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Howdy. We've moved from Cayce, but St. Elizabeth of South Rose Hill or Lizette de Waccamaw de Sud just don't do it for me.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday night relationship varia: Part the First: Marital LImbo

Part the First: Marital Limbo

I started to call this "No Easy Outs", which likely says more about my opinions of some of the Kennedy's, than any intelligent opinions I have formulated about annulments.

Gashwin commented briefly on the news that Joseph Kennedy's annulment had been overturned. I saw the story in Time Magazine earlier in the week, and hadn't had time to write. In this case, that's a good thing.

Time story: Joe Kennedy's First Marriage: Still On

The most controversial "marriage that never was" in recent U.S. political history is back. Sources tell TIME that the Vatican has reversed the annulment of Joseph P. Kennedy II's marriage to Sheila Rauch. The annulment had been granted in secrecy by the Catholic Church after the couple's 1991 no-fault civil divorce. Rauch found out about the de-sanctification of their marriage only in 1996, after Kennedy had been wedded to his former Congressional aide, Beth Kelly, for three years.

The annulment was the subject of Rauch's 1997 book Shattered Faith, which lambasted her ex-husband and was severely critical of the Catholic Church's proceedings, which made the marriage (which had produced twin boys) null and void in the eyes of the church. Rauch argued that Kennedy was able to unilaterally "cancel" nearly 12 years of marriage because of his clan's influence in the church. Kennedy argued at the time that the annulment was the right thing to do in religious terms. Few observers thought the appeal to Rome by Rauch, an Episcopalian, had a chance against the well-connected Kennedy. With women's groups loudly on Rauch's side, the controversy may have contributed to Kennedy's decision to give up his plans to seek re-election to Congress in 1998.

Reached by TIME in her Massachusetts home on Tuesday, Rauch said that she had just recently been informed by Boston Archdiocese officials of her successful appeal. "I am very pleased," she told TIME. "There was a real marriage. It was a marriage that failed, but as grown-ups we need to take responsibility for that. The [annulment] process was dishonest, and it was important to stand up and say that." But Rauch says she worries that the practice, particularly in the U.S., of giving what she called "easy annulments" will continue. "They don't give people a fair defense. The Boston Archdiocese doesn't even tell you that you can appeal to Rome." Reached by TIME, Kennedy's office provided no reaction from the former Congressman.


The Roma Rota's ruling, written in Latin, was reached in 2005, and had been kept secret while the official written notice was being prepared, said a source in Rome familiar with the case.

snip / Do they need more Latinists in Rome?

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI has indicated that he wants to streamline the Roma Rota to respond to the desire of divorced Catholics to stay inside the Church. But there is also concern that some Catholics, particularly in the U.S., abuse the practice. "People think it's their right," says one Rome-based canon lawyer. He adds sternly, "It's not a right."

My initial thoughts were along the lines of "look at what happens to people who disregard the Church and try and wield influence." And, maybe some of that is deserved. I have certainly not read the Roma Rota's decision (any document that takes 2 years to translate must be fairly complex! Don't these people have templates for this sort of ruling?!?)

The Time article makes Rauch a sympathetic character, and Kennedy a heel. And, perhaps that's accurate. But I also found myself thinking about the annulment process that regular people go through, that is available to those who are suffering both from the ending of truly misbegotten and tragic marriages and from the conflicting desires for companionship and continued access to the Eucharist.

Ultracrepidarian has blogged honestly and compellingly about this process, and gives updates from time to time. Worth a read .. I've certainly learned lots from him that others I know who are in this process haven't personally shared.

What I find especially blog-worthy is what I learned from following a couple of link trails tonight.

Jimmy Akin (ever the lightning rod) posted on several Canon Law aspects of this decision. These came from Canonist Ed Peters, who posted on the decision, including new (to me) info on the multiple steps and decisions addressed in a declaration of nullity.

Annulment? What annulment? Really, what annulment?

