Matt C. Abbott
Two Catholic women granted, grateful for annulments
FacebookTwitterGoogle+
By Matt C. Abbott
September 1, 2011

This particular column features reflections from two Catholic women (their real names are used) who experienced divorce and were subsequently granted annulments by the Church. Because the first reflection is in response to my August 10 column "A Catholic husband's painful divorce," I thought it fair to let Catholic husband John Doe respond. Following John Doe's response is an unrelated reflection by Erica Bonnell.

Sharon Bourassa wrote (slightly edited):

    'I would like to respond to the obviously distressed husband, John Doe, who has been unable to get on with his life since his divorce. As a Catholic, like John Doe, I was married in a Catholic wedding and expected from my marriage everything John Doe wanted from his. My ex-husband left me for another woman and married her when my children were babies. I was broken. They got married and had a child. For seven years I became the martyr. I was angry at the Church. I believed that God had joined us together and, therefore, no one could tear us apart. However, after having a pity-party for seven depressing years, truth finally hit me in the face.

    'The Church did not force me to marry the man I did. I chose him. He was Catholic, went to Mass and partook in the sacraments with me, and so on. However, he became more liberal as time went on. He fought me every inch of the way in trying to raise my children in the Church. When I married him, I fully expected to be a Catholic family. I was in total culture shock. But I caused it. I chose him.

    'I'm now 64. My marriage to that man has been annulled. I got on with my life. Now I thank God for the annulment. I was able to remarry a wonderful man, the type I should have married the first time. We married in the Church, with a beautiful Mass. I receive the sacraments. I'm in love with Catholicism.

    'God did not promise us a rose garden. We make choices; John Doe made a poor one. He is not immune from what life throws our way. He should pray for our bishops and priests, but it is very obvious to me that God, our Father, does not want to see him reunited with this woman. She's the mother of his children and that's the end of it. Life can be beautiful, but instead of living life as Jesus wants him to, he's choosing to kill a dead cat.

    'He is apparently obsessed with the past. The bride of Christ, through her Son, Jesus, has mercifully allowed annulment. Understandably, John Doe is an angry man. I was an angry woman. But for his own sake, he needs to 'get over it' and have faith that God has something good in store for him. If he wants to continue to have a pity-party, he will remain miserable.

    'Most likely his children are miserable, and everyone around him. His children are not going to want to model themselves after their dad when their dad is an unhappy person living in the past. His ex-wife is not going to come back to him. She chose the wide road that society presented to her. His children will come closer to him when they see that their dad is a happier individual and his kids deserve a dad that accepts his cross and lives his life to the fullest. He can try fighting the annulment, but I do not think that at this point it will do any good. The Church determined that a sacrament did not fall upon the marriage, and it could be because he did not yoke himself with the right woman.

    'Stop blaming the Church, John Doe, and start praying for your Church. Pray for your kids, your ex-wife, and most importantly, yourself. Just because you got married in the Church does not mean that God bestowed his grace upon your marriage. God did not bestow His grace upon my first marriage. But He has on this one.

    'My children grew up and realized the truth, but it was after I stopped the pity-party. I'm a Eucharistic minister, dealt for 15 years with baptismal couples, was president of the Legion of Mary and I'm fully in line with the Magisterium. I was a 'Jane Doe.' Bottom line: John, move on and take the leap of faith and see how Jesus and Mary bless you. Life is too short to continue to kill the dead cat. Life is precious — and you sound like you hate it.'

John Doe's response (slightly edited):

    'Sharon, I fully agree that life in Christ is precious and beautiful. We made no vow of happiness, though we shared much happiness throughout our years together. I also love Jesus personally and want to please Him. I agree that we should be seeking to be living life as Jesus wants.

    'You write, 'God did not promise us a rose garden.' Indeed He did not! In fact, as St. Paul tells us (Eph. 6:12), we are at war '...not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.'

