Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Explaining Annulments

Thank you for your suggestions! I will try to get to them all this week and next, although the book ones are hard, as I do not have them. I think I should have a look, though, if they are causing damage.

In writing about love 'n' marriage stuff, I have a set of pet peeves. This reminds me of my total shock when I read a recent Polish review of Anielskie Single and it said AS was so old-fashioned it might not be practical. But never mind. I have a set of pet peeves and they are divorce, long engagements, shacking up and premarital sex. They are my pet peeves because whereas on the one hand these things seem practical, they create unhappiness, especially in the not infrequent situation in which one person loves more than the other.

In addition, that feeling of "Oh My Goodness This Person Is The Most Perfect Creature God Ever Made!!!!!!" lasts three years, tops, so it is better to get married to someone sooner rather than later, after ascertaining that this person has a very good character. (After three years, character is what you're left with, and at that point it's way easier to love a good man/woman than a bad one.) And, to be frank, nothing fixes a wedding date in Catholic circles like the absolute refusal to consummate the marriage before the ceremony. This has worked for six thousand years, and it still works now.

I am seriously off topic.

Today's topic is annulments, which reminded me of my pet peeves, for one of them is divorce. Now, I had a divorce, and I am grateful for it, so it seems quixotic that one of the primary motives of this blog is to stop y'all from getting divorced. The best way not to get to divorced is not to get married in the first place, if you are settling, or he is settling, or your character needs some preparatory work, or his character needs preparatory work. Meanwhile, I hate divorce when it arises from a confusion of erotic love, which is unstable, with marriage, which is permanent and upon which the family, the building block of society, rests. Sex is for marriage, not vice versa, if you see what I mean. Not that it isn't important to marriage because it usually is.

On Sunday one of my more tenderhearted luncheon guests almost had a seizure because I said divorce was not so serious when there are no children involved. I was a tad confused until I realized he was worried I might divorce B.A. on those grounds. But there are children involved: we share two nephews and a niece. Meanwhile, I'd have to be insane to divorce B.A. Really, I cannot imagine any free action more prejudicial to my interests.

I'm still off-topic, which is how to explain annulments to non-Catholics without them sneering at you. This sort of thing is best left to a canon lawyer, but I'll give it a shot. But this is strictly amateur hour, poppets. The more you like my blog, the more you must remember that I have zero teaching authority.

1. Christian marriage is a sacrament, which means that "it is an outward sign of inward grace, ordained by Jesus Christ, by which grace is give to our souls." (The Penny Catechism)

2. Not all marriages are sacramental, although Catholics respect these non-sacramental marriages, too, as part of natural law. It is fitting and part of human flourishing for a man and a woman to make a public declaration that they are choosing each other for life, to share the same bed and to have babies.

3. Marriage, however, particularly sacramental Christian marriage, is reliant on the disposition of both parties at the time of the marriage. Both parties have to have the capacity of fulfilling their vows. They have to be completely free. They can't be getting married just because they were frightened into it, e.g. one party threatened to commit suicide or the bride's brother threatened to murder the groom if he didn't. They can't be under intolerable pressure, e.g. the girl is pregnant. (If she is they have to swear up and down they would want to be married even if she weren't.) They have also to be free of addictions and vices that make fulfilling the marriage vows impossible. They also have to have the requisite maturity to fulfill the vows. Oh, and they have to consummate the marriage, too.

4. If a marriage is not contracted under the right circumstances, it may be a marriage in law, but it is not a sacramental marriage. And the Church, who is Keeper of the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, has the power both to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19). Only the Church has the authority to determine who is sacramentally married and who is not, and who is free to marry again. Catholics must always ask permission of the Church to marry. Catholics who are already married and want to get married again have to ask permission of the Church to marry. The Church will give this permission if the Church decides, given the necessary evidence, that the Catholic's marriage, though once recognized by civil law, is not sacramental.

5. Although the marriage tribunal (those people in the Church asked to examine the evidence) focuses on the dispositions of both parties at the time of the wedding, I suspect they are [personal point of view ahead] looking for evidence of Grace or lack thereof during the marriage. This is how I justify having to talk about my own married life to a complete stranger, a very elderly nun, and her tape recorder, which was traumatic.

[Personal theology ahead:]

If the marriage between Christians, right from the start, is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, the ability to put up with suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, freedom from addiction, and chastity, all of which are fruits of the Holy Spirit, it is--in my opinion--most definitely a sign that the Holy Spirit was involved, and therefore it is a sacramental marriage.

