Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Step 1: Open Wound. Step 2: Add Salt. Step 3: Stir...

Over at the Caelum et Terra weblog, the discussion on the post entitled "An Open Wound" has continued.

It's a lonely job being the one guy who sees the world differently than everybody else. Mr Nichols' essay has given rise to two or three different "threads" of discussion, all of them quite interesting. But the one that interests me is where tribunals are invariably to blame for "too many annulments." It seems that people differ on what the "root" of a problem is. For me, the "root" is best found at the beginning, not the end, of a process. And that, I think, is where people differ.

And these people are not stupid or uninformed. They include some of the smartest and most intellectually rigorous people I know. And they are shocked to learn that a couple, which would have appeared to them to be the model of a "good Catholic family" should fall completely apart.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), nothing in this area shocks me. Perhaps if I had a totally faithful Catholic wife, one who believed that "forever" meant just that, and didn't run out when things didn't work out as planned, leaving me with our five or six kids, I'd look at it the way they do too. After all, it's easy to blame tribunals who appear to be letting couples off the hook when things take a wrong turn.

No, guys, I'm serious, it's real damn easy! You just say, "Look at what they're doing, they're making it worse," and that's the ball game!

Sometimes they can even write a whole book which says the same thing. And they're convincing enough to make you forget, that there might be something about these couples that you don't know. Which means there might be something THEY don't know.

It's harder to look back to the beginning, which is why it does not surprise me that one of my colleagues in that discussion (probably the smartest guy in the whole bunch) said: "Poor marriage preparation, etc., is also, of course, a big problem. It just doesn't happen to be the problem we're talking about right now." Well, there's no point debating the obvious. He goes on: "Poor marriage catechesis does not seem to be at the root of some of the breakups and subsequent annulments most of us have seen."

I'm curious as to how he knows this. Did he follow this couple, both husband and wife, from childhood? Does he know what example their respective parents gave them about married life? Was he there when they met, and/or when they courted? Was he in the rectory office when they first came to the priest? I could go on...

But the answer to all those questions is most likely to be "No." And if that applies there, it is likely to apply anywhere else, where what goes on behind closed doors, stays there. So neither he, nor everybody else with a finger to point somewhere, has any way of knowing what should nor should not be "...the problem we're talking about right now."

And maybe that's the problem. Maybe we don't know nearly as much as we think we do.

I've always been told that knowing that... is the beginning of wisdom.

Then again, what the hell do I know?


Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

It's my impression that catechesis is so bad, very few couples are capable of contracting a canonically valid marriage with no grounds for annulment at the outset.

David L Alexander said...

Sometimes, when someone at church meets me for the first time, they ask if I'm married. "No, I'm divorced, many years now," I tell them.

Then comes the next question: "Well, do you have an annulment?"

My answer is usually: "Why, do you have a sister?"

MrsDarwin said...

I think that those who are surprised at "good Catholic marriages" falling apart don't know many people in good Catholic marriages. Catholics, just like any other couple, have to work at making a marriage successful. I think that sometimes the temptation for Catholics in poor marriages is to lean on the Church's teachings on marriage like a crutch or have another child instead of trying to solve the underlying relationship problems.

My own parents are divorced and annulled, about the time that I got engaged. My friends asked me, "Doesn't it make you think twice about getting married?" Absolutely not! I answered. In fact, it only affirmed my committment to having a sacramental marriage, because I've seen what a marriage without the graces of the sacrament is like.

David L Alexander said...

"I think that sometimes the temptation for Catholics in poor marriages is to lean on the Church's teachings on marriage like a crutch or have another child instead of trying to solve the underlying relationship problems."

I would imagine some readers would like to read your elaboration on that, if you have one. When you get the time. Until then, Mrs D, enjoy the holiday.

M.Z. Forrest said...

I guess I have more of a problem with your fundamental proposition, that catechesis is essential for a valid marriage. I will grant that a successful marriage requires this, but the bar is valid. This is my greatest issue with annulments. Part of the issue I think is looking at children as a biological consequence of coitus rather than a fruit of marital union. Even couples that enter the Church from a Protestant background are presumed to have a valid marriage. The eagerness to presume that God hadn't sanctioned a failed marriage rather than attribute marital failure to our fallen nature I also find very disturbing.

