Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Rome Reverses Boston: Kennedy Is Still Married

Although Rome has been rumbling about the "American Problem" of easy annulment for years, it is rare to hear of the highest tribunal reversing a judgment of nullity.

And Joe Kennedy, Jr. found out that the Catholic Church is serious about that "death do us part" stuff.

The most controversial "marriage that never was" in recent U.S. political history is back. Sources tell TIME that the Vatican has reversed the annulment of Joseph P. Kennedy II's marriage to Sheila Rauch. The annulment had been granted in secrecy by the Catholic Church after the couple's 1991 no-fault civil divorce. Rauch found out about the de-sanctification of their marriage only in 1996, after Kennedy had been wedded to his former Congressional aide, Beth Kelly, for three years.

The annulment was the subject of Rauch's 1997 book Shattered Faith, which lambasted her ex-husband and was severely critical of the Catholic Church's proceedings, which made the marriage (which had produced twin boys) null and void in the eyes of the church. Rauch argued that Kennedy was able to unilaterally "cancel" nearly 12 years of marriage because of his clan's influence in the church. Kennedy argued at the time that the annulment was the right thing to do in religious terms. Few observers thought the appeal to Rome by Rauch, an Episcopalian, had a chance against the well-connected Kennedy.

...Erroneously dubbed "Catholic divorce," an annulment in fact holds that a failed marriage was never valid in the eyes of the Church.

...Rauch's successful appeal effectively reinstates the Kennedy-Rauch marriage in the eyes of the Vatican. The case once again highlights this unique Catholic Church proceeding. Some 75% of annulments each year are from the United States, where there are an estimated 8 million divorced and remarried Catholics

...At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI has indicated that he wants to streamline the Roma Rota to respond to the desire of divorced Catholics to stay inside the Church. But there is also concern that some Catholics, particularly in the U.S., abuse the practice. "People think it's their right," says one Rome-based canon lawyer. He adds sternly,"It's not a right."

This is a clear shot across the bows of the US Bishops, who have (through their Diocesan marriage courts) significantly loosened the rules for obtaining annulments; and the high-profile of the Kennedy family in the US will make certain that this 'shot' is heard clearly. The use of psychological mumbo-jumbo to annul marriages has been very controversial even within the US church, with heated exchanges in ordinarily sedate journals such as Homiletic & Pastoral Review going on for years.

That same psychological mumbo-jumbo was a factor in the priest-pedophile scandal.

About 20 years ago (IIRC) a high-profile Milwaukee-area attorney was also involved in a controversial annulment case.

There will be more coverage of this issue in due course.

It's about time.


David L Alexander said...

man with black hat: A Kennedy Scorned

"Those Catholics who have been going on for years about the 'automatic annulment' process in the USA, will see this as a victory of sorts. Never mind the inability to explain how a process that takes from six to twenty-four months can ever be considered 'automatic.' Never mind that they reach this conclusion based on a very incomplete scenario...."

Anonymous said...

As a Catholic woman who has been divorced for 12 years, I thank you for dealing with this subject. But it is not just a "Kennedy" problem. Annulments seem to be given out like candy. The divorced Catholics I know who sought annulments were all granted them. I have heard the same thing from others. I was interviewed by a national Catholic paper a couple of years ago on this very subject and the reporter told me that in one diocese, she found that no annulment requests were denied in the two year period she researched. Of course, there are circumstances where an annulment should be granted...but handing them out like candy?
Thanks for listening.

Billiam said...

Question. My Mom was given an Annulment from my Dad. So, if the marriage never existed in the eyes of the church, why couldn't my Dad and step-Mom get married in a Catholic church? I've never understood that.

Anonymous said...

I am a Catholic man. My ex-wife had a long physical and emotional affair. She also suffered from manic depression. She would not end the affair, and ultimately left.

Well after the divorce, I went through the annulment process. It took about 14 months. My ex participated (nothing secret about it).

Were we ever really married? I guess that is God's call.

I eventually remarried in the Church, but only after the annulment. I believe the annulment process was a great lesson for my kids, who re-learned that marriage is not disposable.

Perhaps the Church should be tougher. Maybe that would be more pure, but I truly do not believe the result of being tougher will keep more marriages together; instead, it will drive more people away from the Church. There will also be more kids who see a parent married in civil court, sending mixed signals for their own futures. Is that a good thing?

Dad29 said...

Billiam, there are a couple of things which are possible: 1) your step-mom was not eligible for a Catholic wedding; or 2) there's something else that we don't know.

You'd almost have to ask the priest of the church--and don't bet a lunch on getting HIM to talk. They don't, on this topic.

Sorry I have to be so vague, but that's what one can prudently conclude.

Anony: I am truly sorry to hear about your situation. As you know, each and every marriage case is different, and each one is carefully examined.

In fact, a well-known Canonist has made it clear that the Kennedy news of this AM may just be a 'procedural' flaw in the Kennedy-presentation, not a "final declaration" of nullity.

As to your projection of declining Church membership based on changing the standards--maybe.

On the other hand, the Church is called only to teach and preach the Truth--which applies, mutatis mutandis to her judgment of marriage cases.

There IS no alternative.

And trust me, I am a very lucky guy with the wife I have--so it's easy for me to talk like that.

I have no interest, whatsoever, in seeing people 'leave the Church,' nor in knowing that people are in horrific marriages.

But then, they don't call this the "Vale of tears" for nothing.

Karen Marie said...

If Joseph Kennedy's canonical counsel is at all on the ball, this decision will be re-appealed. With the ex-wife's book submitted, suitably highlighted where she makes it clear that she does not, and never did, believe that marriage was a permanent and life-long state, and that of course she could always file for a divorse when things stopped working out........

Anonymous said...

The Kennedys Claim Another Life......

Nothing but misery, personal and political, comes from this family…...

....Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment.