What does the Pope think of U.S. tribunal annulment policies?
Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict have written extensively that far too many annulments are 'decreed' in the United States (See SOS "Resources" page). See information and quotes from Pope Benedict XVI at the end of this page.
How granting of annulments has changed in the U.S.: In 1968 only four thousand annulments were granted world wide; in 1984 after revision of annulment rules, sixty thousand annulments were granted (Boston Globe 10/26/84). This number of annulments continue to be 'declared' annually by local tribunals.
Each year eighty percent of the annulments granted throughout the world are decided in the United States alone! (NCR, 10/29/99). In 2002 roughly ninety percent of the annulments 'petitioned' for in the American Catholic Church are approved In Italy; by way of comparison, only 37 percent are granted. (S.R.Kennedy, Shattered Faith)
But there are indications in 2008 that somewhere around 90% of Appeals to the Roman Rota are succssful. This remains to be verified.
A Primary purpose of SOS: From our SOS perspective, it appears that tribunals in the United States are almost exclusively concerned with the petitioner's request to nullify the sacrament, and disregard the truths told by Respondents.
One of the primary purposes of SOS is to empower Respondents to turn their feelings of devastation, anger, or helplessness into constructive energy while defending their sacrament.
For example, SOS recommends that when a marriage tribunal mandates that the Respondent "must not reveal any details of the annulment process to others", in reality the marriage tribunal has no civil recourse to silencing you. You are free to discuss your annulment experience with anyone you wish; they have no legal way of enforcing their outrageous requests.
Many Respondents, some women but especially men, recognize the hypocrisies in the annulment process and thus choose to ignore tribunal policy; they simply do not participate in this process and sadly, often leave the Church.
But too many women-Respondents have a naive trust in the annulment tribunal process, and try to abide by the 'annulment rules'. These Respondents are not aware that they have very little chance to defend their sacrament successfully in the U. S. Catholic Church tribunals of "First or Second Instance". This is why SOS recommends that all Respondents who have marriages declared 'annulled' in the First Court- then apply directly to the Roman Rota as "Second Instance Court".
It is that naive trust mentioned above that motivates SOS/RoA&RS to offer the following points to Respondents.
25 Hypocrisies in the Annulment system, from the perspective of almost 700 Respondents with Save Our Sacrament
1. The Code of Catholic Canon Law states "Marriage enjoys the favor of the law" (Canon 1060).
Respondents' experience is: US tribunals "favor" annulment, with a pervasive bias against "saving" the
marriage sacrament and against Respondents. Msgr. Clarence Hettinger writes that the "pro-annulment" mentality of US Tribunals is a "scandal, a spiritual virus" ("The Annulment Mentality", Journal of Homiletic & Pastoral Review 2/95). Popes John Paul II and Benedict are scathing regarding the pro-Petitioner number of annulments in the US.
2. The Code of Canon Law states marriage annulments are to be based only on "GRAVE marital deficiencies".
Our experience is: most marriages are annulled where there is no "grave" anomaly. Three Rota judges have written that most annulments "manifestly lack any canonical foundation" (Msgr. C. Hettinger, ibid).
3. Tribunals say annulment is based on proof against the marriage to a "moral certainty".
Respondents' experience is: annulments are decided on far lower, superficial and arbitrary 'standards'.
4. Tribunals claim that marriage is indissoluble.
Our experience is: tribunals provide broad latitude to declare a marriage 'invalid'.
5. Tribunals say annulments are rare.
We know that 62, 824 per year in the U.S. alone is not rare (Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI '97).
6. Tribunals claim they do not recognize divorce.
Our experience is: of course divorce is recognized, because tribunals will not proceed on an annulment petition unless the marriage is already ended by a civil divorce.
7. Tribunals say they will help Respondents through the process.
Our experience is: tribunals railroad Respondents with canon law and jargon which they know is unfamiliar to us.
8. Tribunals say they provide a beneficial advocacy system to Respondents.
Our experience is: decision-making processes are kept secret from Respondents, there are no safeguards for accountability, and Respondents cannot choose their Advocate. The Advocates' first allegiance is to the tribunal because they are paid by the tribunal.
9. Tribunals claim the "Marital History" Questionnaire is objective.
Our experience is: depending where the tribunal is located, Respondents may be given a different, more invasive questionnaire than the Petitioner.