    'Nothing in your far-reaching advice to me even hinted, Sharon, that you see the marital vocation as remotely connected with Christ's diabolical struggle. Surely you don't think that the married are some privileged class of followers exempted from the battle?

    'I also love Catholicism. Have you heard that [according to this article on EWTN's website] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave definitive judgment on the Akita events and messages as reliable and worthy of belief? That on October 13, 1973, Our Lady spoke: 'The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops ... the Church will be full of those who accept compromises...?' Could it be that compromises seeded by the devil are causing Catholics to bury their valid marriages alive?

    'When St. Peter tried to compromise Jesus' ministry, insisting that no cross should ever come, Jesus severely rebuked Peter. With your strong emphases on feelings and happiness, Sharon, you sound like St. Peter: as if you believe spouses are exempt from carrying a Christian's cross.

    'Pope Benedict recently addressed the divergence between the message of the Cross and that of the world: 'It is clear ... the divergence between the Father's plan of love ... and the expectations, desires, projects of the disciples. And this contrast is repeated today, when the realization of one's life is geared solely towards social success, physical and economic well-being, no longer reasoning according to God, but according to men (Matt.16:23).'

    'When Christ was tempted alone in the desert, He rebuked the devil's attempt to trade Him a 'happy kingdom' for the one embracing His cross. Christ wasn't looking for a pity-party for Himself or for His Disciples. He knew His Father's will and wanted to embrace it, regardless of the consequences. Repeatedly, Jesus challenged the Disciples to prove their love for Him by obeying His Commandments. New Commandment love (Jn. 13) is paralleled in the marital vows to love "for better or for worse" [cf. c. 1101.1]!

    'Maria Pia Campanella writes in The Gift of Self about 'New Commandment' love: 'Some separated persons ... by the grace of God ... can come to forgive as Jesus asks us, since one's spouse — even if he or she has every fault in the book — is still forever created in the image of God.'

    'Again, Sharon, you overstepped the limits of propriety and of canon law by assigning me primary fault for my wife's marital mutiny, claiming: '... and it could be because he did not yoke himself with the right woman.'

    'Father Palazzazo, a chaplain of Catholic Divorce Ministry, shared the same poisonous theory in a 2010 speech before members of the Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He stated, 'My opinion is that 60 to 65 percent fail because of the choice they made.'

    'Retired Rotal judge Monsignor Cormack Burke thoroughly and formally rejected this false theory over 14 years ago. In a published Rotal Sentence, he wrote: '[Regarding] the idea that a 'wrong' or 'imprudent' choice of partner invalidates consent, as proving a grave lack of discretion ... Jurisprudence rejects the suppositions that lead to this circular reasoning.' Similarly, speaking regarding the idea of 'irrevocable differences,' Monsignor Burke quoted a psychiatrist: 'Do you mean by this, basic, unchangeable and irrevocable incompatibility? If yes, I am not sure it exists' (vol. 67, p. 258). It is tragic that Father Palazzazo has been allowed to spread his marital poison among wounded spouses at CDM for so long.

    'Since you seem focused on 'compatibility,' Sharon, allow me to share the late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's words, taken from Three To Get Married:

      12. The Unbreakable Bond. The basis of unity is the fact that in this bond two persons are joined together so as to become 'one flesh.' This inviolable bond, according to Our Divine Savior, excludes not only desiring another partner but also entering into another union while the partner lives. Our Lord even forbade unlawful desires: 'But I tell you that he who casts his eyes on a woman so as to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' (Matt. 5:28)

      These words cannot be annulled even by consent of one of the partners, for they express a law of God and nature which no one can break. He directly forbade any remarriage while one bond endured. Even though there might be a legitimate reason for the partners separating, this would not give either one the right to marry again.

    'Sharon, 'that man' (your first spouse) spoke the same vows as mine. The will to honor one's vows can be mutinied at any time by any spouse! Your suggestion to seemingly absorb a mutineer's culpability in the half-truth that 'I chose them' will never relieve them of their free-will treason nor of their culpability before God for their choices made in and after marrying.

