Wednesday, August 23, 2017


When marriages go up in smoke!

I am not a doctor of the law and my Italian instincts at times sees the law as good but flexibility is needed in some circumstances. To use a driving analogy: if you are downtown at 2 AM and there are red lights and no one in sight, a good Italian, like me, will stop, look for cops and if none go.

It should be stated that in many downtown areas after 12 AM until 6 AM traffic lights blink red, which is like a four way stop sign. But I digress.

But there are many cases where the Church needs a good pastoral theology concerning the complexity of marriage, civil divorce and remarriage without an annulment.

This is one example. Years ago I knew a Catholic woman from Europe who had three illicit marriages, all of them without Catholic recognition. All ended in divorce, except the third one which was going strong. Technically her case is easy, lack of Catholic form, yet she has no contact with former spouses and doesn't know where they are in Europe or China or wherever. So the lack of form paperwork won't work for her.

Her third husband has three previous marriages. He isn't a Catholic. His first marriage was the first for both and both were protestants, so technically that is the valid marriage in the eyes of the Church. But he divorced her and married two others and is fourth wife is the one I describe above.

The fact is that two previous marriages took place and ended in divorce while the first wife was still living. He is currently "illicitly" married to his Catholic wife I describe above.

Since his first marriage was still recognized by the Catholic Church even though a civil divorce was granted and he legally married two others, plus his now current Catholic wife while the first wife was alive, the first wife died last year. So the second and third marriages can be handled by the ex spouses cooperating and without a full annulment procedure and a death certificate presented for the first wife indicating the date of death.

So technically all he needs to do is paperwork on the second and third marriage, but the ex non Catholic spouses won't cooperate!

Technically, since his first wife is deceased, he is free to have has marriage validated in the Catholic Church to his current Catholic wife, with two previous marriages, but never in the Catholic Church. But technicalities prevent the proper annulment or lack of form cases from going forward.

A pastoral discernment must take place, especially since the Catholic spouse desperately wants to return to Holy Communion!

Finally, just as Pope Francis has streamed lined the annulment procedure, I think there must be a very easy process for non-Catholics who need annulments, especially non Catholics who married a non Catholic but subsequently their spouse wants to become Catholic but not the non Catholic with previous marriage(s). Can't a pastoral solution be discerned without an annulment?

A pastoral accommodation for Protestants and other non Catholics is quite needed in my most humble opinion meaning just proving that the non Catholic did not believe in marriage as a Sacrament, believed in divorce and thus lacked the Catholic Church's belief about the Sacrament of Marriage.


Anonymous said...

"Technically, since his first wife is deceased, he is free to have has marriage validated in the Catholic Church to his current Catholic wife,..."

Better check with the canonists on the accuracy of this statement.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

He was married to his second and third wife, and now 4th wife while his first wife, which was the first marriage for both, was still living. Except for the current wife, the next two marriages cannot be valid because they started and ended before she died.

If she was still living, it would be a simple "Ligamen case" meaning we would have to prove that it was the first marriage for both, that the subsequent "wives" had previous marriage, etc. Even this isn't a full blown formal case and easily taken care of by providing the application for marriage licenses that indicate the the number of previous marriages or none.

Anonymous said...

I think his 2nd and 3rd marriage also must be judged to be invalid before he is free to have his current marriage validated in the Catholic Church.

Better check with the canonists.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Yes, but using the Ligamen forms. The rub is the ex spouses won't cooperate.

John Nolan said...

The abuse of the annulment procedure in the US reached such scandalous proportions by the end of the 20th century that it was easier to get an annulment than a 'quickie' civil divorce.

Sheila Rauch Kennedy (an Episcopalian) successfully appealed to the Holy See to get the diocesan annulment bought by her former husband overturned.

If a couple marry in good faith and have children, then it is legalistic hypocrisy to pretend that the marriage never existed.

The only reason why annulments in the US (still the annulment capital of the world, and despite teams of lawyers offering their services) have declined in recent years is because couples will remarry in civil ceremonies without bothering with the Church at all.

It's simply divorce under another name and is quite disgraceful.

Anonymous said...

Since 2 people got married 3 x each, there are a total of 6 marriages (3x2=6). Catholic marriage is 2 people getting married once (2/2=1). Since 6 does not equal to one, they are not married. It doesn't seem that complicated. My guess is that 6+2=8,and the desire to receive Eucharist is a desire for justification. They shouldn't seek justification, they should seek forgiveness. Confession is the proper sacrament for that.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but he is not "free to marry" until the cases are adjudicated via Ligamen or whatever process is required.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

"The abuse of the annulment procedure in the US reached such scandalous proportions by the end of the 20th century..."

Bunk. You have no knowledge of the cases, the testimony, the circumstances, or the people involved. To make such a statement with ZERO first-hand knowledge of the facts is bunk.

"Sheila Rauch Kennedy (an Episcopalian) successfully appealed to the Holy See to get the diocesan annulment bought (sic) by her former husband overturned."

