More about Bai Macfarlane

As I said yesterday, Bai Macfarlane has resources available for Catholics who wish to defend their marriages in an annulment proceeding. Her website, Mary’s Advocates, has information and resources.

I have a high opinion of Mrs. Macfarlane and her efforts. As far as I know, she is the only person offering assistance to those who are facing an unwanted civil divorce or an unwanted Catholic annulment. (If anyone knows of any other resources, please let me know.)

I have heard from many Reluctantly Divorced persons, and I know they are hurting. When the Catholic Church grants their spouse an annulment, it adds insult to injury. When they have to see their spouse, in church, with a new “spouse,” both receiving communion, it is salt in an open wound.

Please note: I do not know whether Mrs. Macfarlane is correct in her interpretation of canon law. I do not know how the tribunals will react to the arguments and ideas that Mary’s Advocates provides. Respected canon law authorities disagree with her position.  Other canon lawyers evidently agree with her, at least in part. I am not qualified to offer an opinion on canon law.

I do believe though, that bringing the issue before the tribunals in a dignified and intelligent manner is worth trying. Reluctantly Divorced Catholics have few other resources (none, actually, that I am aware of) in trying to defend their marriages. This process of presentation and response has the best chance of discovering how the Church can serve those who wish to defend the validity of their marriages. As Dr. Ed Peters wisely commented after presenting his case,

Readers can form their own conclusions about which presentation is more likely correct and, more importantly, Roman authorities will certainly reach theirs in due course.

I want the Roman authorities to be presented as often as possible with this issue and others related to ending the scourge of divorce. Let’s put the arguments out there, in a forum where it actually matters, the tribunals, and see what happens.

If anyone has used Mrs. Macfarlane’s materials, I would be very interested in hearing about their experiences.

But what about abusive marriages?

When people learn that I oppose no-fault divorce, some will say, “You have forgotten about abusive marriages.” When the Ruth Institute, the organization that I lead, describes itself as “The World’s Only Campaign to End Family Breakdown,” we hear again, “But what about abusive marriages?”

So, let me deal with this important issue. What about abusive marriages?

First off, let me assure you: I am certainly aware abusive marriages exist. I hear a lot of these stories. There are valid reasons why sometimes, spouses can, and should live separately. I am not opposed to separation in these cases. In some cases, a civil divorce can be justified, and even necessary.

The real question is this: who “broke” this family? Remember, I’m working to end family breakdown. In my opinion, the person throwing furniture through the wall, broke the family covenant. His wife has every right, and perhaps even a responsibility, to ask him to move out. If he refuses, she may need the help of (our admittedly dysfunctional) legal system. But make no mistake: she is not breaking up the family. He is.

Or what about this case? A woman becomes addicted to drugs. She spends all the family’s money, runs up credit card debts and acquires new lovers. Her husband may very well need to kick her out, sever all their financial dealings, and take steps to keep her away from the kids. He may need the help of the government to accomplish this. And yes, a divorce may be the only way to disentangle her from the family finances.

Who broke this family? The person who broke the covenant: the wife. The husband is protecting himself and his children.

I’m against the behavior that led to the family breakdown. I’m not against the innocent party doing what they need to do to protect themselves and their children. Yes, I’m so much against family breakdown that I want to see abusive behavior end.

I stated right up front that I am opposed to no-fault divorce. I stand by that. No-fault divorce was a radical restructuring of the institution of marriage. Under the no-fault regime, the State takes sides with the person who wants the marriage the least. The State not only allows, but actually assists, the least committed party to unilaterally ending the marriage.

Under a fault-based regime, an abused spouse could get a divorce. Abuse, adultery, abandonment, addiction: these were considered marital faults in virtually any jurisdiction. The person claiming a fault would have to offer evidence, to prove the faults had indeed occurred. But a fault-based divorce regime does not mean divorces never happened. Nor would a reintroduction of marital fault mean that “women would be trapped in abusive marriages.”

Under the no-fault divorce regime, the State pretends to be unable to discern an abusive marriage, from one that is not, or an offending party from an innocent party. The State then turns around and presumes to discern parenting plans, child support plans, and living arrangements of entire families. According to the State, no one has done anything wrong. Yet, the State assigns itself the right to send children for psychological evaluations, and to investigate all the family’s financial records.

It is true that the State does not use all this authority in every instance. This does not negate the fact that they still have that authority. No-fault divorce is a highly intrusive, privacy-invading legal structure.

Finally, some will ask, what about the Catholic Church’s annulment process? The annulment process is conceptually separate from discerning whether a marital fault has taken place. I realize this may sound harsh. But adultery or abuse has no direct bearing on whether the marriage was canonically valid in the first place.

