My friend is a middle aged woman who JUST came into the Church, she is trying to apply for an annulment but is finding the questions severely intrusive to the point of it tearing out her heart. I will not make known some of her past experiences in her personal life, but I will just say some of the more personal questions are what is doing it. Some serious wounds have been reopened. She is also terrified to throw her ex husband under the bus, something she adamantly refuses to do. She is starting to see the Church she just came into as tyrannical, intrusive. Her love of the Catholic Church is being warped by this and she threatens to leave and questions Its true Origins (i.e. she used to be surrounded by people who told her the Church was diabolical, Ala Fundamentalists). She is disregarded this terrible accusation but is now beginning to wonder…I feel for her, she’s a wreck and I promised to not push the issue of to which Church she should belong. Now is not the right time to say “you’re wrong”. I am trying to guide her emotionally but am at a loss for words as her peace is being taken away. Please, any advice you can give would be helpful, prayers also, please! My friend is spiritually confused and destitute.
Her reaction is not at all unusual; many people going through the process say it is like being right back in the middle of the divorce.
The one saving grace is that many of the same also say that it is very cathartic, and they feel a healing through the process which had not occurred before.
Not that the above will help, but if you understand that it can cause th3ese reactions, you at least know the “why”.
She does not have to “throw her husband under the bus”. She just has to be truthful. The Church is not out to get her or out to get him; the Church is out to try to bring reconciliation and closure, such as it can, to what was undoubtedly not only a long period of her life (and his), but also one of pain, sorrow, and hopefully one that puts her in a position not only with the Church, but also with Christ. I would not beat her up with quotations from the Gospels, but clearly Christ had some really strong comments about marriage (both positive, and in terms of divorce, clear).
Sometimes people do not understand that the Church isn’t going to “divorce” the two of them all over again. It is about the status on the day of the marriage, of both parties; did they both clearly intend a permanent, exclusive, an open to new life marriage? Was there an impediment to being able to freely, clearly and intentionally make that vow?
I suspect that she may have a decent, if not strong understanding of covenant; and marriage is a covenant. where there is no covenant (because one or both do not intend one), then there is no valid marriage in the eyes of God; only a contractual one in the eyes of the state.
Ask a question, then listen. maybe ask another question based on what you hear. Let her verbalize, and get it out in the open. don’t necessarily presume to have answers (often they are technical, and most people don’t get it right). Encourage her, that the whole purpose is to “get right” with Christ. Assure her that the Church holds marriage in great esteem, often much higher than other churches. Many of then get down to what could almost be called a lackadaisical attitude, they will feel sorry for the divorced parties, but don’t really have any process of determining what actually occurred or didn’t. The Church has a very clear idea of what a valid marriage is, and what isn’t; and takes it extremely seriously. that means they are going to appear nosey; but they can’t just turn a blind eye - Christ didn’t.
The Church takes all the sacraments very seriously; many other churches don’t even recognize some things as sacraments. The tribunal is not asking because they “get their jollies”, or because it is “juicy”; they ask because there are real reasons why they need to know.
She can get through this, but it is not going to be pleasant; nor do I think she will look back on it and think it was. But hopefully she will come to know herself better; her ex better, and be better prepared for a valid marriage, and find healing of this one.
I don’t know that there is anything you can do except listen to her and encourage her. Unfortunately, the questions used for the annulment process are not standardized and some dioceses use more intrusive questions than others. A person has the right to seek an annulment in the jurisdiction they are now residing, where the ex is residing or where the marriage took place. So if one of these is different from where she is now, she may be able to do it through another jurisdiction that has less intrusive questions.
Thank youyou both for your responses. They are actually extremely helpful. She is in a Diocese in which I used to live, and from speaking with her I would come to the conclusion that, now as then, the Diocese is ill. Both in certain leadership, and with the general population of its congregations. She has spoken of moving because of it. She does not trust the Church in her area, it is a hotbed of people with mean attitudes and grumpy parishiners and even some clergy. I will mention this to her about it being standardized especially.
without getting off topic, there are reasons that Pope Francis wants to have a long hard look at the process of the tribunals. Marriage is not a casual business; it is a sacrament which Christ took seriously, and which the Church likewise takes seriously.
But what it is going to take for those involved with the tribunal to work with a person going through the process, and how the Church can work on the healing that is needed for people who find themselves in these positions has yet to be worked out - and it is going to take a whole lot of working. Priests are busy. Deacons are busy. others engaged in the process are busy. But sometimes, someone needs to slow down, and treat the wounded rather than focus solely on the process.
Some other thoughts - who is her advocate? And how much has she shared with her advocate of her fears, pains, and concerns?
If the advocate is “tone deaf”, then she may need to get someone else, and not stop looking and interviewing until she can find someone who can slow down and find out what they need to do to help, besides make the paperwork flow.
If she needs a woman as advocate, there should be someone who can fulfill that.
Does your friend need a declaration of nullity right now? Is she dating and/or planning to marry soon?
If not, perhaps it would be worthwhile for her to wait a bit and get more established in her Catholic faith. Maybe six months or a year as a Catholic would give her more of a foundation to be able to pursue things without feeling quite so overwhelmed.
My son got an annulment some years ago. Yes, it was difficult and it did open some wounds but in the long run it prepared him for a happy marriage later. He learned so much about the mistakes he made and the mistakes his former wife made. In filling out the questionnaire that is given to a mother to fill out, I also had to face mistakes I made as well. I learned about myself as well.