Friday, March 27, 2015

People are more important than paperwork

In the comments below this post, my friend John writes:
Looks like I won't be entering the RCC this Easter, seeing how the annulment paperwork has been sitting on a parish desk for about a month now.
Not that it would have been likely to have been completed even if I had gotten everything submitted at the start of the year and it had been sent to the Diocese four months ago, because - "These things take time”.
I asked John if I could start off this post this way, because I think that something people lose sight of when they begin to freak out about the Synod and the chance that some pastoral provisions dealing with divorced and remarried people and whether or not they can receive Communion may be enacted is that, in no small way, the reason the Church finds herself struggling to reach those in irregular marriage situations is because the paperwork has, in a real sense, become more important than the people.

What do I mean by that?

First, I do not mean in any way, shape, or form that the Church’s doctrines about marriage are themselves mere “paperwork.”  Marriage, if it is to mean what the Church intends it to, is sacred, and Catholics should approach the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony with a sense of the serious and binding nature of the vows they will make and the promises they will exchange.  Discarding any of the Church’s teachings regarding marriage would be more than a tragedy--it would be an act that would shake the Church’s claim of being who she says she is to their core.

But those doctrines are not going to change.  Pope Francis has said repeatedly that they are not even up for discussion.  All that is up for discussion is how to deal, in a pastorally appropriate way, with the sad reality that many Catholics in the modern age have entered marriages outside the Church, and many other Catholics have married in the Church without even pretending to believe what the Church does about marriage, and that many non-Catholics have married in ways that can’t be considered valid when they submit those marriages to the Church for examination (usually because they either want to marry a Catholic or have already married one, and need their first marriage annulled for the marriage to a Catholic to be valid).  What real things to streamline the process of applying for an annulment could be done?  What real spiritual comforts might be available to people whose annulments are no-brainers--I’m not talking about annulling a marriage between two baptized and practicing Catholics in a parish church where everybody in the community knew them from the time they were small children, or something--while they wait for the decree to be formally granted?

My friend John has shared with me some of the frustrating details of the process he and his wife are going through.  Money, time, inexplicable delays, hold-ups for no good reason, and so on have come up, along with that phrase I quoted above from him: “These things take time.”  Well, sure they do, but in the Internet age must they take so much time?  Or cost so much money?  Or be delayed so often for no discernible reason?

And John, of course, is here in America--I can’t imagine the difficulties and pitfalls for our brothers and sisters in third-world countries or in places where records are spotty for other reasons.  What if you were a lapsed Catholic whose original birth certificate was in a church in Iraq that has since been destroyed, and you married outside the Church, and now you hope to have that marriage annulled so you can marry a Catholic?  What if you were a non-Catholic married in a tribal ceremony in some indigenous region before converting to Catholicism?  What if you were forced into an arranged marriage in a non-Christian country but then became Catholic? How long will your annulment process be held up as church officials in two or three countries try to piece together records and evidences of these sorts of marriages outside the Church in order to show that your first marriage could not possibly be valid by Catholic understanding?

If the process is going to drag on and on for years, what happens to the people, to their faith, to their relationship with Jesus?

No, waving a magic wand that would allow Communion to all the divorced and remarried is not a good fix.  But pretending that all annulments fall into two simple categories--the easily granted, and the wrongly pursued that should never be granted--is also not fair to the reality of those who are stuck in the process much longer than they should be.

The pope seems to be coming from a place that want to see the people put ahead of the paperwork, the pastoral care and concern for those who sincerely wish to regularize their marriage situations ahead of the often-bureucratic annulment process.  The freakout I’ve seen by those who snidely refer to the Synod as the “Sodomy Synod” or who proclaim publicly that “most” annulments are false ones is unjust, uncharitable, and simply wrong.  The people who are caught up in these situations are still our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we need to keep them at the center of our prayers and reflections in the months that lie ahead.


John InEastTX said...