    '[Regarding our children] 'His children are not going to want to model themselves after their dad when their dad is an unhappy person living in the past,' 'his kids deserve a dad that accepts his cross,' '...lives his life to the fullest.' You speak, Sharon, as though St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas More both gave up their heads for no cause? Consider that they each did so for spouses who were not even their own! There is a cross in holding faithful to our marital sacrament in the face of spousal abandon and of societal mockery, but for you to label it a 'pity-party' is to disparage the witness of these Christian martyrs and every other spouse who stands for the truth of their sacrament.

    'Sharon, there is a deeper dimension of marital separation which you neglect. The Shepherd of Hermas [~100-160 A.D.] spoke regarding abandoned spouses:

      If then, sir, said I, after the wife is divorced, she repents and wishes to return to her own husband, will she be taken back?' Certainly, said he, if her husband does not take her back, he sins, and involves himself in a great sin. Why, the sinner who repents must be taken back, but not often, for the slaves of God can have but one repentance. So for the sake of her repentance, the husband ought not to marry. This course of action is incumbent on wife and husband.

    'In their recent book, S. Tamaat and T. Wright further clarify: 'Clement of Alexandrea, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen treated the Shepherd as a canonical document that was divinely inspired. Throughout the 2000-plus year history of the Catholic Church, this same teaching has been repeated.'

    'Whether or not my particular wife chooses to reconcile, unless/until our marriage is declared invalid in the external forum, neither spouse should be advised or counseled to separate...even less to divorce, without a bishop's decree. So, why, Sharon, should I not disparage a bishop when this is precisely the situation that has transpired? Whose 'Magisterium' are our bishops following? Certainly not the same one followed by Bishop Sheen.

    'Sharon, Pope Leo XIII declared: 'Truly, it is hardly possible to describe how great are the evils that flow from divorce (Arcanum; 29).' I have no problem whatsoever with this position and statement from the Church. My problem is that is seems few if any of the clergy I appeal to seem to know the Church of which Pope Leo speaks.

    'For example, until crossing the annulment bridge most parties are unaware that they are required to have a civil divorce. This is a U.S.-bishop-made law. It does not exist in canon law, nor is it in the Catechism. If you consider Pope Leo XIII's teachings in Arcanum, the U.S. bishops' current practice requiring a pre-petition divorce appears abominable and sacrilegious.

    'The fault is not entirely the bishops. Lay Catholic civil leaders have similarly-failed to heed Pope Leo's outline in Humanum Genus (1884) of the goals of Freemasonry for marriage and family law. Politicians, attorneys, academicians, spouses, volunteers of all sorts, and Catholic voters — all have failed to mobilize to arrest and prevent the implementation prophesied by many popes.

    'Sharon, you claim, 'The bride of Christ, through her Son, Jesus, has mercifully allowed annulment.' Are Catholics to believe that the Holy Spirit has waited until after 1983 to inspire a 10,000 percent-plus increase in annulments, solely for the benefit of AmChurch Catholics? I don't. I prefer to believe the decade-long study of the late Notre Dame professor, Robert Vasoli, whose wife's annulment petition inspired him to write What God Has Joined Together: The Annulment Crisis in American Catholicism.

    'Professor Vasoli's carefully-researched book confirms the opinion of Edward Cardinal Egan (co-author of the revised Code of Canon Law): 'The vast majority of marriages are valid, the vast majority of people know it, and they know we know it too.' Sorry, Sharon. We agree to disagree — big-time. You suggest, 'He can try fighting the annulment, but I do not think that at this point it will do any good.'

