Why We Need More Canon Lawyers

We’ve all known administrators who were hired to do a certain job, but when they found they couldn’t do that job, they either tried to do everyone else’s job or else tried to change the job into something else completely.  This problem is not uncommon, for example, among functionaries who do fund-raising for colleges.  They get themselves hired promising that they can sell ice cubes to Eskimos, but then when you ask them to sell a solid liberal arts education to students who desperately need one, they change the subject and then try to change the institution.

Something similar now appears to be happening among some bishops when it comes to marriage and divorce.  They were put into a position to do a very difficult job: protect the institution of marriage in a culture that has largely forgotten what marriage is.  Finding that job exceedingly difficult, some of them want to change the subject and then change the institution.

I’ve written elsewhere about the grave sorrows that arise when a diocese doesn’t handle annulments well.  In that article, I wrote:

Bad music, ugly churches, lousy preaching all annoy the faithful, but they’ll often keep coming back—for a while, at least. Mishandle an annulment, on the other hand, and they’re done. I’ve seen the situation far too often: A faithful, dedicated Catholic approaches the Church for an honest judgment about whether a marriage was valid or not, and they are greeted with rudeness, petty bureaucratic delays, lost paperwork, bad advice, misdirection, and at times, even outright lies.

The faithful deserve better. They need an honest determination whether they were in fact married or not based on an open and transparent process with clearly defined standards of evidence. They should be afforded this judgment within a reasonable time, and the process should be clearly explained to them beforehand and at every stage along the way.

It’s easy to get so busy taking care of the day-to-day business of running parishes that you forget the little side affairs that carry an extraordinary degree of importance in the lives of the people involved. The pain and bitterness caused by a mishandled annulment proceeding isn’t going away anytime soon.

In fact, I would suggest that many of the wounds the Church currently faces when it comes to the problem of so many “divorced” and “remarried” Catholics have been self-inflicted, given that one of the biggest causes of stress and confusion in such circumstances comes in instances when couples after a civil “divorce” (which they must obtain before they apply for a decree of nullity) are unsure of the decision of the diocesan tribunal, but having been assured by some diocesan official or other that their case was “strong,” and a decision not forthcoming for several years, they, having been left in a kind of marriage “limbo,” decide that dating again might be an acceptable (indeed, even wise, “healthy”) option.  How long do we really expect such couples to wait in limbo for a decision?  When they don’t hear anything for years, of course they assume that things will go as they hope, the rule in law generally being:  “Silence implies consent.”  And once they’ve started dating, sharing their lives with each other in that way two people do when they are courting, are we really to expect they’ll just break it all off and go “cold turkey” if and when the tribunal finally, after two or three years, curtly says “no” to their petition of nullity?  At the very least, one or the other of the two is likely to see this long delay on the part of the Church as having cruelly “strung them along,” setting them up for one of the most heartbreaking disappointments of their lives.

Tribunals and diocesan web sites will often claim that annulment proceedings take somewhere between twelve to eighteen months.  And sometimes this is the case.  But actual statistics are often impossible to come by, and other web sites will admit that it can take between two to three years to process an annulment case.  As Fr. Becket Soule, O.P., has pointed out in a 2009 document for the Knights of Columbus Preserving the Sanctity of Marriage: The Catholic Teaching on Annulment:

The time cases take to process varies greatly. It depends on what type of case it is, how difficult the case is, whether the witnesses cooperate, whether they have very much to say, whether the respondent opposes, whether there are any contradictions in the evidence, etc. Many delays take place when the petitioner does not answer letters or changes address without informing the tribunal.

Fr. Soule might also have noted (in what is an otherwise excellent document) the additional problem of trying to contact petitioners and witnesses when the tribunal itself fails to keep track of the relevant contact information.  It is simply a fact of modern life that we Americans are a mobile population, and Catholics, like other citizens, move often.  The problems caused when an institution fails to be able to keep track of such shifts are legion.  Anyone who doubts this hasn’t moved recently and had to deal with forwarding mail, changing power companies, establishing new utilities, altering insurance, and keeping all credit card companies and various creditors appraised of one’s updated billing address, a task that customarily involves multiple calls to each separate organization with promises from the person at the other end of the line that, yes, this time, the relevant information actually has been changed on the computer.

But behind all the other potential difficulties Fr. Soule mentions above, there is this one other glaring problem he mentions last after all the rest:  “The sheer number of cases being presented today is another major cause of delays,” he says quite rightly, “as is the lack of adequate staffing at many tribunals” (emphasis mine).

In 1969, the Church granted 338 annulments in the US; in 1974, the number was 28,918; and in the 1990s roughly 40,000 per year were granted.  Clearly, we’ve got a problem; indeed, we’ve got a series of problems.  The first has to do with the way we do marriage preparation.  I’ll leave that subject for another day.  The other has to do with trying to deal with an onslaught of legal cases with the number of canon lawyers that were barely sufficient to keep up with the demand twenty years ago.  When a business has too many new orders that its current staff can’t keep up, what does it do?  It adds more staff.  In many dioceses, the Church simply hasn’t kept up with the changing demographics.

Papal Reflection on the Annulment Crisis
Too many tribunals in this country are dramatically understaffed, both in terms of well-trained, pastorally experienced canon lawyers as well as the necessary staff to help facilitate the smooth and efficient resolution of their caseloads. This despite the exhortation in the Vatican’s 2005 “Instruction to be Observed by Diocesan and Inter-Diocesan Tribunals in Handling Causes of the Nullity of Marriage” (Dignitatis Connubii) that “it falls to the Bishops, and this should weigh heavily on their consciences, to see to it that suitable ministers of justice for their tribunals are trained in canon law appropriately and in a timely manner, and are prepared by suitable practice to instruct causes of marriage properly and decide them correctly.”  Moreover it was Blessed John Paul II (soon to be St. John Paul II) who in his last address to the Roman Rota in 2006 made a point of admonishing the world’s bishops that the work of their diocesan tribunals was of the upmost importance and thus not something from whose operations they could remain “detached”:

In my annual Addresses to the Roman Rota, I have referred several times to the essential relationship that the process has with the search for objective truth. It is primarily the Bishops, by divine law judges in their own communities, who must be responsible for this. It is on their behalf that the tribunals administer justice. Bishops are therefore called to be personally involved in ensuring the suitability of the members of the tribunals, diocesan or interdiocesan, of which they are the Moderators, and in verifying that the sentences passed conform to right doctrine.  Sacred Pastors cannot presume that the activity of their tribunals is merely a “technical” matter from which they can remain detached, entrusting it entirely to their judicial vicars.

The newly elected Pope Benedict XVI was to renew that call the very next year in his very first address to the Roman Rota in 2006 (“I associate myself in spirit with precisely what my venerable Predecessor said to you in his Address last year”), emphasizing that:  “Every system of trial must therefore endeavor to guarantee the objectivity, speed and efficacy of the judges’ decisions.”

Given the concern I’ve expressed above for those who are faced with badly-handled annulment proceedings—mishandle an annulment, and you’ll likely lose a Catholic forever—one might imagine that I would be especially happy with recent suggestions that annulment proceedings be “streamlined,” perhaps allowing a parish priest to make such decisions.  Let me assure you, were one to imagine that, one would be wrong.

The pressures currently being exerted on the Church to “regularize” the situation of divorced-and-remarried Catholics, including recent proposals that those who are not “canonically married” be permitted to receive the Eucharist, were precisely the same ones being made during the pontificates of Benedict XVI and John Paul II and to which both responded vigorously.  So, for example, Pope Benedict in his 2006 address pointed to what he considered the false dichotomy facing the Church:

On the one hand, it would appear that the Synod Fathers were asking the ecclesiastical tribunals to strive to ensure that members of the faithful who are not canonically married regularize their marital situation as soon as possible and return to the Eucharistic Banquet.

On the other, canonical legislation and the recent Instruction would seem instead to limit this pastoral thrust, as though the main concern were rather to proceed with the foreseen juridical formalities at the risk of forgetting the pastoral aim of the process. This approach conceals a false opposition between law and pastoral ministry in general.

What, according to Pope Benedict, would serve to resolve this “false opposition between law and pastoral ministry”?  One thing alone:  “love for the truth, which is,” he says, “the fundamental meeting point between canon law and pastoral ministry.”  “The canonical proceedings for the nullity of marriage,” says Pope Benedict, “are essentially a means of ascertaining the truth about the conjugal bond. Thus, their constitutive aim is not to complicate the life of the faithful uselessly, nor far less to exacerbate their litigation, but rather to render a service to the truth” (emphasis mine).

In this, Pope Benedict was merely echoing a theme repeated ceaselessly by his illustrious predecessor, John Paul II, throughout his pontificate:  namely, the crucial responsibility of all people to search for and be faithful to the truth.  Indeed, this was a message that, by his own admission, the pope had returned to time and again during his annual addresses to the Roman Rota:  namely, “the essential relationship that the process [of dealing with annulments] has with the search for objective truth.”  Having scolded “individual or collective interests” for attempting to resort to “various kinds of duplicity and even bribery to attain a favourable sentence” from tribunal officials, Pope John Paul went on to warn that,

in the current circumstances there is also the threat of another risk. In the name of what they claim to be pastoral requirements, some voices have been raised proposing to declare marriages that have totally failed null and void. These persons propose that in order to obtain this result, recourse should be made to the expedient of retaining the substantial features of the proceedings, simulating the existence of an authentic judicial verdict.

In other words, along with bribery, another form of “duplicity” would be deigning to create a sort of faux judicial process by which failed marriages could post facto be declared null—in effect “legitimizing” the process of Catholic “divorce”—“to ensure that members of the faithful who are not canonically married regularize their marital situation as soon as possible and return to the Eucharistic Banquet” (as Pope Benedict was later to characterize the one horn of what he considered a “false dilemma”).

Solution: Train New Crop of Canon Lawyers
We have a problem.  We need to solve the problem.  The Church’s tradition supplies us sufficient resources to know how to solve the problem.  What we need to do now is to train a new crop of canon lawyers and then staff diocesan tribunals adequately in order to do their job as several decades of popes have insisted it should be done:  namely, effectively and in a timely manner.

Dignitatis Connubii was written precisely with the stated intention “of providing for [annulment proceedings] to be instructed and decided more quickly and more securely’.”   “It must be stated,” the authors of Dignitatis Conubii continue,

that such rules [as laid down in this document] will be insufficient to achieve their stated purpose unless diocesan judges know the sacred canons thoroughly and are well prepared through an experience of tribunal work.  For this reason it falls to the Bishops, and this should weigh heavily on their consciences, to see to it that suitable ministers of justice for their tribunals are trained in canon law appropriately and in a timely manner, and are prepared by suitable practice to instruct causes of marriage properly and decide them correctly [emphases mine].

I would add to this simply that these newly trained canon lawyers should also then be required to meet regularly to share insights and best practices.  Such regular interactions, done wisely with fidelity to the Magisterium, might well bring us a new renaissance in wisdom and prudence related to the proper application of the relevant canons.