Thanks Erin - funny how things work out though. We were at Mass this Palm Sunday and when the line started for the Eucharist and Dear Wife didn't move, I whispered to her, "you going up? " and she whispered back, "nope, not going up until you get to go up."

Which is perfect Dear Wife logic. Try to tell her she shouldn't go up because she's in a state of mortal sin because of our irregular marital situation and she'll just look at you and laugh.

But tell her I can't go up until the paperwork gets taken care of and she's all "well if they won't let you go, I'm not going"

Gosh, I love that woman!

On the way home, she asked, "would you be freaked out if I wore a mantilla to church?"

As I often do, I said the first thing that came to mind - "I think you'd look freaking hot wearing a mantilla to church. Why do you ask?"

"I was lighting a candle for the family letting them know I was back in church and my great-grandmother asked what I was doing there with my hair uncovered."

I considered the power of Abuelas, even beyond the grave, and how my my petite Hispanic Dear Wife with hair down to her waist would look on my arm while wearing a mantilla and said, "well in that case, I definitely think you should wear one."

So she ordered some of the internet. I hope they are here by Easter!

Red Cardigan said...

John, this is wonderful! And that’s the best reason to wear a headcovering I have EVER heard of. I was praying for you both at Mass this morning! Pray for me, too, please!

John InEastTX said...

Of course I will, Erin - and thank you for yours!

Turns out Dear Wife and I probably especially need them even more than ever since - according to Cardinal Burke - our moral state is equivalent to that of a murderer.

LSN: Among the viewpoints of Cardinal Kasper and, more recently, Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, and others, was the consideration that “faithful” homosexuals, “remarried” divorcees and non-married couples show qualities of self-sacrifice, generosity and dedication that cannot be ignored. But through their choice of lifestyle, they are in what must be seen by outsiders as an objective state of mortal sin: a chosen and prolonged state of mortal sin. Could you remind us of the Church’s teaching on the value and merit of prayer and good actions in this state?

CB: If you are living publicly in a state of mortal sin there isn't any good act that you can perform that justifies that situation: the person remains in grave sin. We believe that God created everyone good, and that God wants the salvation of all men, but that can only come about by conversion of life. And so we have to call people who are living in these gravely sinful situations to conversion. And to give the impression that somehow there's something good about living in a state of grave sin is simply contrary to what the Church has always and everywhere taught.

LSN: So when the man in the street says, yes, it's true these people are kind, they are dedicated, they are generous, that is not enough?

CB: Of course it's not. It's like the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people…


Ah Cardinal Burke - not even a nod to the idea that there might be some value worth acknowledging in the fifteen years of mutual care that my Dear Wife and I have given to each other.

It is almost like nobody ever explained the "Catch more flies with honey then with vinegar" metaphor to the guy.

Sheesh, back when I had a sit-down with the Monsignor about becoming Catholic and explained the circumstances of my first marriage and how Dear Wife and I later came to be married, he said that it was clear to him that my current marriage was where God wanted me to be and we'll just have to get the Formal Case taken care of and then do a convalidation to get us squared up with The Church.

If that conversation had been anything like Burke's statements, I'd have said, "Thank you for you time," and headed right back out the door.

Red Cardigan said...

I think people like Cardinal Burke live too much in their heads, and it’s a problem I understand because I do it too. :)

I think something Pope Emeritus Benedict might say even about the murderer would be--a murderer who begins treating people with ordinary kindness may well be on the road that will lead him to full communion with God. This doesn’t mean he is free to ignore the murder and never repent it (or face the consequences of earthly justice). But it does mean that rarely do people one day wake up totally in communion with God in all areas--not even the saints have done that.

We sin, we mess up, we seek forgiveness inside and outside the confessional, we keep trying. Some people might take years to understand a fairly easy teaching but seconds to grasp something theologians struggle with. And from understanding a teaching to deciding to live by it to perfecting one’s life in that area can take a good six or seven decades.

