From guest blogger, Chuck Frost.
When I became Catholic, I never imagined that I would help present “annulment” cases.* It started a few years ago when I assumed leadership of our parish RCIA program. The spot was vacant and I stepped up to take over. I will not easily forget the first time I had to tell a candidate that in order for her to be received into the Church she must first petition the diocese to have a prior marriage declared null.
It was truly an emotional experience and not in the way I would have preferred. She was upset. Her first marriage was a nightmare. There was abuse and infidelity. Her current marriage helped to heal all of that in addition to a spiritual awakening that led her to explore the richness and beauty of Catholicism. She felt that the Church was now asking her to reopen old wounds in the midst of a joyful new life she had. She understood why, but it was painful nevertheless.
Given that it was my first time addressing this with someone, I am pretty certain that I didn’t handle it as well as I believe I do now. I definitely didn’t understand it as well.
I have since led parishioners and candidates through many marriage cases and not all have reacted as my first petitioner did. The first response by some has been real respect for the Church’s faithfulness to Christ’s teaching on marriage. Others struggle with it but proceed anyway out of love for Christ and the Church. I’ve had some refuse to proceed.
But in the clear majority of my cases, the stumbling block with the petitioners I work with has been the process, not the teaching. I, too, have struggled with parts of the process.
So I am especially pleased that yesterday Pope Francis announced the implementation of new canons in the Church that move us toward a more pastoral and evangelical approach to divorce and remarriage. Though old wounds may still need to be revisited, some of these reforms will decrease the time needed to close a case.
For some this is too much reform, for others not enough. From my perspective, there is nothing in these adjustments that would undermine the defense of the marriage bond and I’m uncertain what more could be changed without weakening Christ’s teaching on this matter, which was prophetic in his time and in our age of no fault divorce.
But the ultimate goal of our doctrine and discipline is always the salvation of souls, which was indeed Pope Francis’ motivation for yesterday’s reforms. You might say that he is simplifying the path to THE MAIN THING.
*The Church actually does not annul marriages, it only declares whether or not a prior marriage was valid according to the Church’s understanding of marriage.