What we desperately need, rather than a change in the fundamental norms of the Church, are larger numbers of well-trained, pastorally experienced canon lawyers to staff diocesan tribunals around the country so that cases can be decided prudently, with pastoral sensitivity to the difficulties of the situation, and above all in accord with a sincere search for the truth.  But justice can’t be meted out effectively and in a timely fashion if there are too few officials and too little staff to keep up with the pressing caseloads.  The temptation will be either to “push through” cases that may need deeper scrutiny or to “push aside” cases that appear more complicated so that one can “get through” the pile of cases in the docket.  When there is an overload, “clearing cases” can become the sole criterion of an effective jurist, not necessarily prudent discernment of the truth.

Thinking that you can off-load this work on other lesser-trained officials or by “streamlining” the process is like thinking that you can off-load the work of adjudicating your traffic ticket onto the police officer who arrested you or onto that police officer’s fellow officer back at the police station.  Tyrannical regimes “streamline” the judicial process all the time.  We call them “kangaroo courts” because they’re a farce.  They’re usually very speedy, and undoubtedly rather “effective” in their own way; it’s simply that their connection to the actual truth of the matter and to justice is usually not altogether secure.

It is not sufficiently appreciated, for example, that the scandal of pedophile priests was in many ways a failure of bishops to use their tribunals properly.  There were canonically prescribed processes in place to have each of those cases adjudicated before a tribunal.  But many bishops chose instead to replace centuries of pastoral wisdom and canon law with the latest fads coming out of the psychological schools.  Talk about selling one’s birthright for a mess of pottage.  If each of those accusations of priestly misconduct had been properly adjudicated before a tribunal, as they were supposed to have been, rather than bypassing the process so that the bishop could handle things “quietly,” “on the down-low,” “unofficially,” we may have seen a very different outcome.

(The single best article on this aspect of the problem remains “The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis and the Spirit of Canon Law,” by Fr. John J. Coughlin, O.F.M., who writes: “From a purely anecdotal perspective, I am unaware of a single case in the United States during the past several decades in which a priest was dismissed from the clerical state as a result of the diocesan penal process stipulated in canon law…. [O]ver the course of several decades, many—and perhaps most—bishops declined to implement and enforce the rule of canon law.”  He concludes that “the reduction of the culture of canon law was a contributing factor in the failure to employ the juridical structure to check abuse,” pointing out that, “when canon law functions properly, it balances law and spirit in the life of the Church,” whereas: “The present crisis in the life of the Church may be attributed at least in part to a failure on the part of the bishops to observe the rule of canon law.”)

I’d hate to see the present crisis in the life of the Church worsened—again—by a failure on the part of bishops to respect the rule of canon law and the necessary role of expertly trained, well-run tribunals in matters that should remain subject to their prudential jurisdiction.

Where Can We Find More Canon Lawyers?
“More canon lawyers:  sounds nice, but it can’t be done.”  That’s likely to be the response my appeal will receive in certain quarters.  Then we’ll see a change of subject and a changing of the institution.  If I’d ever seen that work, I might be more open to the suggestion.  As it is, institutions and persons that have given in and sold their souls for thirty pieces of silver ended up, as we have seen with the pedophile scandal, without a soul and without the thirty pieces of silver either (following a long tradition that goes all the way back to Judas Iscariot).

As for the “impossibility” of finding a sufficient number of canon lawyers, I’m reminded of a little story from a priest visiting the archdiocese where I was doing graduate work during the 1980s—a diocese that has coincidentally had to pay out over a hundred million dollars in damages for just one of its pedophile priests. During that period, many people were clamoring for “married priests” and “women priests” (as some continue to do) because of a critical “priest shortage” in the diocese.  This visiting priest was from a diocese that had no “priest shortage,” and here is what he told me:  “This diocese if very strange,” he said.  “It is more than twice the size of my diocese at home, but they have no full-time vocations director.  The guy who does vocations work for them does part-time teaching at a local university, and he handles the diocese’s media services department too.”  “In my diocese,” he said, “which is much, much smaller, we have two full-time vocations directors and a substantial staff to follow-up on all calls, and we have no vocations problem.”  That made sense.  You get a return on things you show you care about. I’ve seen religious order after religious order die on the vine simply because they didn’t have the guts anymore to recruit.  They weren’t “beating the bushes” to locate any and all vocations they could find.  No, they did a one or two feckless “vocations weekends” per year, and then kicked back hoping against hope that their vocations “problem” would sort itself out. It didn’t.

As it is, you can count the major programs in canon law in this country on the fingers of one finger. And the number of graduates is like the number of births in Europe: not sufficient to meet the needs of replacement.  On the other side of this equation, I know about a half-dozen gifted men and women who have expressed deep interest in becoming canon lawyers who can’t get anyone in the Church to give them the time of day.  Why is that I wonder?  Is it because it’s so much easier to keep prevailing upon the Vatican that it’s absolutely necessary to “streamline the process” than it is to do the hard work of recruiting and training canon lawyers, just as it’s so much easier to keep prevailing upon the Vatican to change the regulations about married priests than it is to do the hard work of recruiting, training, and inspiring new priests?

As for the German bishops who seem so eager to make some of these changes, if the church in Germany were filled to the brim, overflowing with regular, devoted churchgoers, then I might be more inclined to pay attention to their views on this matter.  Having the German bishops lecture the universal Church about what it ought to do on the issue of annulments is a bit like having the Anglican bishops in England, where the churches are mostly empty, lecture the rest of the Anglican communion, including the bishops in Africa where Anglicanism is thriving, on what they should be doing about gay marriage and gay bishops.  It’s like a patient dying from lung cancer lecturing a group of healthy young men in the 1950s on the “solid medical reasons” why they should take up smoking.

Canon law is one of the least understood but most important elements necessary for the efficient, fair, and just functioning of the institutional Church.  One can bad-mouth the “institutional” Church all day in favor of a more “spiritual,” “heavenly” Church—that is, until one needs the institution to function well, which we do.  The Church is a sacrament; it is an incarnational entity.  We need the fleshy, material “stuff” of the institutional Church because we are not pure spirits; we live in a fleshy, material world with all its complex faults and problems.  “When canon law functions properly,” says Fr. Coughlin very wisely, “it balances law and spirit in the life of the Church.”

We help people by caring enough to invest in institutions that can help them in the very hard process of discerning the truth about their situation, not by changing the rules and skirting the truth.  John Paul II was right:  that’s just another form of duplicity.  Instead of them buying us off with a bribe, we buy them off with a falsehood.

Is the doctrinal teaching of the Church on marriage and annulment failing to “keep pace” with the times, or are ecclesiastical officials failing to do the hard work necessary to meet the authentic needs of the faithful in ways appropriate to the sacred office with which they have been entrusted?  Should we create a new streamlined “system” for dealing with annulments, or should we rely on the wisdom of our spiritual and canonical heritage and re-double our efforts to do the job with which we were entrusted and do it right?  I suggest the latter.  One’s first job is to be an institution people can respect.  If the institution shows it cares and treats its petitioners fairly and in accord with the fundamental principles of the faith, people may not always like it, but at least they’ll respect it.  If the institution can’t do that, changing its canonical procedures to accommodate the latest fad won’t help.  Didn’t we try that already?  The results weren’t pretty.  We lost our souls and the thirty pieces of silver.

Editor’s note: The image above entitled “Jesus Among the Doctors in the Temple” was painted by Paolo Veronese in 1558.

Randall B. Smith


Randall B. Smith is Professor of Theology and current holder of the Scanlan Foundation Chair in Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. He was also the 2011-12 Myser Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture.

  • DefensorVeritatis

    This is absolutely true. When I sought an annulment, our parish priest had me fill out the paperwork, get the witnesses, etc. Then, over the course of the next eighteen months, I would periodically call and be told, “Oh, there’s a backlog of cases” or “they’re working on it, you have to be patient.” Finally, this priest was transferred out of the parish. With no one locally to turn to, I called the diocese. After a search, they phoned back and told me they had never received such a case. They called our new parish priest and after a search, he found a box with not only my case, but about a dozen others as well. Fortunately, the new priest took the case in hand and within three months, the annulment was granted. But I know many who have abandoned the Church over the sloppiness and lack of uniformity in the annulment process.

    • Fatima

      Even if you got an annulment from the Pope, you would still be an adulterer if you married again…. even with the personal permission of the pope.

      Annulments are evil before God.
      The indissolubility of marriage is absolute.
      It is independent of all popes and bishops.

      When a pope or bishop grants an annulment, he cooperates in adultery.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        .“The indissolubility of marriage is absolute.”

        Agreed, but how do we know whether someone is married or not?

        It is a curious fact, though true, that there must always be a considerable number of people who could not say off-hand whether they were married or not. It is only when the question has been decided in a tribunal that their doubts can be removed. But although they do not know if they are married, and no one could tell them with certainty till the case was tried, it is nevertheless true that they must be either one or the other. There is no half-way house.

      • TheAbaum


      • msmischief

        So if a couple get married, and then owing to death-bed confessions from their mothers, who, it turns out, were adulterous, learn they are brother and sister, they can never remarry?

        • TheAbaum

          Sadly, that is in the realm of the possible.

          • msmischief

            Oh, yes. It’s happened.

            I cite it as an example of crystalline clarity about the need to distinguish before we haggle about where the line gets drawn.

            • TheAbaum

              Yes, it seems there’s a distinct lack of that in this thread.

        • Guest

          Well as was pointed out by a priest here the sacrament needs valid form and valid matter. Can a brother and sister be valid?

          This is from the old CE:

          Consanguinity is a diriment impediment of marriage as far as the fourth degree of kinship inclusive.

          • msmischief

            Take it up with Fatima, who insists, “Even if you got an annulment from the Pope, you would still be an adulterer if you married again…. even with the personal permission of the pope.”

            That means the brother and sister are adulterous in Fatima’s eyes.

      • CRS

        I suggest you look up what a declaration of nullity truly is. Even Christ acknowledged that marriage is only indissoluble so long as it was not unlawful. A declaration of nullity, or what you call an annulment, states that the marriage was unlawful from the beginning, thus never existing in reality. And in the event a true marriage covenant never existed, then there is no adultery on the part of those who remarry (hopefully lawfully) after the declaration is made. Remember, marriage is by its very nature a contract, and it only takes one party with bad intent to undermine and invalidate the contract. I hope this helps to clear that up for you, Fatima.

      • Guest

        What is your authority to assert this novel idea?

      • JohnnyVoxx

        Maybe you missed the part in Holy Scripture where Jesus Christ granted to Peter and the Apostles the power to bind and loose? (Matthew 16:18, 18:18) “Whatsoever you bind (forbid) on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatsoever you loose (permit) on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

      • Laura Lowder

        Boy you’re just a ray of authoritative sunshine in the light spectrum, aren’t you? And who died and made you God? I notice you haven’t responded to another query, above asking just what credentials and authority you have to issue such absolute statements about something you demonstrably know nothing about.

