Bridget Mary's Response:
While I appreciate the compassion Pope Francis is showing to divorced and remarried Catholics by making the annulment process fairer and cheaper, the teaching itself should be changed. In the early church, we have the Pauline privilege, which gave couples an exception for the sake of their faith.
The bottom line is that people make choices and commitments that don't work out.
What is needed is forgiveness, healing, and moving on, and that often means for millions of Catholics , divorce and remarriage.
When there is a second marriage, the church should not insist on an annulment, but rather affirm the the couples' primacy of conscience. The couple should not have to go through the annulment process period. In practice, an annulment is is divorce, Catholic style.
In my experience with couples, the process is too often a wrenching, painful process. Women, in particular, resent having to share the details of their sex lives with clerics on the tribunal. My take is that the annulment process itself is deeply flawed.
One of my mentors, Fr. Frank Keefe, a wise priest chaplain, once said to me: "Sister, the church should get out of the annulment business." He practiced what he preached, and blessed marriages of elderly Catholics who, for whatever reason, could not or did not get an annulment.
I will never forget one of the simplest, most touching weddings I ever attended. One afternoon, Fr. Keefe invited me to join Maria B. who had been diagnosed with cancer, and her husband in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel for a special renewal of vows and a wedding blessing. Later, as he processed the decision to officially witness this couple's marriage with me, Chaplain Keefe explained that he made the decision according to his conscience even though he knew it was against church rules.
Instead of seeking an annulment, in my view, a couple should reflect on their love as covenant and sacramental, follow their consciences, receive the sacraments. in Gospel freedom. Church officials should follow Fr. Keefe's advice and get out of the annulment business, and welcome divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Eucharist at the Banquet Table of Christ's love. No questions asked. Jesus showed us the face of God in his loving compassionate encounters. This is our job description today. Let's serve God's people, honor the Spirit of God working in their lives, and drop all the rules. Annulments too often raise the anxiety levels of couples, pry into their lives to find some loophole, such as a psychological impediment, before they can be married validly in the church. Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP, www.arcwp.org