September 25, 2015
Fr. Fred Scinto, CR
The social media does a decent job of covering the 2015 Synod but it does not always get it right. Thus, sound bites do not always do the job and this is why this informational/reflective material cannot be done very quickly. So I ask you for a bit of patience and please bear with me.
We need to understand one word clearly, i.e., annulment; “an annulment is a decree from a Church tribunal that a marriage between two persons was invalidly contracted. Such a decree is often sought by persons who are seeking to celebrate a different marriage.” (Deacon Greg Kandra, taken from Patheos which is part of The Deacon’s Bench available at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2015/09/breaking-vatican-to-announce-annulment-reforms) Read this definition again until you understand it because it is absolutely necessary to understand the following material.
In Canada (and presumably elsewhere) the number of divorcees seeking annulments is decreasing yearly. This year (2015) in Canada it is expected that there will be only 800 applications for annulments; in the United States about 25% of divorcing and divorced Catholics seek them. Do you also know that in the future the divorce rate is expected to continue rising? Thus, “the lengthy, public, and expensive process of securing an annulment can act as a deterrent, with the result that divorce becomes an exodus point for people. This is particularly true in cases where finances are strained and individuals want to remarry quickly.” (Candida Moss, theological writer for Crux, on line at www.cruxnow.com). This results in some sobering statistics. In the United States alone, 4 ½ million Catholics are divorced and remarried without an annulment! If you take about one-tenth of that figure, you will have some sense of the magnitude of that same situation in Canada.
We are spending time and space to look at the question of annulments because they are one of the big topics of the two synods (2014 and 2015).
There is one more introductory aspect that I need to say a word about because in my nearly 40 years of working with the separated and divorced, it was and is a huge problem. That is the situation of the person left behind when the other spouse initiates and pursues a divorce. This is post-traumatic stress disorder at its worst and one cannot imagine the intense pain and devastation that is inflicted here! A very major task for those left behind is to move to forgiveness of the other in order to become free to create a new future. It is gut-wrenching to see what these brothers and sisters of ours have to undergo to do this. And it is so very cruel when people look down their noses at them because they happen to be divorced. Jesus would have some very harsh words to say to us if we are among those who make these kinds of hateful judgments. And my long intensive ministry in this area has seen so many beautiful people grow in grace here which is something you and I probably would not be able to do! I have learned so much about the central truths of Christianity from them that I have not learned elsewhere and for which I am very grateful. One last observation here. It also is cruel to subject such hurting persons to the usual present annulment procedure when they are hurting so much. Pope Francis knows this kind of suffering and this is one reason he has changed the procedure; among other situations involving ministry to the separated and divorced in Argentina, he helped his niece to navigate the journey of grief because she was divorced and he saw her sorrow and suffering first hand.
Pope Francis’ Characteristics
Here we briefly consider some of his characteristics and traits that make him the ideal pastoral minister that he is and that have surfaced in the work he has done for the separated and divorced (among other pastoral areas).
Pope Francis is a great listener who has heard the cry of his people (and others). He consults others, e.g. the questionnaires used for the synods. For him, debate is no longer necessarily dissent; in the Church (and the world), he has opened the doors to real dialogue and encourages discussion (in the Spirit).
Francis is very intelligent (and deceptively so) and Spirit-filled with Christ and Christ’s fabulous love for us; and he knows that “enormous numbers of the faithful [are] too often alienated from the juridical [judicial] structures of the Church” (his own words). “As it currently operates, the annulment process can appear arcane, unnecessarily authoritarian, lengthy, expensive and emotionally destructive. Often respondents in an annulment case simply decline to participate at all... Francis’ reforms might [I would state here will] limit the emotional stress a battered wife, for example, would experience in the annulment process.” (Moss)
Our Holy Father also is charismatic in the best and deepest biblical sense of the word and is an expert on how to communicate. He has 3,000,000 followers on Twitter. In his first week as Pope, Francis tweeted the following tweet/message that really sums up his papacy:
“Let us keep a place for Christ in our lives,
let us care for one another, and let us be
loving custodians of creation.”
(March 19, 2013)
His virtual audience broadcast on ABC’s 20/20 (early September 2015) also manifests this well. (You may be able to still get this if you missed it on television by accessing abcnews.com).
“Here’s the crux of it [all]: None of the Pope’s tweets, television specials, or symbolic gestures are about him at all. In fact, they all point back to something [Someone] much bigger: If you love Pope Francis, wait until you hear about Jesus.” (Michael O’Loughlin, national reporter for Crux and author of the book, The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters – a delightful little book you may want to get (ISBN=978-0-06-243499-9).
What We Should Be Looking For As We Study These Materials
Two very important points should be made here.
Firstly, “what is decided will be less important than how the decisions are made. It will be the key test for Pope Francis’ vision of the Church.” (Professor John W. O’Malley) The very big questions here are “What kind of institution is the Church to be? How will it present itself to the Faithful and the world at large?”
Secondly, traditional marriage itself needs some fixing. A few points here will demonstrate the tenor of this matter. “When a woman holds the belief that the household tasks of housework and parenting should be shared equally, there is a greater risk of marital breakdown and divorce”. (Gail Grossman Freyne, Family Therapist). Let us say both spouses work outside the home but the mother/wife is expected to have an outside job and do most of the housework and look after the children too; this is not fair! In the modern world, there is work to be done to make our marriages better apart from the serious question of separation and/or divorce.
For the next two weeks, let us use the following petition in our Sunday Eucharists’ Prayer of the Faithful (General Intentions): “May the Risen One shower His Holy Spirit upon the present synod and may He open our hearts in grace to the synod’s recommendations, we pray to the Lord.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Father Fred Scinto, C.R.
Resurrection Ministries, Waterloo