        The Sacrament of Marriage — not unlike the commitment of mortal sin — requires Full Knowledge and Consent of the Will. ANYTHING that disrupts that — drunkenness, coercion, mental illness, a secret pornography addiction, homosexuality and other perversions, a history of abuse on either side — interferes with the parties’ ability to fully enter into the Sacrament.

        That is why a candidate for a licentiate program begins with a degree in Theology, to understand the root and foundation of the whole of canon law — and it is why a minimum 3 year program culminating with a comprehensive licentiate exam is requisite for the title of JCL.

        And I’ll bet dollars to donuts you have neither.

  • “sell a solid liberal arts education to students who desperately need one”

    This is almost too serious an article for my objection, but since it’s April Fools Day- I have to say we need far more canon lawyers and engineers than we need LIBERAL arts students- especially given the damage done to marriage by liberals as of late.

    • TB

      JPII said, “some voices have been raised proposing to declare marriages that have totally failed null and void.” I was a party to an annulment that declared a failed marriage null and void. Wish I had never filed it. Yes, we have a problem.

      • TB

        [TB is not Theodore Seeber, I am a guest here.]

        • TheAbaum

          Interesting that you felt it necessary to provide that disclaimer.

        • TB is not TMS, I agree

      • I agree we have a problem from the rest of the article.

        My April fool’s joke was on liberal education creating liberals, however.

        • Nash Horne

          I take back my post above, then. But since sarcasm is impossible to detect in written text, and since some people might take it seriously, I’ll leave my post up.

          • [sarcasm] tags help I find [/sarcasm]

            Now there’s a meta nerd April Fools joke for you!

      • Imperial David

        Canon ‘law’ is corrupt. A pharisee’s list of regulations.

        Individual consciences know that their marriage was real.

        Hence the annulment process is deceitful.

        If conscience knows that the marriage was not metaphysically real, then there is no need for an annulment, just find someone else.

        • cestusdei

          You have never studied canon law. Ignorance is not strength.

        • CRS

          Yeah… And individual interpretation of Scripture is better than trusting the Church. I give you credit for one thing, though: individuals ought to know if their marriage was valid or not. However, due to poor catechism, many go into marriage with their priorities backwards and do not understand what is truly needed to make a marriage valid and proper. In other words, individuals need to have properly formed consciences in order to know if their marriages were valid or not, and in order to contract valid marriages in the first place.

    • Nash Horne

      Curricula based on liberal arts have nothing to do with modern liberal politics. The liberal arts are the seven subjects necessary for a well-rounded education:

      1. Grammar
      2. Logic
      3. Rhetoric
      4. Arithmetic
      5. Geometry
      6. Music
      7. Astronomy

      • [sarcasm]2,3, 6, and even at times, 1, 4, 5, and 7 have all been abused to censor and destroy conservative arguments.

        If you want to teach them, rename them to something other than liberal, and stop getting libertines to teach them.[/sarcasm]

        • msmischief

          C. S. Lewis waxed tragic on the verbicide involved in Studies In Words.

          • Thank you for that- I had no idea that work existed, and in reading the wikipedia cliff notes on it, I learned a new word (rare for me these days) enjambment. I’ve used the concept, but never knew there was a word for it.

  • ForChristAlone

    #1 “A faithful, dedicated Catholic approaches the Church for an honest judgment about whether a marriage was valid or not.” This ought to be uppermost in the minds of the “faithful” Catholics BEFORE they get married. If the question is asked at that time and due diligence is applied in its answer, we won’t be needing to ask it down the road.

    #2 We do NOT need more canon lawyers. What we need is for bishops to remind married couples that there is no such thing as divorce for Catholics. Hence if those “faithful” Catholics have any questions about the validity of their marriage, they should
    ask that question PRIOR to any attempt at divorce. And since, there can and should be no ending of the marriage for Catholics, there ought to be no divorce. It would then follow that any questions about the validity of a marriage must be asked before any couple ever even considers a civil divorce. The problem with this approach is that annulments are applied for just so the “faithful” Catholics can get a Church approval of their bigamy. They care little about the annulment since they have no intention of giving up their most recent bed partner. Evidence for this? Name one “faithful” Catholic who when their annulment was denied decided that they should put aside their most recent bed partner so they could remain a “faithful” Catholic. Name one…Rather, these “faithful” Catholics put aside the Church as that which is most dispensable in their lives.

    #3 The Church needs to STOP considering annulments for such silliness as gross immaturity and selfishness, narcissism, alcohol problems, drug problems, borderline personality disorder, etc, etc. These are among the most flimsy excuses the Church permits to rationalize the granting of annulments. The Church should know that
    what I listed above pretty much describes ALL Catholic marriages these days since
    Catholics have bought into the larger secular culture and ethos lock stock and
    barrel. In case you haven’t taken a good hard look at our society lately, pretty much what you’ll find is self-indulged, immature, hedonistic, narcissists.

    #4 If the Church does not get serious (and quickly) about what it teaches and doesn’t
    stop the nonsense, there will be pretty near nothing left of it to salvage. When a priest or deacon is ordained here is how the bishop instructs him when he commends the Book of the Gospels to him: “Believe what you read; teach what you believe; practice what you teach.” In the case of the bishop, the Book of the Gospels is held over his head like a Damocles Sword. Here is what is contained in that Book: “What God has joined together let no man put asunder.”

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      “The Church needs to STOP considering annulments for such silliness as gross immaturity and selfishness, narcissism, alcohol problems, drug problems, borderline personality disorder, etc, etc.”

      The Council of Trent declares “If any one says, that the Church could not establish impediments dissolving marriage; or that she has erred in establishing them; let him be anathema.” (Sess 24 c 4)

      • Guest

        Yes, but the definition of such things must be based in truth not convenience.

      • ForChristAlone

        I did NOT say that the Church can or should not establish that impediments exist. I AM saying that where such impediments exist they are discoverable by most people with half a brain at the time of marriage prep i.e. when they constitute a TRUE impediment. For example, the Church says a man must be able to perform the sex act such that a permanent incapacity would invalidate the marriage. The priest must ascertain (one way or another) whether the man’s penis works as it should. If such a private matter is open to query, much of the rest of the nonsense used to declare a marriage annulable 20 years down the road is also discoverable at the time of initial inquiry. As someone stated above: failed marriages do not constitute annulable marriages. I would even venture state that there is NO SUCH ANIMAL as a failed marriage unless you also deny the efficacy of grace to work on sinful human nature.

        • CRS

          The problem is the lack of marriage prep. Due to poor marriage prep, there are bad, invalid marriages being made. Hence the need for more canon lawyers to sort out the mess we are making. Bishops need to do their parts, priests their parts, and we the faithful our part.

    • A Nonny Mouse

      FCA —
      “The Church needs to STOP considering annulments for such silliness as . . . alcohol problems, drug problems, [and other mental health] flimsy excuses . . . ” You should know that many people agree with you. But I am deeply wounded and troubled at the lack of common sense and compassion that displays. Unless you have walked a mile in those moccasins, you cannot grasp the very real hell this existence is. These problems are usually accompanied by spousal and child abuse, poverty, and repeated encounters with police/courts/social services. Until the one with the addicted bottoms out and [finally] seeks help, there will be a period of recovery that will almost certainly involve relapses. This circumstance does not make possible a canonical marriage. And it is terrible to expect women and children to live that way for the sake of your standards of silliness.

      • Guest

        If these items manifested after the marriage how can that make the consent invalid?

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          Canon 1095 says “The following are incapable of contracting marriage… those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.”

          The items listed could, I suppose, be evidence of an pre-existing condition.

          • Guest

            Sure, with evidence.

            My point is a “failed” marriage should not equal a decree of nullity.

          • ForChristAlone

            Nonsense. If there is careful examination of a couple PRIOR TO the contract, it is not likely that 15 years down the road someone will exclaim: “Eureka, I think I’ve married a drunk.” No, this crap has been used for the past 50 years to justify annulments. Using current criteria, I can make a good case for annulling 90% of Catholic marriages. It makes a mockery out of marriage.

            • Michael Paterson-Seymour

              How good do you suppose psychiatrists are at identifying the prodromal stage of mental illness?

              • ForChristAlone

                I have first-hand experience with the whole annulment farce. I have been asked to write expert opinions about psychological impediments at the time of the marriage for people I saw in counseling years into the marriage. I refuse to do this because I do NOT think it can be done. If you are asking whether someone can give an opinion about it, I’d say yes but that opinion is not worth the paper it’s written on. As far as psychiatrists are concerned, they are challenged enough to identify and treat what is presented to them in the immediate. But for a fee, anyone can give an opinion. Let me put it to you this way: physical medicine is a far more exact science than psychiatry will ever be. Could you imagine an oncologist being asked to state definitively whether there were cancer cells present 20-30 years prior to the time of initial diagnosis? I’d love to see the look on his or her face when asked to answer this question.

                • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                  In cases of employer’s liability for asbestosis, I have seen pathologists do exactly that. As for psychiatry, psychoanalysts are sometimes able to trace the roots of certain conditions in an adult patient to early childhood

                  • ForChristAlone

                    More nonsense

                    • oregon nurse

                      No it’s not nonsense. Different kinds of emotional problems can be tied to different stages of emotional development and emotional development is largely tied to neurological development which is tied to biological age.

                    • ForChristAlone


              • Guest

                Well, if they cannot know before, how do they know after that it was present before?

                The Bishop is supposed to be the expert of experts. I would hope simply relying on the psychological sciences as sole proof would be seen as unworthy. You can find psychiatrist opposing psychiatrist.

              • msmischief

                Ah, but does the prodromal stage invalidate consent? After all, if a man and woman marry, even with the knowledge that one of them will become incapable of a duty of marriage because of a progressive physical illness, it’s still valid.

          • CRS

            It won’t invalidate the contract if the individual was licit and in right mind at the time the contract was made.

            • Michael Paterson-Seymour

              See an interesting article by Mgr Cormac Burke, a judge of the Roman Rota on The Distinction between no. 2 and no. 3 of Canon 1095 (The Jurist 54 (1994):1, 228-233) which can be found online at


              He concludes: “a person can be volitively incapable of valid matrimonial consent:

              a) because, while he retains his will power, it exists in such a weakened state that it is not up to the measure of the object choosen. He is able to choose, but is not able to fulfil (always remembering that a real impossibility, and not just a difficulty must be proved). Nymphomania could be a case in point;

              b) or because he has totally lost his will power, his very power of free choice. His internal freedom has been so undermined that his actions are no longer human choices at all. He is not able to fulfill, because he is no longer even able to choose. A pathology such as drug-addiction can reduce a person to such a state.”

