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A stunning question for the Dallas marriage tribunal January 24, 2011

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Dallas Diocese, General Catholic, North Deanery.

Another little gem from Texas Catholic, again not available on their website, concerning their regular “Tribunal” section where readers send in questions concerning the tribunal process.  For those that don’t know, marriage tribunals exist to review marriages that have ended in divorce, to determine if there was some reason that would have made the marriage invalid, allowing the now divorced individuals to re-marry in the Church.  The tribunals essentially review marriages to see if an annulment is warranted – and they are very successful, one report reveals marriage tribunals in the US find that 97% of the marriages presented to them were somehow invalid, and are thus annulled.  

So, a man sent in a letter regarding his parents.  He stated that his parents divorced a long time ago, and that his mother is looking to remarry.  His father feels she will seek an annulment, and this is where the interest lies – the man asks, if an annulment is granted, won’t he, and all other children of parents whose marriages are annulled by the Church, be illegitimate?  Now, the tribunal representative in Texas Catholic hems and haws, and gives a non-answer related to how the civil law will view him (not illegitimate), but that’s not his question – he’s asking how the Church will view him.  And that’s a very good question.  How does the Church view the children of those whose marriages are annuled? To understand, an annulment means that the marriage was invalid, for some reason(s), from its very inception, and so, never really existed. 

This is  a question that touches on canon law and I, would think, theology, and I’m not sure how to answer it.  I may send this to Ed Peters to see if he has any input, but if I were in the questioner’s position, I would be wondering much the same thing, and I’d not feel very good about the likely answer.  Is this an issue the Church has dealt with?  Anyone have any input?


1. FrDarryl Jordan - January 24, 2011

Illegitimi non carborundum.

2. Terry Carroll - January 24, 2011

My understanding is that “illegitimacy” refers entirely to “status within the law” and by “law” we are referring to civil, not Church law. If two people are “legitimately” married in the eyes of the state, all offspring from that marriage are “legitimate.” I don’t believe the Church has any teaching that resembles “illegitimate in the eyes of God but not the state,” as it does for the institution of marriage, which is both a legal status and a sacrament. Annulments mean that two people were not sacramentally married.

The pastoral practice of marriage annulments is, itself, highly problematic, as both Popes John Paul II and Pope Benedict have made clear to the Roman Rota. It is practically inconceivable that 97% of annulment cases should be found invalid. If it’s that “easy” to find grounds for nullity, it should be proportionately “difficult” to marry validly, making most marriages “probably invalid” or at most “valid until they fail.” This is absurd. It’s hard to take seriously that marriage is indissoluble when it is so easily found invalid.

I once wrote a long blog posting titled “The Conundrum of Catholic Annulments” which you can find through Google (I dislike self-referential links in blog postings but, if you want the link, feel free to contact me via email).

The pastoral practice of annulments in the Catholic Church is troubling. It seems more driven by sincere desire to be compassionate than respect for Truth. But “illegitimacy of children” is just not an issue. If the Dallas Marriage Tribunal chooses to answer the question, they will find it quite easy because it is the most common question they are asked.

tantamergo - January 24, 2011

Good response! I totally agree with this statement: “It seems more driven by sincere desire to be compassionate than respect for Truth.” Compassion in a worldly sense. So here’s another question – can the Church be wrong on this? Can the Church label a marriage annulled that may not be in the eyes of God? Or does the process of annullment signify some kind of proof wrt God’s view of this non-marriage?

Terry Carroll - January 24, 2011

The best defense of current Catholic annulment practices I can make is at http://mrterryc.blogspot.com/2010/02/in-defense-of-theology-behind-catholic.html (In defense of the theology behind Catholic annulments). It is my effort “balance” what I had written in “The Conundrum of Catholic Annulments.”

I think it IS possible for the Church to declare null a marriage that really wasn’t. However, the Church does have “the power of the keys,” and Jesus did say that “what you bind/loose on earth is bound/loosed in Heaven.” I believe Jesus honors that promise and that people who are “beneficiaries” of this process are free to proceed in good conscience. Hopefully, the Church will learn through pastoral practice that what it considers compassion is really “false compassion.” This is what the Popes have said. The Church is teaching the Truth, but some of its servants are playing loose with the Truth.

It’s hard for me to say that the Church might be “wrong” in a given marital situation, but it does have the power to “bind and loose.” This power is both juridical and doctrinal. I don’t see how the Church could ever be wrong doctrinally. I do think it can be “imprudent” in its application of moral teaching. I don’t think this is the same as “teaching error.”