Bunk, and a slander against the canon lawyers and Tribunal staff in diocese across the United States who do their jobs diligently and honestly.

For the first 10 or so years of my priesthood the Diocese of Savannah charged ZERO for the annulment process. NO DOLLARS, NO CENTS.

The accusation that annulments were "bought" is a slander against the people who work in the Tribunals and the Bishops for whom they work.

[I do not work in our Tribunal, but I resent charges being made against the good people who work there.]

TJM said...


Before you shoot off your mouth again, you might just want to read this:

John Nolan said...

Sorry, Fr K, but one does not have to have a knowledge of every individual case to interpret statistics. Google them yourself. 72,308 cases in the US in 1990, 90 per cent of them successful. Six per cent of the world's Catholics, at least 50 per cent of annulments.

Are you suggesting that Mrs Kennedy's successful appeal to the Roman Rota is a figment of my imagination? Again, check it out. I know you have an aversion to factual evidence, but steel yourself.

Are you denying that legal firms advertise their services in regard to preparing annulment cases for tribunals? I'm not making this up, it's available for all to see, and is hardly surprising since Americans are the most litigious people on earth.

I have just retrieved your comment on 13 August regarding my just criticism of a comment by someone called Mitch Landrieu. You chose to treat it as a criticism of a comment made by your good self, and addressed to you. It was neither. More evidence of your carelessness and touchiness.

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

Just an observation about Fr. McD's example: Funny how people who went in and out of marriages in a seemingly cavalier way don't want to suffer the consequences of their (presumably) past behavior, and expect the Church to accommodate their (now) burning desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

If a man gets into a fistfight and is punched in the eye, and the eye is so severely damaged it must be removed, doesn't he have to accept for the rest of his life that his foolishness led to such a serious and irreversible loss of something precious? Even if he's "really sorry" he was so impulsive, the loss of his eye is permanent.

I know a man who thinks that if he says he is sorry for some offense he committed, that should be the end of the incident. If someone is less than totally forgiving, and expects more than just an "I'm sorry." for the incident, he angrily says, "I SAID I was sorry!" and storms off. With that, he is now the victim, and the person holding him to a higher degree of accountability is the offender.

Is this the attitude in general now when it comes to marriages? Does what happened previously have no consequences, consequences that can never be righted? Doesn't it make sense that some things are so important that you can't just remove the consequences, as difficult as they may be, with a simple change of heart, or sincere "I'm sorry."?

Used to be someone was ashamed to even get divorced, and let alone remarried and divorced again. In the case outlined here, one of the spouses has three marriages, and the other four, and they present themselves to ask how they can make themselves right with the Church? In previous times, such persons would not have even asked. They would have known.

I expect Fr. McD believes these people are sincere and not as flip about receiving Christ as they seem to have been about their entering into marriage(s). Yet, I think if someone is truly sincere, they will meekly suffer the consequences of their foolish past, and make Spiritual Communions during Mass instead, not daring even to lift their eyes to heaven, following the example of the poor publican in the Gospel.

God bless,

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

John - You falsely accused bishops and their Tribunal staffs of granting annulments in exchange for payments. This is a slur against the bishops and the people who work for them.

Your statistics have nothing to do with the merits of any case. Nothing. And it is on the merits that cases are judged. Without complete knowledge of the merits of the cases presented to Tribunals in the USA, or anywhere else for that matter, you have no basis for judging the decisions.

Defending the integrity of the people who work for the Church Tribunals is not touchiness. It is justice.

Anonymous said...

I recently had a similar case. The gentleman and lady's former spouses need not cooperate to obtain a decree of defect of form. If the priest simply notes that fact on the diocesan paperwork and the chancery should issue the decree without any trouble.

Finally, a "sanatio in radice" for the woman and her present spouse would regularize her situation in the church and permit her to receive Holy Communion once again. The procedure is rather simple.

John Nolan said...

Fr K

By all means view with equanimity the fact that tens of thousands of Catholic marriages a year are apparently invalid.

By all means deny that the 'experimental norms' granted by Paul VI in 1971 to the USCCB were in any way connected to the explosion of annulments in the 1970s which Pope John Paul II was deeply concerned about.

And the idea that the unscrupulous and immoral Kennedy clan had the Archdiocese of Boston in its pocket is surely untrue.

Mind you, any marriage contracted by a Kennedy was probably invalid, since their apparently congenital satyriasis meant that they were incapable of keeping their marriage vows.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

John - These marriages are not "apparently" invalid. According to the merits of each case, they have been judged to be so by those who know the facts.

You do not know the facts.

I've never denied anything about "experimental norms."

Unless you have evidence to support your accusation against Tribunal personnel - that they give preferential treatment to the wealthy - you should take down your slur.

John Nolan said...

Fr K

I happen to be of the opinion that the number of annulments granted by the US Church since the 1970s constitutes a scandal. Some may disagree (the canonist Ed Peters for one).