              • CRS

                In that case, the individual wouldn’t be in right mind. I said “if.” It is important to distinguish between the predisposition to become ill, addicted, etc, and to already suffer an illness, addiction, etc. In the former case, consent and will are not undermined. In the latter case, they are. If a person becomes ill, addicted, etc, after consent to a marriage has been validly made, the marriage contract stands. People suffer hills and valleys all the time, so it becomes the cross of the spouse to bear the valleys with the ill, addicted, etc spouse, or to leave if the situation becomes dangerous. The issue of validation only concerns the moment consent was made, and if the person was in the right frame of mind, and gave full consent with the will to carry out the duties of marriage, the contract is valid regardless of the person’s predisposition to become ill, addicted, etc.

        • msmischief

          Well, to be sure, if the information were withheld to secure consent, that would invalidate it — but on the whole, not.

          • Guest

            Yes, but that is what is seen as the problem. Yes, the Church assumes validity but it also seems to many that once a marriage “fails” then folks reason backward to come up with some evidence that consent was invalid.

          • msmischief

            Huh. This was in reply to a comment about mental illness predating the wedding, BTW. It seems to have been cut loose since yesterday.

            • msmischief

              Huh. And then it got shifted back. . . this is weird. . . at the moment it’s where it belongs.

      • TheAbaum

        If you marry someone who later becomes an alcoholic and is abusive, you still have a valid marriage. If that individual imperils your safety, you have a cause for a separation or civil divorce, not for a declaration of nullity.

      • ColdStanding

        Why are you deeply wounded? We are all deeply wounded, it is true, but why are you blaming the Church for that? The Church has told you, from a young age to pray, given you the sacraments, and provided for you a near unlimited number of quality books upon which to foster the love of God and the Church He gave you for your salvation.

        Spousal abuse, alcoholism, addiction and child abuse are sins. Full stop. The remedy for them is confession, repentance, prayer, fasting, alms giving, penance and worthy reception of the other sacraments as appropriate.

        Jesus Christ said that if you labor and are weary, come to Me and I will give you rest. He didn’t say go to AA or social services. How can you berate the Church for your own lack of faith in what the Church teaches you? The Church has walked along side sinners every day, hour and minute of the last 2000 years! Shedding precious blood every step of the way for the salvation of souls. Yet you assert that the Church doesn’t know what it is like to walk a mile in the shoes of the suffering. It beggars belief.

        I’m sorry, for the harshness of my tone. I really am. I think I am taking my frustration with the current state of incredulity. If you think that what I say is out of line, I will retract it and apologize.

        • A Nonny Mouse

          First, I am not Catholic by birth, so “[my] own lack of faith in what the Church teaches [me]” is not germane. I do not blame the Church for anything. I was deeply wounded that FCA, and others, thinking to speak on behalf of the Church, would say that such circumstance is not evidence of an inability to make a canonical marriage. Sometimes these things DO manifest years and decades afterwards. Whatever the intent WAS, years of these actions show an inability to will the good of another NOW and for the foreseeable future. And alas, confession, penance, fasting, and prayer help — but may take years to become effective as a cure. It is not unusual for this healing to not finish in a lifetime. ‘Til death do us part’ does not imply consent to slow homicide — a slow suicide by the victim. How long do you make a woman wait for that magical cutoff? Is a year of steady abuse enough? Two? Ten? Does she have to die at his hands first? Or perhaps have Social Services threaten to remove her children because she won’t leave, believing that she made an oath, and cannot leave? These things happen every day. A canonically valid marriage requires the will and consent of both parties. That kind of self and others abusive behavior demonstrates a lack of will and consent. Nor do I believe a marriage is “good until cancelled”. In the situation I posited, it would seem the marriage was not valid for both at the start, but the evidence was not immediately manifest. I do agree that better marriage prep is needed. But what you see as silly flimsy excuses, may actually be COMPASSION and understanding by the Tribunal, in accordance with the real Mercy of God. Be careful not to judge.

          • ColdStanding

            We can not do away with all sets of stairs because someone falls down one of them, or worse yet because someone was thrown down one of them.

            The place for allowing for compassion is not with the form and meaning of the sacrament.

            I thank you for your response.

          • ForChristAlone

            The tribunal is not there to offer compassion and understanding. It is there to adjudicate the law.

            Secondly, you ask the question about how long one has to wait in the face of a person needing to amend his (since you equate women with being the victim) life. My answer to you is that God and His grace works in God’s way, not ours. How long do you expect God to wait for your perfection? Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Marriage is most loving when the other person is hard to love. (Again, please do NOT misconstrue what I am saying as suggesting that someone should be anyone else’s punching bag).

          • msmischief

            What does this have to do with annulments?

            A legal separation will effect all the freedom that she needs.

          • CRS

            Consent and will must be lacking on the part of one or both at the time consent is given. If not, the marriage is valid. That doesn’t mean a woman must stay in an abuse situation. Indeed, the Church permits a civil divorce in such cases, but maintains the validity of the marriage if consent and will were properly given on the day of the wedding. People do change for better or worse (hence the vows). If we are to “dissolve” marriage every time the worst happens, marriage as a sacrament would lose its integrity, and there would be no point in vowing for better or worse.

      • ForChristAlone

        You are confusing issues. I did NOT say that anyone ought to subject him or herself to another as a punching bag. But despite the horrible things people are inclined to do (formerly called “sin” in the Catholic church), they do NOT invalidate a marriage. The Church herself is responsible for confused ideas such as your own.

        • Guest

          I understand your frustration. I think that tension is known within the Church. The irony, to me, is that those that decry legalism seem to be very legalistic when it comes to decreeing marriages null.

          Using the letter of the law, with plastic definitions, they can decree null almost anything based on “psychology”. I would think pastoral issues must be based in doctrinal truth, not re-adapted in a relativistic way. By hey, what do I know?

        • TheAbaum

          “The Church herself is responsible for confused ideas such as your own.”

          Some canonical courts are in part, but not the Church as a whole. A Mouse largely represents the Protestant view of Henry Tudor that a marriage is GTC “good til cancelled”, generally summarily by one party.

      • msmischief

        Nothing of what you describe necessitates an annulment. A civil separation would be all that would be required to protect the innocent spouse and children.

    • cestusdei

      Such reasons are not “silly” according to canon law. If you read the cases you would find that out.

    • Allamanda

      Some of the confusion Catholics face is probably a result of the words
      we use: the Church “granting an annulment.” As a priest once explained
      it, the Church cannot annul a marriage, i.e., if it was indeed a
      marriage, the Church has no power to declare it null. What the Church
      does do in annulment proceedings is determine whether or not a marriage existed in the first place. If no marriage existed, for whatever reason, the Church declares that it was null, i.e., it was never a marriage.

  • ColdStanding

    Oh, cut the mustard already. Announce, from the very top, in clear and unambiguous language (no “pastoralisms”), what constitutes a marriage. I mean preach it. For six months every Sunday. If couples discover that there are impediments that would nullify what they thought was a sacramental marriage, then they know what to do to repair them. Preach what the Church has always taught will strengthen the sacrament of marriage: all the other sacraments. Pray, confess, fast, attend mass, read, study, pray some more. Make a video and play it if some priests are too weak-kneed to come up with something. Give Deacon Sandy a call if you need help with the A/V.

    It really isn’t that hard to understand.

    Until such time as I see this happening, don’t come to me expecting a contribution to help you efficiently bust up what everyone knows is a legitimate marriage.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Facts are often hard to unravel. Consider one of the most famous of the Decretals – Alexander III Decretales 4.1.15 Veniens ad Nos G written to the Bishop of Norwich between 1176 and 1181

      “A certain William appealed to us, and showed in his report that he received in his house a certain woman by whom he had children and to whom he swore before many people that he would take her as wife. In the meantime, however, spending the night at the house of a neighbour, he slept with the neighbour’s daughter that night. The girl’s father finding them in the same bed at the same time compelled him to espouse her with present words. Recently, William standing in our presence, asks us to which woman he ought to adhere. Since he could not inform us whether he had intercourse with the first woman after he had given his oath, we therefore order you to examine into the matter carefully, and if you find that he had intercourse with the first woman after he had promised he would marry her, then you should compel him to remain with her. Otherwise, you ought to compel him to adhere to the second one as his wife, unless he was compelled by a fear which could overcome a steadfast man.”

      I wonder what the solution to that little conundrum was.

      • ColdStanding

        No, Mr. P-S, the facts are not often hard to unravel, on occasion the facts are hard to unravel. The instance you relate is notable for it’s exceptional character. Peculiar because of it’s rarity. You do a disservice to truth to suggest that, by using “often hard” as your as your adverb, which means 8 or 9 times out of ten the facts are difficult to unravel, when the reality is that it isn’t even 1 in a 1000.

        If you stand before the altar with your betrothed, and say “I do” with all the attendant requirements met, you are married. Exceptional claims require extraordinary evidence.

        My point, however, is that erecting a turn-style at the exit from the sacramental life of holy matrimony is putting a band-aid on a bursting dam. Ambiguity needs to be rooted out well before the devil manages to arrange circumstance upon which doubt and despair may fester.

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          Canon 1095 says “The following are incapable of contracting marriage… those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.”

          Such a cause can well exist before the marriage, but only manifest itself later. The best psychiatrist cannot always identify a condition in the prodromal phase

          Other examples of facts difficult to unravel would include cases of facility and circumvention and of undue influence

          • ColdStanding

            That still does not address my point of umbrage, namely, your assertions to the frequency of the occurrence of these defects.

            Which, I might add, are not best handled in on the psychiatrist’s couch but in the priest’s confessional. One can not complain, although many frequently do… one can not REASONABLY complain about the economy of salvation when one does not, in any meaningful way, participate in said economy.

            • Michael Paterson-Seymour

              The number of decrees based on Canon 1095 tells its own story

              • ColdStanding

                That story is called “The Mysterious Case of the Brevus Manus”

                • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                  As a Civilian, I am familiar with the expression “traditio brevis manus,” but I am quite unable to fathom your allusion

                  • ColdStanding

                    The brevus manus, the shortened hand. The mystery of why Churchmen with the authority of the law, the colloquial expression is the “long arm of the law”, did not exercise it, or made the long arm short.

                    It is a the leitmotiv of Amerio’s Iota Unum.

                    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                      Thanks for the explanation.

          • msmischief

            If the condition exists in the prodromal phase, and can’t be detected by the best psychiatrist, it doesn’t impede consent. How could it? If a man has a disease that will make him impotent, and the condition pre-exists the union, it does not invalidate the marriage.

            • Michael Paterson-Seymour

              But this part of the Canon does not deal with intellectual capacity.

              c 1095 (1) speaks of “those who lack the sufficient use of reason” and c 1095 (2) of “those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted”

              c 1095 (3) imposes a further and distinct requirement; it speaks of an inability to “assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.”

              • msmischief

                ” does not deal with intellectual capacity. ”

                So what? Impotence does not, either, but if a spouse develops an inability subsequent to the wedding, even if the cause of the inability stemmed from before it — which is what “prodromal phase” means if it means anything — it does not invalidate the marriage.

