Page 31

‘Dad – am I ‘legitimate’?’

T

he Church’s discipline regarding second marriages oscillates between heavy handed generosity and painful severity. Annette Bagley (Tui Motu, December) notes annulment is often not an option. She cites finance as one reason. On finance I cannot fully agree with her. There is a cap of under $1,000 in the fees that a petitioner may be asked to pay. The balance of the expenses incurred in processing an annulment are met by the Church, in other words, from the collection plate contributions of fellow Catholics. Such fees as are asked for result in every case in the petitioner receiving what amounts to legal aid assistance. Civil divorce and custody proceedings have no such cap placed on the legal fees required of the parties involved and these are likely to dwarf the expenses involved in pursuing an annulment. To talk of the situation of the children as a barrier to seeking an annulment is to be on surer ground. Many have been dissuaded from beginning the process of obtaining an annulment by the protests of their children, who see themselves as about to be declared illegitimate. As Annette put it, “If your parents are not considered to be married, where do you fit in?” If you know a friend who might enjoy reading Tui Motu – and perhaps become a subscriber – then fill in the name below and send it to: Freepost No. 97407 P O Box 6404 Dunedin North 9030 – and we will send them a free copy. Name:....................................... ....... Address:........................................

This problem the Church has done its best to solve. As far as she is concerned, such folk are as legitimate as the offspring of any other marriage. Church policy, no doubt out of sympathy for the children involved, has always been generous as to who is recognised as legitimate. Any child not merely conceived but even simply born of a valid marriage is legitimate. I was once close by as a colleague conducted a marriage when the bride was already experiencing labour pains. The child was born legitimate. More to the point respecting annulment, the marriage that the Church is asked to annul is what canon law terms “putative”, namely, it has been celebrated in good faith by at least one party. The offspring of such a marriage are recognised by the Church as fully legitimate. This is a subtlety of canon law that understandably is rarely expounded from the pulpit or included in school religious curricula. Children of a Catholic contemplating seeking an annulment are not likely to be aware of it. If they were, would it solve their misgivings about a parent seeking an annulment? Sadly it might not. Timely circulation of information about the concept of putative marriage and its standing would be a help. At least the

Church has done what it can as to the legitimacy/illegitimacy question and deserves plus points for that. Not so on the more substantial issue of recognising the legitimacy of second marriages. Here severity is sadly the prevailing approach of the Church. Unless an annulment or a dissolution is obtained, a second marriage is not recognised by the Church and those involved are told they may not receive communion. Actually to say that is the prevailing attitude of the Church is not true. It is the prevailing attitude at the Roman level. It is not that of many bishops, including New Zealand bishops. At the time of the Oceania Synod in 1999, many bishops went on record as calling for a re-assessment of the existing discipline. As Bishop Leonard Boyle expressed it, “Let us look at the question: is there another way? Let us look afresh, not look at the past answers”. That the document issued after the Synod, Church in Oceania, made no reference to these repeated calls from the bishops of the Synod, even if only to reject them, seems a shameful abdication of papal responsibility. ■

Humphrey O’Leary

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Tui Motu InterIslands 31

Tui motu 2003 february  

http://www.tuimotu.org/documents/Tui_Motu_2003_February.pdf

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