A Letter to the Pope in Advance of the Synod: Why Must I Get My (Lutheran) Marriage Annulled?

Most Holy Father,

I became a Catholic at the Easter Vigil of 2013 during the same month you became pope. Because we each assumed new relationships with the Church at about the same time, I have felt a special connection to you and your papacy; therefore, I am emboldened to write this letter.

When friends and family ask me why I went through the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and converted to Catholicism—after over 50 years in the Lutheran church—I tell them that I believe that the Catholic Church has a rich spiritual and intellectual history and tradition, especially in the contemplative aspects of faith; I feel that the Catholic Church can provide a home that nurtures this very important part of my life. Also, for the past six years, I have been singing in a choir in our parish church in a western suburb of Minneapolis. This church and its congregation, especially my fellow choir members, have become my “church family,” and I want to feel that I am a full and welcome member of that family.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I converted because the woman whom I love, and have been with since December of 2000, has deep and long family ties to the Catholic Church, and we want to share a spiritual community. We became engaged four months ago and I believe it is God’s plan for us to be married. (What I mean by that is that my heart/mind/body “knows,” at a profound and ineffable level, that it is right and good for us to be together.)

But the Catholic teachings on divorce/annulment/remarriage present a problem for me—and for millions of others.

I am divorced (since 1999), and the woman I love is also divorced (also since 1999). In fact, we met in a “divorce support group” jointly held by her Catholic church and my Lutheran church.

Today’s church policies do not allow us to get married in the Catholic Church unless we each go through the process of getting annulments of our first marriages. If we get married without the annulments, our remarriage will not be recognized, and current church policy is that we should not receive the Eucharist ever again.

I have researched the Catholic view on marriage, as well as the annulment process. I have spoken with several priests and with officials in my archdiocese’s marriage tribunal, and I feel that I understand the history and reasons for the church’s current policies— in an ideal, perfect, and sinless world, all first marriages would endure.

But we are human, and we do not live in such a world. Thankfully, the gospel and grace of Christ’s message is that we do not have to be perfect and sinless in order to receive God’s love.

It appears to me that the strong, clear theological message of God’s love and forgiveness is obscured by the complex layers of canonical law related to marriage/divorce/annulment that have been built up over the centuries.

As you wrote in Evangelii Gaudium (#47):

The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.

I could conclude my letter at this point, as this explanation of the role of the sacrament speaks directly to my concern. But I would like to press the point, and to offer a few more arguments:

First, as humans, we grow and transform throughout our lives—the church’s teaching that only the first marriage can be sacramental seems to deny this.  I am a different person today, at age 58, than when I was first married at age 23. I am wiser and humbler. I am more capable of giving and receiving love—from another human and from God. Yet, the church’s teaching on marriage and annulment points back to that specific moment 35 years ago when I said my wedding vows—and the Church assumes that nothing that came after that point in time makes any difference. Just imagine if Saul/Paul had not been recognized as having grown and transformed during his mid-20s or early 30s. Just imagine if the final 35 years of his life were simply ignored by the Church. The history of Christianity would be profoundly different.

Second, the annulment process, carried out as it is by human beings, is flawed. The grounds on which the marriage tribunal can grant annulments are imprecise and somewhat arbitrary. Depending on how canonical law is interpreted by any particular member of any particular tribunal, different results can be obtained.

(In my own Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, the annulment process seems particularly flawed and dysfunctional. The integrity and timeliness of this Archdiocese’s annulment process—as well as its leadership on other issues—are serious problems.   I recognize that the Church is populated by humans, and I am willing to give it a second chance. I only wish the Church operated with the same sensitivity toward my situation.)

Third, the Catholic Church’s interpretation of the letter of the gospel regarding marriage and divorce is not the same as those of most other Christian churches. Consider, for example, the policies of the Eastern Orthodox Church, where divorce and remarriage are allowed. Remarriage would not exclude me from receiving communion in my former Lutheran church, for example.

