Letter to Priests
- Posted by Mary's Advocates
- On February 8, 2016
Who is Teaching Your Flock?
As a priest, you can practice due diligence to ensure that a bride and groom intend, and have the capacity, to marry. However, your work might be undermined when a spouse is later lead to believe shallow or inaccurate teaching. Please consider from whom is your flock learning how to manage marital difficulties, and ask whether they are receiving accurate teaching about separation and divorce.
Canon law says pastors are obliged to take care that the ecclesiastical community offers assistance to couples to preserve and protect the conjugal covenant (c. 1063, 1°, 4°). Mary’s Advocates, is a non-profit educational organization upholding marriage, particularly in light of no-fault divorce. Our work was featured in National Catholic Register story, Advocacy for Abandoned Spouses Fulfills Synod’s Call ( Jan. 7, 2016).
Please visit our webpage MarysAdvocates.org/letter-to-priests/ to find excerpts from nationally distributed writings, published twenty to thirty years ago. I show why these writings are contrary to actual Church teaching. From these apparently Catholic publications, readers could draw false conclusions: 1) divorce is a morally neutral occurrence; 2) any spouse should decide based solely on his own conscience (with no interference from anyone) to get a divorce; 3) feeling emotionally distant (absent any grave danger or adultery) is a just cause for divorce; and 4) failing to feel the community of life and love is a ground for annulment.
I have found current teachings that lead the faithful to erroneously conclude that divorce courts are designated by the Church to devise separation plans, and that divorce plans control only the merely civil effects of marriage. Overly simplistic teachers say that if one feels one’s spouse is not one’s best friend, the marriage is invalid; and all those who are separated have invalid marriages.
Mary’s Advocates offers publications and proposals, which if distributed and implemented, could strengthen marriage and when needed, lead to just separation plans. We also publicize the surprisingly family-friendly Ohio laws on ProfamilesOhio.com.
For priests in my area, I ask if we could meet in person to discuss further.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
Director, Mary’s Advocates
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Shallow or Inaccurate teaching
During and shortly after the sexual revolution, teaching was watered down. Secular language, discussing the termination of one’s marriage, appeared in Catholic publications, even though divorce does not end a marriage. No distinction was made between morally justified reasons for separation and immoral marital abandonment. No mention was made of the Church authority’s jurisdiction over marital disputes, or the rightful basis for temporary separations wherein the goal is to restore unity to the family.
Five Examples 20-30 years ago, Lay Person Publications
Ave Maria Press, 1992
Healing the Wounds of Divorce. Ave Maria Press (c) 1992.
“The years of living together did not promote a deepening in our love for each other. We grew farther and farther apart in our activities, our social life in our spiritual life. In the end we simply decided to stop making one another so unhappy. There was no rancor, we didn’t hate each other, but finally we could no longer continue to live our lives in isolation from one another while pretending to play the role of a happily married couple” (p. 10).
“At one time the phrase ‘till death do us part’ in the marriage ceremony referred to an actual physical death. Now many church leaders are saying it can also apply to the ‘death of a relationship.’ The phrase ‘death of a relationship’ resonated within me. When marriage partners no longer bring life to one another, and in fact, present barriers for growth, then psychological divorce has already occurred” (p. 60). “No matter what the circumstances of the divorce, no one was a total villain or the complete victim. Each spouse played a part in the drama and there were moments when the commandment to love one another was broken. Admitting these sins and seeking reconciliation with God is a big step toward relieving the guilt” (p. 62).
“As long as you do not remarry without an annulment, you may receive the sacraments and participate in the full life of the church” (p. 126). “Annulment: According to the church’s view of marriage, if one or both of the spouses is unable to meet the requirements for this community of conjugal life, a sacrament has not been constituted. … A stable permanent faithful bond has not been established and there is no sacramental union without a community of love and life” (p. 127).
“The church makes no judgment on the legality of the civil divorce but is concerned only with nullifying the Sacramental bond between those married in the Catholic Church” (p. 128).
“18 months after submitting the necessary paperwork, the annulment was granted … By seeing the marriage as seriously flawed from the beginning the church’s definition of an invalid marriage my emotional reaction began to have more focus. The simple statement at the end of the process sums it up better than I ever could: there were conditions that prevented the couple from making a binding commitment” (p. 130).
Liguori, 1994, for Children
Divorce Happens; Coping When Your Family Changes. Liguori. Adapted from chapter in bigger book (c) 1994.
The target reader for this booklet is children of divorce. It describes Mom and Dad’s breakup as morally neutral. It portrays God instructing children to accept Mom’s second partner (stepfather), and cautions children against deliberately doing poorly in school or getting in trouble as a strategy to get revenge on parents or stepparents.
Abby Press, 1989, for Children
Helping Your Children When Divorce Hits Home. Abby Press (c) 1989.
“While children ultimately suffer less from divorce than from living in a family with ongoing conflict, divorce can seem like the worst thing that could possibly happen to them. … Explain to your children that, although you and your spouse are getting divorced” (p. 2) … “I was afraid they would love me less for my marriage failing” (p. 3)
Throughout the booklet, the other spouse is called the “ex-spouse.”
Liguori Press, 1983, Prayers
Prayers for Catholics Experiencing Divorce. Liguori (c) 1993.
“Part 1, From Coupleness to Singleness” (p. 11). “I don’t even know how I got here” (p. 14). “Divorce does not make me a bad person” (p. 15). “my marriage is over” (p. 17). “But should we feel called to a different response- to separate or divorce … My sinfulness is not in leaving my marriage” (p. 48). “For my Former Spouse” (p. 66). “[You] are sending me someone who will enrich my life, be my companion” (p. 72, section on finding new spouse).
ACTA Publications, 1983
Divorce and Beyond. ACTA Publications; Assisting Christians to Act (c) 1983
“Marriages end up in divorce courts for varying reasons, but one common theme is couple’s difficult in communication to each other what they expected the marriage relationship to provide for themselves … Spouses expect their partners to recognize and fulfill the following needs: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual” (p. 10).
“Session Six, Blame and Guilt … If you were to divide the responsibility for the breakup of your marriage among several people and situations, what percentage of the blame would you assign to the the people and things listed here” (p. 46).
“Real guilt occurs only when we freely choose to do something that goes against our own deeply held values. … We cannot rely on others to tell us what to do in every situation. We are expected to have a deeply ingrained set of values that we can honestly say is real for us. … With such a conscious comes the understanding that sin can proceed only from inside each individual. Others cannot impose sin, so others should not impose guilt. … We can look instead to that inner court where our own conscience becomes a plaintiff, judge, and jury”(p. 47).
“Creating the new vocabulary … Instead of saying wife, husband, spouse – say former spouse … Instead of saying the marriage broke up or failed – say the marriage ended” (p. 70).
“The Catholic Annulment Process. …Upon investigation the tribunal finds that she demonstrated a lack of mature judgment when she chose to marry in the first place. This information gives the Tribunal grounds to declare the marriage null from the beginning … It is important to look at the capacity of the couple … it is not at all unusual to find some essential element missing in one or both of the parties at the time their marital consent was exchanged” (p. 78).
“What if an application for an annulment is turned down … You can deal with your situation in what is called ‘the internal forum.’ This means you resolve the issue privately following your own informed conscience under the spiritual direction of a priest” (p. 80).
Lay Person Lawyers
When a Catholic lawyer works for a party that wants to end a marriage, routinely the lawyer instructs the client that he has a right to divorce. Catholic lawyers affirm this right, though the other spouse has done nothing grave enough to justify separation. When the Plaintiff (or Petitioner) wants to end the civil marriage, but the other party wants to keep the family together, the lawyers and judges pressure the Defendant (Respondent) to agree to divorce, and agree to a settlement that violates the Catholic obligations of marriage, and harms and scandalizes children. The harm caused to children by divorce is disregarded by divorce lawyers, even though it is well-documented (i.e., Ruth Institute, and Heritage Foundation).
When a party does not agree to the divorce, the Catholic divorce lawyers charge large fees to conduct litigation. When making divorce settlements, judges make no distinction between the reliable spouse, and the one that caused the breakup of the marriage (e.g., by abandonment, adultery, simulation, or grave lack of discretion of judgment). Faithful spouses are ordered out of their homes; told they may not see their children, on pain of arrest and incarceration; find their property, including their homes, are summarily confiscated; are summarily ordered to pay huge sums to officials they have not hired for services they have neither received nor sought, on pain of incarceration; are summarily ordered to pay staggering sums to which they never agreed, assigned “debts” they did nothing to incur, and their wages are confiscated, all on pain of incarceration. This is documented by Stephen Baskerville, associate professor of government at Patrick Henry College, author, and speaker (See World Congress of Families 2009, text or Video).
