December 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — Headlines emphasize how the Catholic Church provides mercy and healing by granting annulments. However, not all divorces are caused by an invalid marriage. One woman, who was married for 26 years before her husband abandoned her, is grateful that she successfully defended her marriage against the accusation of invalidity in a Catholic tribunal court.
An annulment is the common name for a decree from a Catholic Church saying that a valid marriage never occurred and both parties are single. The woman’s case started in 2011 and the woman asked to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her Linda. She said “I take my marriage very seriously, and I was not going to just let someone decide that my marriage was invalid, when I knew in my heart that it was valid.”
About Pope Francis’ new annulment processes which are going to go into effect on December 8, Linda said, “From what the news shows, it appears the Church is changing and wants to be inclusive for divorced Catholics—meaning welcome them to have the sacraments while being married to a second person.”
Linda married in 1978, and had five children. When her husband left and filed for divorce in 2003, their two youngest were in high school and middle school. “We had tried secular counseling,” Linda said, “and my husband was not honest about what was going on in our relationship.” He participated in a Retrouvaille weekend, but during the follow-up sessions, “he stopped cooperating with the program’s guidelines” said Linda. “He blamed me for everything wrong with our marriage, and when he left, he said it was all my fault.”
In Linda’s diocese, in the year 2012, the Catholic tribunal granted one annulment for every 5 couples that married that year. In 2011 and 2012, ninety-eight percent of the marriages judged in her tribunal were deemed invalid, so Linda said she feels lucky that the tribunal upheld the validity of her marriage.
Though law says each diocese is “bound by the obligation to provide that each spouse is able to defend his rights with the help of a competent person,” when Linda phoned the person that the tribunal recommended to help her, she said “he never returned my calls.” Linda said she learned to defend her own marriage with the help of Mary’s Advocates and its e-mail discussion group.
Linda wonders if her tribunal routinely disregards the rights of defendants from the beginning of every case. The defendant is supposed to be sent her own copy of her husband’s Petition for an annulment which must describe the alleged facts he is using to support the particular reason he is claiming their marriage is invalid. The tribunal was going through the proceedings without ever sending Linda the Petition. After asking to be sent a copy of his Petition, all she received was her husband’s answers to a questionnaire, titled “Preliminary petition for possible annulment” where he never stated the ground on which he was accusing his own marriage of being invalid.
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Petitions that do not specify the ground for nullity and include supporting facts are supposed to be rejected outright. Case Law from the appeals court at the Vatican shows that answering a questionnaire that “simply explains the difficulties that occurred in the marriage and its break-up” does not qualify as a libellus (a.k.a. Petition). None-the-less, the tribunal judge himself decided the basis on which the validity of her marriage was being challenged, “lack of due discretion on the part of both.”
This ground “grave lack of discretion of judgment” (canon 1095 §2), is only supposed to apply to people who suffered a grave psychic anomaly, and she never saw any allegations of grave psychic problems in her husband’s Petition. In the section about being “psychologically or emotional incapable,” Linda said “he described how he had trouble communicating and I had communication problems when I was angry.” Even Pope Francis understands that families sometimes have trouble communicating, but he didn’t say that was a basis for invalidity of the marriage. In his speech during the 26 September 2015 Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families, he said “Certainly, in the family there are difficulties. In families we argue. In families sometimes we throw dishes. In families, children cause headaches. I’m not going to say anything about mothers-in-law! Families always, always, have crosses.”
On the internet, Linda’s diocese teaches that in order for a couple to have a valid marriage, “They must both commit to the project of making marriage a good life experience for their partner.” She said “That is ridiculous. If that were true, then anytime anyone felt they did not get a good enough life experience, they could accuse the other of not committing to the project validly.”
Pope Benedict and Saint Pope John Paul II taught how important is its to protect the faithful “from the scandal of seeing the value of Christian marriage being destroyed in practice by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity, in cases of the failure of marriage, on the pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness on the part of the contracting parties.”
Linda learned that everyone has the right to name the Vatican’s tribunal as the court of appeal, so she told her judge that she would appeal to Rome if he decided her marriage was invalid. During the proceedings, Linda participated when asked, but found it difficult to offer rebuttals after being given her chance to read the record of the case. She was forbidden from keeping her own notes. Mary’s Advocates has found that in other tribunals, the parties are allowed to keep their own notes
In April of 2012, Linda said she received the judgment upholding the validity of her marriage. In August 2015, her husband entered a second union with a woman in another Christian denomination. Linda said “he’s committing adultery and it would have been dishonest to pretend he is not by just saying our marriage is invalid.”
Bai Macfarlane founded Mary’s Advocates, a non profit 501(c)(3) organization that upholds marriage in light of no-fault divorce. She uncovered Catholic canon law that can be implemented to try to keep families together. Recently, she was invited to speak in Rome to present a paper that was distributed to the delegates at the Bishops Synod. Mary’s Advocates supports those who have been abandoned who choose to remain faithful to marriage and who defend their marriages against charges of invalidity.