John Allen writes a weekly column for the liberal National Catholic Reporter called The Word From Rome. In this week’s installment he discusses the Vatican’s revisions to the Dallas policy, and he also brings up other norms that the US bishops adopted and were later revised by Rome.
- While in Boston Oct. 27, I had dinner with the venerable Monsignor Frederick McManus, a former professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, who reminded me of a precedent that’s worthwhile to recall. In 1970, the U.S. bishops adopted a set of 23 new procedural norms concerning annulment cases, the thrust of which was to simplify and expedite the process (especially in terms of appeals). The pastoral instinct beneath the norms was that many civilly divorced Catholics were entitled to an annulment, but the length, expense and difficulty of the process inhibited them from seeking it. In terms of numbers, the norms worked; annulments went from 600 per year in 1968 to well over 40,000 in recent years. Americans, who compose only six percent of the world’s Catholics, are granted 80 percent of the world’s annulments.
They worked?! How can you call tens of thousands of annulments a success? Rather than deal with the substance (Why were so many people seeking annulments in the first place? Why were so many marriages failing?) the bishops decided to make it easier to get an annulment.
It’s the same argument used by people who want to give condoms to teenagers. “They’re going to have sex anyway,” they say, “so it may as well be safe sex.” Rather than address the root problem and believe that self-control through grace is possible (What? Are they animals who can’t control their impulses?), they surrender to the problem. I’m not saying that there aren’t valid cases where annulments are called for, but 40,000? Eighty percent of all the annulments in the world for six percent of the world’s Catholics?
It’s also the same argument used by people who say the solution to pedophilia and ephebophilia is to allow gay priests in the priesthood. Rather than deal with the problem, we find the solution in giving in. Rather than a call to holiness, we have a call to weakness.
Let’s pray that the bishops and the Vatican have learned their lesson and seek a different route. Although, if the Dallas policy is provided as the solution to the Scandal, I don’t have much hope in the short term because it only deals with the symptons and not the illness itself.