Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Kennedy Scorned

Joe Kennedy and Sheila Rauch Kennedy in 1985. Richard Sobol/Time Life Pictures/Getty. Used without permission or shame.
Joe Kennedy and Sheila Rauch Kennedy in 1985. Richard Sobol/Time Life Pictures/Getty. Used without permission or shame.

The big story for the week came across the desk of mwbh last night: a member of the Kennedy family didn't get their way:

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....

Shiela Rauch Kennedy, an Episcopalian, is the author of the 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." She was able to appeal the decision of the Boston tribunal to the Sacred Roman Rota, which is the high court of appeals in the Church (second only to the Apostolic Signatura, the decisions of which can only be overturned by the Holy Father himself).

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. The latter was the subject of a November 2005 piece entitled "The X Factor," as well as a more recent piece in June 2006 entitled "Meow!.")

The formerly-former-now-not-so-former Mrs Kennedy is pleased with the results. "There was a real marriage. It was a marriage that failed, but as grown-ups we need to take responsibility for that. The [annulment] process was dishonest, and it was important to stand up and say that."

I believe it was G K Chesterton who once said, that having a right to do something does not always mean you are right when you do it. Even as a non-Catholic, Sheila Rauch Kennedy was entitled to the justice of the Church, particularly in the defense of the bond. But one cannot help but wonder why anyone who remains outside the Church would even care, particularly if there is no intention of living out the conditions of the bond, which by definition includes... well, living together as husband and wife, for example.

Does this leave us with a woman grounded in principle, or a woman scorned? Hell hath no fury, after all, don't you think?

Or don't you?

[UPDATE: Ed Peters is an eminent canonist, who tells us "what we don't know about the Kennedy-Rausch case." Read it before making this the subject of YOUR next book-signing-and-lecture tour.]


Rich Leonardi said...

I don't know enough about the case, but it seems like "scorn" played a role. 'Can't say I blame her though. A decision can be just even if the parties are motivated in part by scorn; these cases don't unfold in laboratories.

iClaudius said...

Whether or not scorn plays a role in her defense of the bond has absolutely no bearing on whether or not the bond exists. You rightly point out that she should make an effort to reconcile with her husband, but again that still has no bearing on whether or not the bond exists.

The bond existed at the time of the marriage or it did not. If it was a valid marriage, nothing can make it invalid later on.

David L Alexander said...


The decision of the Rota is not in dispute here, thus there is no dispute of proper intention at the time of the bond. What remains a matter of conjecture, is whether Mrs Kennedy had the proper intention at the time of her appeal to Rome. Barring any attempt on her part to reconcile with her proper husband, there is enough to call into question the good faith of her appeal.

In making her appeal, Mrs Kennedy implicitly -- and publicly, I might stress -- declared her intention to live by the terms of the bond. To wit, has she remarried? If not, will she attempt to reconcile? If so, will she abandon the subsequent union, even if it means remaining alone upon failure to reconcile?

The bone of contention is not what happened then, but what happens now?

Peter Sean Bradley said...

I agree with your comment about why she would even care about the niceties of Catholic theology about the sacramental nature of marriage.

For example, do we know if she has remarried? Does she understand that any future marriage on her part while Mr. Kennedy lived would be bigamy? Does she accept the idea of marriage - found in the secular world - that marriage can be terminated by divorce?

Does she understand that the effect of this decision is to affirm that she is married, no matter what the legal authorities might say?

Good for her if she does, but then I would have to wonder why she isn't a member of the Catholic church since her views on marriage would, in that case, be so Catholic.

The Scylding said...

I think that maybe the twin boys no being classified as "out-of-wedlock" might have played a large role. When it comes to their children, even the mildest of women become tigresses.... my wife is not mild, and we have 3 kids.

Anonymous said...

I am a woman who HAD to leave my husband for the safety of my children's innocence, and I am applying for an annulment. What am I left with???? He had a very bad addiction which I did NOT know about before the marriage. Yes, I would like to remarry and stay in the church. I was decieved and preyed upon. I knew VERY shortly after I was married but I tried for 10 years, should I be punished for that! ? ! ? !


David L Alexander said...

Dear Anon:

God does not condemn you for the sins of another, or for the sins against you. Neither does your Mother the Church. For a union to be valid, not only the form and the matter, but the INTENTION at the time of the bond must be without defect. I am not a canonist, nor have you disclosed sufficient specific details. But what little you do provide, suggests the possibility of such a defect. Your ability to bring witnesses to bear upon these circumstances, may serve to aid you in your plight.

