June 14, 2014

6/14/2014 UPDATE and CORRECTION: Thoughts on the 2014 Synod

UPDATE and CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: It was brought to my attention by friends that my first paragraph had inaccurately - though I assure you, unintentionally - stated some statistics from Vasoli's book regarding defective consent. After many re-readings of the referenced text and the articles' paragraph, I have to agree that I did confuse the numbers and categories. I have pasted the revised paragraph below and sincerely apologize for my sloppy proofreading and any related misconceptions. (The information I referenced in the first paragraph can be found on pages 5,25 and 63 of Vasoli's book.) I have pasted below a more accurate revision...

Authors note:The following is an un-published article I wrote in February 2014. Though it was tentatively agreed by a Catholic publisher to try and find a publishing/print slot, none has been found to date. As the article is time sensitive, I notified the publisher of my intent to publish it here, as I felt it brings much needed commentary to the issue of divorced/remarried Catholics, specious annulments and the lack of pastoral care in preserving Sacramental First Marriages.

Robert Vasoli, in his book What God Has Joined Together: The Annulment Crisis in American Catholicism states that a total of 638,705 decrees of nullity were issued between 1984-1994 in the USA. Of those, 437,324 were for defective consent of which 92% were overturned upon appeal to the Rota. While mainly indicative of a revolving door mentality in granting annulments, it is also a quite obviously an indicator of marriages in trouble that were not given the proper pastoral care.  During the same period, American First and Second tribunals granted over 433,000 annulments based on defective consent. As of the printing of Vasoli’s book, the ROTA had been deciding about 200 cases a year and had overturned at least 92% of them. He also stated that if you apply the 92% reversal rate to the same time period, over 398,000 of the 433,000 defective consent annulments should never have occurred.  “Is it any wonder”, Vasoli wrote, “that the sacrament and institution of marriage are thought by some to be in mortal danger?” In my opinion it is also, at the very least, indicative of a revolving door mentality in granting annulments, but more so an indicator of marriages in trouble that were not given the proper pastoral care. 

Few parish priests, couples in marital trouble or perhaps even diocesan marriage tribunals must know of the existence of the so-called "Reconciliation" Canons (1152.1, 1152.2, 1152.3, 1153.2, 1155, 1446.2, 1676, 1695, 1713) in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Nothing was sent to me referencing them in any of the mailing inserts that came with my "Notice-Of-Intent-To-Inflict-Great-Bodily and-Spiritual-Harm-To-Your-Marriage-And-Family" from the local Tribunal office. I was as ignorant as the next spouse. So...it begs the questions: IF the Church gives all Catholic marriages the favor of law; IF the Hierarchy believes in the Indissolubility of Marriage; IF the Hierarchy has TRUE Pastoral care and concern for Catholic spouses in marital trouble (C.1676 & C.1695 specifically mention the now-over-used and emotive word: Pastoral)...then why are annulments running amok and handed out like Halloween candy? Why?

Why, indeed?! The reason is that Mr. Spock’s oft quoted death song to Captain Kirk, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one", has been bastardized to “The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many” and seems to be the mantra espoused in the pastoral care given to the one - the abandoning spouse, rather than “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” which ought to be upheld by applying the Canon Laws which urge spousal Reconciliation, ultimately for the needs of the many - the family. But, if I may ask, considering the Sacramental value of Catholic Marriage, how can these Canon Laws that uphold marriage so beautifully be ignored or forgotten:

Canon 1152.1: “…it is earnestly recommended that a spouse, moved by Christian charity and concerned for the good of the family, not refuse forgiveness to an adulterous partner and not disrupt conjugal life…”

Canon 1152.2: “Tacit condonation exists if the innocent spouse has had marital relations voluntarily with the other spouse… if the spouse observed conjugal living for six months and did not make recourse to the ecclesiastical or civil authority.”

[Author Note: Condonation=In marriage, the voluntary pardoning by an innocent spouse of an offense committed by his or her partner conditioned upon the promise that it will not recur. Source]

Canon 1153.2: “In all cases, when the cause for the separation ceases, conjugal living must be restored unless ecclesiastical authority has established otherwise.”

Canon 1155: “The innocent spouse laudably can readmit the other spouse to conjugal life; in this case the innocent spouse renounces the right to separate.”