    • hombre111

      Precisely what constitutes a marriage? Read Schillebeeckx and understand that Jesus never said. See how the idea changed throughout the ages. You remind me of the person who said, we should continue to have Mass in Latin, as Jesus did.

      • TheAbaum

        You remind me of the person who preaches from the Gospel of Marx.

        • Arriero

          Don’t cite Marx without having read him. It’s the easy and lazy insult, like “hitler”, or “nazi”, or “fascist”.

          Better cite the beloved anti-state, anti-regulation, anti-Catholic, anti-dogma and, ultimately, anti-Authority pseudo-calvinists like the everything-but-Catholic Rothbard, the agnostic Hayek or the also jewish Von Mises. Who are nothing but dirty anarchists in the old spirit of Marx (the greatest anarchist in history once said: “A good Church is a burnt Church”).

          As the saying goes: “Tell me with who you hang out and I will tell you who you are”.

          • TheAbaum

            I read it.

            You and Hombre have absorbed much from it, including the most basic error-the perfectibility of the state.

            You are kind of obsessed with Calvin, aren’t you.

            “Tell me with who you hang out and I will tell you who you are”.

            As you tell us that you read left-wing sites for amusement.

            You are such a fraud, Wormwood.

            • Arriero

              Mises, among other things, stole the works of the School of Salamanca for his selfish anti-state purposes. He had no clue what he was talking about and which were the views of Father Juan de Mariana on freedom, regulation and government.*

              You don’t read Marx, because Marx is simply wrong, but he is not nonsense. Nonsense is the crappy progressive left of America, with their stupid and comic “fetuses&anus” rethoric. I understand that not everybody is prepared to fight a heavyweight.

              You can draw the conclusions you want about my politics (you already do it, with me and with everybody). But I assess the issues from a Catholic and anti-Catholic perspective. I don’t have such a narrow mind to be all day with the nonsense of debate that is the anti-state Vs. the pro-state or the democrats Vs. the republicans. Nobody – even less the milions of Catholics – in the world really care about the American-politic zoo.

              * Government is not equal to state. The modern state is a liberal invention; not your Hobbes-ian version. And for your information, the State is only a pumper of income (through capital and labour, mainly and mostly), it does not “absorb” any income unlike the cronies that so much hate the state. To understand what I’m saying check and study how is calculated the national income and product accounts in the US. I let the mythology for the greeks… and ZeroHedge.

              • TheAbaum

                “I understand that not everybody is prepared to fight a heavyweight.”

                You aren’t even prepared to fight the buxom lass who carries the card with the round number about the ring.

                “You don’t read Marx, because Marx is simply wrong, but he is not nonsense.”

                You’re right. There’s tens of millions of graves that testify to the fact that Marx wasn’t nonsense.

                Here’s a little Edmund Phelps for you to chew on:

                [I]n the past three decades, up to the 2007-2008 crisis, the growth of the big 4 on the European continent – France, Germany, Italy, and Spain –continued to be driven by advances external to their economies, mainly (but not exclusively) advances made in the United States. Thus, the degree of these economies’ catch-up with the American economy was not powered by a great rebirth of the indigenous innovation that was visible in continental Europe from about the 1870s to the 1930s. The corporatist economies must have come close to catching up with the American economy mainly by imitation. If growth relied on outside forces, by the way, the same is true of employment. A total cessation of American innovation would have sent the Continent into a long slump.

                • Arriero

                  God bless America! (flag, anthem and applauses, big applause to the greatest nation on Earth!*).

                  You’re right in one thing: Europe is full of coward american-ass-licking politicians, beginning with the illiterate coward in front of the BCE (an italian whose mind has been sucked by the pseudo-calvinist – german in that case – ideology).

                  Crimea is the latest example of european cowardice. If Europe has to choose, it should be next to Orthodox Russia than Protestant America. I certainly admire the leadership of «this-dirty-anti-american-socialist-statist» (!) Putin, who has overcome Obama in all the important geopolitical battles (Iran, Siria and Crimea).

                  But don’t blame europeans. Something lead by protestant germans couldn’t end well.

                  I’m not this kind of patriot who loves having a flag outside his house and a rifle beneath the bed. I’m only «patriotic» on one thing: Catholicism. Religion (ergo culture) and Family, period.

                  * I don’t have and I’ve never had anything against America. Even less against its people, also for personal reasons. I know there are VST (very stupid people), but I also know stupidity – as absolute permittivity – is a constant all over the Earth.

                  PS- I would have some things to say about Edmund Phelps. Beginning with his micro-foundations approach to macro and this stupid mathematician models called DSGE.

                  • Art Deco
                  • TheAbaum

                    Tens of millions of graves, all at the hands of Europeans and European governments. It should be put on the tombstone of every pretentious Eurocentric.

                    What you would say about Phelps or anybody else wouldn’t interest me. He merely provided a useful and convenient observation. Unable to impeach the statement credibly, you turn to your favorite tactic, the ad hominem.

                    It is my curious task to keep you busy here, rather than inflicting yourself where you might do real harm.

                    Let us close on a matter upon which we agree:

                    “but I also know stupidity ”

                    Yes, you do.

                    • msmischief

                      Why, yes, if you exclude all the graves at the hands of the Africans, Asians, Americans, and Australians, they are all at the hands of Europeans.

                      how stunning that you only have left what you did not exclude a priori

                    • TheAbaum

                      I am not asserting that Europe is unique in killing, even in massive numbers.

                      However, in the long and sordid annals of the perpetual killing spree we seem to be on, Europe does own several of the more unique exhibits in the hall of shame. Both World Wars started in Europe, the Nazi Holocaust and the lesser known Soviet “Harvest of Despair” (which may have killed 40 (FORTY) million) were both products of the unbound ambitions of European political philosophies. The use of chemical weapons, ethnic cleansing and “Blitzkrieg” are all European innovations.

                      Arrerio is some sort of Eurocentric chauvinist who lives in a fantasy land of faithful Catholic monarchs-and who can’t seem to offer a post without the word “Calvinist”, and noxiously dismisses any political or economic philosopher as non-Catholic, even as he can barely contain his admiration for the most Anti-Catholic philosopher of all, Karl Marx.

                      My late grandmother was fond of warding off that sort of hypocrisy with the injunction “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”, as variant on the Biblical injunction to remove the log from one’s own eye before complaining of the speck in another’s.

                      A European obsessing of the follies, foibles and failings of other nations politics resides in a dwelling made of Saran wrap. Most of the institutionalized state displacement of the individual and family seems to start in Europe (Sweden), the Netherlands gives us legalized prostitution, gambling and suicide. Arrerio’s Spain gave us SSM.

                    • Arriero


                      – “Europe does own several of the more unique exhibits in the hall of shame.”

                      Luck wanted great Empires to be European. There is no Great Empire without strength, through the use of the sword. The US very well knows it.

                      – “Both World Wars started in Europe, the Nazi Holocaust and the lesser known Soviet “Harvest of Despair””

                      The II WW finished with an atomic bomb, made in US. The II WW finished with Europe halved, one of it to “friend” Stalin.

                      – “[…] unbound ambitions of European political philosophies.”

                      The post-war world – ergo the post-modern world – is a direct product of American political – and intellectual – philosophies.

                      – “The use of chemical weapons, ethnic cleansing, trench warfare and “Blitzkrieg” are all European tactical innovations.”

                      American native population is very well aware of what means ethnic cleansing. You forgot one tactical innovation made in America: “scorched earth”. Massive tortures and drone-murdering are two new American innovations.

                      – “Eurocentric chauvinist who lives in a fantasy land […]”

                      1) I don’t post comments from an economist talking about the greatness of one place or another. 2) I don’t live in fantasy land, I live in Catholic land. I’m very well aware (some) Americans don’t still know what is a millenarian Catholic land. For them that’s a fantastic world. 3) I’ve not directly supported monarchy here, because I don’t talk about monarchs, but the Church. 4) I do dismiss anti-Catholic political or economic philosopher as anti-Catholic (not non-Catholic as you say; because there are many non-Catholics who are not anti-Catholic, like philosopher Gustavo Bueno, for instance). First you obviously have to know what means “Catholicism” to separate “those that are not with me, are against me” (Luke 11:23). 5) I don’t admire Marx. I respect Marx. Such an enemy has to be taken seriously, that’s why the Church needed all her Intellectual Artillery to undermine him. Yet you’re not brave enough to show your admiration for that cluster of anti-state and anti-Catholic ideologues.

                      – “Most of the institutionalized state displacement of the individual and family seems to start in Europe”

                      Most of the institutionalized state displacement of the individual and family seems to start in PROTESTANT Europe. Like it has started in PROTESTANT America. The “anus&fetuses” ideology is made in the US, and you export it all over the world.

                      – “Spain gave us SSM”

                      You don’t know what Spain, unlike the US, gave the world:



                    • TheAbaum

                      “You don’t know what Spain, unlike the US, gave the world:”

                      Sure I do. The Running of the Bulls, and you sure do run the bull.

      • ColdStanding

        Never mention Schillebeeckx to me again. Ever. I opened one of his books and on three random pages he preached rebellion.

        Read him?

        Not. Going. To. Happen.

        • hombre111

          In other words: Don’t. Confuse. Me. With. Facts.

          • ColdStanding

            The proper form for a periodized sentence is only 4 words.

            And no, it is: Don’t attempt to present the rambling opinions of the modernist gadflies as fact. I don’t know where or when he went off his rocker, but it was probably about the same time that Gelpi did. A sad waste of two good minds.

      • Art Deco

        Read Schillebeeckx


  • John Uebersax

    I would conjecture that for the Catholic Church to thrive it will have to part with the scholastic/legalistic notion of categorizing this or that as a sin, and place greater emphasis on a well-formed personal conscience. The fundamental problem is the erroneous attempt to unite radical rationalism with religion.

    • How can one have a well formed conscience with a denial of the existence of sin?

    • Guest

      What does this mean?

      • TheAbaum


    • ColdStanding

      Have you actually spent any time reading, say, St. Alphonsus Liguori? How about any of the even introductory manuals for scholastic philosophy? Summa Theologica?

      How would you propose to attempt to even begin to understand the supernatural character of the Holy Spirit and it’s relation to the human soul in the light of God’s desire for friendship with individual men and women without the philosophical methods developed for understanding these crucial metaphysical questions? And this is just one question that is weighs heavily upon the salvation of the soul at death.

      Abandoning these treasures is what is causing our problems today. The distinction between venial and moral sins is indispensable for confessors attempting to understand the extend of the state of sin and the appropriate penance for it. There isn’t anything neat and or little about it.

      • TheAbaum

        He has terribly confused the general categorization with individual distinction.

        • ColdStanding

          Genus and species, indeed. It makes me livid to see an immense treasure trashed only to then complain of poverty.