When a party files for divorce, the civil forum claims jurisdiction over children’s upbringing. Catholics employed in the civil system give scandal to children by teaching children that every spouse has a right to divorce even when the other spouse did nothing grave to justify separation.
Furthermore, if an innocent party seeks relief in the civil forum from an abuser or adulterer, a no-fault divorce settlement routinely leaves the faithful spouse and children worse than before divorce; children are forced to spend overnight visits with adulterous parent and new sex partner. The property settlement and support orders do not recognize marital obligations promised in Catholic marriage.
Cleveland, Ohio USA
In the Cleveland Ohio area, there is a lawyers’ organization with website, The Center for Principle Family Advocacy from which visitors can learn about divorce and find a lawyer to hire. Many of the lawyers are professed Catholics. Mary’s Advocates has personally observed several of these lawyers represent parties wherein the party seeking the divorce had no morally licit reason for separation. Civilly ending one’s marriage is portrayed by the lawyers as if there is no obligation to maintain the common conjugal life. Disagreeing with divorce is portrayed as problematic, while wanting divorce is portrayed as normal.
A Cleveland court-ordered psychologist, who is a member of the Center, had written an unfavorable report about a faithful wife that did not want a divorce. The Catholic court psychologist was “frightened” for the children to have unsupervised visitation with their mother if she let them believe that her husband broke the family.
One of the charter members of the Center shows on his profile that “He served on Cleveland Catholic Diocese, Diocesan Pastoral Counsel and … serves as a lector and lay minister at [Parish] in Cleveland.” In oral arguments made to the appellate court, this Catholic lawyer told the judges (May 31, 2006) that the civil forum is supposed to decide the parameters of all separations (i.e. custody, support, property division) and the Church only gets involved later, to judge the question of validity of a Catholic marriage. In the case on appeal, this Catholic lawyer was paid over $26,000. When lawyers, like him, are appointed by the civil court to act as the children’s attorney (and guardian ad litem GAL), the court orders him to be paid from the sale of marital assets, when the parents assets are liquidated during divorce.
Actual Church Teaching, Separation & Divorce
Catechism and Canon Law
The Catechism shows divorce is a grave offense against nature, is immoral, and is tolerable only in situations delimited in canon law. Immoral grave offenses are the object of mortal sin; and if one files for divorce without the bishop’s permission, one is seeking a divorce that (according to canon law) is not tolerated.
Canon law, promulgated in 1983, shows that spouses are obligated to maintain the common conjugal life and may only separate on one’s own authority if there is danger in delay, or if the other commits adultery. Because separation of spouses involves the public good, the chancery’s Promoter of Justice must be involved, and one is not to file for divorce on one’s own authority. The civil forum has no rightful jurisdiction to relieve a party of his obligation to maintain the common conjugal life. The civil forum always makes decrees about effects of marriage that are beyond the merely civil effects of marriage. See legislative scheme in Canon Law (Listed HERE)
Before the promulgation of the 1983 code of canon law, in the Unites States article 126 of the third plenary council of Baltimore was still in effect and a party that petitioned for divorce without the bishop’s permission incurred grave guilt and was to be punished through the judgment of the bishop.
Before the enactment of no-fault divorce laws (1970’s), chancery officials may have been correct to presume that the decrees forthcoming from the civil forum would not be contrary to divine law. Nowadays, with no-fault divorce, civil decrees are likely to always be contrary to divine law because there is no expectation for a party to maintain the common conjugal life or repair damage caused by reneging on marital obligations.
Saint Pope John Paul II, taught in his 2002 Address to the Roman Rota, “Lawyers, as independent professionals, should always decline the use of their profession for an end that is contrary to justice, as is divorce.”
Marital abandonment is an ongoing offense against one’s spouse and children that re-occurs each day an abandoner refuses to reconcile. An abandoner cannot be absolved of a sin if the abandoner has no intention of stopping the sin.