Canons 1095 through 1107 of the 1983 Code cover the possible defects, which would invalidate the marital bond. The official English text of these canons can be found at the website of The Holy See by clicking here.

In the meantime, I urge you to speak to your parish priest at the earliest possible opportunity, and attempt to resolve your situation. If you are unable to do so, please contact me privately by e-mail, and I will put you in touch with someone who can help you, with all due discretion.

Do not concern yourself with your future prospects, but with the present. Take care of your children. You are all they have. And pray really hard.

Anonymous said...

"In making her appeal, Mrs Kennedy implicitly -- and publicly, I might stress -- declared her intention to live by the terms of the bond. To wit, has she remarried? If not, will she attempt to reconcile?"

Canon 1676 I believe states that before a tribunal accepts a case it must be determined if the couple has a chance to reconcile and if there is they should be encouraged to do so especially if there are children and convalidate the union if needed. From what I heard, most tribunals in the US treat civil divorce as proof that reconciliation is impossible and wash their hands of this responsibility. I personally was separated for three years with my husband having every problem in the book: drug use, alcholism adultery. We reconciled. I know of couples that "remarried" each other after a divorce. It happens and it can be successful.

When the diocese of Boston took the case they already determined that reconciliation was not possible in the Kennedy case.

David L Alexander said...

"When the diocese of Boston took the case they already determined that reconciliation was not possible in the Kennedy case."

That explains the actions of the diocese. It doesn't explain Mrs Kennedy's, though, does it?

There was a time when a couple needed the permission of the local bishop to separate. Only after a declaration of nullity could a divorce be sought. That has changed. Part of the reason, I suspect, is to expedite matters of child custody and support, or certain property issues.

To what extent the church can be "responsible" for keeping a marriage together in the practical sense is beyond me. They can only provide a forum where the validity of the bond can be presumed, and the justice of the Church be brought to bear on the question.

Anonymous said...

No, I don't believe Mrs. Kennedy appealed to Rome because she intended to reconcile. I read that she was advised by a canon law expert to appeal to Rome because he said she would be treated more fairly.

Marriage not only affects two people, it affects the entire world, the family and the Church. The Catechism states that divorce is contagious and that divorce is a grave evil unless it is done for legal reasons only.

I can see the Church judging whether or not someone has a valid reason to separate and advising someone that they are sinning if they separate for silly reasons - or even file for civil divorce because of the scandal it can cause.

You are right, people used to ask their bihops for permission to divorce in the US. I read in a book written in the 1950s (written by Rev. Kelly) that this was the case. The person asking for a divorce had to sign something stating that they were divorcing only for legal reasons (child support, etc) and not to remarry.

Canon 1153 states that one may separate (for valid reasons) with a decree of the local ordinary (bishop) or if there is danger of delay, on their own authority. If the reason is adultery a case must be brought within 6 months. I attempted to do this in my diocese and was advised to use the internal forum (confessor, spiritual guide) to determine whether I had a moral reason to continue the separation. I disagreed because Canon Law said differently and at first my bishop said he would give me a decree if I gave him the basic facts of the case. I did and he ignored me after an e-mail and a phone call in person and a messsage to his office.

Canon 1676 mentions encouraging reconciliation. Canon Law was just rewritten in 1983. We are so used to the Church deciding on the validity of the marriage that we are shocked when we first hear that tribunals and bishops are to be involved in separations, also. Mrs. McFarlane asked her diocese's tribunal to get involved, they refused and she appealed to the Rota. They took the case. Canon Law is selectively enforced in the US.

I do think the Church has a duty to protect marriage. No one can be forced to stay with their spouse (free will to sin) but the Church should admonish the sinner and prevent scandal. Marriage is a public institution and people should be not using the internal forum to determine if they have a valid reason for separating, especially since Canon Law says the external forum is necessary.

David L Alexander said...

"I read that [Mrs Kennedy] was advised by a canon law expert to appeal to Rome because he said she would be treated more fairly."

To what end? She is not Catholic, does not hold a Catholic view of marriage, does not want to reconcile with her husband, and might even be remarried.

That being said, I enjoyed the rest of your essay. You bring up some very good points, as well as some excellent examples. Somehow I do not believe that Canon 1153 was much of an issue with the mother of my son.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your link to this article :-)

in response to your linked article

we say, this is the typical "MALE POMPOUS ASS" critique women have endured in the Catholic Church for CENTURIES!

We are living this nightmare at the moment.

Liked your comments and have linked them.....