      • hombre111

        Have you read any of the historical surveys of marriage in the Old Testament, the New Testament, on into the modern era? You will discover that the present state of things did not begin with St. Peter.

        • ColdStanding

          Priest! Do you not know your bible?

          He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.

          Et tu, Brute?

          Away with your surveys. Let me bleed in peace.

          • hombre111

            A survey means a review. Start at the beginning and carefully summarize the history of marriage, and you will see it was not the black and white thing so beloved by the conservative mind.
            And the biblical scholars say, when they decipher the passage you offer within the historical and cultural context within which it was written??? You have to do more than offer an out of context proof text. That approach lost its credibility when I was about twenty years old, when the Church began to take biblical scholarship seriously.

            • ColdStanding

              You accuse me of proof-texting? This is just the most ridiculous thing I have heard in a month. You are claiming that, prior to the time you were twenty years old, the Church was NOT serious about studying the Bible? That has to be blasphemy. It is certainly not a statement consistent with the historical record.

              Your context is a lie. If you add a commentary, survey, piece of “research” to a perfectly clear and easily understandable text to get a different meaning than just the text alone, then the additional thing is bunk.

              Spare me your insights about my mind.

              • hombre111

                Sorry, but simple quoting a text to me without a discussion of its Jewish first century context is proof-texting, no matter how clear and easily understood its words might seem to be. If you read such a study, you would know what I am talking about. And no, when I was twenty years old, the Church was not serious about studying the Bible, especially if the study was by lay people. Our scripture course in the seminary was beyond pitiful. The Church had yet to really digest and follow up on Pope Pius XII’s statements about modern biblical studies. That waited for Dei Verbum and the Vatican Council.

                • ColdStanding

                  Ha, ha, funny. I see your seminary instructors were not very serious about logical inferences, either. Hey, maybe you were a bad student.

                  Let’s take apart this choice little attempt at a syllogism you have proffered. a) I was twenty a long time ago when I took a Bible course b) the course I took in the seminary was “bad” c) therefore the Church did not take the bible seriously. That is arguing from the particular to the general. It like saying I dropped my food off my plate, therefore I will never use a plate again. Clearly, the plate isn’t the problem.

                  As to the good Pope Pius the XII’s encyclical not being digested very well in some stomachs, well, this is par for the course. I’m sure you are still having a tough time keeping down Humani Generis.

                  • Guest

                    And his posts show such. Denying Adam and Eve as our first parents is example number one.

            • Art Deco

              Start at the beginning and carefully summarize the history of marriage,
              and you will see it was not the black and white thing so beloved by the
              conservative mind.

              You lack a certain self-awareness.

              • TheAbaum

                He seems to believe he’s taken seriously, for example.

    • ForChristAlone

      In a word: relativism

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  • hombre111

    To begin with, Pope John Paul added to the agonizing wait by forcing dioceses to automatically send their cases up to the next level for review, to make sure all the nit-picking was correctly done. Rome also checks cases at random, looking for all the dots and tittles. I hope that somebody who attends the upcoming synod on marriage and family does his historical research. Edward Schillebeeckx, in his monumental study, tells us, “many marriages that are valid according to the present norms of canon law are humanly invalid…for they do not reach the level of humanity that is required for a true marriage….the reciprocal yes of an interpersonal relationship is not a single event that takes place at a privileged moment, even if mutual self-giving is the high point of a wedding at the beginning of a marriage.”
    I am sure that many of the readers of Crisis will do the conservative thing and continue on without a new thought. For those who might have a molecule of curiosity, I would recommend Hegy and Martos’ “Catholic Divorce.” Among other things, you will learn how a holy but human sacrament got into the strangle hold of the canon lawyers. In the face of the every more difficult situation of marriage in the Church, Mr. Smith is recommending something like the surge in Iraq. Send in more troops, ie, canon lawyers. But in the long run, nothing will really be solved.

    • TheAbaum

      “I am sure that many of the readers of Crisis will do the conservative thing and continue on without a new thought.”

      I am sure that one reader of Crisis will do the same thing and continue on with disordered thought.

      • hombre111

        Ahh, the frame of mind that still believes the world was created in six days.

        • ColdStanding

          All human beings are descendant from Adam and Eve. They are the real parents of mankind. We are all their progeny. It is not a metaphor.

          • hombre111

            Yep, and Eve was really fashioned from Adam’s rib, and snakes could talk and, from somewhere, Cain could find a young woman to marry who was not a daughter of Adam and Eve.

            • ForChristAlone

              Do you believe in such a thing as original sin?

              • TheAbaum

                He doesn’t believe in anything, other than statism.

          • Arriero

            That’s a nonsense.

            Catholicism, unlike protestant sects, is a RATIONAL religion. The most rational religion, actually.

            Do you read the Bible like a Catholic – ergo like an intelligent and responsible grown-up – or like a protestant – ergo like a selfish child -?

            You cannot argue against facts. Only protestants and others do that, like when they denied Catholic fact.

            • Guest

              The Pope disagrees with you.

              • Arriero

                Which Pope?

                I would have never thought I would be discussing that. These are the very basic things.

                • Guest

                  Pope Pius XII

            • TheAbaum

              We know all humans have a common female ancestor, so who knows?

              • Arriero

                I don’t think you and me come from the same ancestor.

                • TheAbaum

                  Are you saying you lack the mitochondrial DNA all humans have?

                  • Arriero

                    Oh, I didn’t know you had DNA. Have you it entirely, really? All the correct genes, sure?

                    • TheAbaum

                      Oh, I have DNA and the correct number of CHROMOSOMES.

                      Sorry that you don’t know the difference between genes and chromosomes.

                      You seem rather annoyed today. Chastised by your Uncle?

                    • Arriero

                      That I mentioned “genes” in the same comment that I also mentioned DNA, DOES NOT MEAN that I was relating both concepts. Let me guess… it has something to do with “reading comprehension”, isn’t it? Actually, I wonder whether there is a gene for it. Maybe you lack it, don’t you think?

                      Not much. Everybody likes having some fun. Not always it is going to be about «serious» (only for my part, though) debates.

                      To end, just two things: 1) «To be funny there’s no need to laugh at others» (nobody has the monopoly of sarcasm) and 2) «Never argue with a fool. He will drag you into his ground and eventually he will win you by experience».

                    • TheAbaum

                      “That I mentioned “genes” in the same comment that I also mentioned DNA, DOES NOT MEAN that I was relating both concepts”.

                      You were attempting to use the common-left wing insult about an improper number of CHROMOSOMES and you wrote genes. At least Al Gore can distinguish between genes and chromosomes.

                      My reading comprehension has been tested throughout my academic years, it’s upper decile.

                      If there are genes for expressing yourself coherently, relevantly and briefly, your missives indicate absence or significant deficiency.

                      Who said I was arguing with you? Sometimes I simply can’t resist the urge to play cat.

            • ColdStanding

              If no Adam and Eve, then no Jesus Christ.

              Jesus Christ lived, was crucified, died, was buried, rose from the the dead, is seated the right hand of God the Father, and is the Son of God, therefore, Adam and Eve existed.

              Now, am I proposing that the Genesis account is a thorough going natural account? No, I am not. But for purposes of being saved, it is good enough for me.

        • TheAbaum

          No, the frame of mind that recognizes that even in an attempt at a one-liner, you are disordered, positing a claim that is irrelevant and unsupported by the evidence.

          I wouldn’t presume to assume that God’s day is dictated by the rotation of this oblate spheroid.

    • anotherbrickinthelaw

      The universal norm, prior to 1983, was that a first instance, affirmative decision must be appealed by the defender of the bond. This obligation was relaxed in some places. “Rome also checks cases at random.” I doubt it. Where is proof of this assertion? I find the quote from Schillebeeckx to be…useless, at best.

      • cestusdei

        Rome does check cases on a random basis.

        • anotherbrickinthelaw

          Again, where does this (alleged) practice find support in the procedural law of the Church or, for that matter, in any ecclesial document?

          • cestusdei

            Every year the tribunal must submit a report to the Apostolic Signatura which then requests a sample of cases.

            • anotherbrickinthelaw

              How about a reference? I can locate the reference to the idea of each tribunal submitting a report to the Signatura (in the proper law of the Signatura, paragraph 110.1) but I don’t see anything about the Signatura being able to “request a sample of cases.” However, my understanding of Latin is only elementary. Furthermore, what is the practical result of this “random check”? No decisions would be overturned, certainly…

      • hombre111

        Scandalized by the number of annulments, especially in the United States, and prior to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the “Holy See”, ie Pope John Paul, forced marriage tribunals to send each case to a higher tribunal for review. It now takes two affirmatives for a case to be resolved. Of course, this adds months to the process. I just called my local tribunal, and the director reaffirmed the above. So, as usual, I have my ducks in a row. He also told me that Rome always holds the right to check cases. The most recent instance was Seattle.
        The quote from Schillebeeckx shows that the Church could have approached marriage and divorce in a different way. We are impeded by a questionable substance philosophy definition of marriage dating from the middle ages, and by the usual Roman assumption that a law and legal complexities solve all problems.

        • Art Deco

          Of course, this adds months to the process.

          How brutal.

        • anotherbrickinthelaw

          As I said, some places had the mandatory appeal rule relaxed. The USA was one of those places. The point is that it wasn’t John Paul II who came up with the idea of needing two conforming sentences. That was required prior to 1983, in the universal law. Seattle was a recent instance? That whole mess was what, 20 years ago? I never heard that tribunal work was part of the problem but I’ll take your word for it.
          That quote does show a different approach–one that happens to be totally unworkable. No one could ever say that he was actually bound to any marital commitment because it’s totally subjective.

          • hombre111

            As I said, I called the Director of the Tribunal at my diocese. Two positive decisions are required are required for an annulment to go forth. 1983 is a long time ago, plenty of time for the original story to fade. We need somebody who was around and watched the thing happen. That would be me. And I clearly remember the role Pope John Paul played, because it really ticked me off.

            • Michael Paterson-Seymour

              No doubt you also explain to them Can. 1643 “Cases concerning the status of persons, including cases concerning the separation of spouses, never become res iudicata.”

              In other words, an annulment is never final and can always be reviewed

              • hombre111

                And the lawyers have their hooks in the poor couple, forever.

                When I am interviewing a couple for their proposed marriage, I always sense their joy and excitement, and I want to be Christ, rejoicing with them, which is the pastor’s role. But I cringe as I am forced to ask the question that might erase any experience of a loving Christ from their hearts: Have either one of you been married before? If they answer yes, then comes the next series of questions. If you are a Catholic, was the marriage before a priest or by a representative of the Church? If you are not a Catholic, was the person you married a Catholic, and were you married before a priest? If the Catholic says no, I rejoice. A lack of form case, easily resolved. If the non-Catholic says yes and no, I rejoice again. A lack of form case.

