Wednesday, April 07, 2004

John Kerry's Annulment...Or Lack Thereof.

The most charitable thing you can say about Senator John Kerry's position on abortion, and his understanding of Church teaching about abortion, is that he is befuddled and confused. His pronouncements on the subject have been self-serving and disingenuous, and if the reports are true, his efforts to purposely get himself refused communion for political ends reveals a level and kind of cynicism which beggars vituperation.

As the debate about Kerry's nose-thumbing at Catholic teaching regarding abortion grows more heated, more and more Catholics are turning their attention to the question of Kerry's marriage to ketchup heiress Theresa Heinz: Is he validly married to Theresa in the eyes of the Church? Did he get an annulment from his first wife? The prospect that Kerry and Heinz may be presenting themselves illicitly for Holy Communion has many orthodox Catholics up in arms.

But, in spite of my own distaste for Kerry, I have to say "Don't go there, people. Don't go there." Getting wrapped up about the status of Kerry's marriage is a waste of time.

Why?

Because the only people who know whether Kerry has an annulment or not are Kerry and Heinz themselves, a few officials of the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and possibly Cardinal McCarrick himself. And that situation isn't going to change unless Kerry himself decides to resolve the question publicly once and for all.

You see, annulment cases are considered very confidential. They aren't considered quite as secret as the confessional, but they are nontheless secret. If you call up the Tribunal in Washington, and ask if Senator Kerry ever got an annulment, you'll be politely told that such matters are confidential. If you even ask if Senator Kerry applied for an annulment, you'll again be politely told that such matters are confidential. And that's not just because Kerry's a VIP. If you do the same regarding Joe Shmoe who lives down the street, you'll meet with the same response.

This secrecy is maintained to protect the consciences and reputations of the parties in the annulment, who usually reveal very sensitive and personal information about themselves and their spouses in the course of the case. The only people who have access to that information are those the Church deems have an incontrovertible need to know. And 99.9% of the time, that doesn't include you and me.

So the only people who know besides Kerry and Heinz can't and won't tell.

What seems to be the case, from information presented here and here, and here, is that Kerry married Theresa outside the Church before he sought an annulment from his first wife. OK, that was bad. And he made some remarks on the Don Imus radio show in 1997, which indicate that he had not yet received an annulment. So at least at that point, Kerry was probably living in an invalid marriage.

But the other writers who have commented on this situation report on the fact that Kerry's first wife opposed the annulment as though that fact in itself proved that Kerry doesn't have one. But that's simply not true. The spouse's response to a "Petition for A Declaration of Nullity" (what an "annulment" is officially known as) is an important part of the evidence, but it is still only one part. A spouse's opposition to an annulment does not have the ability to derail the case entirely. An opposing spouse, if he/she has good canonical representation, can certainly tie up the case even if it has merit. But annulments can be and are sometimes granted in spite of a spouse's opposition.

The evidence available to us, as it stands, simply does not support the conclusion that Kerry cannot have gotten an annulment.

And 1997 was, after all, seven years ago. It is perfectly possible that his annulment, held up by his first wife's opposition and stalled in 1997, was granted subsequently. And such an event would have passed with no fanfare whatsoever.

Furthermore, his invalid marriage to Theresa, contracted civilly in 1995, could have been rectified by the Church once Kerry obtained an annulment. Such a process is called a "convalidation", and in it the couple renews their consent to marry, and the Church supplies what was defective or missing in contracting the invalid marriage. Thus the couple becomes validly married in the Church. Most couples also go through convalidations with little fanfare, and the Kerrys would almost certainly be no exception. As a public figure, John Kerry would have zero incentive to make either his annulment or a convalidation a public matter, as it could do him no good politically.

So what we have is a situation where our knowledge is limited, our abililty to ascertain all the facts is limited, and there is a plausible alternative explanation which does not contradict the facts we have at hand. That's the kind of situation where it has always seemed prudent to me to keep my big mouth shut.

If some Catholics go after Kerry on the annulment issue, and Kerry really had obtained one, all he will have to do is release a document to demolish the credibility of his critics. Then he can portray himself sympathetically as the victim of Catholic "extremists". And if Kerry doesn't produce such a document, he can nonetheless claim that his annulment is a confidential matter, and it's none of our business, and he'll be entirely within his rights. And he can use the unseemly aspect of Catholics trying to pry into what the Church herself regards as a confidential matter as another opporuntunity to be portrayed sympathetically. And no one will be able to prove anything one way or another.

It seems to me that the annulment issue is a non-starter. And if Kerry really is in an invalid marriage to Theresa Heinz, the people primarily being hurt are Kerry and Heinz themselves.

But Kerry has hurt the innocent unborn as Senator, and will do untold more harm if he becomes president. Kerry's repudiation of magisterial Catholic teaching on the issue of abortion, and his abject servility to NARAL and NOW, provide the clearest of moral delineations, and the most urgent moral imperative to oppose him.

Let's keep ourselves focused, and not allow ourselves to scatter all over the map in our opposition to Kerry.