[FROM THE DUST JACKET] In 1993 Sheila Rauch Kennedy received a letter from the Boston Catholic Archdiocese announcing that her former husband, Congressman Joseph Kennedy, was seeking an annulment of their marriage. If the Church granted the annulment the marriage, which had lasted twelve years, would be rendered nonexistent -- not simply ended, as was stated in the divorce decree, but invalid from the start. And their two sons would be regarded as children of an unsanctified union. Joe Kennedy needed the annulment to remarry within the Church, and he encouraged his wife to ignore the details. But stunned by the hypocrisy of the process and the betrayal of trust it involved, Kennedy was determined to defend the legitimacy of her former marriage.
Shattered Faith is the fascinating chronicle of that struggle, and of what Kennedy uncovered about the uses and frequency of annulments in the United States. Interweaving her own experiences with those of other women whose trust in the Church was shattered by annulment, she tells a story that will surprise, anger, and move readers of every faith.
xvi and 238 pages long.
[FROM TJB] This book should be required reading in every pre-Cana marriage preparation course. I have never seen a better exposition of the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of matrimony. And from a Protestant at that! Pay no attention to her special pleading that the Catholic Church do as the Orthodox Church has been doing for centuries and start allowing its members both sacramental and "non-sacramental" marriages as a way out of the quandary of so many modern-day Catholics being barred from the Eucharist because of attempted second marriages. It's irrelevant to the thrust of her book, which is that the annulment processes in this country are rife with dishonesty and corruption, all with the knowing connivance of the hierarchy.
Moreover, this book should also be read by every would-be defender of the Roman and Spanish Inquisitions foolish enough to have put any trust in the supposed procedural protections allegedly afforded those who were accused of heresy. If the ecclesiastics who ran those heresy trials were as corrupt and dishonest as our modern marriage tribunal canon lawyers, notwithstanding all the "due process procedures" allegedly built into the systems, we can only pray that God had mercy on the souls of the accused, for the Church of those days certainly did and does not.
In my opinion, the annulment racket described by Mrs. Kennedy as now going on in this country is as strong an argument that the American Catholic Church cannot be a part of the true Church of Christ as would the NCCB's announcing to-morrow that abortion is the eighth sacrament.
[A book review of Mrs. Kennedy's book by Christopher Lydon, a talk radio host in Boston, that appeared in the June 8, 1997, New York Times Book Review.]
Joseph P. Kennedy 2d, the Massachusetts Congressman, Robert F. Kennedy's eldest son and now leading man of his Kennedy generation, regularly used to call his wife a "nobody," she charges. More wounding epithets get tossed around in sitcoms and have been flung in anger even between successful partners. But Joe Kennedy went on, two years after Sheila Rauch Kennedy won her divorce from him in 1991, to seek an annulment of their marriage in the Roman Catholic Church -- that is, to make a nullity of his broken bond with a nothing. And thus the compound outrage that produced this memoir and manifesto.
"Shattered Faith" reads like sweet revenge on an ex-husband, but its real target is the Catholic Church. Sheila Rauch Kennedy, an Episcopalian who agreed to raise her children in both churches, has undertaken to change Catholic policy on divorce and remarriage, first by ventilating the anger of thousands of nullified spouses "disappeared" by the Code of Canon Law. At the rate of over 60,000 annulments per year&emdash;a huge increase from 40 years ago but only a small percentage of Catholic marriages that break up&emdash;the church in the United States has been holding a technical line against divorce but welcoming remarried Catholics back to the fold on the elaborate pretense that their first unions (12 years, with twin sons in the case of Sheila and Joe) never really happened.
The policy, Ms. Kennedy argues persuasively, is a fraud, a tissue of lies about religion itself, a hoax that is particularly cruel to dutiful Catholic wives who gave their best years to marriage and motherhood. Joe Kennedy has in fact already won his annulment from the church marriage tribunal in Boston. His ex-wife's book is part of her appeal to Rome to undo the annulment and address a festering scandal in the American provinces. The United States, she observes, has come to be called the "Nevada of the annulment world." Three-quarters of the world's annulments are granted in this country; nine out of ten annulments sought in the American Catholic Church are approved.
Of course there will also be ramifications for Kennedy politics, especially in Massachusetts, where Joe Kennedy is running for governor next year and his younger brother Michael's love affair with his own children's baby sitter, starting when she was 14 years old, has been much reported on this spring. The first effect of all the news is to rally bad old memories of Kennedys and women&emdash;including Uncle Ted at Chappaquiddick, Uncle Jack and Judith Campbell Exner and Grandpa Joe in Hollywood with Gloria Swanson.
