Vatican Marriage Annulments

Vatican Marriage Annulments

On September 22, Hurricane Francis will make landfall at Andrews AFB, marking the start of the Pope’s historic visit to the U.S. Saturation media rain may be expected for His Holiness’ mega-events in DC, NYC and Philly; on Sept. 27 it will be wheels-up back to Rome.

His trip is mostly political: a meeting in the Oval, the first-ever papal address to a Joint Meeting of Congress (about one-third RCs), and a speech to the UN General Assembly. The culmination will be a visit to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Political as in ‘policy’ doesn’t mean getting mired in the ongoing Washington mud-fight, but speaking about issues that have global implications, yet are not doctrinal in Church teaching, notably the plight of migrants, income inequality and climate change.

But on the doctrinal front, during his papacy Francis was mostly quiet until September 8 last when his Instructions (Motu Proprio) to the Latin-rite and Eastern-rite bishops and eparchs on the Church’s marriage annulment process were made public.

Some might say that his famous “who am I to judge” statement on the issue of gays was a doctrinal foray.

Hogwash…try finding anything new about this in papal encyclicals and instructions, or in canons and decrees.

In summary, the annulment Instructions mean that an uncontested request for an annulment could be fast-tracked in as little as 45 days, be free of charge, and not be subject to appeal to Rome unless something egregious jumped out of the case file – such as blatantly false affidavits, not unknown in current proceedings.

Contrast this with a Kennedy annulment granted by the Archdiocese of Boston that was challenged by one of the spouses in 1996, adjudicated in Rome in 2005, and officially notified to the parties in 2007.

The discussion below focuses on three topics:

The Kennedy annulment process of 1996-2007; another Kennedy-related annulment that ran from 1959 to 1962; and finally the very topical significance of these Instructions for the Pope’s efforts to dismantle the Vatican bureaucracy – a preview of coming attractions for next summer release.

The annulment proceedings involving Joseph P. Kennedy II and Sheila Rauch have received extensive media coverage for the incredible timeline involved.

It appears that the Boston Archdiocese granted the annulment around 1996, after which Ms. Rauch was notified that her 1979 Church marriage had been annulled – i.e. it never existed. Sometime later (1996 as reported) she appealed to Rome to have the annulment annulled, i.e. to have her 1979 Church marriage restored as a valid one, canonically speaking. But it took at least ten years for her to receive formal notification that her appeal had in fact been granted. That is pretty crazy, even by the sclerotic practices of the Roman Curia. A canon lawyer who followed the proceedings commented to me in Rome shortly after the 2007 decision became public:


All you have to do is look at the U.S. political calendar to figure out when it was opportune to take on the Massachusetts monarchia, i.e. in the twilight of Zio Ted’s career.

A less publicized Kennedyesque annulment took place in the early 1960s involving Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s sister Lee and Lee’s then-beau Prince Stanislaus Radziwill.

As JFK prepared for the 1960 campaign that would feature his Catholic faith as a prominent issue, his sister-in-law’s failed Catholic marriage with Michael Canfield loomed as the proverbial elephant in the room.

So the Kennedy machine went into high gear, with assistance from Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing.

Lee Bouvier’s inconvenient Church marriage to Michael Canfield was annulled in Rome in 1962, warp speed for the Curia Romana.

Her husband-to-be had been more foresighted, or perhaps just lucky.

Radziwill’s inconvenient first marriage in 1940, Catholic of course, was annulled in 1958. Thus his second civil marriage of 1946 had no standing under canon law, since prior to his 1958 annulment he was still married to Wife #1; as Dr. Spock might say, quite logical.

Lee and ‘Stas’ married in a civil ceremony in 1959. After Lee’s annulment came through in 1962, the way was clear for a proper Church wedding.

A close relative of mine was involved in this accelerated proceeding.

Alas, Lee and Stas did not live happily ever-after, divorcing in 1974. But still married to one another, in the eyes of the Church.

In a broader perspective, over the years American annulments granted by the Vatican range from 60% to 80% of all annulments world wide, and are known as Divorzio all’Americana.

This is a tribute to a Marcello Mastroianni film, Divorzio all’Italiana, where Marcello’s character, Barone Cefalu has only way out of his inconvenient marriage: to goad his long-neglected wife Donna Rosalia into adultery, catch her in flagrante, shoot the straying wife, and then benefit from the Italian Penal Code where until 1980 a delitto d’onore (honor killing) benefited from major extenuating circumstances. Of course this loophole was only available to the husband.

In plainer words, the Vatican annulment process in force until the Pope’s September 8 Instructions was widely recognized for what it was – just Catholic gobbledegook, as one of the Kennedys is reported to have said.

So what does the Annulment Instruction mean more broadly?

Narrowly, in a defined category of marriages where the annulment is uncontested, the power to annul is delegated to 2,989 bishops and eparchs world wide. No need to go to Rome to get a second, confirming decree. This puts out of business most of the Vatican’s canonical annulment infrastructure: judges, court officials, advocates.

OMG. This is truly a Big Deal. It means that Rome is almost entirely out of the annulment biz, with almost 3,000 dioceses and eparchies doing their individual thing.

So you could eventually see a very wide variety of procedures and decisions.

Once upon a time Reno NV was the go-to venue for quickie divorces.

