Where's the Rigidity?

Before the discussions about marriage become stale, perhaps a question or two are in order.

John Allen, my favorite reporter on the Vatican, wrote that annulment reform was something that the Bishops who gathered in Rome wanted:

Recently, however, I got one thing right. On Sept. 15, I published a piece under the headline, “Annulment reform a smart bet at looming Synod of Bishops.”

The forecast was based on the idea that making annulments faster and simpler would offer a natural compromise between those wanting to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics back to Communion, and those opposed. It allows each group to address its core concern: defending the permanence of marriage, and showing compassion for those in broken relationships.

An annulment is a finding by a Church court that someone’s first union wasn’t a sacramental marriage, because it didn’t meet a test for validity such as psychological capacity to understand the requirements of marriage. If granted, an annulment allows someone to get married again in the Church.

But why is a reform necessary when it seems the Bishops already have a high degree of flexibility? Consider the case of Teddy Kennedy:

A statement that Senator Edward M. Kennedy had his second marriage blessed by the Roman Catholic Church after a 1982 divorce has revealed wide confusion among both Catholics and non-Catholics about the church’s policy on annulments.

Catholic teaching does not allow remarriage after divorce unless a spouse has died or the earlier marriage is annulled, meaning that it was found to have been invalid from the beginning.

The question of whether the Senator’s 23-year marriage to Joan Kennedy had been annulled was raised when he received Communion at the funeral of his mother, Rose Kennedy, on Tuesday, normally an indication that a person is in good standing with the church.

A spokesman for the Senator, a Massachusetts Democrat, told The Boston Globe that the Senator’s marriage last year to Victoria Reggie in a civil ceremony was eventually “blessed by the church,” which set off a flurry of inquiries into the church’s policy, Boston newspapers and church officials said.

Or, what about Nicole Kidman?

Nicole Kidman’s wedding to country singer Keith Urban in Sydney at the weekend drew plenty of media attention.

But some Catholics will have looked on perplexed at how the former bride of actor Tom Cruise managed to tie the knot for a second time, in a Catholic church.

It was widely reported in the run up to the weekend wedding that Ms Kidman had received an annulment for her previous marriage – the Catholic Church’s procedure for allowing a follower to wed again.

Father Paul Coleman, who conducted the latest nuptials, was said to have advised the Oscar-winning actress on the dissolution.

In fact, Kidman didn’t need an annulment for one simple reason: in the eyes of the Catholic Church her 10-year union with Tom Cruise, a renowned Scientologist, never happened.

I understand the need for transparency (and that’s what’s happening under Cardinal Pell with the Vatican Bank). But if you write procedures then you have less flexibility, right?


34 thoughts on “Where's the Rigidity?

  1. Looks like those who convert to the Roman church get the better deal.

    Is a Protestant marriage “a sacramental marriage”? Because I’m sure if it is now, it won’t be once Roman congregants realize they can ditch Helga the Methodist, and finally have a shot with that smokin’ hot Maria Lucia.

    Can sacraments be annulled, anyway? Can you retroactively annul someone’s Eucharist? Someone’s Confession? Someone’s Baptism?

    These folks really know how to work the system. It’s a little easier when you can move the target around. Perhaps those in favor of annulment should change their title from “Bishop” to “Sacramental Entrepreneur.”


  2. There was also another Kennedy too, one of the children of either Teddy or Bobby. He was married with four children. The Boston diocese managed to annul his marriage alleging non-consummation. It was what it was: a matter of convenience and probably money.

    Wish I could remember the name, but alas.


  3. Allen – An annulment is a finding by a Church court that someone’s first union wasn’t a sacramental marriage, because it didn’t meet a test for validity such as psychological capacity to understand the requirements of marriage.

    Erik – Or the psychological capacity to understand that the person you are about to marry has the potential to be a tremendous pain in the a*s.


  4. I know four couples who just declared their first marriage a mistake and were remarried in the RCC.

    There’s a problem with this?? Didn’t know that.


  5. If Nicole Kidman is a Roman Catholic (and I’ll take your word that she is), and if she married Tom Cruise in some venue outside of the RCC, then her marriage to him was not a valid Catholic (“sacramental”) marriage, and as the article says, according to “the Church”, it “never happened”.Even though the were legally married, and had kids, “the Church” exempts itself from recognizing this as a “valid marriage”.


  6. John,

    I’m curious, would the solution for RCs who think divorce isn’t all that bad to get married outside of a RCC? That way, if things go sour, it never happened?


  7. Zrim,

    There are several considerations. Were you getting married just because she was pregnant? Were you drunk in Vegas? Was it a forced/arranged marriage? Was someone tricked into marrying someone who never intended to have children? There are all kinds of factors involved. Nothing after the I Do’s counts. Abuse, neglect, whatever. All that matters is what took place at the altar whenever vows were exchanged.