David L Alexander said...

"I guess I have more of a problem with your fundamental proposition, that catechesis is essential for a valid marriage..."

Why? One of the criteria for a valid sacrament is a properly formed intention. In ages past, people would have had at least a fundamental understanding of what marriage meant. That such a process is more elaborate or more literate today is simply a result, both of the education of the recipients, and the society against which they must prepare themselves. Also, children should be a blessing arising from a sacramental union. But our biology alone does not necessitate this for them to come about.

Your statement does beg a question: does one who petitions for an annulment necessarily act out of bad faith, or does he simply avail himself of the process of justice of the Church? It is the tendency of traditional Catholics to presume the former (and if anecdotal evidence means anything, I oughta know) which I find equally disturbing.

M.Z. Forrest said...

I think it would be sinfully to seek an annulment if you do not believe you are entitled one. Stated positively, one should seek an annulment if one believes their marriage to not have been.

In regards to "properly formed intention" I simply have differ. Affirming that you will remain wed until death do you part is a properly formed intention. Certainly there are cases where a person is not intelligent enough to make that statement. Certainly, circumstances could later proved deceit. For example, a currently wed person seeking a marriage. The temptation is define "properly formed intention" as maturity. I was young and stupid and what not. I find it entirely plausible that someone could be very immature and still have a valid marriage.

MrsDarwin said...

Eee... elaboration.

A good marriage requires the graces of the sacrament, of course, but also needs human work. Good communication, letting go of grudges, dealing with difficult situations that may arise, and many more circumstances require constant work on the parts of the spouses.

It's my impression that some couples with marital problems put off trying to deal with them by having more children. There's the thrill of new life, the overall busy-ness of dealing with small ones (which makes it easy to avoid spending one-on-one time with a spouse) and the sheer dependency of an infant on a parent. I think it's rather like "empty nest" syndrome, but at an earlier stage in the marriage -- once the youngest child gets to a point where he's capable of caring for himself at a rudimentary level, the parents are faced with either the delight of more free time together or the panic of spending more time with someone you've stopped communicating with, who annoys you, and who just doesn't seem to have any drive, dammit! This of course isn't true of every or even most couples who have lots of children, but it's something that I've observed happening in some cases.

As to using Church teachings as a crutch: the teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is not a marriage insurance policy. Some take the Church's prohibition of divorce as incentive to work on their troubled marriages and make a strong effort to keep a relationship going. Others use it as an excuse to avoid dealing with issues. "We're Catholic, so we can't get divorced. There it is." It's always a painful process to heal an estrangement, and people tend to try to worm their way out of painful situations. Catholics can't simply depend on being good practicing Catholics and accepting Church teaching to insulate their marriages from difficulties, or use those as excuses to ignore difficulties.

I know this is long. Feel free to take exception or debate any points. These are just some of my observations as having lived among conservative Catholics for just about all my life, and as having been part of a "good Catholic family" that had problems. Perhaps I'll put up a post about it on my blog so as to spare your comment box!

David L Alexander said...

"You're jumping to conclusions--that's what they're trying to tell you, my friend... It's definitely not all prep."

I think you have me confused with someone else. On second thought, you're just plain confused.

Let's leave aside that I've been married before, and to say the least, I know what can go wrong. Not only am I not the one jumping to conclusions on the other discussion in question (as in saying whether the annulment is real or bogus, or blaming it on menopause), but you are making ME the issue, and you're anonymous! I can take a disagreement. Not this.

You're outa here, "my friend."

David L Alexander said...

"Affirming that you will remain wed until death do you part is a properly formed intention. Certainly there are cases where a person is not intelligent enough to make that statement..."

...or when they are lying through their teeth. People do that all the time too, you know, irrespective of IQ. Part of the tribunal's respsonsibility is to discern the evidence presented, if any, that the culpable person had no intention of remaining with the unwitting party.

An example would be if a bride had a boyfriend staying at a hotel outside of town and was ready to slip out during the reception and take off for Nevada with him. This would have been planned beforehand, and would have constituted any mental reservation she had when the vows were made.

Not that it's ever happened to me personally. I think I saw it in a movie once. (Jack, any wild guesses?)