    'Annulment appeals to the Rota have a very high rate of reversal. Professor Vasoli's research found that there is a very high — 95 percent — statistical likelihood that an AmChurch declaration of nullity could be reversed, meaning the former marriage would still be valid. The sham-trial, first-instance annulment granted to my wife was a done deal before it began. I've heard friends testify that some members of American Tribunals hold in contempt the opinions of the Roman Rota regarding upholding canon law and marriage validity. I've experienced being disparaged and held in contempt for asserting my rights as a Respondent. I've read books and heard Tribunal Judges quoted who brag that there isn't a marriage that cannot be annulled (in AmChurch).

    'No annulment, Sharon, is final until a spouse dies. Appeals are accepted for cause despite a prior declared nullity. Annulments are not endowed as 'infallible.' Very few appeals are made to the Rota by U.S. spouses. I've heard/read that only 20 percent of divorced Catholics even bother to petition for any annulment.

    'Sharon, you say I am '...apparently obsessed with the past,' that I have '...been unable to get along with ... life since ... divorce instead of living life as Jesus wants him to.' I beg to differ. I have been living in the present according to my state in life, which God demands of all of us. My state in life remains as a putatively-married Catholic spouse (to repeat: c. 1061.3.) Though you claim to love Catholicism, you seem willing to deny my canon law rights. Conversely, you clearly support the canons that promote annulments. In the Rota's hands, I believe our marriage will be declared valid.

    'Maria Pia Campanella shares a valuable lesson from Jeremiah in The Gift of Self that counters your negative perspective about my past/present/and future:

      One day God told Jeremiah to go ... and watched a potter working the clay with a potter's wheel. The prophet noted that if a jar broke, the potter took the clay in hand and began again remaking that jar with the same mud, without changing the material. This episode from Jeremiah's life contains a precious spiritual pointer: in our case the Lord does not change the material, but first begins from where we are, from what we are, from our attributes and our limitations, and from this He reconstructs within us a new possibility of life.

      This is the God of the Bible. This is good and beautiful news ...for every separated person remaining faithful to the sacrament. They need not become other than what they are already, and in this way allow God's love to act.

    'Sharon, whenever two baptized Catholics marry their marriage is a sacrament. The Catechism teaches us that the remedy for marital difficulties lies in the abundant Graces available through the marital sacrament itself (CCC 1661).

      The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life (Council of Trent: DS 1799).

    'I really wish you wouldn't digress to ever comparing the Catholic marriage sacrament to dead cats, Sharon. You say, 'My marriage to that man has been annulled,' 'Now I thank God for this annulment,' 'I was able to remarry a wonderful man.' Since you accept your bishop's declaration of nullity, you didn't 'remarry.' You and 'that man' only had a civilly-legal cohabitation. Both of you were living in 'sinless-fornication,' as far the Church was concerned.

    'You believe your current marriage is your first, true marriage. Because the state's (Freemason) religion makes no moral distinctions, the children of your former cohabitation are considered just as legitimate as the 'love child' of that man's second, serial cohabitation. I am sorry to imagine what a blow it must be to your children to learn that the Church considers their biological father merely your state-licensed-boyfriend. I am also sorry if their experience diminishes their love for the Church and/or affects their self-esteem.

    ''Stop blaming the Church, John Doe, and start praying for your Church.' Well Sharon, I do. That is: I leave it to God to deal with those in the Church who have personally led my wife (and many others) to the civil court instead of pastoring us to reconcile our marriage and to preserve our family unity. I pray that spouses may find support for their marital sacraments through Bishops who are loyal to the Holy See, who honor God's preferential-option for first spouses, who honor His hatred for divorce, who teach and pastor according to His marital commandment, who promote His New Commandment of Love, and who embrace His Redeeming Cross. I especially pray for all children; may many become the 'Godly offspring' He desires!'

Erica Bonnell wrote (slightly edited):

    'When I got married in the Catholic Church in 2004, I felt completely in love. I believed that I was lucky enough to be marrying a man who was sensitive to my Catholic faith despite his non-Christian background. And with special dispensation, we went through all of the counseling and training so that our marriage could be officiated by a priest at a Mass. The Church warned me, I should note, about the special circumstances of a Catholic and non-Christian marriage ... but wouldn't love be enough?