Fourth, the Catholic Church’s insistence that I—raised as a Lutheran and married for the first time in a Lutheran ceremony—must go through a Catholic annulment process seems puzzling to me, and it’s unconscionable to my first wife.  In the Lutheran faith, marriage is not a sacrament; only baptism and communion are sacraments.  How, then, could my marriage be considered to be “sacramental”?

I believe that churches should respect other religions’ history and traditions, and we should not start crossing boundaries and making demands. (As a side comment, I note that the Catholic Church itself is not happy when other faiths do this, e.g., the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its policy of baptism for the dead, including Catholic ancestors.)

Next, the church’s policy on remarriage and the Eucharist, although intended to be pro-marriage, is actually anti-marriage to many of us.  We are asked to choose between two different loves—one human and one spiritual. If we would like to receive the Eucharist and experience God’s love, don’t get married. If we would like to get married and experience human love, don’t bother coming to Mass.

Millions of Catholics are torn by this same dilemma.

And finally, the annulment process, which is sometimes advertised as being a healing process, has re-opened wounds for me and my former wife that were healing reasonably well in the 15 years since our divorce. With the help of family, friends, therapists, meditation—and God—I have been healing. The notion that a tribunal process—carried out by strangers who don’t know me or my full life story—is going to be helpful with my healing is not convincing.

I am trying to live a good and loving life in the footsteps of Christ. I realize that any changes to church policy will not come quickly but I only hope that you can offer some small sign of hope, encouragement, and blessing.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,

Randall Wedin

 

 

20 Comments

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I think he has a valid point. In his Archdiocese the process is even more seriously flawed and dysfunctional than it is in the average archdiocese.

  • avengah6@gmail.com' Matt Davis says:

    My advice? Don’t bother. Get married elsewhere (either in another church or a civil marriage), then if you want to take communion in the Catholic church, you may find they turn a blind eye to it as there may be many other divorced and remarried people there – not to mention people who break other rules such as on contraception.

    The annulment process is slow, unwieldy and expensive. It’s not worth it – cynical people might think they’re trying to make money out of selling annulments.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    He’s new to the church. He might not be that spiritually advanced yet.

  • elizavieta@embarqmail.com' eliza says:

    I have heard that Catholics become Lutherans in order to escape the strange legalistic situations that seem to abound in the RCC. They also seem to be bringing various RC traditions with them into Lutheran practice. I was taken to a Mass when I was a kid, it was a muttering mystery then, now on EWTN it is almost like the Lutheran service except for the Latin bits and devotion to Mary. The two churches are exchanging quite a bit.

  • zinealine@gmail.com' cranefly says:

    All the more baffling why non-sacramental marriages need to be annulled.

  • james4948h@icloud.com' James says:

    This is an eloquent plea, a sound argument, and a stunning illustration of the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. A disclaimer: I was raised Lutheran, but abused by a Lutheran pastor, so I’m not coming at this from a reflexively Protestant anti-Catholicism – I’m well aware that all churches are deeply flawed. Yes, the spiritual and intellectual – and social justice – traditions of Catholicism are wonderful, but the fact that the Church doesn’t see that its many injustices and exclusions stand diametrically opposed to that tradition ought to give one pause, it seems to me. Can, e.g., a church that denies the female half of God’s creation the opportunity to serve God as priests ever be worthy of one’s respect, not to mention allegiance? My ex-wife married a Catholic, and sought an annulment of our 12-year marriage, one that produced a beautiful daughter. The arrogance made my blood boil. You’re right, the church is unfairly and hypocritically forcing you to make a choice, but, if you ask me (which you sort of did by writing this piece…), the right choice is pretty clear.

  • sabine_atwell@sbcglobal.net' 82jennifer82 says:

    I would agree. I have a fundamental opposition to annulment. How do you annul a relationship, often with children that once was a loving reality? Makes no sense and appears so hypocritical as do so many of these arbitrary ” rules” of the Church. I am the daughter of divorced Catholics and have a good relationship with both of my parents both of whom remarried. I certainly would not have wanted to see their marriage that lasted 17 years” annulled” . We are human and churches are institutions staffed by humans. We DO make mistakes. Divorce is the correction for human error. Maybe the Church can find corrections herself. If a standard is too high, it usually will be ignored.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    The cynical side of me is wondering, what does the annulment cost? Does your wife have to pay, or is the cost for things like that part of the divorce and you pay the bill? Of course if this is too personal you don’t have to answer, but as the other poster pointed out, cynics might wonder if this is a way for the church to make money, and at RD we like to ask those questions and see if we can find out.

