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.