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Frustration with annulment

HONG KONG (UCAN): Despite finding comfort in the latest apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis, The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), a divorced and remarried Catholic in Hong Kong said she has lost faith in the Church hierarchy and would not seek its help anymore in resolving the issue of her divorce after two failed attempts.

After her divorce in 1996, the woman said her parish priest instructed her to process a nullity of marriage request in the diocesan Family Court. The court heard her case and asked her to find witnesses. She gave up as she knew it was not easy to explain her situation.

The now middle-aged woman did not want to reveal why she divorced, but said the problems she has had with the Church as a result have haunted her for 20 years, especially when her new husband was preparing for baptism after they married in a civil ceremony.

Before his baptism, his catechist and parish priest advised the woman to reopen and settle her case in the Family Court.

She said, “It was by then we knew we both could not receive communion” because Church teaching says divorced Catholics, who remarry without a Church annulment are living in sin.

With a sense of urgency to resolve her case, she invited her family, friends, parish priest and even her ex-husband to testify. However, she was told by the court there was insufficient evidence to nullify her first marriage.

The divorce rate among Catholics in Hong Kong is much the same as for the general population. Government statistics show that the number has jumped almost fourfold in the two decades from 1991 to 2013, from 6,295 to 22,271.

Father Francis Tse Kin-shing, the judicial vicar of the diocese, said that each year some 200 annulments are granted, leaving people technically free to remarry in the Church.

However, he said there are no statistics on the total number of nullity applications as there are many varieties.

He explained that some Catholics have asked to have their cases reopened since Pope Francis simplified the annulment process last year. However, he thinks the new exhortation will not see a significant jump in applicants, as it does not change the doctrine.

A catechist commented that she expects the diocese will not become more lenient in its judgments as a result of the exhortation, because it fears people will misread it as encouraging them to divorce or seek an annulment.

In his exhortation released on April 8, Pope Francis warned against treating divorced or estranged couples as if they were excommunicated. He also said that there is no simple solution, but encouraged pastoral discernment of individual situations with a responsible attitude.

He also stressed, “The Christian community’s care of such persons is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage; rather, such care is a particular expression of its charity.”

The woman for whom the whole process seems to have run its course said she used to feel that the Holy See was unattainable, unreachable, but the pope’s message gives her great comfort. Still, she would not seek a resolution of her case again.

“The pope may have a lot of new ideas and insights, but it is the Church itself that needs to promote and execute them. The Catholic Church is a complex organisation like a multinational corporation. The wishes of those at the lower level are difficult to explain to those at the top,” the woman, who works for a Catholic organisation, said.

“It was a waste of my time and the time of others. The whole thing has kept me entangled for almost two decades... I remarried legally under civil law, but the Church sees our marriage as adultery just because I am a Catholic,” she said.

“If my husband knew what would happen before he joined the Church, he might well have followed another religion. We also found it difficult to explain to our teenage children that we could not receive communion at Mass, because the Church regards their parents as adulterers,” she said.

She said she feels hurt and thinks if she had not come from a Catholic family, she would probably have dropped out of the Church a long while ago.

“I don’t understand why the Church can accept a repentant murderer, but reject a remarried person,” she said. She added that she feels it is a bit unfair that an extramarital affair can just be fixed up in confession.

She was told unless she had sufficient grounds, her former marriage could only be ended in the eyes of the Church if either she or her former husband dies.

“If I have a strong desire to have sacramental marriage with my second husband, should I will my ex-husband to die early? Or call him up from time to time to see if he has died?” she said in exasperation.

The Church “preaches the truth, but not in a practical way,” she concluded.