  8. Kenneth, thanks, but if Jesus’ only criterion is adultery, those all seem like marriages that still stick. Even then, the marriage is dissolved as opposed to pretending like it never happened in the first place. What’s with that anyway, pretending like something that’s there really isn’t? Sounds like Prots who ground the institution is creation have a higher view of marriage than those who ground it in redemption (even sacralizing it). More irony.


  9. @John —

    The sacrament is between the couple. It is a sin to engage in a marriage outside the church but that doesn’t invalidate the sacrament.

    @Robert —

    I’m curious, would the solution for RCs who think divorce isn’t all that bad to get married outside of a RCC? That way, if things go sour, it never happened?

    The 4C’s for Protestants don’t remember the catchy phrasing but they are: public, consummated, exchange of items of value, for life) come from Catholicism. The way they could handle this is an explicit statement of concubinage. The church has tradition allowing that. I don’t see how that helps Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. There is no question they considered themselves married for a long time and acted like it. Nicole Kidman has said quite recently, “I begged Tom not to end our marriage before he stormed out”. They were married. The church’s hypocrisy on this issue is a big problem.


  10. My uncle related his experience asking the priest at his brother’s (my other Uncle) Catholic wedding, having the priest tell him flat out his presbyterian marriage meant him and my aunt were not married. Round and round we go, yo.


  11. Jesus words are clear. Adultery does not dissolve the marriage, automatic or otherwise.

    Adultery is grounds for separation or even divorce but not remarriage.

    Honesty would require that Jesus words be upheld whilst recognising the complexity and complication in putting that to practice.

    Hence, the distinction between law and gospel … a tension cannot be resolved on this side of the eschaton …….. rather than pretending that Jesus words mean something else …


  12. kW, the annulment fee for when one finds out they married their sister is even lower, no?

    The day I figure out RCism is the day I stop thinking all your internetting is only making you more lost.

    Srsly tho, thx for being the voice of your religion, even if I can’t square your words with Bergag’s. Ciao.


  13. PS,

    Price per killowatt hour,

    Thoughts on the latest teaser trailer? Erik says Jason podxasted on that, inebriated. Peace.


  14. Pope Says Divorced, Gays Have Church Role


    By Deborah Ball

    Dec. 7, 2014 1:51 p.m. ET

    ROME— Pope Francis said the Catholic Church must find ways of welcoming divorced and gay Catholics as part of a yearlong debate by the church’s leadership that has already exposed a split within its ranks.

    In an interview with Argentine newspaper La Nación published Sunday, the pontiff addressed the turmoil his 20-month papacy has stirred with more tradition-minded groups in the church, saying it was a “good sign” that there isn’t “hidden mumbling when there is disagreement.”

    The pope also announced that a reorganization of the Vatican bureaucracy won’t be completed next year and said he would add visits to both Latin America and Africa to his travel schedule next year.
    The comments on gays and divorced Catholics were the pope’s first public remarks since the end of the synod, or meeting of bishops, in October on problems facing the family.

    That meeting of nearly 200 bishops opened discussion on a range of problems affecting Catholic families, with the goal of providing better solutions on issues such as gay unions, divorce, poverty, domestic violence and polygamy.

    However, sharp disagreement emerged on the church’s approach to divorced Catholics and gays. One group of bishops called for open support of gay couples and pushed for the possibility of allowing remarried Catholics to receive communion. Currently, the church denies communion to Catholics who have remarried, unless their first marriage is annulled.

    Those positions—which, according to senior Vatican clerics, enjoy the support of the pope—sparked fierce opposition from more tradition-minded bishops.

    They also exposed the fault lines that have opened since the Argentine-born pontiff was elected in March 2013. While the pope has consistently underlined his support for church doctrine, his reformist agenda and emphasis on welcoming people who have felt repudiated by the church have led to some fears that he is watering down church teachings.

    U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke openly criticized the pope in October, saying the church under his leadership is like “a ship without a rudder.”

    Bishops will meet again next October to continue the discussion of family issues, after which the pope will decide on any changes in the church’s approach.

    In the interview with La Nación, the pope pointedly said the synod never discussed gay marriage, which the church opposes. But he said the bishops must still consider ways to help “a family that has a homosexual son or daughter…(and consider) how can they raise him or her.”

    Meanwhile, he noted that divorced Catholics who have remarried are currently barred from activities such as giving readings at Mass or becoming godparents. “It seems they are excommunicated de facto,” he said. Instead, the church should “open the doors a little bit more…Why can’t they be godparents?” he asked.

    The pope didn’t directly address the question of finding a way for remarried Catholics to receive communion.

