First Observations on Reformed Annulment Process

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By Ellen Romer Niemiec

Pope Francis issued two motu proprios concerning reforms to the annulment process. While it is currently only available in Italian and Latin and we aren’t particular scholars of those particular languages here at Catholic How, I have read as many reports and translations as I can before a second cup of coffee (though I did like the bullet points in Crux’s coverage).  As with most reports and news about the Church, I would recommend you inform yourself as best you can. From everything I have managed to read, here are my initial observations:

  1. Greater empowerment of the local church and attention to our smaller community. Echoing the tone of Pope Francis’ extension of discretion to forgive women who’ve had abortions, the local church is brought into greater focus as bishops are given a stronger role in the lives of their people. It is a reminder that while much attention is paid to Rome and the leadership that resides there, the church is far more widespread and the life of the Church is lived everywhere.
  2.  Process reforms with real pastoral effect. Reading about ‘reform’ and ‘processes’ can absolutely feel a little bit cold, especially when the reforms include things like fewer judges. If you’ve known someone who has tried to navigate the annulment process, you know it’s never actually simple. Taking money out of the equation removes a barrier and takes away the feeling of the Church as a business. Allowing appeals to be judged locally means that someone doesn’t have to feel that a major decision affecting their life isn’t being made by some person far away. A simplified process still respects and values the sacramentality of marriage but also respects the real lives of those experiencing the breakdown of a relationship and the challenges of civil divorce that all have to come even before the annulment process begins..
  3. Annulments are simplified – now what? These reforms will (hopefully) have a real impact on the lives of people trying to navigate what life looks like after marriage. Concrete adjustments such as these will have a pastoral effect, but what other pastoral care is offered to couples and families throughout this process? If focus is turned toward the local church, how can our local communities better support their members, not only through annulments, but through marriage prep, marriage counseling, divorce, etc? If the family is its own local domestic church, how are we tending to them when they experience difficult and sometimes traumatic change?
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5 thoughts on “First Observations on Reformed Annulment Process”

  1. What the Catholic church (and the powers that be) doesn’t realize is that many people (especially women as they get most of the flack for being divorced) aren’t divorced by choice. Their husbands left them, are they supposed to beg them to stay because of church doctrine? Next, it’s the judgment from the other smugly married parishioners. My florist, who is a lovely woman, who donates her time and talent for free to her local parish is ostracized because she’s divorced, other people – mostly ladies, have NO PROBLEM pointing out to her that she’s divorced, like she needs reminding. And it was not by her choice, her husband left her. Her 2 girls attended the parish school but now feel uncomfortable attending church events with their previous classmates because their parents are divorced. It’s like being divorced is a disease and it might spread. I was so grateful to her as my florist, she is amazing woman, she designed the most beautiful flowers for my wedding but she feels left out at church, why? Because she’s divorced. She felt the need to explain to me that she wasn’t divorced by choice. I stopped her right away as my own parents are divorced (and Catholic) and she is amazing and her girls are amazing. Oh and one of the people that loves to point out that she’s divorced, she’s been married for 40 plus years alright, to an alcoholic! What this pope is doing is changing the ‘country club’ gossip that goes on at churches and to keep someone away from receiving communion because of a divorce is beyond ludicrous.

      1. Yes it’s very sad. And I don’t regard ‘divorce’ as a sin. And should I ever get divorced one day (I don’t want to but you never know what life throws at you), I will still go up there and get my communion.

  2. I agree that the reality of what divorce looks like isn’t clear to a lot of ‘the powers that be’ as you said. I do believe that the measures taken in this reform do speak much more to the complicated messiness (and painfulness) of divorce and annulments, such as removing the cost and assuming if a party doesn’t show after two summons they agree with the process. Working at a Catholic theology school, I have had inquiring students share they are divorced without annulment and worry it would prohibit their admission to the school (which of course it would not!). My hope is that if the focus is turned more toward the local community, the local community will feel empowered to find ways to care for those among us struggling through marriage challenges/divorce/annulments instead of ostracizing or shaming, even unintentionally so by not reaching out and showing care.

    1. Yes, I totally agree, sometimes just showing concern at someone who is experiencing marital difficulties can go so far. One of my biggest gripes with the church to which I belong and love with everything I have is that church authorities, priests and to some degrees nuns do not understand the day to day hardships of their parishioners. They, by virtue of their vows of chastity and their devotion to God’s work cannot fully appreciate what a layperson goes through. They don’t understand what it takes to be married and juggle work and family life and with the economy the way it is now how difficult that is, and so the ‘advice’ (if you can even call it that) they give can be condescending and all around unhelpful, though they mean to help. Sometimes, no amount of prayer or counsel will cause a couple to stay together and more importantly, modern day Catholics have changed, no matter how devout of a catholic I am, I am not going to be miserable for the rest of my life staying married just because a few verses in the bible says so.
      And this could be my perception and could be way off, but I feel that the church places more of an onus on women to hold their marriages and families together than the men and that irritates the heck out of me too.

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