It is sometimes said that "Catholics can't get divorced." More knowledgeable persons say that "Catholics can't get divorced and remarried" (more ignorant ones sometimes think that the process referred to as annulment is "Catholic divorce").
None of these views does justice to the actual situation, not of the marriage of Catholics, but of the marriage of human beings - for it is not the Catholic Church that has created marriage. God created marriage.
Man is an animal; man is, however, more than an animal. For animals, the sexual relationship is governed by nature. Some species of animal - swans are an example - naturally mate for life. Their union is permanent, exclusive - and intended for reproduction. With rare exceptions, they live according to their natures - they have - literally - no choice in the matter.
The union of man and woman, in the ideal case, is like that of the swan: permanent, exclusive - and oriented toward offspring - 'open to new life' as the Church expresses it.
To be sure, marriage often falls short of this ideal. Marriages that are intended at the start to be permanent, fail. Marriages that are intended at the start, at times experience adultery. The strangest fact - strange, since reason would seem to say that children are what marriage is all about - the strangest fact is that married couples often seem not to aim at children - a perversion that seems to border on the suicidal, from, at least, the racial point of view.
Nevertheless, despite the failures of marriage, permanence, exclusivity, and openness to new life are the necessary characteristics of marriage - and the intention to aim at these three ideals is necessary for there really to be a marriage.
Christ raised marriage to a new level. He sanctified it - and made such a marriage indissoluble (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9). A marriage between baptised persons is what the Church calls a sacramental marriage. A person who is married cannot re-marry as long as his spouse is alive. This article discusses the matter clearly.
A critical question, thus, became: was I already married?
It is a fact today that many in the Catholic Church are in the situation of being validly married to another, but now civilly married to a new partner. So long as they continue live together as husband and wife, they are not allowed to receive Communion. For good reason - the financial dependence of one partner on the other; the presence of children in the family - a couple in this situation may be given permission to live together 'as brother and sister' - or else forgo the right to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
I applied to the Auckland Diocesan Marriage Tribunal to have my marriage to Edna examined.
The matter was complex. At the time - 1995 - I had had no contact with Edna for some years. Letters I had written to the last address I had had for her were returned. I did not know where Kathleen was living, either. I did not know of any way to contact Edna. I told the nun working in the tribunal that this was the case. She asked if I knew Edna's American Social Security number. I did not. I said that I doubted they would locate her. They said they were sure they would. The matter was yet messier due to the fact that our marriage had taken place in the Diocese of San Francisco in California.
Many questions were asked in regards all of this: whether I had been baptised before marrying Edna (I actually asked my parents; it appears I had not been); whether Edna had been baptised before marrying me (I was of the opinion that she probably had been, but did not - and do not - know); but above all, what had been my understanding of marriage at the time, and what had been my intentions.
I feared a conflict of interest in this last. I knew that I had a motivation for saying that my knowledge of marriage, and my intentions in marriage, were inadequate. If they were judged adequate, perhaps my marriage to Edna was valid. Nevertheless, I did want the truth.
The truth was, I said to the nun interviewing me, that I did not think I had had any clear idea of marriage. In 1962, if you wanted to live with a woman, you got married. No doubt, I supposed, there were people who did not worry about marriage. The idea certainly would not have occurred to me.
Did I intend permanence and exclusivity? I certainly said, in my marriage vow, that I did. We were married - Edna tells me, for I had not even known this at the time - by an Anglican (Episcopalian) priest. He would have used words about 'forsaking all others' and 'till death do you part.' I would have said 'I do.' I am afraid - and I blush to say it - that I probably thought so little about the meaning of those words as not even to have been able not to intend to keep them.
Of one thing I was certain: though, had I been asked at the time if I wanted children, I would, no doubt, have said, "Oh, yes, sure - some day" - it was certainly not my intention for any time soon. Perhaps the very best thing that happened to us was that, within two months of our marriage, Kathleen was conceived. God intends better things than we can conceive.
As is the case in increasingly many cases like mine, the Church concluded that my marriage to Edna was not, in the full sense of the word, valid. I had liked 'due discretion' - a way of saying that I was not grown up enough to consider marriage at the time. Few, I think, including Edna, would dispute that. A 'decree of nullity' - a statement that there never was a proper marriage in the first place - was issued.
This decision was not actually delivered to Father Jude until the 23rd of December, 1995 - the day before I (with Susan, and Helen, Eddie, and Adele) were received into the Church.
This post has been very difficult and painful for me to write, detailing, as it does, my own serious misbehaviour. I have not felt I could avoid some discussion of the matter.
All of this took most of 1995 - but in January of that year, it was not clear that this would be so.