Canon 1446.2: “Whenever the judge perceives some hope of a favorable outcome at the start of litigation or even at any other time, the judge is not to neglect to encourage and assist the parties to collaborate in seeking an equitable solution to the controversy…”

Canon 1676: “Before accepting a case and whenever there is hope of a favorable outcome, a judge is to use pastoral means to induce the spouses if possible to…restore conjugal living.”

Canon 1695: “Before accepting the case and whenever there is hope of a favorable outcome, the judge is to use pastoral means to reconcile the spouses and persuade them to restore conjugal living.”

Canon 1713: “In order to avoid judicial contentions an agreement or reconciliation is employed usefully, or the controversy can be committed to the judgment of one or more arbitrators.”

While it would seem that Canon Law does favor marriage intervention to preserve troubled marriages, the reality seems to be that Canon Law, Christ's Words and the Church’s teachings of the past few hundreds of years have no validity in the modern views on marriage emanating from the "enlightenment" of the last 50.

If my opinions seem a bit harsh, I have good reason after a forced divorce and annulment, and even more so as the reconciliation and/or the convalidation of our marriage was not even mentioned as an option, let alone any marital help or assistance. In his reply to a letter I wrote detailing what had become of our family post-divorce, my Bishop responded that "... your former marriage is irretrievably broken...". That got me mad upset passionate and I responded:

“I most vehemently object to your statement that “…your former marriage is irretrievably broken…” You have no validity in making such a statement, as neither yourself nor any member of the diocese, ever had a marital conference – pastoral or otherwise – with my spouse and me to make that determination. If you or the diocese relied upon the singular opinion of just the one spouse, it remains an unjust and uncharitable assumption on your part; if you or the diocese relied on the mere fact one spouse had a divorce decree in hand stipulating “irreconcilable differences”, you have subordinated the Divine to the Civil, without so much as a blink. It remains a fact of this marriage that both spouses had “differences”, just as it remains a fact that they were not “irreconcilable”. It remains a fact that our marriage was “broken”, just as it remains a fact it was not so “irretrievably”. In either case, she and I failed to pursue the correct solution – marital counseling. In either case, the diocese failed to pursue the correct solution – pastoral care to preserve a marriage, regardless of what the world says. Holy Matrimony is one of seven Sacraments - is this particular one not worth at least the semblance of respect due it by attempting to preserve it, despite the lack of proper action by both spouses?”

I have never received a reply from the Bishop.

My situation pales in comparison to others who have fought this injustice far longer than I. To illustrate both the injustice and the frustration, permission was received to publish a friend's post about his decades-long experience of defending his marriage against the very Church who blessed it those many years previous:

"The stark reality is that neither the pastoral practices of the Catholic Church, nor the tribunal process is oriented toward working to heal wounded marriages. There are canons which allude to this, but they are openly ignored, with no consequence to those who ignore them.

In a conversation I once had with a Judicial Vicar... I was told outright and I believe completely honestly, that he did not see it as the legitimate job of the tribunalist to have anything to do with taking remedial action to bring parties in a marriage, even a valid, sacramental marriage upheld as so by Catholic Tribunals, together to attempt to heal marital discord. He, specifically, cited that action as belonging to the local ordinary, the bishop. He indicated that he could not “make” a bishop do that but that it was the responsibility of the bishop. He viewed his position as being a person who must decide validity but not the person with the right or the authority to take pastoral action to facilitate or to attempt to facilitate reconciliation.

To me, I care little about the “division of responsibilities” pastorally or legally. It is simply indefensible that no one in a position of authority in Rome, in a diocese, be it the bishop, an auxiliary bishop, the local pastor or the Judicial Vicar or another functionary that I am not aware of or whom I have not named, has, does or will “step up”, when in the “face” of a valid, sacramental marriage, which has been canonically upheld to be a valid, sacrament and when one of the parties to that marriage, specifically, emphatically and publicly, as I have for two decades and counting, seeks the assistance of the Catholic Church to work to heal that valid, sacramental marriage, to take both pastoral and canonical action to foster reconciliation. There is no need to have a synod to discuss circumstance such as ours. The time to act was in 1989, when this Catholic husband and father was already knocking at the doors of the Catholic Church, before there was any divorce but my pastor and the Judicial Vicar refused my pleas. The time to act has been current for every moment since then and is current now.
To take the time to wait to act by way of a synod, on the part of the Holy Father, is little different than a qualified medical doctor seeing a suffering, living aborted child and concluding he must wait to discuss this circumstance with his colleagues before he can act, so he allows the baby to die. We are being murdered, no differently than in the abortuaries. However, we are being murdered by the Catholic Church. Our Catholic Bishops are our abortionists. Francis is Chief-of-Staff and Head of the Hospital Medical Ethics Board. He wants a meeting, months from now, to discuss our rotting flesh with his colleagues that have been going on for decades. I am sure Jesus wholeheartedly approves of Francis deep concern for our well being.