I look at it this way: if your marriage to your wife is what has led you to a place where you can even contemplate becoming a Catholic--that is powerful! God knows what He’s doing, and sometimes when we let Him get on with things in His way we can be amazed at the results.

John InEastTX said...

As I wrote Erin earlier - I'm happy to report that I'm not going to have to wait until the annulment has been processed, but will be received into the Church this weekend!

Many thanks for all prayers and intercessions that made this happen...

John InEastTX said...

Update for all - have already sent this good news to Erin.

I was told on Wednesday night that I will be received into the RCC, despite having the annulment paperwork still outstanding. Huzzah!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Its beautiful to see John and Erin becoming such good friends, and I'm happy for John and April. I don't think I would see God so clearly if I weren't Protestant, but I lean Arminian, and in the eyes of Calvinists, that's no better than a low-down Papist. Well, as the late great Wittenburg Door once wrote, "You may be a closet Calvinist if you find yourself objecting to the hymn, "When we all get to heaven."

Siarlys Jenkins said...

There has to be a better way than annulment. I am reminded of the man who was married in a Lutheran church, civilly divorced his wife, then wanted to marry a nominally Catholic woman who insisted on a church wedding. So, the prospective if tarnished bridegroom had to seek an annulment from the church, so he could marry his blushing bride in the Roman Catholic church.

Now remember, annulment means that it never was a valid marriage. This meant the RC tribunal was passing on whether a marriage in a Lutheran church was EVER a valid marriage (because if it ever was, the man couldn't marry his second intended in a Catholic wedding), and the teen-age daughter of the first marriage asks "would than mean I'm illegitimate?"

Now, I appreciate that the RC church wants to be humane. People do things that are not up to standard, and people who were not even in the church did things that the church would not have allowed or countenanced. And if someone is ready to come to, or return to, the church, then the church doesn't want to give them the cold shoulder. After all, in many cases the long vanished "first spouse" is nowhere around, has no intention of being reconciled, is not interested in joining the church at all... and the new member candidate has been deeply devoted to a second spouse for many years... better they stay together than to tear them asunder.

That is all very good and understanding of the church. But annulment? Isn't that a refusal to acknowledge that people who were once married really can marry again, or at least, if they did so, despite the fact that maybe they shouldn't have, well, we have to start from where we are and accept their long-ago divorce?

Barbara C. said...

I'm kind of curious about what Diocese John is in, or if it's a problem with his parish/advocate.

I'm 7 months into my annulment process. My parish has never touched my annulment paperwork. My priest had a copy of my testimony for two days before our appointment where he had to sign off on it, but I have handled all of my correspondence with the diocese myself.

The only money I have been asked to pay so far was the $275 for the psychological evaluation. (And if I couldn't afford it, it would have been waived.)

The diocese asks for $400 once the decision has been made, but again that will be waived if you tell them you just can't afford it.

At this point, it's just a matter of the reports being put before the tribunal. If they declare in the marriage invalid, then the paperwork has to be perused by a second diocese. I expect to hear something in the next two to three months.

Barbara C. said...

One other perspective on this whole thing, one reason (among many) my ex- should have never been married is because he had already been married before without an annulment. (He wasn't Catholic and a nominal Baptist.) When the priest who did our marriage prep at the college center said we should get it annulled, my ex- vehemently refused because of the time it would take.

So, the priest said he believed the first marriage to be invalid and told us to lie to everyone, including the priest who actually married us, and say that my ex- had never been married. That's how we were able to get married in the Church.

If that priest hadn't given us such an "easy out" of the dilemma, I might have had to make some hard choosing not to marry my ex-. There were 100 warning signs before the wedding, but the whole issue of not getting married in the Church might have been the one that finally woke me up out of my codependent delusions.

Of course, at this point (one year since the separation) I still have a lot of "woulda, coulda, shoulda" and I feel a little guilty about those lines of thought because if I hadn't married him I wouldn't have my five kids.