Monday, February 8, 2010

Annulment of Marriage: Part I - Statement of Intent

In an earlier post I said that your responses to me on this issue fell into two broad categories. In the first are those of you whose lives and/or allegiance to the Church have been terribly damaged by the way the Annulment process has been conducted, particularly in USA. On February 1 this year, after the Holy Father addressed the Roman Rota on January 29, Fr Z had a post about it. There were 65 comments, several of which alleged deep-rooted and longstanding corruption amongst the USA diocesan tribunals. As I also said earlier, we had a hint of this in the early 1980s when the results of English cases were delayed because of Pope John Paul's worry that too many 'easy' annulments were being granted in the USA. From the comments on Fr Z's post, on my own, and from your emails, it would seem that many of these annulments were granted, and are still being granted, against long and repeated defences by Catholic and non-Catholic respondents who believed, and still believe in conscience, that their marriages are valid, and that their spouses, with the cognizance, approval and encouragement of the local clergy and Ordinary, have been living, and continue to live, adulterously. These respondents have been faithful to their marriages and it is the unfaithful partner who has been granted the annulment.(The respondent in a case, is usually the partner who defends the marriage as valid. The petitioner is the partner who brings the case.) I thank Anonymous for giving me the link to Fr Z's post and the comments it drew. Here it is.

In my second category of commenters are those of you who are partially or totally ignorant of the Annulment procedure. Many people do not even know of the different grounds that can be claimed. It is these people, and only these people, that I can hope to help in this and subsequent posts on the subject. As an English woman whose Annulment was granted by the Wesminster Tribunal, I am not qualified to make further comment on the situation in the USA, or on the cases that have been described to me. Much as these unsolicited descriptions are the cause of profound sympathy for those involved, and painful anxiety about the apparent conduct of matters, I must now confine myself to the PROCESS as I experienced it, and as far as possible eschew personal details of the case itself.

At the outset I will state my unshakeable conviction and testimony that there was absolutely no corruption in the conduct of my own case which began early in 1983 and concluded in January 1985. You will note the shortness of the intervening period, which in hindsight indicates to me, that from the Tribunal's point of view, mine had not been a difficult petition to uphold.
In 1981, I was not to know that. In fact I knew very little at all, in common, as I suspect, with many Catholics. In that year at the insistent prompting of a close Catholic friend, I first went to see my parish priest on the subject. I went with the commonly held pre-conceptions about annulment - the only grounds were non-consummation, lunacy, or having been forced into the marriage 'at gun point'; it was impossibly expensive for 'ordinary' people; it took absolutely ages. I was not disabused of the first of these notions until my first interview with a Tribunal priest in 1983, and not of the second or third until the process concluded. The other thing about which I did not become clear until the process began, was the difference between Annulment and Divorce. I was under the impression that the former was just a Church version of the latter. In many ways, the truth is more serious and painful because whereas divorce 'dissolves' a marriage that the State acknowledges to have existed, in an Annulment, the Church seeks to prove that such a marriage never existed and is therefore null.

In that first interview with my Parish Priest, I had been startled by his announcement that the Church would not even look at my case until I was divorced. I had been living separately from my marriage partner for 18 months and in keeping with Church teaching had not even considered divorce. Count me naive if you like. I'm sure my PP thought me so, when I said to him in shocked tones, 'But Canon, the Church doesn't accept divorce''. I quote his reply from memory:

"My dear girl, we are not the established religion in this country. Imagine how it would be if the Catholic Church went around handing out annulments to people whom the State still regarded as legally married to each other. It simply would not be workable, not for the couples, not for the Church and not for the State."

After further discussion and questioning, he sent me away to get a divorce. After that had been achieved in 1983, I went again to the new Parish Priest, the Canon having died in the meantime.
The whole process of questioning had to be gone through again. It was not lengthy because I was well known to the parish clergy as a member of the choir. This time I was told the name of the head of the Westminster Diocesan Marriage Tribunal and that in the first instance the PP himself would write to him on my behalf. I would then be contacted by the Tribunal.

Both Canons had been very kind but neither of them gave me any real understanding of the nature of Annulment, nor any clue as to the process I was about to face. I hope this preparatory phase has been improved since my time.

From now on and in my next post on Annulment I will date and order the way things evolved from the correspondence I have kept. The next post will include a description of possible grounds for Annulment, and a statement of the one upon which my own was founded.
I conclude today with a clarification of the role of the respondent. In a 'mixed marriage' such as my own, it is probably very unusual for the respondent to want to defend the marriage. I only know that my marriage partner did not in any way defend it in his evidence, or private remarks to me. However, as in all cases, having taken everything into account provided in written and recorded statements from both partners and their witnesses, the Defender of the Bond should seek to prove the validity of the marriage. It is really an ecclesiasical court case with the marriage itself in the dock. The petitioner's advocate seeks to prove it does not exist and never has done, and the Defender of the Bond, seeks to prove the reverse. Neither the Petitioner nor Respondent, nor their witnesses are invited to appear in court. At least, we were not, and I think that is the usual practice.

At no point were we told exactly what these two tribunal lawyers actually said, and although in my own case, I did not need to know, I think perhaps the Church exercises undue secrecy here in keeping information from the people whom it most closely affects. If there is a will to corruption, it can only be encouraged in such an atmosphere. That said, I never asked to see transcripts and so do not know what happens if you do.

Next post on Annulmen on Thursday.
And on other subjects tomorrow.

1 comment:

David A. said...

Thank you, Jane, for this first installment. Already I am amazed by one point - that a legal divorce is required as well and in advance! Although I suppose I can now understand the reason.