Maybe quickie annulments from the Diocese of Podunk will become all the rage, and a boost to the Podunk economy.

But more broadly, from my own soundings in Rome over this summer, some prelates in the Vatican view these annulment Instructions as a trial run for future Instructions that would dismantle many other categories of canon appeals:

parish suppressions, church deconsecrations, pastor removals, priest defrocking, to name just a few.

Under this scenario, Catholic laypeople and priests would only have recourse to the local hierarchy – period, full stop.

So the diocese and eparchy would review their own handiwork, and pass final sentence.

On almost any given day that you go through the working entrance to Vatican City, the Porta Sant’Anna, you may find yourself in the midst of sleek young advisers with fancy briefcases: management consultants, CPAs, media wizards. Things are stirring in the Vatican as Francis’ Council of Nine continues its quiet work of devolving power to the dioceses and eparchies.

For American Catholics in the pews, if you like your bishop or eparch, you will love this kind of reform.









Shifting my blog to my Facebook page…

Hello Friends, Clients and Electronic Acquaintances:

Over past years some of you have followed my activity involving the Roman Curia and many North American parishioner groups faced with the loss of their churches – I stopped counting when my canon appeals tally passed 100.

To date I have limited myself to communicating with you via occasional blast emails, as well as infrequent blog posts that have been gathering electronic dust.

But since we all suffer from too much email, I have decided to stop cluttering your Inboxes (except for this parting shot), and instead to use my Facebook page (Peter Borre) for more frequent and shorter-form commentary on Res Catholicae.

I will keep postings down to a manageable size, around 800 wds; will post more frequently, maybe leavened by pics and links to relevant articles from the world media I peruse; and will try to remain fact-based, where possible making clear any connection I might have with a posting; and limit (most) editorializing to a Close Comment.

In the next few days I will post something on the Pope’s recent Motu Proprio (essentially an instruction, not cleared with the Curia) regarding Quickie Annulments.

My own connection is fact-finding in Rome regarding the eight-year canon proceeding involving the annulment of an annulment for members of Massachusetts premier political family.


Why more reports on Catholic stuff?

There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of commentators on developments within the Church, ranging from astute, long-time observers of the Vatican in Rome, major media outlets that periodically glom onto the Roman esperti, metro dailies that re-write diocesan press releases, and local parishioner blogs and opeds across 175 U.S. dioceses.

(Richard Milhous Nixon, demon of my youth, you were right about One Big Thing: the media.)


With no pretense at modesty, the hundred+ canon appeals I have handled are spread across 40 American dioceses, and my bi-monthly trips to Italy to push the appeals directly within the Roman Curia give me an unusual transatlantic perspective – a grass-roots view of the spreading dysfunction within many American dioceses, and the tilted appellate playing field in Rome where many of these appeals are treated with brutal disregard for the facts as well as the Code of Canon Law itself.

This involves much more than arcane debates over Canon 1222 or 515. My focus is upon the maneuvers I have observed – with gritted teeth – by such luminaries as New York’s Cardinals Dolan and Egan; Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley; Philly’s Archbishop Chaput; Cleveland’s Bishop Lennon; Metuchen’s Bishop Bootkoski; Youngstown’s Bishop Murry; and Esztergom-Budapest’s Cardinal Erdo [sorry, I cannot get the symbol for the Hungarian umlaut, aka the double acute accent]; et alii prelati.

 What about the traditional media?

With noteworthy exceptions, the coverage of the Vatican and the Church Universal by mainstream media, by specialists and by the new media, leaves a lot to be desired:

Some of this coverage is outright cheer-leading; to paraphrase The Eagles, I guess every form of access has its price;

Other coverage lines up along the typical spectrum of progressive-to-conservative, and tilts accordingly;

Some reporting descends to the mind-numbing minutiae of doctrinal debate, usually evoking a WTF from readers, while others in this sub-species treat doctrinal developments like a WWE event, which prelate took down another…”OMG! Cardinal Burke pinned Cardinal Kasper, video at 11pm.”

On the level of dioceses and parishes where real stuff actually happens, media coverage consists mostly of softball inquiries to the hierarchy and poignant quotes from distraught parishioners thrown out of their parishes; but without any reporting.

From a recent $3 million church sale in East Boston:

No digging for essential facts – was the sale of two city blocks of parish property at fair market value, or was it a sweetheart deal for two developers living at the Four Seasons; and

No effort to put this deal into the broader context of the accelerating decline of one of America’s oldest dioceses, where since 2000 the parish presence has been downsized from 400 to about 130 (by 2017), and where Catholic Boston has an abysmally meager Mass attendance ratio – in the Low Teens, one of the worst across the country).

One other point:

With the rock-star popularity of Pope Francis, his imminent trip to Cuba and the U.S., and his October face-off in Rome with 250 cardinals and bishops during the Synod of Bishops, the global relevance of developments inside the Church is surging, spilling into domains such as the U.S. Congress (first-ever papal address to a Joint Meeting); the 2016 Presidential election cycle, with at least five RC contenders of the GOP side, and four maybes on the Dem side); U.N. deliberations on climate change; E.U. policy on refugees; and the chaos ranging from Western Asia, through the Middle East and across North Africa, where Christians are being slaughtered because of their professed faith.

Ave atque Vale.