The annulment process seeks evidence about the conditions surrounding the marriage itself. Did both parties freely consent? Were there any defects of form? Were both parties free to marry? Whether one or both became mentally ill or abusive or adulterous or anything else is not, strictly speaking relevant. If a person is too dangerous to live with, the couple can licitly live separately.

So why is annulment such a big deal in the Catholic Church? An annulment gives a person the Church’s permission to contract a Catholic marriage, just as a civil divorce grants a person permission to contract another civil marriage. But bear in mind: no one ever has to get married again.

This is why I am persuaded that abusive marriages do not present an exception to Jesus’ law of the indissolubility of marriage. Nor does the existence of abusive marriages dissuade me from my belief that family breakdown is something every decent person should work to end.

Breaking up a family in the absence of marital fault is unjust to the innocent parties, especially the children. And when abuse does take place, the person filing the divorce papers is not the person breaking up the family. The abuse that led to divorce is what needs to stop. Surely everyone can agree to that.

Originally published at Crisis on August 3, 2017

Should a Catholic divorcee date without an annulment?

I encountered a bit of controversy yesterday in a Facebook discussion. Please help me sort this out.

Pretend you are a divorced person, who is seeking an annulment. By chance, you connect with an old flame from high school. Please read the following passage, and see if it helps you discern whether you should start dating before the annulment comes through. Remember: try to put yourself in this person’s shoes, AND try to base your answer solely on what you read in this text.

When I met my husband, Bob, we had to wait for his Catholic Church annulment to go through before we could even date or plan a marriage. We went a year or so spending time as friends,  “brother and sister,”  mostly phone calls and a few visits with his parish priest. I was in Southern California and he was five hundred miles away in the San Francisco Bay area.  Occasionally we took turns driving back and forth to visit and, I admit, both of us were very physically attracted to the other.  We’d been high school sweethearts forty years prior and had met again at our reunion.  Because we’d been young and innocent together and grew up in the sixties, it was easy for us to feel somewhat like real brother and sister. Still, I remembered his kisses and those first, sweet stirrings of sexual desire from decades ago. We could not wait to make love. But we wanted to take the high road even more.

We could have moved past friendship, started dating, or moved in like so many do and started living as husband and wife but that would have been a lie. We discussed, argued, and finally agreed that we wanted something different than what the culture (and even some in the Church) told us we could do: we wanted to reserve sex for the true expression of a complete and total self-giving. In studying St. John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility we understood that it would be a lie to act out a full self-giving with our bodies before it had been exchanged in every other area of our lives.  We also knew that masturbation wasn’t an easy replacement; that, too, was a practice in self-centeredness (not self-giving) that can never foster authentic love. We agreed to take the high road.

So, what do you think, readers? To date, or not to date: that is the question.

Help for Annulments, both for and against

I have had several posts about the Catholic controversies over divorce and remarriage. Here, here and here. This seems a good time to refer my friends and readers to resources that may be helpful to you.

If you are a Catholic, and believe your attempted marriage was not in fact a valid marriage, Rose Sweet’s material can help you through the annulment process. (Actually, Rose’s stuff helps a lot of people through alot of post-divorce healing.)

bai-macfarlane
Bai Macfarlane, foundress of Mary’s Advocates

If you are Catholic, and your spouse wants a divorce, and you believe your marriage is valid, Mary’s Advocates has a wealth of material for you. Bai Macfarlane has done a prodigious amount of labor, compiling information about canon law and Church teaching. She includes a sample petition for you to use to your bishop to ask him to try to intervene to stop a break-up.  Mary’s Advocates provides a template petition containing this plea. I do not know what your bishop will do or say. I do believe however, that no harm can come from asking.children-and-divorce

The Ruth Institute, the organization I founded, has a whole page for the Reluctantly Divorced (a term we coined) and a page for the Children of Divorce. We even created a brochure, summarizing the elevated risks that children of divorce face over their lifetimes.

 

Finally, you may wish to consider sharing your story with our readers. Ourruth-carousel-tell-your-story Tell Ruth the Truth blog provides an outlet for you, and solidarity for others in similar situations. I find that many people feel alone when they are dealing with family breakdown. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are absolutely not alone. Pretty much every family in America has some form of family breakdown, somewhere in their family tree. Let’s help each other.

Your friend,

Dr. J

“A Case Study in Communion for the Divorced/Remarried”

Crux has a case study, creating a compelling story in which a pastor might permit a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic to recieve communion. I have only one thing to say about this case study.

The priest should encourage the woman to pursue an annulment.

According to the scenario:

She wanted to pursue getting an annulment, although it was almost impossible to get any information or help from her parish in El Salvador.

Wouldn’t this be a good place for her pastor in the US to be willing communion-in-the-handto accompany her? Shouldn’t the tribunal in the US use some discernment about the missing information?

