Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Some Remarks on the Annulment C̶r̶i̶s̶i̶s̶ C̶i̶r̶c̶u̶s̶ Scandal

Reading Robert Vasoli's  book on the annulment phenomenon in the American Catholic Church  I have found quite a few little tidbits--- the book is $46 on Amazon, by the way, and I had to find it secondhand. It is not surprising that it is hard to get, because it is  probably not very popular with a lot of Catholic publishers, whose lists seem to proliferate with titles describing the blissful state of blended families and other books  giving advice on how to obtain anullments, and various justifications thereof. Everybody gets annulments.  As Vasoli points out, if you exchange the sign of peace at Mass in an American Catholic church,your chances are one in fifty that you will make contact with someone who has been a party to at least one annulment. This is the church, mind you, which denied an annulment to Henry the Eighth, which event led to the martyrdom of  Thomas More.

     America has a high divorce rate, and so do American Catholics. but
     "In spite of what many canonists maintain, the size of the pool of those eligible for annulment does not necessarily vary directly with increases in the divorce rate, unless one assumes that marriages ending in divorce are usually canonically invalid. Precisely such an assumption is frequently implied or taken for granted by American tribunalists. But in terms of social science methodology the assumption is tenuous and gratuitous. In terms of Church teaching and law, it is untenable, a doctrinal non sequitur.  While figures are not available, the vast majority of marriages broken by divorce are in fact certainly valid. The rising frequency of divorce among Catholics increased the demand for nullity, but it is a fanciful and illogical leap to infer a corresponding increase in the size of the pool of deserving eligibles. High rates of divorce and separation also occur among Catholics in other societies, but with far less likelihood of eventual annulment. Finally, Catholics did divorce before Vatican II, but it is quite improbable that the percentage securing decrees of nullity was even close to the percentage that obtains today.

    It appears, then, that we can't blame the secular culture for this one.  The whole world is getting divorced almost as fast as it is staging vulgar  theme weddings. But Catholics in other countries, even when getting divorced, are not being given annulments. I have not found any other books on this subject written with the same depth as Vasoli's, but there is a plethora of  Catholic books on how to obtain annulments and one defense of the American tribunal written by an apologist. What I found extremely interesting is that the Church document written in response to the annulment crisis, Dignitas Connubi, is simply unavailable.

     When priests break their vows, it is of course a terrible thing. But one wonders whether or not their understanding of divorce is influenced  by their understanding of a vow as something made by one person before God, consecrating his or her own life. Marriages do not involve one person, and marriage vows are made by two people at the same time. Marriages are also things you don't go to a seminary to prepare for. Marriage vows are very simple and marriages have been taking place since humans have formed societies. A marriage is not simply a religious  phenomenon-- it is an anthropological one. It is a legal contract, and a political institution. It is, more than any other sacrament, ordinary. Marriage is an ordinary thing that ordinary people can do. It is also done in the context of a political community and an extended families, because it also represents   the joining of two families together.  The casual dismissal of a marriages' very existence on the grounds of "psychological immaturity" implies a lack of respect  for the ordinary customs of human societies. It borders on a contempt for the common every day understanding of human life according to which most people, Catholic or not, live.

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