The USCCB in 2009 wrote “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, A Pastoral Letter of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.” They taught “the negative effects of divorce on children, families, and the community have become more apparent in recent decades” (p. 4). “Conflict, quarrels, and misunderstandings can be found in all marriages. … In some cases, divorce may be the only solution to a morally unacceptable situation. A specific example is a home where the safety of a spouse and children is at risk” (p. 25).
Implementing Canons on Separation in Cleveland Diocese
In the Cleveland Diocese, from where Mary’s Advocates operates, the diocese has its own Petition for Separation of Consorts (Form M-D) wherein Petitioner requests authorization to sue in civil forum. The form lists proposed grounds such as adultery, serious danger, and malicious desertion, as causes for ecclesiastic separation decree. On the form, the pastor is asked to attest that he has made every possible effort to reconcile the parties. Petitioner is asked, “Are you willing to be reconciled if the Respondent pleads guilty and guarantees amendment.”
Mary’s Advocates, Educational Flyer
Mary’s Advocates publishes a 3-fold educational flyer endorsed by the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese of New York, Separation & Divorce, Catholic Perspective. Our flyer shows sections of Catechism and Canon law about separation and divorce, cites an examination of conscience for married persons from the USCCB, and invites readers to download from Mary’s Advocate a canonical petition that a party could use to ask the bishop to try to stop a breakup. If the other spouse refuses to reconcile, the petitioner asks for an ecclesiastic separation decree on the grounds of malicious abandonment.
For parties that exchanged vows using the Catholic Rite of Marriage, any separation arrangement should be in accord with divine law. Mary’s Advocates asks the Church to provide both general instruction (and instruction in particular circumstances) describing the parameters of separation plans, both temporary and permanent. The civil forum is negligent because it does not attempt to bring restorative justice in marital disputes. Furthermore, the spouse who did nothing grave enough to cause the breakup of their family is routinely financially penalized, and taken from the children.
When canon law on separation of spouses is not implemented, families in any of the scenarios illustrated in the below graphic, are all treated the same (A-D). They are forced through no-fault divorce by the petitioning plaintiff.
Vatican Challenged the Status Quo
Rota Stats and Raymond Burke
From 1980 to 1985, 95% of the US Tribunal’s annulments based on psychic incapacity that were appealed to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota were overturned (Varvaro).
In 2014, Cardinal Raymond Burke, the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Signatura, taught that both before and after the 1983 code was published, the Signatura saw many poor quality decisions from the U.S. tribunals.
Immaturity in General Way, is not Ground for Annulment
The Dean of the Roman Rota, in 2006, criticized using “insufficient human maturity understood in a general way” as a grave lack of discretion of judgment for canon 1095 §2.
Saint Pope John Paul II, in his 1987 address to the Roman Rota criticized the exaggerated use of immaturity as a reason for invalidity
Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2009 Address to the Roman Rota, described the scandal being given to the faithful when immaturity is used as a ground for invalidity
Roman Rota judge Msgr. Kenneth E. Boccafola, from USA, in 2012, said one of the primary reasons that cases arriving at the Roman Rota are overturned is the use of immaturity as a grounds for nullity (Ponce, introduction)
Misuse of Psychological Grounds for Nullity, “good of the spouses”
Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 Address to the Roman Rota describes the ongoing problem that was also described in 1987 by Saint Pope John Paul II, “one can still perceive the urgent need to which my venerable Predecessor pointed: that of preserving the ecclesial community ‘from the scandal of seeing the value of Christian marriage being destroyed in practice by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity, in cases of the failure of marriage, on the pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness on the part of the contracting parties.’”
Cardinal Edward Egan, who was one of the six editors working on the 1983 Code of Canon Law for Saint Pope John II, taught in the Scholarly Journal of the Roman Rota, that “The vast majority of adults are capable of a valid marriage, and the vast majority of marriages are therefore valid.” Author shows how good of the spouses and interpersonal relationship are not a new discovery of the late 20th century.
The Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Signatura, Cardinal Raymond Burke, taught in 2011, that the exclusion of the good of the spouses (bonum conjugum) “cannot be used as a kind of net in which is placed any kind of difficulty in the marriage that is then construed as being against the good of the spouses.”
Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs said in 2013 that the most overused and misused ground for invalidity in the U.S.A. is canon 1095 §2 (grave lack of discretion of judgement).
Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, founder of the Catholic Institute for Marital Healing, with 40 years of counseling experience, repeats that most divorces are sought in low-conflict marriages by one party against the will of the other. The ones wanting divorce and a decision of nullity will not work on their own weaknesses, and instead “portray themselves as victims of insensitive treatment or emotional abuse” (link).
New Books, Thorough Analysis of Marriage and Nullity
Ignatius Press in 2015 published a 320-page book containing 54 pages about those incapable of consenting to marriage: “When Is Marriage Null? Guide to the Grounds of Matrimonial Nullity for Pastors, Counselors, and Lay Faithful.” Forward by Cardinal Raymond Burke. The author says, “it would be strange to think for example that we could consider someone incapable of assessing these obligations with sufficient use of reason, or that he had seriously lacked discretion of judgment concerning them, if it turned out that for his part he had observed said obligations, maybe even for a long time” (page 193).
Catholic University of America in 2015 published book by retired Roman Rota judge, Msgr. Cormac Burke. He corrects the superficial analysis of good of the spouses (bonum conjugum). “Such superficial marital personalism was common in the 1970s and 1980s, and still inspires some writers. One result, for instance, is to take the bonum conjugum as consisting in the psychic, effective, physical, or sexual integration of the spouses” (p. 86). Author shows historical existence of the Church’s appreciation of the good of the spouses and interpersonal relationship in marriage.
Mary’s Advocates “Marriage Proclamation Sets” Minimize Simulation
To assist priests during their premarital investigation, Mary’s Advocates publishes a booklet inviting parties to consider the Church’s understanding of marital obligations in contrast to the no-fault-divorce version of obligations (purely civil marriage). Parties can sign the equivalent of a pre-nuptial agreement wherein they promise to abide by the obligations of marriage as defined by their Church and name their Church as the arbitrator of any marital disputes. If one party does not intend to enter marriage as the Catholic Church understand marriage, this exercise could assist in preventing invalid marriages. (More Info HERE)
Mary’s Advocates “Separated Faithful”
Those who are separated or reluctantly divorced that have no reason to believe their marriages are invalid, support each other to remain faithful to their sacrament. They have a national monthly conference phone call, and a group meets in Cleveland (See info). The program manual is The Gift of Self, A Spiritual Companion for Separated and Divorced Faithful to the Sacrament of Marriage. In June 2014, the USCCB featured “The Gift of Self” as the book of the month on their Marriage Resource Center.
No-Fault divorce is Unjust
When marital disputes are managed solely in the no-fault divorce forum, the separation plans are unjust. The party who did not cause the break-up is given no preferential treatment in regard to property division, custody, or support. Canon law allows the civil forum to settle matters that are the merely civil effects of marriage. However, financial support and property division are not a merely civil effects of marriage; they are more. Catholic spouses are obligated to mutually help each other (cf. note (6) Separation and Divorce, Catholic Perspective). In no-fault divorce, the party ordered to pay spousal or child support loses all help from the other spouse. The party ordered to pay is, instead, forced to support two households, and is less equipped to maintain his own household than if he had never married at all. He is routinely the party that did not cause the breakup. Catholic spouses are obligated to cooperatively work together to maintain a common household for the children, but the children lose terribly when the resources of parents are spent supporting two fully-equipped households. Furthermore, splitting property equally between two spouses is unjust to the reliable spouse and children.
Mary’s Advocates, publicizes underutilized Laws, ProFamiliesOhio.com
The legislators in Ohio never intended for one spouse to be able to force a no-fault divorce on the other, but this is not publicized by divorce lawyers. If fault-based grounds do not exist, the only two options are incompatibility (not denied by Defendant) and parties living separate and apart for a year. Separation without the consent of the other party, when the other party has done nothing bad enough to justify separation, is a crime. Mary’s Advocates publishes a 3×5 card featuring these laws. Card points readers to ProfamiliesOhio.com, which has the endorsement of Harvard Law School Graduate, Joseph Meisner.
Request Mary’s Advocates Publications
So long as resources allow, Mary’s Advocates will send priests simple literature for free, so just write me with your request.
3-fold Flyer Separation & Divorce, Catholic Perspective (Preview)