True, she might not get the annulment. But the process itself has merit. It helps to reveal truths that might have remained hidden. It helps clarify the person’s reasons for wanting to return to full communion with the Church. It may also clarify that the person was more culpable than they had otherwise realized, thus allowing her the opportunity for repentance, conversion and closer union with Jesus.

The author presumes she would not get the annulment. This is by no means certain. If she can show immaturity and ignorance, and if her putative husband does not raise objections, she might very well obtain it. And BTW, in this story, the putative husband has disappearred. This is one of the features that supposedly makes for a compelling scenario for pastorally permitting communion.

Irma had no idea where Francisco might be. She didn’t really even know if he was still alive. She had no family in El Salvador. She had brought no church or legal documents with her when she came to the States.

Evidently, she must have divorced him in abstentia, if she really couldn’t find him, otherwise she would be a bigamist, even under civil law. But isn’t there a legal procedure for declaring a long-missing person to be presumed deceased? If the person meets the criteria of being presumed dead, what does canon law say about her ability to contract a valid Catholic marriage?

And, in most countries, it might even take a shorter period of time than the several years the hypothetical pastoral process described in the article seems to have taken.

All in all, this “case study” is not compelling. The hypothetical situation it describes could be handled by “discernment and accompaniment,” through the annulment process. Good. holy, faithful priests have been handling situations like this all along.  The pastor should not give the person permission to receive communion, without first pursuing the annulment process.

A Critique of the Critique of the Critics of Amoris Laetitia

Austin Ivereigh has another critique of the critics of Amoris Laetitia. This time, he tells them they should look at concrete cases. In case they can’t think of any, he supplies one. (I utilize the Fr. Z protocol of placing my own commentary in color.) austin-ivereigh

To take an obvious example, a woman abandoned by her abusive husband who remarries to provide for her children might be in the same legal category as the philandering playboy who ditches his wife for a younger model, but no one could claim that both are in the same moral category.  Ah, that distinction between legal and moral. 

Imagine that the woman in the first case, over time, experienced a radical conversion in her life, and is today an active member of the church community. I remember when I appeared before a tribunal seeking an annulment. I was asked, “are you a practicing Catholic?” I said, thinking myself clever, “That is what this hearing will decide.” Father was not amused. “Are you going to Mass?” “Yes, Father,” says I. So much for cleverness. Let us suppose she cannot, for technical reasons, obtain an annulment (these are rare cases), and the first husband has long since remarried.

Apply Canon 915, and she is an adulterer obstinately persisting in sin who must be barred not just from the sacraments but from taking part in the life of the Church as a reader or catechist. But, you just said she is an “active member of the church community.”  One has to be a reader or catechist to be an “active” member? 

At no point does Amoris say – as Burke puts it – “that’s all right, go ahead, and you can live that way and still receive the Sacraments.” It says that many such cases require an individual discernment because they cannot simply be lumped together as ‘adultery.’ But wait: she is having sex with someone to whom she is not validly married: what is that, if not adultery? 

What Amoris says is that a pastor approved by his bishop should arrange for, in effect, a long retreat involving an examination of conscience, a facing-up to truth, a light-and-shadows discernment, applying the truths of Catholic doctrine on indissolubility and the Eucharist to this particular, unique, concrete situation. Really? Where, Austin, does it say that? I don’t remember Amoris proposing a new procedure. Wouldn’t that amount to a new round of legalism? But I digress.

dustbowl-motherAs it happens, my father once told me about a case very much like this. In his Polish coal mining/farming community in Southern Ohio, he knew a woman with many children whose husband had abandoned the family. My father: “The priest made it so she could get married again.”  I didn’t think to ask him what the priest did, but I assume that back in the 1930’s or thereabouts, he helped her get an annulment.

What I did ask my father was, “Why did she want to get married again?” My father looked at me like I had lost my mind. “She couldn’t make it on her own.” Alot of small children. A farm. Grinding poverty to begin with. No social assistance state. No employment opportunities for mothers.

The priest accompanied her through the annulment process.

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Cardinal Burke at work.
cardinal-carraffa
Cardinal Carraffa, founder of the JPII Institute on Marriage and the Family

Our poor moderns imagine they are the first ones to think of these cases, the first ones to find humane and truly moral solutions to them. It strains the imagination to think that a canon lawyer of Cardinal Burke’s stature has never considered any concrete cases. Cardinal Carraffa, another of the Four Cardinals, was the founding president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He has no doubt, considered numerous difficult cases. Rather than find ways to redefine terms to accommodate modern life, he chose to teach the fullness of the Catholic faith on marriage.

This is the essential point that the redefiners of doctrine refuse to face: the solution to our problems is to teach the Catholic faith. As St. Paul said to Timothy, “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.”  (2 Tim 4:2)

So what if it is currently out of season?