What does “Stay and Fight” look like for abandoned spouses?
- Posted by Mary's Advocates
- On May 23, 2019
Bishop Barron and Cardinal Raymond Burke.
By Bai Macfarlane
In the past couple weeks, I’ve shared suggestions—based in canon law—with two different Catholics who were defending the validity of their marriage against accusations of invalidity. These cases weigh heavily on my heart because the ones who contact Mary’s Advocates are those who were abandoned. Thereafter, they are berated when the tribunals in the Catholic Church basically whitewash the abandonment by issuing a questionable decree of invalidity of the marriage. When tribunals violate the rights of defendants, or grant annulments for unsubstantiated reasons, some defendants still muster up the boldness to continue defending for as long as the law allows.
When they defend their marriage, they are forced to fight the tribunals. However, they fight, not because they hate the Church, but because they love it. They want the Church to point the wayward spouse to helpful resources, not condone abandonment with a spurious annulment. The spouses in our network aren’t going to walk away from their spouse and they aren’t going to walk away from the Church (even if the Church’s individual tribunals betray them too).
Bishop Barron was interviewed on May 20 for ETWN Nightly news, talking about his new book Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis. To his readers, he said there is never a reason to leave the Church, but instead, now is the time to stay and fight.
For those who have first-hand experience of abuse by marriage annulment tribunals, Mary’s Advocate offers tools for their fight. Many can’t afford to hire a canon lawyer, and the law says that those who can’t afford a cannon lawyer are supposed to be appointed one by the Tribunal itself. However, when a party needs to challenging illicit practices in the Tribunal managing his the case, the canon lawyers working for that Tribunal aren’t too interested or knowledgeable. Outside canon lawyers, who aren’t on full-time salary at a diocese, are rare and expensive.
One women described to me her experience at the appellate Tribunal of the Roman Rota. In her case, a U.S. Tribunal judged that her marriage was valid and her abandoning husband appealed to the Roman Rota wanting the local decision overturned. The process described by the woman at the Rota was disheartening due to procedural issues and (dare I say) ridiculous reasoning. In certain circumstances, after someone is aggrieved by their treatment at the Roman Rota, a party can appeal to the Supreme Tribunal of the Signatura. Cardinal Raymond Burke used to be in charge of the Signatura. In a presentation he gave at a canon law conference in La Crosse on August 9, 2011, he very politely conveyed that Roman Rota judges sometimes don’t judge the way they should.
Rotal jurisprudence, says Cardinal Burke, is determined by a consistent manner of judging over a certain period of time. “The prelate auditors of the Rota, being members of humanity, can fail in one or another decision to express precisely the consistent manner of judging at the Rota in a determinate matter, or even to abandon in some ways such a stable manner of judging.” (second 49).
The woman that contacted me cannot afford to hire a canon lawyer. I am suggesting canon laws she can use to attempt to appeal to the Signatura, including asking for them to appoint for her an English speaking canon lawyer. If, in fact, the Roman Rota is cutting corners and violating the rights of the party who is upholding the validity of her marriage, these injustices should be corrected.
One husband contacted me who was already on a deadline to write a complaint to the appellate Tribunal of the Roman Rota. He hoped to find help ASAP. His wife had separated from him and moved to a different country where the Catholic Tribunal judges don’t speak or write in English. When he received his first letter about an annulment case, it was in a foreign language. He traveled to the foreign country (at very great expense) to be interview by the foreign county’s Tribunal judge.
From what he was able to figure out, the foreign Tribunal judge said the husband signed a complaint for annulment of his own marriage. If both parties sign the complaint agreeing to the same accusation of invalidity, the judge can use the streamlined process introduced by Pope Francis. I provided the husband with five pages of canon law citations and canon-law-legalese descriptions of the concerning procedures he said he experienced in the foreign Tribunal’s handling of the case. Within in last several years, besides studying the universal canon law, I’ve obtained English translations of the Rules of the Roman Rota and the Signatura. We can ask them to follow their own norms.