Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More Annulment Nonsense in Our Sunday Visitor

     It is not surprising that people are giving out Easy Annulment Tips  in the Catholic Media in preparation for the Synod on the Family. American Catholics still tend to think we are the center of the universe. What continues to bother me (besides the obvious falsehoods, distortions and evasions) is the way the subject is discussed. Like so much popular Catholic journalism, it trivializes the profound and tragic by covering it up with psychobabble and jargon, ending as usual by recommending that the potential respondent (it is always addressed to people who want annulments, never to the abandoned spouses) consult the pros--the therapists and counselors and tribunals who have made us the Divorce capital of the world. When I was being subjected to a divorce I could not find a Catholic therapist who was against divorce. Please keep in mind that divorce is a sin in the Roman Catechism, against the common good, the abandoned spouse, and the traumatized children. but annulment to the average Catholic is just a footnote to a divorce often recommended by a priest.

     One of the 10 points  made in the article is a definition of what an annulment is--it is not a "Catholic divorce" (here the reader is expected to emit a sigh of relief, I suppose). It is a finding that

something critical was missing that would have enabled both parties to give the full consent of will needed to instill the sacrament.

I love the retreat into vagueness espoused by these people -and by "these people" I mean journalists intent on disguising  ugly realities in order to ease people through tragically mistaken decisions which usually have traumatic consequences on at least one family (usually two, since they write books citing the joys of "blended families").  The "critical something" that had to be missing is valid consent, i.e., freedom--"The consent  must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear". (Another reason for invalid vows is that one of the parties  is fact married to another person). That's basically it. It says what it says. It has been widely and loosely interpreted over here in the land of the "free"  to mean things like psychological immaturity. (Please find me a young couple getting married anywhere in the world free of psychological immaturity). Like the insanity plea in criminal court, freedom is one of those qualities which people adamantly assert they possess in the present  and equally adamantly claim they lacked in the past--usually after they have been caught doing something they now wish they had not done.

     Some people maintain that a lot of marriages are invalid because people didn't know what they were getting into, or what the person they were marrying was really like, or had psychological problems. And some of these people are on tribunals. Having witnessed the stunning lack  success of most diocesan clergy in filling the churches on Sundays,evoking displays of piety in the laity or in facilitating the education of children in the bare, most basic teachings of the church--perhaps you can understand my lack of respect for their opinions when they serve on tribunals. They seem to regard themselves as the  administrators, not shepherds, as if they were the employees or elected representatives of the laity and not pastors. It isn't entirely their fault. When I served on a Parish Council back in the 80's and the pastor arranged a presentation for Sunday Mass on the spiritual benefits of tithing some parishioners were so irate at being asked for money that they drove him to tears at a Council meeting. It is easy if you are writing for the mainstream media, to attempt to make reality more palatable. You are selling something and you want people to buy it. You want to sell more articles, more books, and go on speaking tours.  You might even think that by doing this--by disguising this terrible experience which does violence to families, especially children--you are preaching the Gospel. And if you get a warm fuzzy feeling because people are buying your books and taking your advice, you might even think it's the Holy Spirit.

     This kind of soft-soap evangelizing isn't restricted to the topic of marriage--pastors in Sunday newsletters try to make the sacraments more "accessible" by dumbing them down, or taking the sting out of things like confession. At the same time there is usually a series or talks given by semi-educated clergy or laity on the sacraments before you receive them equally soft-soaped.
     If I am angry it is because I have seen families destroyed by vague language and rationalizations. Cardinal Arinze, on  a recent show on John Paul II's Letter to Families, mentioned that when one sees an abandoned spouse one see the "suffering face of Christ." Catholic writers should know better than to inflict more suffering by trivializing the marriage vows.

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