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Church Annulments Mock the
Martyrdom of St. Thomas More

Lyle J. Arnold, Jr.

Consciously or unconsciously many progressivists mock St. Thomas More. By the very nature of New Church's policy on annulments of marriages, St. Thomas has become a laughing stock for them. Who cannot infer that in today's New Church, King Henry VIII's request to annul his first wife would have been done quickly, and the position of Sir Thomas would seem idiotic? Positively, love of Catholic Morals to the point of martyrdom is not in the agenda of Progressivism.

Catholic divorce

In 1968 there were 338 annulments annually compared with over 60,000 annually today
With some 60,000 annulments of marriage granted annually in the United States alone (1), it would be hard to sustain that the Moral doctrine that always ruled Catholic marriages is still in force. One particular case that received widespread media attention proves how this claim applies today. A marriage of almost three decades was annulled because of the husband's "lack of due discretion."

After the stunned wife heard the judgment, she had this to say:

“This man, 31-years old, of above average intelligence, nonpsychotic, noncoerced, from a normal family background, supposedly suffered from some disorder that either made him unable to understand what marriage entailed or unable to fulfill its obligations. This disorder apparently continued undetected for 28 years and unknowingly prevented them from ever experiencing a true marriage, even though they became parents and raised three children, and he was a successful physician as well.

“Additionally, the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Boston had proven this to be true not only beyond areasonable doubt, but to a moral certainty.”(2)

Shattered Faith

She found her faith shaken by the easy divorce the Church granted her husband
But it didn’t finish there. A short time later, the same man was allowed to marry again in the Catholic Church by the same religious authorities.

The stunned wife, Sheila Rauch Kennedy, indignantly comments: “Let us grant for a moment that they [the religious judges] were correct. Why then let a person of such defective judgment remarry eight weeks later in the Catholic Church?" (3)

The contradiction couldn’t be more blatant. We are witnessing purely and simply a Catholic divorce followed by remarriage, both of which were blessed by the New Church’s authorities. The Sacrament of Marriage evanesces. But not only this, that same man was allowed to receive the Blessed Sacrament normally, which is another outrage.

Through what channels of distortion could the Princes of the Church contrive the alleged moral certainty to annul that marriage? They were never given this power. Indeed, Our Lord expressly forbade divorce in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5: 31-32), and was otherwise insistent on the indissolubility of marriage (Matt 19: 1-9; Mark 10: 1-9).

In his Life of Christ Fr. Fillion tells us that during Our Lord's sojourn in Peraea, He was confronted by the Pharisees, who nowhere left Him at peace. He describes the incident: “Having decided to hasten His destruction, they are ceaselessly on the watch for some incident on which they might base a serious charge against Him. They now think they have found one" (4). The subject was the question of divorce.

At that time there were two schools of Jewish theological thought on the topic, the school of Shammai which allowed divorce only for adultery, and the more liberal school of Hillel which allowed divorce for any reason. Notably, this difference of opinion concerned only the reason for the divorce, because, at that time there was no Jew who did not admit the validity and lawfulness of divorce (5). The question was considered so important, Fr. Fillion points out, “that the Talmud contains an entire tractate titled Guittin, in which the subject is treated with all the punctiliousness and indiscretion of the rabbis" (6).

Thus, the Jews asked Our Lord if He favored the Hillel, with the hope that Christ would oppose that school. Fr. Fillion points out that they wanted “to involve Him in difficulties that would check the growth of His popularity" (7). The Savior easily defeated His enemies by pointing out the extremely close union made up by Matrimony that would exclude the very possibility of divorce: "Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matt 19: 6).

So, the Bishops today with their ready annulments are contradicting the very teaching of Our Savior. They are also contradicting the entire History of the Church until Vatican II.

St Thomas More

St. Thomas More lost his life because he would not agree to the divorce of Henry VIII
I return to my example of St. Thomas More. King Henry tried everything he could to get his marriage annulled by sidestepping the prohibitions in Deuteronomy, but to no avail. Let me quote from the famous novel The Man for All Seasons. Angry with Sir Thomas for opposing his wishes, the King remonstrated,

"Am I to burn in Hell because the Bishop of Rome, with the King of Spain's knife to his throat, mouths Deuteronomy? Hypocrites! They're all hypocrites! Mind they do not take you in, Thomas! Lie low if you will, but I'll brook no opposition, no noise! No words, no signs, no letter, no pamphlets. Mind that, Thomas, no writings against me!" (Act One) (8)

As we all know, the English Parliament passed the Act of Succession in 1534, which acknowledged Anne Boleyn as the King's “lawful wife,” and her daughter Elizabeth the heir presumptive to the throne. And, as the putative new head of the Church in England, the King soon sent Sir Thomas to the Tower, and shortly after, his neck to the chopping block.

The case has parallels with the situation today, when the words of Our Lord about divorce are abandoned, and the tradition of Catholic Moral teachings put aside. How has this happened? I attribute the cause to Vatican II.

Before Vatican II, the obedience of Catholics to the prohibition of divorce and remarriage was hallowed, reverential. Yet already, at the dawn of the Council, society was changing for the worse. In her 1961 book aWhom God Hath not Joined, Claire McAuley writes that the post-Christian world had entered into "an unparalleled period of hedonistic ideals, and of contempt for such unprofitable notions as a world to come, self-control, and penance. Catholics have emerged from their own private enclave to become more a part of the world around them than they had been for centuries. It needs a steady head and an unfaltering will to walk straight in these circumstances" (9).

The traditional role of the Church was always to combat such hedonistic attitudes, to counsel her faithful to be vigilant in times when the passions were unleashed and the desires unbridled. Instead, at Vatican II the Fathers did the exact opposite, they invited Catholics to become more a part of this world around them. Instead of seeking to convert the world, they were told they could adapt themselves and the Church to it. The result is what we see: The abandonment of Catholic Morals and the destruction of the family.

We should pray to Our Lady for the Church to return to the times when St. Thomas More was rightfully venerated for standing firm against divorce, and Catholic marriage was considered sacred.
2. Sheila Rauch Kennedy, Shattered Faith, NY: Pantheon Bks, 1997, p. 3.
3. Ibid., p. 3.
4. L.C. Fillion, The Life of Christ – A Historical, Critical, and Apologetic Exposition, St. Louis: H. Herder Book Co., , 1943, Vol. 3, Chap. 4.
5. Ibid, p. 156.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Robert Bolt, A Man for all Seasons, NY: Vintage Bks, 1960, p. 33.
9. Claire McAuley, Whom God Hath not Joined, NY: Sheed and Ward, 1961, pp. 5, 6.

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Posted February 1, 2008

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