Essence call for couples/Stepfamilies on radio/Annulment process - 11/4/01
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Mon Nov 5 15:28:51 EST 2001
subject: Essence couples/Stepfamily on radio/Annulment process - 11/4/01
from: Smart Marriages
ESSENCE MAGAZINE CALL FOR COUPLES:
Let's try to help her - articles like this are the very best way to spread
the word about marriage education. - diane
A few months ago, you sent a posting to your list to help me find couples
for an article about marriage I was doing for Essence magazine. I used two
of the couples that responded to me, so thanks for being a great resource.
The article also lists SmartMarriages.com as a resource.
Essence has decided they want to have a regular marriage feature
appearing every other month, so I'm again asking for you help.
I'm looking for African American couples that have been through a major
marriage crisis (bankruptcy, domestic violence, infidelity, death of a
child, substance abuse, etc.) and come out the other side. I would want to
talk honestly with both partners and then with anyone they used as a
resource to help them through.
Respondents should send contact me at Snpx2 at aol.com.
Thanks again and best regards,
Ron Deal will appear on the national radio program "FamilyLife Today" all
this week (11/5 - 11/9) doing a series of interviews on stepfamilies. Go to
www.familylife.com for local broadcast times or to listen online. The
program will offer his "Building A Successful Stepfamily" Audio Seminar at a
special discount. Ron will present "Building a Successful Stepfamily: How
Churches Can Help" at the 2002 Smart Marriages conference. - diane
CATHOLIC CHURCH UPDATES ANNULMENT PROCESS:
> Most famously, in 1997, Sheila Rauch Kennedy, the Episcopalian ex-wife of
> Joseph P. Kennedy II, then a US representative from Massachusetts, wrote a
> book, ''Shattered Faith,'' blasting the church's decision to annul the
> marriage. She has appealed the annulment; her appeal is pending in Rome.
> Her criticism of the annulment process helped fuel a national call for the
> church to abandon it, but that movement has gone nowhere, and Foster says
> the church's policy is unchangeable.
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A vow to move on
Catholic Church updates the annulment process
By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff
The pew-like benches in the once-austere marble lobby have been replaced
with brocaded furniture, along with oversized art books, the strains of
classical music, and a bowl of peppermints.
The hearing room, in which five priest-lawyers used to stare down at the
Catholic who dared to seek an annulment, has been reconstructed so that each
petitioner now sits on a white sofa in a room with flowers and an imitation
The battery of priests who once sat in judgment over the failed marriages of
Catholic couples now includes lay men and women.
And now, in what is apparently a first-in-the-world move, the Archdiocese of
Boston has hired a children's advocate to join the staff of its annulment
The Archdiocese, concerned that it has alienated divorced Catholics, is
radically remaking the way it approaches couples whose marriages fail.
''This is the church's pastoral response to the reality of divorce,'' said
the Rev. Michael Smith Foster, the presiding judge for the Archdiocese of
Boston, who oversees the handling of 700 annulment cases each year. ''We
want to make this as painless as possible. People need healing, and this
hopefully is healing for people.''
The notion that the church's judicial arm wants to provide healing for
people whose marriages have ended comes as a shock to some. Church officials
say many Catholics still wrongly believe that divorced people have somehow
automatically severed their relationship with the church, or that they are
ineligible for Communion.
In fact, church officials say, although they believe marriage should be
forever, they recognize the obvious fact that for many people it just
doesn't work out that way.
At the urging of Pope John Paul II, the church has for many years attempted
to reach out to divorced and separated Catholics through church-based
But now the church is taking a look at one of the most feared parts of its
approach to marriage: annulment.
''This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Catholic Church, and
not just in the public arena but also within the church,'' said Foster, who
has been working at the Metropolitan Tribunal, as the Boston archdiocese's
judicial arm is formally known, for 16 years, and who recently authored a
book, ''Annulment: The Wedding That Was.''
Annulments are necessary for divorced Catholics who want to remarry within
the church because the church does not recognize civil divorce. Instead,
citing the New Testament declaration that ''what God has joined together let
no one separate,'' the church argues that marriages are indissoluble.
But there is an out.
Finding the flaw
An individual whose marriage ends in divorce can seek permission to remarry
by getting an annulment, formally known as a declaration of nullity, of the
The annulment does not mean that the couple was never married; rather,
Foster says, it most often is granted when a church judge is persuaded that
the marriage was somehow flawed from the get-go.
