a nephew, Charles, whom she asked to oppose the annulment before the Pope. Charles had a number of titles: Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain, and King of Naples. Charles happened to dislike Henry, both personally and politically, and was happy to oblige his aunt. In 1527, Charles, as King of Naples had a war with Pope Clement VII, Clement lost and Charles' troops sacked Rome. Clement did not want a re-run of that war, so he officially took Catherine's claim seriously. There were commissions of inquiry, special legates and so on.

Finally, Henry forced Clement's hand by ramming through several laws in Parliament. One of them said that marriage cases could be resolved locally and did not have to go to Rome (Thomas Cranmer, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, promptly granted the annulment). Another said that the annates -- essentially property taxes on Church land -- and the annual Peter's Pence collection in all parishes should go to the Exchequer in London, not to the Vatican. Clement took umbrage and denied the annulment.

Now, let me tell you about Henry's sister Margaret. Her father married her off to James IV of Scotland. In 1513, James saw an opportunity to do a land grab in England and invaded. The Scots and the English met at the Battle of Flodden, which was a disaster for the Scots; James was killed and buried on the battlefield.

The 2-year-old James V then became King of Scotland, and a council of regency was set up. The head of the council was Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. Hoping to strengthen himself politically, Angus persuaded Margaret to marry him. Well, it was not a happy marriage -- in 1520, Angus attempted to enter Edinburgh at the head of some troops, and was taken under artillery and infantry fire under the personal command of his wife.

By 1526, some of Angus' enemies were circulating a rumor that James IV had not actually been killed at Flodden, but had regained consciousness, dug himself out of his grave, and recovered from his wounds. However, he had not returned to Scotland, but instead made a secret pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But, he would be coming home any minute.

This rumor is as believable as the one that Elvis Presley is alive and running a 7-11, and for exactly the same reason. However, this did not stop Margaret from requesting an annulment on the grounds that her first husband was still alive (Cardinal Beaton, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and head of the Scottish Church, loathed Angus and supported Margaret's annulment). Angus, who wanted out of the marriage as well, raised no objection. Pope Clement granted it. As an ironical aside, as soon as Margaret had her annulment in hand, she promptly married someone else

So, Henry, who had legitimate grounds for an annulment, didn't get one; while Margaret, who had frivolous grounds, did get one.

written by Mary, January 09, 2014
From certain comments, I get the impression that there is a presumption that those seeking a Decree of Nullity 'just want out' and 'abandoned their spouse'. That may be the case in certain situations but not in my experience.

When my partner was 22, his girlfriend became pregnant. At the time in this country, unmarried fathers had (and still have) no rights. His girlfriend's parents threatened him that if he did not marry their daughter, he would never be allowed to see his child. My partner married his girlfriend and stayed for ten years but put up with mental and psycholgical abuse until he could take no more. His wife and her parents are quite dysfunctional due to alcholism. This was 23 years ago.

For those against annulments, how can this situation be a valid marriage ordained by God? It's a form of slavery that people should be kept in these situations for the rest of their life. Yes, I believe in the sanctity and permanence of a marriage entered into freely as defined by the Church but surely these situations are not valid marriages. The Church is right to define what marriage is but also what it is not. Thankfully, the Church in her wisdom provides for these situations in Canon Law.

I'm delighted to say that at present, my partner has received an affirmative decision at First Iinstance Level.
written by Cidalia, June 02, 2014
I don't understand some of these comments wishing the annulment process to go "slow as molasses." I understand that there are way too many divorces and annulments, but for some people, it is inevitable. I didn't find out until 8 years of marriage and two children that my husband was a pedophile. There is no way to reconcile such a marriage nor to protect the children. The damage was too extensive, too unfixable. Should I then sit through a slow-as-molasses annulment just because?
written by Terry, July 17, 2014
My husband, a non-Catholic, has been going through the annulment process in the Diocese of Fort Worth for over three years. His case is now at the Archdiocese of San Antonio appellate court where, we are told, it could be for another year. We married civilly a year after he started the annulment process, so I have been out of Communion with the Church for two years. I am extremely bitter about the whole process and agree with so many points in the Randall Smith's article.

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