Making a speech on January 22, 2011 to the Roman Rota, which is the tribunal within the Vatican that decides marriage annulments, Pope Benedict XVI said that “no one can make a claim to the right to a nuptial ceremony.”
And priests, he said, have a responsibility to make sure the newlyweds live their married lives “truthfully and authentically.”
That came out of left field – a religious body trying to limit your rights. When Thomas Jefferson said, “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty” he knew what he was talking about.
We have a word for that, by the way: Medieval.
The Catholic Church has a great deal in common with America’s Republicans: Morality police mentality. It isn’t corporations they are concerned about but what individuals do in the privacy of their own lives and homes.
It’s what one would expect from the former head of the Office of the Inquisition. Having already lectured on the abuse of annulments back in 2010, Pope Benedict apparently decided to put his foot down.
“The church and society at large place too much importance on the good of marriage and the family founded on it to not make a profound commitment to it pastorally.”
The problem, of course, is annulments, those little pronouncements that make a marriage as if it had never been. It is not divorce. It is sleight of hand. The Pope feels too many are being granted, especially in the United States (in 2006 the U.S. alone had more annulments than every other country combined).
As CBS News reports
Benedict has used his annual speech to the Rota to impress on its members the indissolubility of marriage and that they should avoid the temptation of granting annulments on a whim. Last year, he urged the tribunal to work harder to encourage couples to stay together and not confuse “pastoral charity” with the need to uphold church law.
Therefore, priests must do a better job to make sure people are ready to be married and “qualified” I suppose one would say, for nuptials. In a modern liberal democracy, if the couple are both legally able to wed, that is a choice for the couples alone, not for any third party.
Obviously, there will always be certain hoops a couple must jump through. In the United States, each state has its own requirements, including in some cases blood tests to determine whether or not the couples or too closely related or have diseases they should know about, etc. But the Church isn’t talking about such things, the sort of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo any government must follow.
This is different. This is a priest telling you (a priest, mind, who cannot himself have a girlfriend or a boyfriend or a wife or a husband and so any shred of relevant experience in having a romantic relationship with a person of the opposite sex) telling you that you’re not fit to be married because the church doesn’t want to be bothered by you later asking for an annulment. You can’t, technically speaking, get divorced and the Code of Canon Law says divorced or remarried Catholics, while they can hear mass, may not receive communion. Like, forever.
Your choices then are limited if you are Catholic and trapped in an unhappy marriage:
- Endure it
- Get a divorce and be banned for life from holy communion
- Get an annulment
People get divorced for a variety of reasons. Some states allow no-fault divorces, where neither party must blame the other for the marriage’s failure. Annulments are an entirely different animal:
Canon 1095 of the Code of Canon Law gives “grave lack of discretion of judgment concerning essential matrimonial rights and duties” as a reason for which a person would be “incapable of contracting marriage.”
It seems almost as if the Pope wishes to make the Church irrelevant to the marriage process. If a priest won’t marry you, after all, or you feel your local holy man is too much into your business, you can always go before a judge and be just as married and without interference.
Because before the laws of my country, I do have the absolute right to a nuptial ceremony. So does everyone else.
Ironically, the Church, as it so often has throughout history, appears to be its own worst enemy. As Care2 reports,
Some have suggested that the high rate of annulments in the United States actually signals a higher level of Catholic piety than in other parts of the world. “In Europe, they just get a divorce, get remarried and stop going to church,” explained Jaqui Rapp, the co-author of Annulment: 100 Questions and Answers for Catholics. “And, in fact, most baptized Catholics don’t go at all. They are secularized.”
Marriage has been throughout history a social contract blessed after the fact by the gods or a god. It is not primarily a religious institution, whatever today’s Religious Right likes to claim. Priests are supposed to be intermediaries between the divine and the rest of us; their purpose was not originally to be bureaucratic middlemen intent on making our lives a living hell.
Now keep in mind I’m speaking as a Heathen, embracing a pre-Christian culture in which husbands and wives were priests of their own households and where the idea of a priest as an intermediary who can grant or withhold rights is unheard of, but historically speaking, the Catholic Church has never yielded up a point unless first forced to it or presented with a fait accompli, to which they give their retroactive blessing. Human rights go forward while conservative institutions cling with ever growing fanaticism to the past, sometimes even insisting on going backward.
In Europe, the response is to ignore the Church. Perhaps they want to be ignored here as well?