Thank you, Holy Father!

PS: My wife is lying on the abortuary table, right now, Francis. I am begging you to intervene, but I am simply the Father, I am not allowed in the abortuary to beg you. I am doing so from the sidewalk outside your clinic. I am on my knees, pleading with you to try to save our marriage. I do not know what else to do. Your colleagues have ignored me.”

Will my friend see his marriage declared "null" or will he see his marriage declared to be still valid? The answer isn’t yet known, though the process has been on-going since 1991 and has already survived one attempt at nullity. My prayers are with him and all those who continue the defense of their marriages, despite the apparent lethargy of the Hierarchy.

Personally (and not without more than a tad of cynicism), I do not hold out much hope for the 2014 synod doing much of anything to defend Catholic marriage and reign in the annulment juggernaut. A few platitudes, obfuscations, and fluffly-wuffly apostolic exhortations perhaps, but nothing much will change. It has been too long allowed, too ingrained in practice and too complex to excise. The Synod will most likely allow the wound to heal on its own with no True Spiritual or Pastoral help and will allow it to retain its current rough, ugly and sensitive scab, rather than to courageously and mercifully inflict the pain required to heal such a grievous wound. The “Doctors” have so far been reluctant to exercise their Hippocratic Oath and I have seen nothing recently that leads me to believe otherwise, mainly because each has his own "cure" that is sure to "heal" and return the patient to "full Health Communion". I state that simply because in the last few months, all that is happening – at least as reported in some media - is the posturing and seemingly outright conflict by some of the “Doctors” involved in the Synod. There should not be such division; there should only be one desire: to uphold the Sanctity of Catholic Marriage, by applying current Canonical Laws and the Teachings of the Catholic Church. It is not the Church and Her Laws that need to conform to the desires of us mortals... No! It is we mortals that need to conform, however much it may sting or pain us – or make us “unhappy”. Our only true happiness lies in Heaven anyway, not here on earth.

But, personal bias aside, I cannot escape the fact that I am a Catholic Husband (or used to be anyway) and Father and my path is already laid before me. Thomas a Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ, put it all in perspective when he wrote:

 “… For with God nothing that is suffered for His sake, no matter how small, can pass without reward. Be prepared for the fight, then, if you wish to gain the victory. Without struggle you cannot obtain the crown of patience, and if you refuse to suffer you are refusing the crown. But if you desire to be crowned, fight bravely and bear up patiently. Without labor there is no rest, and without fighting, no victory.” 

I failed in understanding this within my own marriage. But I have not regretted my decision to stop refusing its Crosses and the Crown I hope it eventually brings. I have made the commitment to honor my first vows and my one and only spouse and by doing so hope to save the 11 Souls (one Mother and 10 Children) entrusted to my care a little than more 25 years ago. I hope and pray also, that the Synod will - enlightened by the Holy Ghost and strengthened from the Prayers of the Faithful - make meaningful changes that will defend Catholic Marriages from annulment abuses, pro-actively promote marital healing to preserve first marriages and especially their families, and return to its rightful owners that privilege of Sanctifying their marriages and achieving the victorious Crown we all desire.

Copyright 2014 David Heath - All Rights Reserved


  1. That is excellent, Dave. Especially the quote from Imitation of Christ. It should be on every fily's refrigerator.

    I think that clause "whenever there seems to be hope" should be stricken from those reconciliation canons. There is no hope if nothing bad will happen if the moral law is broken.

  2. Thank you for the kind words...the compromises to Objective Truth have to stop at some point. Utopia, whether in life or marriage, is a fallacy that eventually fails, despite the best efforts of some to defend its ideal.


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