The following is a guest post from Christine Cavanaugh, an Annulment Advocate in Seattle, Washington. Since we’ve heard a lot from experts in opinion but not quite as much from the experts who are actually involved in the process, I asked her for her insights. Here you go! Constructive and charitable comments always welcome in the com-boxes.
When Catholics or RCIA candidates walk into a parish office to meet with an annulment advocate, they display all the eagerness of someone submitting to a root canal.
After all, these petitioners are about to answer a lot of highly personal questions while recollecting pain, failure, mistakes or abuse. Like the root canal patient, they are there because avoiding it is worse.
Petitioners are motivated by the desire to receive Holy Communion, marry in the Church, enter the Church, return to her, or have the sacraments of initiation for their children and want their own situation reconciled. They have to wait one or possibly two years for news that might not be good. Meanwhile, they are suffering.
Cardinal Walter Kasper and Bishop Tobin rightly sympathize with this suffering, as should everyone. But they err in trying to circumvent the problem. Those in favor of leaving the tooth alone, so to speak, should remember that the real problem is not the prohibition against taking communion: the real problem is that these suffering people are lacking a sacramental marriage, which, as lay persons, may be their principal way of sanctifying the world to God.
Sacramental marriage, as opposed to natural marriage, occurs between baptized persons, and it is integral to the building of the Kingdom of God—that thing we’re all supposed to be doing. This sacrament is an entry point for grace and mercy to come into the world. Without it, cohabitating or illicitly “married” people are deprived of their vocations.
And, as theologian Sarah Bartel points out, we have a crisis of vocations to married life as young Catholics increasingly choose cohabitation or civil union.
If you’re not invited to the Synod on the Family, what can you do to address the problem of divorced and remarried Catholics?
When divorced Catholics confide in you about their situations, tell them the good news that they have a canonical right to have the Church examine a failed marriage. This encouragement could impact generations of their families.
Respect the canonical rights of others. If you worry about annulment abuse, speak cautiously: people in your community may have received a declaration of nullity or may need to seek one.
Support those who suffer because they cannot receive the sacraments. They feel left out, so smile at them when they come to Mass. Incorporate them into your communities. They are dealing with the mystery of suffering, as many of us are in our own way. And there is no magic pill.
Christine Cavanaugh, PhD, is an Annulment Advocate for the Archdiocese of Seattle.