There are cases going back centuries where the Church has granted “annulments” on grounds that make you scratch your head, often for “reasons of state.” The “exceptions” made by St. Paul himself are, without question, “exceptions.” Apparently he had the authority to do that. So, today, does the Church. We may question the wisdom of a particular decision, but we can’t question the right of the Church to make such decisions.


tantamergo - January 24, 2011

Another very good response. Thanks for your insight. I’m going to have to think on this some more, but your explanation makes sense. I’ll see if I can sort this out in my head some more.

3. KARL - January 28, 2011

Before I decided to defend our marriage before the Tribunal in the Catholic Church, I sought the advice of an
aged Canon Lawyer.

He grilled me about our marriage and sternly but kindly reminded me that he did not have my wife to seek her responses, therefore he only had my word on which to
base whatever conclusions about validity he would reach.

He clearly indicated that there was no room for deceit and that I would be fully held to account at my final judgement for any falsehood I put forth to him. His was a
search for truth through the prism of long pastoral and canonical experience.

Ultimately, after a week of thought and prayer, he concluded that our marriage was valid and that I was
morally obligated to defend it. Choice was not an option
he put forth.

He advised me that it was very possible that American Tribunalists would find nullity, where he saw no evidence
based upon my recollections. He told me that, based upon
the moral certainty I exhibited, I was bound not to accept
a decision in favor of nullity and that I should prepare myself to be faithful to my vows, absolutely, even in the case where nullity was declared and my wife remarried, in
the Church.

He was clear that my conscience appeared objectively formed in Catholic teaching regarding marriage, that my convictions were based upon facts, not feelings, and that the moral certainty I reached obligated me to be faithful
to my conscience and not to acquiesce to others opinions,
because they spoke for the Church. He told me that either they, or I could be wrong but that I had to respect my conscience.

We never did discuss in much detail acceptance of a tribunal verdict in favor of nullity as a way to “act with a clear conscience” falling back upon the “keys of the kingdom”. He simply left me with the obligation to live the
marital promises, period.

I agree fully with him and will defend what I know before all, except God Himself, were anyone to conclude otherwise. Only God, knows the true reality, more fully than I do. I will know his understanding when my soul is granted the beatific vision at my personal judgement.

That works for me.

Only the absolute certainty of God’s will is sufficient to overcome my level of moral certainty about the validity of
our marriage. In spite of the terrible trial this has been, the past 21 years, it has had its blessings as well.

tantamergo - January 29, 2011

Karl, that was a really well thought out comment. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave your thoughts. I wonder what you feel about the tribunal system in general, at least, your experience of it? Did you attempt to appeal to Rome?

I have been personally familiar with folks who have intentionally gamed the system, who felt the declaration of nullity was a joke, but it let them achieve their desired end – remarriage with a Church wedding. I’m not sure about the ability to declare null what God has put together, either, but I’m not versed enough in the theology to be certain (I’ve actually had some additional doubts since Mr. Carroll left his comment). I know, for instance, that were the Church to declare chocolate cake and pepsi to be the Eucharist, that would be false, it would be a-biblical, a rejection of 2000 years of Tradition. There are limits to what the “keys of the Kingdom” argument can “cover.”

I know of a man who fought a tribunal decision and got absolutely railroaded. They – tribunal, bishop, priest, and many others, were just brutal to him. He still feels bound by his vows. His wife has, of course, remarried, and is a pillar of the parish, whereas he has been made an outcast. I pray, for the sake of many souls, that there have NOT been abuses of the tribunal process.

4. KARL - January 29, 2011

My story is like that in the final paragraph of your comment about my post.

I won in Rome but to this day my wife and her civilly married lover are Church stalwarts too and their public, unrepentant adultery is known, well….in the Vatican, as well, which turns a blind eye.

I have returned to the Church after formally submitting a letter of defection, in the period when such a defection was allowed under canon law. I believe it was ignored.

Long, sad story.

tantamergo - January 29, 2011

I’m very sorry. I’m afraid your case is not an isolated one.

May God be with you. All the human failings, within and without the Church, do not change the reality of God’s love for you. One day, this will make sense. Many, unfortunately, have to suffer for the human failings in the Body of Christ, including some in the highest echelons of the Church.

If you’re willing to share, I’d be very interested to know a bit more about your case, just as background, I won’t post on it. I’m interested to know the “grounds” for which the US tribunal ‘granted’ annulment, and why the Roman Rota overturned? that decision.

You can e-mail me here.

5. KARL - January 29, 2011

You can read the first decision made, in Rome, in 1997.

It is on The Website of Monsignor Cormac Burke in the English Rotal Decision Sections. Look for a case that references Davenport. I am referred to as Max. I think one of the reference numbers in the URL is node 466.

Let me know what you think. You get to see some references to what was said in the Iowan Decision.

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