    Pope Francis openly acknowledged the serious discomfort his papacy has caused some groups within the church, but said he welcomed the debate. Some senior figures remark that the pontiff is far more popular with the population at large—both Catholics and non-Catholics—than with some of the church hierarchy. “Resistance is now evident,” he said. “And that is a good sign for me…It’s healthy to get things out into the open.”

    The pope also denied that his decision to demote Cardinal Burke from a senior position in the Vatican was punishment for the cardinal’s criticism of his papacy.

    Elsewhere, a continuing overhaul of the Vatican bureaucracy, or Curia, won’t be completed in 2015 as many had expected, the pope said, describing the process as slow and complex.

    During the run-up to the conclave that elected the pope last year, cardinals demanded wholesale change of the Holy See’s bloated and scandal-prone bureaucracy. A major thrust will be to merge some of the Vatican departments, simplifying the structure and bringing its finances under much tighter scrutiny.

    For instance, Cardinal George Pell, head of the newly created Secretariat of the Economy, which is charged with a thorough reorganization of the Vatican’s finances, announced last week that his group had found hundreds of millions of euros previously unaccounted for in various departments’ books.

    The pope announced additions to his travel schedule next year, which already includes Sri Lanka, the Philippines and the U.S. He will also travel to three Latin American countries and Africa, although he declined to provide further details, and will visit his native Argentina in 2016.

    Questioned about the state of his health, the pope said: “I have my aches and pains, and at this age one feels them. (But) up to now I can keep up a rhythm of work that is more or less good.”

    Pope Francis, who turns 78 on Dec. 17, takes no holiday, usually rises at 4:30 a.m. and maintains an intense schedule. For his birthday last year, a staff member brought in three homeless men to celebrate with the pope, along with the staff in the rooming house where he lives. This year, the pope will again celebrate with the staff.

    “It will be just another day to me, pretty much like any other one,” he said.

    Write to Deborah Ball at deborah.ball@wsj.com



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  15. Erik quotes: “For his birthday last year, a staff member brought in three homeless men to celebrate with the pope, along with the staff in the rooming house where he lives.”

    This has got to be the craziest birthday present any pope has received, at least since Pope Sergius III got that trireme full of Numidian prostitutes.


  16. Do we know where Yeazel, Gassy, & Greg The Terrible’s friend with no teeth were on the Pope’s birthday last year? Greg thinks she was a girl, but you never know these days.

    At some point the homeless of Rome will probably just ask to be left alone as opposed to serving as fodder for the Pope’s latest photo opportunity.


  17. @Robert

    A bit offtopic but I sincerely hope in your debate at CtC you don’t let Joshua get away with this claptrap:The idea that there was a considerable rupture that has no record of a definitive moment of rupture or a resistance against the rupture in the historical table (during or after the rupture)

    They keep using that argument over and over and over knowing full well that there is enormous evidence for a rupture. The documentary record of Christianity from the earliest days is replete with almost nothing but evidence of the rupture. From the bible, to the fathers, to the 3rd party non-Christian witnesses, to the non-Catholic authors.


  18. CD,

    Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know how much more I’ll post in that thread. There’s only so much of their “begging the question” accusations when that is all they do over there 24/7 that I can take.


  19. former op elder dr. hausam explains there is a difference between darth vader and george lucas, gets a grilling from an atheist (curious CD?), and ends with “no matter what is said in the debate, a large chunk of the audience will disagree with you no matter what is said (help at all Robert? keep going for those crossian and stellmanite lurkers all you like, just realize, it’s not going to matter what you say, to many of them over there (same could be said for us?)).

    click that and listen to three minutes to finish, to make sense (or not) of my ramble above. kenneth, i’ll find the star wars reference time stamp in that 2 hr clip for you if you are too busy with your three kids, we’re good over here.


  20. Do you mean that this woman could not have received an annulment because she didn’t have enough money? If Teddy Kennedy could get out of his marriage, why not this woman?

    Some years ago, I was in Africa working on a book and found myself in a car with a senior African bishop. At one point his cell phone rang, and, looking at the number, he said he needed to take the call.

    The caller turned out to be a deeply faithful Catholic woman the bishop was trying to console. Her husband had walked out on her, leaving her penniless to care for four children. Out of spite, he also refused to go along with an annulment — a finding from a Church court that theirs was not a valid marriage, freeing both to remarry.

    In desperation, the woman remarried outside the Church and was struggling with the fact that her situation made her, under Church law, ineligible for Communion. The bishop finished the call, and then turned to me in obvious frustration.

    “You know what kills me?” he said. “I can’t give her Communion, even though it’s the rascal who left her who created this mess …. It just doesn’t seem fair.”


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