Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Wisdom from the Tribunal

Through a series of links, I came across this post by canon lawyer Ed Peters (a few years old, it seems) answering those who object to the high rate of annulments in America. He makes many good points, the chiefest being that if Catholics are serious about the serious spiritual and psychological damage of contraception and pre-marital sex, then we should not be suprised that those who already are cohabitating and contracepting before marriage do not have a strong grasp of the solemnity of the sacrament.

Amy Welborn makes this same point in a recent post and quotes canonist Pete Vere:

It was with some reluctance that I first got involved with Tribunal ministry, since as a Traditional Catholic I bemoan the annulment crisis in North America. The fact I was extremely also suspicious of canon 1095, the canon with lists the psychological grounds vitiating marital consent, and the canon under which most marriages before a tribunal are declared null, didn't help either.

However, my Tribunal experience has been a real eye-opener, especially in light of the contraceptive and divorce mentality I encounter in most people, including Catholics. In fact, these mentalities are so pervasive within North American society that after four days on the Tribunal I found myself declaring as many marriages invalid as the next judge, often on a canon 1095 basis, and wondering to myself whether any marriage attempted today in North America is valid. In short, as a Traditional Catholic canonist, I can safely say that since the sexual devolution of the sixties, the rise in marriage annulments has not been because of the Second Vatican Council and a more liberal application of canon law, but because of a selfish and unrealistic understanding of what marriage entails by your average person entering into it.

But then again, we're often looking at people who have grown up watching pornographic sitcoms, who have been subjected to sex-ed programs more graphic than a gynecologist textbook fifty years ago, engaged in pre-marital sex since their early teens, most often shacked up two or three times by the time they marry, see children as an inconvenience, and suddenly we expect them to enter into a sacramental Christian marriage?

Amy says, and I agree with her, that what is needed is not more criticism of the tribunal or the annullment process, but stronger marriage preparation.
...Stop witnessing the marriage of every baptized Catholic who walks into the rectory and asks for one. There is much discussion of the high number of annulment cases processed in the US, in particular, but I have just a couple of things to say. First, the majority of couples coming to the Catholic Church to be married are a)living together and b)contracepting and are c)rarely challenged on this by those preparing them for marriage. Many of them are barely catechized on anything, are not regular Mass-goers until Mama gets it into her head that they must be married in the Church and the pastor sternly berates them for not being registered and not having envelopes - a far greater sin that cohabitating, you know - and you're telling me that these marriages are not rife with potential problems with validity?

I can't say that I remember my own marriage prep classes that well. We did have to fill out one of those compatibility surveys: have you talked about this, what are your views on that, is anyone pressuring you into this marriage, do you feel impulses to irrational anger, have you discussed finances, etc. When it came time for the priest to go over our results with us, he glanced down at the scores and said, "I don't say that you cheated, but I've rarely seen such a high compatibility rate." Well, of course! We took marriage seriously! Why should we get engaged without knowing exactly where the other stood on the issues that make or break many marriages? (And we dated for a long time before getting engaged, seeing as we were in college, so we had plenty of time to talk things over.)

Full disclosure here: my own parents were divorced and annulled after more than twenty years of marriage, at about the same time that Darwin and I were getting engaged and taking marriage prep classes. Some of my friends asked me, "Doesn't that make you worry about getting married? Can any marriage last?" No, I replied, it only makes me value the graces of the sacrament more, because I've seen what happens when those graces aren't present.

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