  • One thing that this letter also failed to point out is that any children born of the annulled marriage are considered by the Church to be illegitimate. I know I would never stand by and willingly have my children declared as such by any church. This would put them outside of the Church and the rite to sacraments in far too many dioceses, the last I heard. If I truly believed that the Catholic Church was the right spiritual place for me, I would seriously question such a choice if my children faced the stigma of being called “bastard” by some priest. In fact, I would be finding a church where I could still get all the pomp that this man seems to think is religion and faith (say perhaps Episcopalian) and tell the Catholic Church what they can do with their annulment.

  • This is not true; per the Church’s Code of Canon Law:

    “The children conceived or born of a valid or putative marriage are legitimate.” (c. 1137)

    This means that, as long as the marriage was entered into in good faith by at least one of the spouses, the children are legitimate, even if the marriage it subsequently annulled.

  • lynne1946@gmail.com' lynnelmiller says:

    i’m not up to date on this, but when i attempted to get an annulment about 10 years ago, it wasn’t cheap!

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Does the cost have some flexibility? Could it partly depend on the value of the divorce settlement?

  • mark@meherlihy.com' MEHerlihy says:

    When I received an annulment 30 years ago in the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, NY, the costs were purely administrative. The major cost was the fee for a psychiatric consultant to the tribunal. This was in a perriod when that Archdiocese had been permitted to recomment annulment based on lack of sufficient maturity to appreciate fully the solemn strictures of the marriage bond. That “experiment” was suspended through the increase of conservative power in the Congregation; it would be good if it were fully studied by the Synod and revived as a grond for annulment universally.
    It is a mistake to think an annulment has anything to do with the financial aspects of civil divorce. Canon law, and the jurisdiction of the tribunal, are wholly separate from the matter of support obligations under civil law

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Can those who don’t have money get an annulment for less? What we are trying to find out here is if the annulment business is a profit center for the Catholic church.

  • zinealine@gmail.com' cranefly says:

    Basically, Canon Law says that an annulled marriage was both marriage and not marriage. Where would the Catholic Church be, if it lost its ability to teach two mutually exclusive things at a time?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    It’s a mystery.

  • hermo4av@charter.net' Bruce Hermo says:

    If there was as much rigor preceding marriage as there is to achieve an annulment marriages would likely be more successful with fewer breakups. But far fewer marriages.
    My puzzlement is that Christ asks us to love All people as we love ourselves, all people. And I ask, who did Christ reject? I believe no one. So should any church reject any one who is seeking to embrace God through the eucharist? Did God and Christ really instruct us to reject those deemed not worthy? Or is “Judge not, less ye be judged” really too problematic?

  • polyearp2@gmail.com' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    THAT is very clever, cranefly; thank you! I didn’t look at it in that sense! (But then again, I’m not catholic…)

  • rothken@hotmail.com' profling says:

    No, Devon, annulment does not make the children illegitimate. Where did you get that one?

  • lowerarchangel@yahoo.com' What's fair is fair. says:

    Um, your church allowed you to become catholic before your annulment? My boyfriend & I are near mirror images of your situation. I am the never been married Catholic, he’s a converting divorced lutheran. HOWEVER, now that the Easter Vigil is upon us and we have been enrolled in the RCIA program for him to be accepted into the church, we have been told he WILL NOT be able to be accepted with his class at Easter Vigil because the annulment process hasn’t been completed. Wow. We cannot be given a reason why he cannot convert before the annulment process is finalized. And this is the same Archdiocese in St Paul/Minneaoplis. Who do we need to see about fair practice in Richfield?

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