If, however, right from the start, the marriage is characterized by hatred, sorrow, fighting, impatience, cruelty, evil, despair in the face of suffering, harshness, doubt, immodesty, addictions--especially sexual--and inchastity, then I personally would go on a limb and say, "Hmm, you know. I think you may have grounds for an annulment."

Suffering is, as in life in general, a normal part of marriage, although abuse is not. For example, sex can feel really weird until you get used to it. Why this is not discussed more often is a mystery to me. It makes me sad to think of all the virgins who marry and then wonder why sex does not seem to be like it is in books and if there is something seriously wrong with them. Of course there isn't, poor lambs.  Sex is a learned skill, and neither spouse is supposed to learn it until he or she gets married, so obviously it could be awkward at first. And this holds true for second marriages, too, as everyone is different, and sex is deeply personal, and thus you have to relearn it per person. Nobody Catholic tells you that, either. In the first case, I had to read Doctor-freaking-Ruth, which to a former teenage pro-lifer was the equivalent of consulting Beelzebub.

Anyway, writing all this hurt my poor arm, so I hope it is helpful.

Note: A reader once asked what could have been done to prevent me having been needlessly traumatized by my annulment procedure. Leaving aside the idea that the trauma may have helped towards my eventual hoped-for sanctification, I would say that they should have told me in advance that I would have to answer extremely personal questions in writing, that my testimony would be recorded, and that although my interviewer would be an elderly nun, I should not feel it a crime against modesty to tell her intimate stuff as she, like an elderly priest, had already heard it all.  Also, there should have been the offer of  a laywoman annulment survivor to meet me after my interview, so I would not have had to cry by myself in the toilets.

That last sentence sounds very sad and pathetic, so I will comfort my tenderhearted readers by pointing out this happened fifteen years ago. I don't think it should happen to anyone else, however.

Note 2: Children. Children are not rendered "illegitimate" by annulments. Legitimacy applies to civil law, not church law. This who is legitimate and who is illegitimate stuff is now entirely the state's purview.  Occasionally adult children furious at their parents for divorcing and at the Church for seeming to bless their divorce with an annulment seethe that the Church has rendered them, the children, bastards. She hasn't. Whereas the children may have grounds for complaint, that ain't one of them.


Kate P said...

Thanks for your words on the subject, Seraphic. I couldn't ask exactly the question I wanted to, but you wound up answering it indirectly so that's good.

I had heard about the "extremely personal questions" from someone who has testified on behalf of friends seeking annulments--that sounds so trying. Your willingness to talk about it is much appreciated. And please if you and your readers (myself included!) would pray for people who are going through this it would be much appreciated.

Mustard Seed said...

So about the sex part (I'm sorry for being blunt) - I usually prepare for things by doing background research, but this is one area of life where doing so seems like an occasion of sin. And society constantly reminds me that I'm quite ignorant about sex, especially for my age. How do we balance between being chaste and being clueless? I mean obviously I don't need to know a lot of the "how" right now (and I do know the basics thanks to biology class), but sometimes it seems that chastity can get mixed up with being awfully naive about some of what you're signing up for with marriage. I don't know what to make of that.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear. The difficult balance between innocence and ignorance. And the easiest way to deal with sexual longing when you're Single is simply not to think about it--and reading books about sex would be thinking about it.

Meanwhile, you can't learn a skill without doing it, so don't worry about it. That is what a honeymoon is supposed to be about, actually. That's traditionally why newlyweds run away from their families and friends, so they can have uninterrupted privacy for a week.

Meanwhile, I can't remember what the Dr Ruth book was called, and I can't think of any books I would recommend. But that doesn't mean there aren't good books out there, for people who might need them, i.e. engaged people.

Seraphic said...

By the way, this sort of conversation, plus the (very) occasional chap who begins to think of me as his secret internet girlfriend, is why I am not so comfortable with men reading my blog. There are some conversations that are important for women to have, but it is either immodest or feels immodest to have them when men are listening in. There's a difficult balance between prudence and prurience, too.

Sheila said...

I'm working on writing a book like that myself. It's meant to be *Catholic* advice for *Catholic* women, both before and after their marriages. My hope is that it can provide just the right amount of information, not too much and not too little.

Maybe when it's done I'll have Seraphic read it and tell you if it is safe to read. :)