Canon 1682 requires that every "sentence which first declare[s] the nullity of marriage to be transmitted ex officio to the appellate tribunal" and Canon 1684 states that only "after the sentence which first declared the nullity of the marriage has been confirmed at the appellate level. . .[can] the persons whose marriage has been declared null contract a new marriage . . ."In other words, "an annulment" (which sounds as if it's a single thing) actually requires two distinct, affirmative decisions.


Now, as near as we can figure ... Joseph Kennedy petitioned for, and received, at first instance a declaration of nullity regarding his marriage to Sheila Rausch. But Rausch apparently exercised her right under 1983 CIC 1417 to appeal directly to the Roman Rota, which would mean that the Kennedy-Rausch annulment case was not completed when it went to Rome. Thus the Rota sat as a tribunal of "second instance" (JPII, Pastor bonus, a. 128, 1) in which capacity it rejected Kennedy's petition. This annulment, then, was not so much "reversed" by the Rota, as it failed to win completion therein. Granted, the effect is the same, no second marriage is permitted Kennedy (or Rausch), but it's not as if Kennedy "had" his annulment for ten years, and then mean old Rome took away. Kennedy, it seems, never had his annulment in the first place.


Personal opinions of Kennedys aside, it seems unfair to make someone wait for 10 years to find out what his matrimonial status in the Church really is. But canon law already recognizes this: Canon 1453 urges (but does not strictly require) that "first instance" cases be resolved in one year, and that "second instance" cases be decided within six months. When the Roman Rota accepted Rausch's appeal, it took on the task of sitting as a second (not as a third, but as a second) instance court. Thus, why the Rota took (not six months, which would clearly be unreasonable, but 8 or even) 10 years to decide what was only a second instance case is, well, not clear. Were the facts alleged so difficult to determine? Were there novel legal questions raised? I wonder. (emphasis mine)

And that's what strikes me - what on earth takes 10 years to decide about a marriage that lasted only 12 official years (1979 to 1991)? If Rausch were Catholic, and wanting to re-marry and know her status vis a' vis the Eucharist, this would be excruciatingly painful.

Jimmy's commentariat, at least those who could stay on topic, mostly agreed that Kennedy is likely in objective state of grave sin. I wonder how chastely I might choose to live were I to have to wait that long to re-marry. I might risk taking Communion, maybe somewhere where I wasn't known.

(Note to Izzy: not planning on going anywhere. Don't want custody of the cat...Don't want to have to pack up all my stuff...)

Payers for those in relationships, especially difficult ones, or those recovering from the pain of failed relationships.

Historical Note: Two of today's saints, Thomas More & John Fisher, received the crown of martyrdom in part because of stances they took on another annulment process. Henry VIII tried for ten years to get an annulment from Rome - we see what good came from that lengthy process.


PS: Yes, I aware that those whom I quote vary in their spellings of the surname of the former Mrs. Kennedy. Not gonna try & verify which is correct.

1 comment:

UltraCrepidarian said...

It's funny that the criticism of the Annulment process, which some groups intend towards the destruction of the process, is actually suggesting an "overturned" or "reversed" decision, when in fact, the dual decision was there on purpose as a safeguard FOR THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE. In other words, while attempting to provide a pastorally sensitive option for those who have been through marriage breakdown, and seek the opportunity to do other than stay alone for life, the Church attempts to find for them, a way to stay within the teaching of the Church on the sanctity of the marriage, in a way which does not (hopefully) undermine or contradit the actual sacramental bond that may already exist.

Determining this is a matter where the rest of the world makes fun of us orthodox Catholics, for taking the idea seriously, that matrimony, if it is a sacramental, should be possible to determine if the sacrament "worked", or not.

So, I agree that 10 years is too long to find out one's status in the eyes of the Church. An annulment doesn't dissolve or change anything, it's just a ruling on a pre-existing situation.

I was told "18 to 24 months for an initial decision". That means, they're aiming for three years, for me, for the final decision. You pay, and you get slow service. Is it ideal? No. Is it better than having no hope at all? Much better.