10. Tribunals claim the Questionnaire is fair.
We observe: Petitioners find they must prostitute themselves by taking onto themselves false, extreme psychological diagnoses, demeaning the Respondents' family and even their own family, and exaggerate points they think make their history "fit" the demands of the annulment process.
11. Tribunals claim the Questionnaire is "confidential".
Our experience is: the Questionnaire contains invasive questions regarding intimacy in the marriage, all beyond the "moment of the vows". This information is open to many tribunal personnel, including, but not limited to, advocates, three judges, the defender of the bond, tribunal-paid therapists, and very likely secretaries who type material related to that information, etc. The Questionnaire also leads the individual to answer questions of a sexual nature in great detail. We question what the tribunal personnel are doing vicariously with this intimate material.
12. Tribunals say their personnel are professional and friendly.
Our experience is: the majority of tribunal personnel are angry, arrogant, and verbally abusive to Respondents.
13. Tribunals claim to follow Jesus' teachings that we should love one another.
Respondents' experience is: family and friends are often forced to take sides which turn friends into enemies.
14. Tribunals say the marriage / marital history is between the husband and wife.
Our experience is: family and friends are dragged in as 'witnesses' and relationships are devastated.
15. Tribunals say annulment is a "healing" process.
Respondents' experience is: annulment is devastating and causes lasting emotional harm to both the Respondent and the children of the marriage.
16. Tribunals say annulment has no effect on the children.
Our experience is: when an annulment is mandated, children are often traumatized by the realization that in the 'eyes of the Church' their parents are not married, so they are "products of a non-sacramental, unsanctified union". Traditionally, the RC Church labels children of unmarried parents "bastards". (ref. MarysAdvocates.org).
17. Tribunals claim jurisdiction/ the right to annul non-Catholic marriages where both spouses are not Catholic.
Our experience is: annulment is the modern day equivalent of the Inquisition. Along with most Catholics and Protestants, we know and believe tribunals have no right to judge or interfere with non-Catholic marriages.
18. Canon Law states that Respondents can appeal a 'first court' decision to the Roman Rota as the next higher Court.
Our experience is: Respondents are often not told that they can appeal directly to Rome as the "Second Instance" Court, unless (as we were told by a canon lawyer) "they know enough to ask".
19. Tribunals say the Appeal decision is reached within two years.
Our experience is: Appeals take far longer. After waiting nine years, Jan's Appeal was decided successfully in her favor. Sheila R. Kennedy had to wait eleven years before she was told her Appeal was successful (May'07).
20. Tribunals say the participants who lose their cases make peace with the results.
Our experience of annulment is felt as a forced abortion of our sacrament. As a result, when Respondents realize the tribunal colluded to desecrate their sacrament, the feeling toward the Church is revulsion.
21. Tribunals say annulment ensures that individuals remain close to the Church, and so strengthens the Church.
Respondents experience the annulment process as a betrayal by their Church and a rape of their faith.
Very often Respondents feel forced to either join other denominations or leave the faith completely.
Even First Instance successful Petitioners have dismissed annulment, and the Church, as "gobbledegook".
22. Tribunals say that Catholics who remarry without an annulment are to be denied communion.
23. Tribunals claim their reasons for 'secrecy' throughout the entire annulment process is for "confidentiality".
We observe: annulment for the Petitioner is simply an enablement of 'serial monogamy' (polygamy); yet they are allowed to continue receiving communion as full members of the RC Church.
Our experience is: the 'confidentiality' is not for the two participants, but rather is intended to protect tribunal personnel. That silence allows and enables devastating actions against Respondents.
It is very possible that the abusive tactics toward Respondents are intrinsically linked to the abuse of defenseless children in the long pedophile history of the Catholic Church.
24. Tribunals say there is no alternative to the annulment process, while withholding information about Internal Forum. This is the non-invasive process, offered by many priests throughout the world, that allows Catholics to remarry, receive the sacraments, and be accepted members of the Church. "Informed conscience" is a core value of the Catholic faith; the Church holds the "External Forum" / canon law process (including annulment) is secondary to informed-conscience.
25. Tribunals claim that mental health professionals assist in just and fair decisions.
Our experience is: many of these tribunal-paid therapists often testify / diagnose against Respondents and their family without ever meeting the Respondent, diagnosing only on the word of the Petitioner against the Respondent. This is unethical according to APA standards and blatant slander of Respondents in a church document used to strip Respondents of their sacrament publicly (annulment takes place in the "External Forum").