Yet there is nothing juicy or new in Sheila Rauch Kennedy's account of her husband; she does not illuminate why the, married after a nine-year courtship, or why they broke up, or what sort of man and husband he was, except to say that he "has never been exactly an advocate for equality between the sexes" and that he could boorishly dismiss her impassioned researches into annulment practices. " Just think about it," she says he told her, refusing to reflect at all on what he called the church's "gobbledygook.''
And gobbledygook it is. Ms. Kennedy is a relentless stalker of the anomalies in the annulment doctrine, which are endless. For example: the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce, but has support groups for divorced Catholics; the church grants annulments but, as Ms. Kennedy found, frowns on support groups for Catholics whose marriages are annulled. Annulment, though it obliterates the sacred union of parents, has no effect on children, a priest assured her. Unless, presumably, they happen to see their mother crying about her own obliteration.
"Lack of due discretion" is the church's code phrase for the multitude of hindsight flaws in a marriage that might warrant annulment. It might mean a partner's prior history of alcoholism or mild depression or authority hang-ups or under-preparation. In the name of sensitivity to mental health, the church has let its annulment proceedings be infected with analyses by "psychological consultants" who on the strength of an hour's interview (or less) will issue opinions about the mental state of marriage partners 30 years earlier. In dissolving marriages, the church has adopted a version of the insanity plea, an "abuse excuse" for which no solid evidence is required.
A history of child abuse does not undo a priest's sacrament of Holy Orders, but the examples from Ms. Kennedy's files suggest that vague memories of a bad hair day might be enough to undo a Catholic marriage in the United States. They also sustain the boast of one church lawyer she quotes: "There isn't a marriage in America that we can't annul." Needless to add, findings of "lack of due discretion" in a first marriage are a gateway, not a block, to the next marriage. It costs $300 to file for annulment, but nearly three times as much ($850) to file an - appeal that would re-sanctify a marriage.
The pain and suffering in all this, borne disproportionately by belittled wives and children, is poignantly documented here. But Ms. Kennedy's most telling illustration is by her own political analogy. Imagine that a retroactive revision in the counting of electoral votes "annulled" John F. Kennedy's Presidency: "Congress doesn't take away any pensions, health insurance, or other benefits that his family may have gained from his years of service. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty remains valid. It's just that he was never President as we now view the Presidency. He just thought he was."
Ms. Kennedy's reform proposal sounds almost too reasonable to get a hearing in the church's court, but maybe it will. A new rule, she suggests, could give Catholics "one crack at a sanctified marriage. If you blow it, you blow it. But if you face up to your mistakes and straighten out, we'll recognize your new marriage as valid.... But we won't say your first marriage never existed. Nor will we accept divorce and because we won't, we will draw a distinction between valid marriages and those which are both valid and sacramental. Because you were married before, we will regard your new marriage as valid but not sacramental."
This is the practical resolution Ms. Kennedy has observed among Catholic friends who have Jewish spouses and vice versa. "Their marriages are valid but not sacramental," she writes. "The Catholic spouse may participate in the sacraments, and everyone seems happy enough with the arrangement."
Some people will buy Ms Kennedy's book for the wrong reasons. Others will begin it with misgivings (as she did, apparently) about. the taint of vindictiveness. But her good sense and steady rage dispel such suspicions. "Shattered Faith" is a completely serious, maybe inspired, inquiry into an absurd breakdown in the Catholic Church's thinking. Ms. Kennedy has hammered it precisely and hard in a fashion that the church will have to address, if only because the "declaration of nullity" that is an annulment mocks the sacramentalism at the center of Catholic understanding.
If the sacrament of marriage can be undone on grounds of neurotic tendencies among the partners&emdash;if sacraments can be erased on any finding short of force, fraud, the gravest misunderstandings or a clear sign from God &emdash; surely the church has abandoned the principle that it is God's own grace that makes the union, not merely the designs of men and women whose inescapable flaws make every human act vulnerable to the ultimate inspection.
If the church applied its annulment practice to other sacraments&emdash;to baptism, confession or Holy Communion, for example &emdash;the chaos in church life would be instantly obvious.
That is, if the church got into the habit of saying: "No, on reflection 30 years later, your absolution did not take because you came into the confessional with a history of unhappiness; because you confessed your sins in sorrow and pain, perhaps, but without due discretion...." If the church started using this annulment lingo about the other sacraments, not only would believers be suing right and left for false promises, but the church also would surely see the violation of a first premise: that God's sovereignty, not human intention, seals every sacrament.
I wondered midway through this book why this attack hadn't been launched before. I marveled by the end that in Ms. Kennedy's book the case was so earnestly and effectively made.