About 70 percent of requests for annulments are granted, Foster said. Most
often, the person seeking the annulment is able to persuade the church
judges that a spouse was not truly capable of consenting to marriage on the
day of the wedding. Perhaps that spouse had harbored an inarticulated
openness to divorce or was abusive and the couple had never dealt with that
The tribunal's judges weigh testimony from the person seeking an annulment,
from the former spouse, and from witnesses in an effort to determine whether
there was some flaw at the time of the marriage that would allow them to
grant an annulment. A canon lawyer plays the role of ''defender of the bond
of marriage,'' but, of course, that defender loses most of the time.
Despite efforts by a number of religious and other organizations to
strengthen the institution of marriage, divorce seems to be a persistent
part of American family life. A report released in May by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention found that 43 percent of first marriages end
within the first 15 years.
And, in recent years, there has been a flurry of studies suggesting that
divorce is often harmful to children. ''Separation and divorce can have
adverse effects on the health and well-being of children and adults,'' said
Jeffrey Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control.
Foster says the changing annulment process does not mean the church is
giving up on marriage - in fact, he says, the church is trying to improve
its premarital and marriage counseling to reduce the rate of divorce.
Priests are told to encourage people having marital troubles to try to make
their marriage work; only if the couple already has a civil divorce will the
Tribunal even talk to them. ''The reality is, given the divorce statistics,
not everyone is staying together,'' Foster said. ''So we have to look at
what options they have within the church.''
Court of public opinion
Annulments periodically explode into public view, and generally not in a
Numerous public officials, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy of
Massachusetts and Chuck Hunt, the oft-married husband of Acting Governor
Jane M. Swift, have garnered unwanted public attention over the status of
their marital situation in the eyes of the church. (Kennedy and Hunt both
won annulments of their previous marriages.)
Most famously, in 1997, Sheila Rauch Kennedy, the Episcopalian ex-wife of
Joseph P. Kennedy II, then a US representative from Massachusetts, wrote a
book, ''Shattered Faith,'' blasting the church's decision to annul the
marriage. She has appealed the annulment; her appeal is pending in Rome.
Her criticism of the annulment process helped fuel a national call for the
church to abandon it, but that movement has gone nowhere, and Foster says
the church's policy is unchangeable.
The changes are not enough for some. Janice P. Leary of Natick, who is
active with Save Our Sacrament, a group that pushes for reform of the
annulment process, said she thinks the changes will simply make it easier
for those seeking annulments, and will not help an ex-spouse who opposes the
action. In about 30 percent of cases, one of the spouses opposes an
annulment, the church says.
Leary said she opposes annulments in general - and successfully opposed the
annulment her ex-husband sought after the end of their 25-year-marriage
because she believes it is not true her marriage was somehow invalid from
the start. ''The bottom line is that I had a sacrament in my marriage,'' she
said. ''An annulment says that God's grace wasn't in this marriage - and it
The current changes to the annulment process were set in motion by a change
in canon law in 1983, but only in the past year have the effects really been
seen at the Tribunal.
This year the Tribunal hired canon law experts as judges, including a woman,
and a lay defender of the bond of marriage.
And the Tribunal is now turning its attention to its field advocates, who
are people around the archdiocese who help Catholics navigate the annulment
process. Currently all those advocates are priests; Foster says he expects
soon to start adding lay people as advocates.
But the most dramatic change is the hiring of children's advocate Mary-Kate
Tracy, a social worker who is responsible for determining how well a
divorced couple is taking care of its children. About 40 percent of the
people seeking annulments have children under the age of 18.
The children's guardian writes to the parents and their witnesses to ask
about how the children are doing academically, behaviorally, and
Most often, Foster says, the children are doing well, and the judges simply
praise the divorced couple for remembering that although their relationship
with one another has ended, their relationship with their children cannot.
Sometimes, Foster says, the judges will admonish the parents to pay more
attention to the children's religious education, and, if there are serious
problems, the judges will refer parents or children to counseling.
But in a rare case, he says, if a parent has essentially walked out on his
or her children as well as his or her spouse, the judges will place a
''prohibition'' on that person's baptismal certificate, meaning that the
person cannot get married again in the church.
Prohibitions have been imposed mostly against people who abuse their
spouses, their children, or drugs, but Foster says that by hiring a
children's advocate, the court hopes to be more aware of problems involving
''What we're saying is, `Love your children,''' Foster said. ''We're not
going to apologize for that.''
Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson at globe.com.
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 11/4/2001. © Copyright 2001
Globe Newspaper Company.
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