Hurt people hurt people
Imagine a man got drunk, angry, and slapped his wife hard across her face. Then he made the kids cry, kicked the family dog, and then (oops!) tripped down the stairs and almost killed himself. At the hospital, the medical staff couldn’t care less about what he did than his immediate conditions. Their primary duty is to stabilize him and help him back to health.
During the intake interview, the nurses learn of his abusive behavior. Yes, they eventually may call the authorities regarding the relationship problems, but right now their job is to stop the bleeding. Regardless of how the husband ended up in the ER, it will be a long, slow process of uncovering the whole family’s emotional wounds.
The Church is a field hospital
This is an analogy of what sometimes happens in marriages. The damage may be great and when there is a civil divorce it may indeed be one person’s fault. But Pope Francis reminds us the Church is a “field hospital.” Regardless of who caused the problems or who is at fault, the doors need to be open to everyone who is bleeding. Even the sinful spouse who committed adultery, lost all the money, or simply exited because it was too difficult.
The Catholic process of seeking a Decree of Nullity (incorrectly but commonly called an annulment) happens after the damage is done. The parties approach the Church to help them take a look at their marriage. Was there something critically missing or damaging from the start? It is a long and painful process that can also be healing and bring about deeper conversions. Sadly, some mistakenly criticize the Church as dismissing permanence in marriage and casually letting people off the hook.
Who am I to judge?
We must not judge or condemn people, but we can and must judge actions as right or wrong. Be careful though . . . we can all jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. I’ve heard the jeers of an angry and ugly mob of some Catholics (and others) who are woefully ignorant of the truth of the annulment process. They also have no clue as to the private lives of those who have obediently and faithfully submitted themselves to it. With words as weapons, they brandish brutal accusations and hurl nasty names at both the Church and those who help in the annulment process.
I wonder, do they already hate the Church or clergy for other reasons? Do they resent that they have to work so hard in their own difficult marriages, while others are granted a “get-out-of-jail-free” card? Did their own parent abandon their family when they were young and get an annulment? I suspect behind their anger is great fear. Regardless, their lack of love brings more harm.
Don’t believe the lies
Have there been abuses of the annulment process? Of course, but these are not the norm. More marriages are sick and falling apart because the culture is pandemically infected with delayed adolescence, entitlement, narcissism, addiction, and all manner of grave disorders.
Do they hand annulments out like candy? No. The truth is that the high rates of annulments granted are due primarily to the process; (a) those who have no apparent grounds for annulment are not usually encouraged by their pastors to seek nullity, and (b) weak cases are stalled or thrown out in the process. Most often, by the time a case is sent to the judges, it is considered to have merit and, thus, nullity is often proved and granted. The ChurtcbhThis short summary can not do justice to the dedicated and trained tribunal teams and the depth and beauty of canon law.
The Church is not the enemy
The Church has most stalwartly upheld the permanence and sanctity of both natural and sacramental marriage. Sadly, she may end up being the last to defend marriage, but she is trying to be the first to say to the divorced, “We care. We won’t change Church teachings; they are the “medicine” you need to give you what you most deeply desire. But we will work to improve our intake procedures and get you back to health. Like God, we also hate divorce . . . but we love you.”
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