                But if the Catholic says yes, or the non-Catholic says yes and yes, then the agony begins and their souls belong to the canon lawyers. Months, even years, of delay ahead. I will be forced to demand things I would not accept if I were in the place of the non-Catholic. The complexities of “Catholic divorce” are not a bit Christ-like. We must follow those complexities because the Church abandoned the “should not be broken” pastoral view of the Fathers, in favor of the “cannot be broken” legalistic view hatched by celibate medieval theologians and a burgeoning crop of canon lawyers.

    • cestusdei

      We do need more canonists. We also need priests who will prepare people for marriage more completely and refuse to marry anyone who walks in the door because it is the “pastoral” thing to do.

      • hombre111

        I agree completely.

      • msmischief

        Catholics have a right, in canon law, to sacraments that they are properly disposed to receive. There’s the little problem.

    • Guest

      The usual relativism. Not new.

      • hombre111

        The Poet said, describing the dilemma confronting the conservative mind: “A law does exist, but it is the mysterious law of transformation, to be fathomed by none except the person who is himself transformed. You cannot draw the river onto the dry bank, there to trap its imperative to flow, as if it were a fish….The wise among men seek to fathom the foundations of existence, but all they do is describe one wave of the current…the flowing has congealed and can again become true only if they repeatedly release the picture they have painted back into change…. They have tried to invent an Isle of Eternity…but they caught only air…perfection lies in fullness of journey. For this reason, never think you have arrived.”

        • Guest

          . Faith also possesses a moral content. It gives rise to
          and calls for a consistent life commitment; it entails and brings to perfection
          the acceptance and observance of God’s commandments. As Saint John writes,
          “God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have
          fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according
          to the truth… And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his
          commandments. He who says ‘ I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a
          liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly
          love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who
          says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1
          Jn 1:5-6; 2:3-6).


          • hombre111

            Excellent. But the consistent life commitment does not mean we climb out of the river onto an island. If we seek the truth, we stay with the river and let it carry us into new worlds and new realities. Conservatives live on islands and howl when the river passes them by.

    • msmischief

      ” holy but human”

      So humans can make something holy? How — impressive.

      • hombre111

        Way to take only part of a phrase and reveal your Calvinist roots. I said holy but human “sacrament.” The sacrament of matrimony is holy because it is a graced experience, but it is human, because sacramental realities are only a partial revelation of God.

        • msmischief

          That would make it semi-holy and semi-human, not both at once.

          • hombre111

            It would make it semi-holy and very human. The fate of all of us short of the hypostatic union.

            • msmischief

              You would say that.

  • cestusdei

    A couple of comments:
    1. I never promise a certain result or time frame for an annulment.
    2. The real problem is in our current crop of marriages. Many people marry invalidly. Reading the cases shows the truth of that fact. It is a hard truth. So we need to concentrate on marriage preparation and sometimes saying “no” to a marriage.
    3. YES, we need more canon lawyers both clerical and lay.

  • Randall B. Smith

    The Author Comments:

    Denying the centuries-old wisdom of the canons, along with the more-recent reiterations and additions, is a bit like denying the centuries-old wisdom of the ecumenical councils (like Nicea), along with the more-recent reiterations and additions (such as at Trent or Vatican I and Vatican II). There’s a word for that: we call it being a “Protestant.” Personally, I like Protestants. Some of my best friends are Protestants. I enjoy many things about them, but one thing I particularly like is that they don’t mistake themselves for Catholic.

    Much of the discussion above (whether from those denying that annulment is ever possible or from those affirming that annulment should always be allowed) suggests precisely why such decisions should be entrusted to the wisdom of well-trained tribunals, and not to the uninformed passions of injured, angry people who have a bone to pick one way or the other — any more than it made sense to allow lynch mobs to judge the guilt or innocence of a black man who was accused of raping a white woman in the old South.

    Annulment is not Catholic “divorce.” It is a decree making clear that no marriage ever existed between the two parties. People who think this is simply ridiculous and that everything can be handled by better marriage preparation alone (and believe me, I’m all in favor of better marriage preparation) haven’t met many people who have suffered the pain of having been lied to shamelessly and repeatedly by a potential spouse. In an age when every other week brings another news story about some person in a major position who lied on his resume, you don’t think that men and women of a certain sort will lie shamelessly and repeatedly to get the spouse they want?

    What does a woman do who marries a man in good faith, having met his family and friends, and then finds out two years later that he was married before and every single one of those people she met failed to mention it? Continue living in adultery? Leave the bigamist and resolve never to marry again? “You load up heavy burdens for others to carry, and then do nothing to lighten the load.”

    What about a woman who marries a man who tells her, “Yes, I want children,” but then reveals a year later that he never wanted them and never intended to allow her to have them? Did such a man really “join” himself sacramentally to this woman? Or is this case more like that old nightmare scenario where the man says “I do” and then lifts the veil only to find that he’s married her sister? You do know, do you not, that this “nightmare scenario” is only propaganda meant to terrify people away from religion? That man has no more “bound” himself to that particular woman than he would have if the girl’s father had been holding a gun to his head ordering him to say “I do” or he would blow his brains out.

    A “commitment” made under duress and not taken freely and knowingly is not a free “commitment.” And without a free and knowing commitment — and note this — on the part of BOTH parties, there is no sacramental marriage. If one or the other is lying, there was no marriage.

    A woman who was lied to and essentially dishonored by a man who SAID he was marrying her, but wasn’t really, deserves the love and support of the Catholic community, not a public shaming. That goes for men too (it’s just that I’ve seen more men lie to potential spouses than I have women, although the latter is not unknown to me).

    “Annulment” is a pastoral process of self-reflection and judgment meant
    to determine, in TRUTH, whether or not an actual sacramental marriage
    ever existed. When a couple is truly married sacramentally, there is no power on earth that can dissolve that bond. When they are not, there are options available to the injured party.

    THAT has been the teaching and judgment and practice of the Catholic Church for centuries. It’s not up to me; it’s not up to angry Catholics on one side of the partisan divide or the other. There are traditions; there are canons; they need to be upheld and carried out faithfully and with dispatch. To achieve that goal, we need an adequate number of tribunal judges to do the job right. Period.

    • oregon nurse

      Those are the easiest of examples. What about the man or woman who starts to have some nagging doubts a month or two before the wedding. They have already ‘committed’ themselves to the marriage in numerous ways.

      Maybe they lie to themselves and dismiss their concerns out of fear at the thought of calling it off and or postponing it and the financial loss and embarassment that could cause.

      Maybe they are afraid it’s just normal cold feet (and not the Holy Spirit) and so they stuff their feelings because what if they’re wrong and telling their fiance their fears could ruin everything.

      What if they tell themselves they are most likely wrong and need to go through with the wedding, but approach the altar with the thought “If it doesn’t work out there is always divorce”?

      Tell me how any of those scenarios are not made up of self-lies and coercion. Tell me how the fiance was not substantially lied to? And tell me how any tribunal and it’s canon law and it’s witnesses are going to find the truth of what may have only lay hidden in one person’s heart and never shared with another?

      • Guest

        Very true. The standards seem so outlandish that one could argue many baptisms are invalid or perhaps ordinations ?

        • Fr. Savio

          The difference here is that marital consent is the matter of the sacrament of Matrimony, whereas the pouring of water is the matter of Baptism and the laying on of hands that of Ordination. (No water = no Baptism; no laying on of hands = no Ordination; no consent = no Matrimony) The only other sacrament that has an internal matter is Confession. Obviously there may be many times in which the penitent is not penitent. But in those time, unless there are some very obvious reasons not to do so, the priest grants absolution, though the sacrament may not “take” due to lack of repentance in the person’s heart. I would find that this would be true of marriage as well. Nevertheless, as in marriage, a penitent is clearly given the benefit of the doubt until it is proved otherwise. In marriage, doubts are not enough to destroy consent – only lack of consent is enough to destroy consent. In Confession, weakness or temptation is not enough to destroy repentance – only lack of repentance is.

          • Guest

            Father, thank you for your very apt clarification and explanation. Nicely done. The question is are there too many invalid decrees of nullity? Apparently Pope JPII thought so. I can see why.

          • oregon nurse

            Upon the meaning of ‘giving consent’ whole bureaucracies can be guaranteed their existence. But do they adjudicate truth? Or is that kind of truth sometimes (often?) the kind known only to God in the same way only God can judge what is in a person’s heart?

            And if so, and yet demanding obedience to a life sentence as a condition for participation in the Eucharistic Body of Christ, does the Church, through canon law, not risk becoming like the legalistic Pharisees who tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Does the Church itself risk becoming like the man who divorces his wife and causes her to commit adultery?

            I do appreciate your explanation however.

      • CRS

        I’m sure a tribunal proceeding would bring those internal concerns to light, since internal consent is what is needed to make a marriage valid. Internal consent is made manifest by outward consent, and if the two don’t match, then the marriage doesn’t take place.

        • oregon nurse

          What if it’s the respondent who had those concerns and does not cooperate with or even lies to the tribunal? The internal lack of consent may have produced a myriad of post-marriage behaviors that made the marriage a confusing and living hell for the spouse who is now seeking an annulment. The wronged spouse may instinctively know and believe in all good and prayerfully formed conscience that they never had a real marriage partner. But how will the tribunal find any truth in the matter without the cooperation of the doubter who never shared their doubts with anyone who could witness to it?

          • Laura Lowder

            You can only do the best you can. A friend who was a canon lawyer (she died a year ago) told me that one of the more frustrating parts of her job came when someone petitioned under one set of grounds when they had actually demonstrated another. The claims and the grounds have to coincide.

            I had rock-solid grounds for a declaration of nullity, but for years didn’t file because I knew my ex- wouldn’t participate (why should he? He’s Baptist and Metropolitan Community) and I’d lost touch with our old friends who could support my story. When I was emotionally ready to begin, the witnesses almost miraculously materialized and were most kind and generous in helping me — although they’d been closer friends with him than with me.

            As for “secret” doubts . . . don’t those usually prove themselves, down the road, to have been wiser than we knew at the time? The woman whose husband turns out to be abusive, or a porn addict, or mentally ill in other areas … the gut perceives there’s something wrong even when we can’t put a finger on it.

            Don’t give up!

    • Fatima

      Randall, you are wrong. The canons do not have wisdom. Things that are centuries old are not necessarily wise. Hinduism and witchcraft are much older than Chrisitianity.

      Tribunals or popes have no grace of state to judge rightly and thus can give annulments when they should not and so lead people to hell by deception.

      Annulments are indeed catholic divorce and rank hypocrisy.

      This ‘teaching’, as you call it, has never been infallible and has been wrong for centuries. All marriage between one man and one woman is absolutely and utterly indissoluble and not just christian marriage.

      • msmischief

        I notice you didn’t answer my question, higher up in the thread, about a union between a couple who discover that they are brother and sister. So I repeat it: are they indissolubly wed and so barred forever from marrying another?

        How about a woman abducted and forced to repeat the vows at gunpoint?

        How about children forced by their parents to go through the ceremony when they were seven?