Materials documenting the above statements are in the SOS files.
Sources cited above are listed on the Resource page of this SOS website.
"Annulment is now a form of divorce in every way but name, and the church (hierarchy) refusal to acknowledge this is deeply corrupting. Moreover, the Catholic annulment procedures hurt children, are cruel to former spouses, force applicants to misrepresent the past, mock well-meaning priests, and drive many thousands out of the church. It is a disaster." -James Carroll, Boston Globe 5/13/97
Pope calls for Tightening up on Annulment
by Tom Kington in Rome for The Guardian, UK January 29, 2007
Pope Benedict XVI has warned Vatican judges to get tough on couples who ask the Catholic Church to annul their marriages.
The Pope ordered the clampdown after new figures showed that the church's appeals court allowed 69 annulments in 2005 for reasons which included husbands being too attached to their mothers (or not attached enough).
The court, known as the Sacra Rota, considers petitions from couples claiming their marriages were never truly valid... the Pope appeared to take a hard line on Saturday when he told the court's 20 judges to "respond with courage and faith" to "a distorted interpretation of the canonical norms in force".
Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly criticised the Italian government's plans for a law defining rights for unmarried couples. The institution of marriage, he said, was in danger of becoming no more than a legal agreement, "manipulated at will", and "even denied of its heterosexual character".
"Tribunals should work quickly, defend marriage" - Pope Benedict XVI
Vatican, Jan. 30, 2006 (CWNews.com)
Pope Benedict XVI spoke on January 28 to officials of the Roman Rota, saying that couples seeking annulments of their marriages have a right to a reasonable fast response from Church tribunals. However, he stressed that annulments should be granted only when the evidence indicates that a true marriage never took place. The Pope strongly denied that a "pastoral" approach could overlook the requirements of the Church's legal process.
The work of the Roman Rota is dominated by marital issues, and as he met with the official of the Vatican tribunal in a private audience, at the start of their judicial year, the Pope asked them to adhere carefully to the terms of Dignitatis Connubii, the Vatican document released in 2005 to guide the work of marriage tribunals.
Pope Benedict acknowledged the lively public discussion of the Church's discipline barring Catholics who are divorced and remarried from receiving the Eucharist. He observed that the Synod of Bishops, meeting last October to discuss the Eucharist, had "called on ecclesiastical courts to make every effort to ensure that members of the faithful not canonically married may, as soon as possible, regularize their domestic situations," and thus be admitted to communion.
But the Pope flatly rejected the idea that the canonical process involved in annulment is merely a matter of "legal formalities." That idea, he said, implies "a supposed conflict between law and pastoral care in general." To counter that notion, Pope Benedict reminded the officials of the Roman Rota that the purpose of Church tribunals is to arrive at a "declaration of truth by an impartial third party."
... In assessing each case, the Pope continued, the tribunal should be guided by the search for truth. He cautioned strongly against any tendency to compromise the rigor of that search, in a misguided effort to find serve the needs of individuals. "Such attitudes may seem pastoral," the Pope admitted; "but in reality they do not respond to the good of the individuals, or that of the ecclesial community."
As he concluded his remarks, Pope Benedict said that the Church should also be working "to prevent nullity of marriage," by preparing couples more fully for Christian matrimony and by helping married couples to resolve conflicts and form a deeper mutual commitment....
The Vatican instruction Dignitatis Connubii, to which the Pope referred in his talk, was prepared as a guide to diocesan tribunals in handling marriage cases. The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts released the instruction in response to reports of wide discrepancies between the way annulment petitions were handled in different diocesan tribunals.
Rota Appeals Court
The tribunal of the Roman Rota acts as an appeals court in marriage cases (and other canonical proceedings), hearing appeals of judgments that have been rendered by any of the 3,000 canonical tribunals around the world. In 2004 (the last year for which full statistics are available) the Roman Rota received 246 appeals regarding marriage annulments. Of these, 163 came from dioceses in Europe, 73 from the Americas, and 10 from Asia; there were no such appeals from Africa, Australia, or Oceania.
With only 20 judges hearing the cases, an appeal to the Roman Rota can be a time-consuming process; the average case lasts nearly two years. These long processes, however, involve only those cases in which an appeal is sent to the Vatican. The vast majority of annulment petitions are resolved by local diocesan tribunals.