    'Five years later, I humbly discovered that the 'love' I thought I had wasn't really love — and it definitely wasn't enough. Love, I found, was in seeking forgiveness and setting a wrong aright. Love, in its truest form, was setting me free from a loveless, lifeless marriage.

    'When I was suddenly blind-sided by the prospect of divorce and my ex-husband and I had the fateful conversation of separating, I immediately let him know that I would seek an annulment. You see, while I wouldn't say that my faith alone is what divided us, it was definitely something my ex-husband believed came before him. He was right. I won't get into petty details about those trials, but I will say that even in divorce, he understood what it meant and agreed to give his consent in the annulment petition.

    'The annulment process was, at times, harder than the actual divorce for me. For the divorce, I didn't even have to be present in court. I was simply mailed a copy of the decree and left with a nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach. But for the annulment process, I had to face tough truths about my own personal issues and I had to do it with a deacon as my guide. I eventually came to terms with it by analogizing the deacon as my own sort of attorney — someone who could represent my side of the story in the Tribunal court. The first meeting with the deacon was much more emotional than I could have imagined.

    'I cried and I prayed so much in the process of completing the Mandate and Petition forms because the questions caused me to examine my faults in weighty detail and across the chronology of my relatively short life. Questions ranged from the mindset I was in the day of the wedding to the relationships I had with my siblings.

    'The most dreadful part for me was asking for witnesses to submit a questionnaire on my behalf. I needed three people who could testify to my state-of-mind during the marriage. I thought at first of taking the easy way out and asking my former bridesmaids of doing this, but I mustered up enough courage to ask my former mother-in-law, perhaps in pursuit of objectivity.

    'When I asked her, I was astonished at her enthusiasm to do it. She blamed herself for my divorce, believing that her own example had made it look too easy an option for her son. Setting her straight on the where the blame laid was humbling. I recall shuddering in gratitude and tears after my conversation with her on the matter. I fled to the local Adoration chapel, as I had many times during the process, and cried more.

    'In the end, 50 or so typed pages summed up what I had cleverly avoided confronting in 30-something years. Reviewing it with the deacon before submission was so much easier in comparison to the grit it took to jot it down in black and white.

    'And then the waiting came. The deacon presaged that it would take about a year. The timing wasn't anything to me because I wasn't doing it so that I could remarry. I was doing it because I wanted the freedom of conscience to pursue and find my true vocation in life, whether as a religious (which I contemplated) or in family life. And I wanted to free my ex-husband, too. I still pray for his conversion of heart. Perhaps one day he'll convert or want to marry another Catholic. I still maintain hope.

    'An affirmative decision came for me from the First Instance Court of the Tribunal in the local archdiocese but the letter was clear to state that nothing was formal until a confirmation upheld it. I still cried in joy and prayed. A few months later, I received a letter stating that a changeover in Tribunal personnel would cause delay in further decisions, thereby making me nervous and, in darker times, even doubt. But patience is a virtue, as they say, and the confirmation finally came in May 2011–15 months from the time I submitted the original Petition. Thanks be [to God]!'



Related links:

Our Lady of Cana

"The effects of divorce on children"

"Divorce, annulments, and the Catholic Church"

"Catholic marriage advocate questions her Church's stance on marriage"

"Annulments in the news — too many?"

Institute for Marital Healing

© Matt C. Abbott

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Click to enlarge

Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails – complete with email addresses – that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if those emails are marked confidential. Also, please be aware that RenewAmerica is not my website; RA's president and editor is Stephen Stone, who can be reached here. I'm just one of RA's columnists, for which I'm very grateful. I don't speak for the other RA columnists, so please don't email me to complain about what someone else has written. Thank you and God bless!)

Subscribe

Receive future articles by Matt C. Abbott: Click here

More by this author