        Or a man who married a woman unaware she was already married? Or a woman who married a man unaware that he had taken vows as a priest?

        I also note that you, too, can lead people to hell by deception, because it is better to marry than to burn, but you would forbid people to marry when they are free to do so.

      • CRS

        Again, Christ would beg to differ. Read the Bible if you don’t believe me. Thanks.

      • CRS

        One question: From where do you receive the authority to made such statements? Last I checked, Christ gave St. Peter (and his successors) the keys to the gate of Heaven, not you (or anyone here, for that matter). So, pray tell, from where do you receive the authority to make such statements?

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  • oregon nurse

    It seems to me that the high rate of divorce among Catholic marriages is proof that we have high numbers of Catholics entering into the sacrament with a flawed understanding (more cultural than sacramental) of what it is. Is that not self-evident on it’s face that we have large numbers of invalid vows?

    It’s time for a much more intensive pre-marriage sacramental prep. And focusing almost all the effort to do so AFTER a couple becomes engaged, who have already committed themselves emotionally and often financially as well, is definitely too late. The vast majority of couples are not at pre-Cana classes to discern – they are there to jump the hoops. I suggest it needs to begin much, much earlier, even before kids start dating, as part of vocational discernment. It should take place pre-dating because ‘exclusive dating’ needs to be redefined to the old concept of courtship as marriage discernment and ‘group dating’ become the norm for older teens.

    I disagree with the author that we need more canon lawyers to clean up the backlog of annulments. This is not a broad topic that needs years of education to understand (do we expect years of education to qualify to receive the sacrament?). I think what we need are more pastoral counselors (priests, deacons, and professionals) trained to get to the heart of whether there were psychological and spiritual issues (usually immaturity) present that nullify the marriage.

  • NewToThis

    This touched me in a personal way having just recently completed my annulment process. I was fortunate to have a helpful priest guide me and then I was in constant contact with the tribunal office (I’m sure they were tired of hearing from me) as well as coordinating with my winessess to explain the importance and imploring them to be prompt. I thought mine was about as non controversial as could be but it still took around 18 months. I had just completed RCIA too and was burning with desire to join the church so for me it was easy to find patience. I couldn’t help but think about others in my RCIA group who I know had much more difficult cases that I know are still waiting for closure, and I don’t know but can easily imagine them losing hope and dispair wonderng if the church really is eager to accept them – I know that’s not the case. It’s not an easy problem and I don’t have any great ideas to make it better, but I welcome an honest discussion about the subject if it opens any eyes and leads to any process reforms that can help expedite cases without violating the sancitity. The absolute worse thing we want is for anyone who is seeking to make things right in their life and develop their spritual faith to lose hope and turn away in despair. I started back in the summer of 2012 and will be baptized this Easter.

    • yan


  • cupofkindness

    I cannot add to the theological aspect of this discussion but I would like to say that my parents marriage, whose 1950s era marriage was annulled many years after their civil divorce in the 1970s, most likely failed because my poor mother suffers from schizophrenia. My parents attended Catholic high schools when they met as teens, and were 20 when they married. It is established that schizophrenia does not fully manifest itself until the mid-20s. How I wish that they had the help needed to find God’s grace through the sacraments and rebuild their marriage, but thanks turbulent social times, despair and selfishness, and their own dysfunctional families of origin, they and their marriage were broken. By the grace of God, my father remarried and is living a fruitful and happy life, and is devoted to the Catholic Church. My mother, on the other hand, has suffered immensely. Life is very hard for those who bear the cross of mental illness. Finally, though it has been a long road not without difficulty, I must sadly admit that not only am I grateful for my father’s sake that my parents divorced, but for the sake of my siblings and I, because my father raised us. My mother was not equipped to raise her own children. I cannot judge any failed marriage, all Catholic husbands and wives should sacrifice for those in difficult marriages once a month. Please remember my mother in your prayers, she is named after our Lady.

  • yan

    ‘Qui tacet consentire’ or ‘Silence implies consent’ should not, I think, apply in this situation, for two reasons.

    First, I know of no example where the silent party was the lawgiver, and where the maxim was applied to the lawgiver. In this case, the lawgiver is the Church. The lawgiver is not ordinarily bound to give assent, and is immune from suit on the basis of sovereign immunity. Let us not forget that the Church under Christ has the authority to promulgate laws. Thus it should not be construed as being a party under the law to which the maxim would ordinarily apply. [The law of the case here would be a decision to anull, or not.]

    Second, if we were to assume arguendo that the Church could theoretically be a party to which the maxim applied, the silence in this case and under these circumstances is admissible of the interpretation that the Church has simply not made a decision on the matter yet. This being the most reasonable interpretation, it is unjust to permit an interpretation of the silence which would nullify the reserved authority of the Church without more information or at least more inquiry on the part of the person desiring to rely on the silence. Because we are dealing with a lawgiver and decider of petitions, not the party or potential party to a contract, the indicia of reliability by which we empower parties to rely on consent in other cases is not present here.

    The more relevant legal concept here would be detrimental reliance on positive assertions. In this context, the fact of subsequent silence could also be relevant, especially silence when there is knowledge of acts made in reliance on previous assertions.

  • ForChristAlone

    Any non-Catholic looking at the Church from the outside would have to conclude that the Catholic Church is in disarray about what it thinks about marriage. Some of this is due to the fact that the Church lost its uniqueness in her haste to accommodate herself to the secular world. And now all we do best is mirror the disorder and confusion of that world.

    Perhaps Catholics ought to just proceed to “hook up” as they can, have their children (in the rare instances that they elect to have children), and then when they come to the conclusion that they have messed up their lives, they can proceed to lay aside all the debris and consider entering into a loving covenantal marriage between one man and one woman. After all, most Catholics are marrying these days on a foundation of fornication, masturbation, pornography and contraception and an occasional abortion thrown in for good measure. Is this anyway to begin a Catholic marriage? It’s no wonder that 50%+ of Catholic marriages fail. It’s no wonder, too, that there is a cry for more canon lawyers: most firtst-time Catholic marriages for the past 50 years have been trial marriages.

    • oregon nurse

      You could make the same argument about Casti Connubii in response to the Lambeth Conference. And ToB’s emphasis on the unitive purpose of intercourse as justification for NFP in our contraceptive society.

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  • virgilio

    If the church will strictly stick to the book of Canon Law, only a handful are qualified to be Catholics … or be validly married…

  • wc4mitt

    The very last thing we need is MORE lawyers. Secular and Cannon lawyers have done their share of confusion for everyone. NO MORE LAWYERS of any kind. You know what Jesus had to say re lawyers. As usual he was right; and he is God who knows.

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  • charles.hoffman.cpa

    better more practicing lawyers in the matrimonial field learn the basics of canon law so they can fully represent their clients

  • ForChristAlone

    This is a question for Randall: I know that a Catholic marriage is considered valid unless declared otherwise by a Church tribunal. However, in the case where one of the spouses was forced to marry against his or her will but; for argument’s sake, 20 years into the marriage that partner confesses the coercion to the other spouse but, because they are now committed to one another, they decide to remain married. Are they compelled to seek a valid marriage in the Church? If they don’t would they be sanctioned? I would ask the same question pertaining to those whose marriage could be annulled for lack of form or consanguinity.

    • oregon nurse

      I love this question and look forward to reading an answer.

    • msmischief

      There is convalidation for those who wish to make their putative marriage real. Consanguinity would require a dispensation as well.

  • CRS

    Let me offer a comparison to clear the confusion regarding validity: Impotence invalidates a marriage if it is present prior to marriage. A man who has a predisposition for impotence but is not impotent at the time a marriage is contracted can validly contract a marriage even if he becomes impotent later down the line. Should he become impotent later in the marriage (even the next day), the marriage would still be valid since he was potent and capable of carrying out the marital right at the time the bond was placed. Should he become impotent, the couple must commend the issue to legitimate medical aid and place the matter with God. It becomes a cross for the couple to bear. But it will not invalidate the marriage since it occurred after the bond was placed. I hope this helps clear some of the confusion. Invalidity can only be determined if something needed for a valid marriage was lacking at the time the wedding took place. If nothing is lacking at the time the wedding took place, then the marriage is valid.

  • CRS

    Based on the comments I’m reading, we really do need two things: more canon lawyers, and better catechesis. There is an alarming amount of misunderstanding on the part of well-meaning Catholics regarding the role of Law. We are governed by laws, internal and external. Why would the Church be any difference? Even Christ acknowledged that while the Pharisee’s were hypocrites, since they knew they Law, their words ought to be obeyed, though they shouldn’t be imitated due to their hypocrisy. The rule of Law is written in our hearts, and with all the confusion, we need well-trained experts who understand the law to guide us.

  • Defender

    I am a lay woman and a canon lawyer who has worked in a tribunal for fifteen years. I agree with Mr. Smith that the annulment process takes too long in most tribunals. I agree that the Church needs more canon lawyers to work in her tribunals. However, this need is not simple or easy for bishops to meet. A canon law degree takes three years and between $70 and $80K. It now requires a rudimentary reading knowledge of Latin and a modern language. It requires a thesis. These practicalities aside, only clerics can be single judges in cases. Lay people can only judge on a college in which there is a majority of clerics. Bishops need, therefore, to train more clerics than lay persons. There is a shortage of priests in most dioceses, and while there are more deacons available, not many deacons have the mind or the desire to learn and practice canon law. The priest-canonists I know who work in tribunals also have other important jobs such as parish priest or another chancery job. They can only give part of their time to tribunal work, which is one of the main reasons that annulments take so long to adjudicate. I believe that the law which states that only clerics can be single judges should and can be changed by the proper authority. (Even this is not as simple as it looks, but I believe the theoretical problem involving sacred power is soluble by remembering that a declaration of nullity is a simple declaration of fact: the marital consent was, or was not, valid.) If lay people could be single judges, then a bishop could choose and contract competent people, train them, and expect a full day of judging cases and writing sentences from his lawyers. A priest would always be in charge of the tribunal as the bishop’s judicial vicar, but he would have the adequate help he needs.

    • ForChristAlone

      It’s easier just to do away with Catholic marriage; it’s what tribunals have been doing for the past 40 years anyway. A valid Catholic marriage is a chimera in the eyes of churchmen.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      In theory, the bishop is the judge and the judge or tribunal merely informs his conscience, so I do not think the question of sacred power arises

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  • Laura Lowder

    There are only two universities in the whole of North America offering licentiate programs in canon law. I don’t know whether their enrollment is at capacity, or how many American canonists hop over to Rome to study. But I’d say the #1 problem is the lack of licensed canonists able to meet the demands of the dioceses. Add to that that canon lawyers don’t only handle nullity petitions; they also handle laicizations, issues concerning property, and more besides. They’re very busy people!

    Also, I wonder whether a Bachelor’s in Theology as a requisite for the Canon Law programs should be relaxed to having a Bachelor’s degree with specific theological requirements?