I also find it scandalous that the US Church, and the Boston Archdiocese in particular, fawned over the Kennedys from Joseph Sr downwards and held them up to be Catholic paragons despite their well-known and gross sexual immorality. Whether or not there was palm-greasing is immaterial; it is the hypocrisy which stinks.

I have made no slur against any individual - my problem is with the institutions and their interpretation of Canon Law which has rendered the idea of the indissolubility of marriage a laughing-stock.

Ironically, Henry VIII had better grounds for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon than most petitioners today, since the original Bull of Julius II was defective. However, he chose a different path, claiming that the pope had no authority to grant dispensations - something that even Clement VII, not the brightest spark, knew to be nonsense.

The present-day Church of England rarely grants annulments.

I don't know the facts behind every case of abortion in Britain (about 180,000 a year) but I do know that according to the 1967 Act terminations can only be made on medical grounds with the recommendation of two doctors; and MPs were assured that they would not be voting for abortion on demand. But that's what we effectively have, and the statistics bear this out.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

John, saying, "I have made no slur against any individual" doesn't let you off the hook. You don't have to name individuals to impugn the integrity of Tribunal officers and staff.

You state, "The abuse of the annulment procedure in the US reached such scandalous proportions by the end of the 20th century that it was easier to get an annulment than a 'quickie' civil divorce."

Annulments, be they few or many, do not render the idea of indissolubility a laughing stock. As you are very aware, an annulment is a decree, based on evidence, that no marriage existed in the first place.

And how, please, can you know if there are abuses if you are not familiar with the cases? Answer: You can't.

John Nolan said...

Fr K

The comparison with abortion statistics in GB (not the UK, mind, since Northern Ireland has the most restrictive abortion laws in the western world) is apposite. Lawyers are trained to look for loopholes and Canon Law provides plenty of these.

I cannot accept that tens of thousands of Catholic marriages a year, many of them long-lasting and productive of offspring, simply never happened. It beggars belief. A civil divorce accepts that a marriage has irretrievably broken down, despite what the couple intended when they tied the knot. This makes sense. Then, after a civil divorce has been obtained (amicably or otherwise) one or other of the partners who wishes to marry again according to Church norms has to prove, retrospectively, that they were never validly married in the first place. If the civil authorities regarded the marriage as still existing, then no annulment could be sought, and anyone remarrying would be guilty of bigamy. Therefore frequency of annulment depends completely on easy divorce.

Therein lies the hypocrisy. The Catholic Church does not accept divorce yet its annulment procedure is predicated on the availability of civil divorce. A hundred years ago divorce was far less common, and annulments were correspondingly rare. If one accepts that high divorce rates reflect widespread belief that marriage is not indissoluble, then it follows that high annulment rates reflect the same assumption, since the latter is dependent on the former.

If there is a flaw in this logic, please feel free to point it out. But don't simply regurgitate previous comments - we've already noted them.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

John, as I understand it, the requirement that a civil divorce be finalized before the annulment process begins is to maintain a strict separation between the two codes of law and the areas which they cover.

The annulment is not, then, predicated on the civil divorce. Honestly, I don't know if an annulment process WOULD go forward in the absence of a civil divorce, but, under certain circumstances, I think it COULD.

One hundred years ago annulments and divorces were, as you state, far less common. I would suggest that, one hundred years ago, people in their late teens/early twenties were far more mature and aware of the requirements and expectations of the marriage covenant. If, due to the ethos in this and other countries, a couple enters into marriage without the necessary understanding that marriage is indissoluble - and, as Fr. McDonald will attest, despite what they SAY in the prenuptial interviews, they do - then grounds for annulment are there.

Regarding the law, I don't think the canons on annulments are full of "loopholes." The theology of marriage - what it requires of the individual - is pretty well-grounded. And it is that theology that is the basis for the canons. One can't enter into a valid marriage with an intention against having children. If one does, that "intention" is grounds for annulment. One can't enter marriage with an intention against fidelity. I don't think it is fair to call these "loopholes."

John Nolan said...

Fr K

Fair comment. But someone who enters into a sacramental marriage without the necessary understanding that marriage is indissoluble is hardly likely to be disabused of this second time round, since both state and Church have combined to effectually dissolve the marriage he entered into in the first place (I know divorce and annulment are distinct, but their effect is the same).

Does the Church impose more stringent conditions for a post-annulment second marriage? I remember that the lavish Catholic wedding of Marie Christine von Reibnitz (a divorced Catholic whose first marriage had been annulled) and Prince Michael of Kent in June 1978 in Vienna was forbidden at the last minute by Paul VI when it became known that any children of the union would be raised as Anglicans. This was almost the last act of his pontificate. The couple had to make do with a civil ceremony.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

John - I think that people do learn and mature through difficult experiences. I'm sure there are studies on the success of "second" marriages, but I am not aware of them.

There MAY be more stringent requirements for a post-annulment second marriage. Often the decree includes a monitum that requires the individual/couple to be evaluated by a professional counsellor.

John Nolan said...

Thank you Fr Kavanaugh.