News reports quote Pope Francis speaking on September 16 to priests in the diocese of Rome about divorce, annulment, and remarriage (see Spero article). The Pope said, “The Church must now do something to solve the problem of marriage annulment.”
However, the news stories offer no specifics about the problem to which the Pope is referring. A network of divorced Catholics in the United States, united by Mary’s Advocates, a non-profit educational organization, hope the Pope is referring to the problem of lower-court tribunals granting annulments erroneously. When Church tribunals issue annulments, the tribunal, after an investigation, officially says that the couple never was really married in the first place because their marriage was invalid. This enables either ex-spouse to morally enter a second marriage with someone else.
Speaking to the priests in Rome, referring to the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics, Pope Francis said “The problem cannot be reduced merely to a matter of who can receive communion or not, because to pose the question in these terms does not enable an understanding of the real problem. ... It is a serious problem regarding the Church's responsibility towards families living in this situation.”
As Mary’s Advocates’ founder, I believe that in United States, the Church will fulfill its responsibility towards families living in this situation by getting more involved years earlier, long before anyone enters a second marriage. People don’t just ‘find themselves’ in second marriages. Someone chose to withdraw from the first marriage.
The Church could better serve families by adhering to her own canon law on separation of spouses (c. 1692-1696, 1151-1155). Catholics are supposed to have official Church intervention when they separate and especially before anyone files for civil divorce. It would be merciful to the children, the faithful spouse, and even the marital abandoner, if the abandoner forcing no-fault divorce on his or her family was instructed by the Church to stop, and instead to reconcile. The Church can, at least, give instructions to a marital abandoner about the difference between a separation plan that would be in accord with divine law, compared to the expensive and immoral plans served out by no-fault divorce civil courts.
A survey has just been launched wherein Mary’s Advocates are asking those who are divorced and not remarried to describe the pastoral care they received after their so-called ex-spouse filed for an annulment. For example, in one survey question, participants are asked to indicate whether a diocesan staff person encouraged their spouse to file for civil divorce as a prerequisite to getting an annulment, which was very likely to be granted. See survey LINK.
If Pope Francis doesn’t know what it is really like in the United States for a Catholic spouse to face allegations against the validity of his marriage, after his Catholic spouse forced upon their family an immoral no-fault civil divorce, this is our chance to tell him. Follow link here: http://freeonlinesurveys.com/s.asp?sid=mkgmneh5psvhgko335376
Spero columnist Bai Macfarlane is the founder of Mary's Advocates.