SOS Brief History + Where life experiences including with Respondents, have Led to my Faith/ Belief Today

- Jan L. January, 2017

Often, after working with a Respondent for more than a few months, questions can arise about how Save Our Sacrament came to be and also where I am ‘regarding the Catholic Church’ and my Spiritual faith.
As the founder of SOS, it is important to me that Respondents understand that the Annulment process has NOTHING to do with one's faith or spirituality. Annulment is simply an aspect of a man-made, quasi-legal set of “rules” called Canon Law… designed by ‘celibate’ men who have had no experience with being married.

SOS History. My experience with the annulment process occurred back in the late 90's, 14 years after the divorce and after I earned a Masters and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and a Masters of Divinity. As I was writing the response to the tribunal’s questionnaire, my graduate studies background provided me with the education and (research dissertation) experience to write a thorough challenge to the duplicitous petition against our sacrament. The Rota validated my sacrament.

Toward the end of my experience with the First Court experience, I read Sheila R. Kennedy's book, Shattered Faith. It became very clear to me that the ludicrous machinations I observed in the local tribunal process was happening to almost every other Respondent throughout the United States: insecure diocesan tribunal priests with the emotional maturity of a teenager at best, trying to feel powerful by verbally harassing vulnerable women-Respondents, who were still reeling from divorce. Especially unconscionable is the tribunal practice of annulling Protestant marriages.
During my experiences with the local Boston tribunal I began to see even more clearly the elitism, exclusiveness, and institutional limitations of the RCChurch, especially against women.

As a result, Save Our Sacrament was founded. The SOS Board of Directors and Advisors was formed and we began to use our combined experience to guide new Respondents through the annulment labyrinth (filled with tribunal-placedintentional landmines). Shattered Faith was and continues to be the foundational inspiration for our work with Respondents.
Those of us working with Respondents for twenty years now have seen that there is a clear bias taught to Catholic seminarians studying Canon Law, against the women they are supposed to help. Seminary students learn to view women Respondents as the "contentious" individual in their marriage cases. (For research about this type of bias on a more global scale, Google Leigh Gilmore, “Tainted Witness” (2017).
Our sense of injustice is most clear in two Pages we wrote for this SOS Website: "25 Hypocrisies" written in the late 1990's and more recently "Annulment/ Two Choices".

Annulment is a Scandal. Those of us working with Respondents during the past two decades have heard from very many women who had been emotionally abused by tribunal priests. It became clear to us that the annulment process is a verifiable scandal perpetuated by the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the U.S. Five years after SOS was founded,the Priest Pedophile Scandal here in Boston emerged into full public awareness.
But the scandal of annulment is yet to be brought to public awareness. According to civil lawyers we’ve spoken with, the tribunal's annulment process contains the makings of a Class Action Suit. SOS has been contacted by over a thousand people; most have offered to share their annulment experiences with us. But more people are needed to work with our SOS Board for that level of proactive work. Hopefully Pope Francis will eventually call for the elimination of the Annulment process, so no legal suit will be necessary.

My Faith / Spirituality today

When I became aware of not one but TWO Church scandals revealing the systemic violence at the core of the church, my faith was shaken into a different reality.

Jim Fowler, a professor-mentor was the author of Stages of Faith Development which became the foundation of my Ph.D. dissertation. Fowler makes clear that Faith does not remain static, rather Faith evolves during one's lifetime, for people with common sense.
My own beliefs moved beyond the religious/ institutional to a more grounded belief, including the importance of the "primacy" of one’s Conscience (as in the Internal Forum process for annulments).
Authors who pointed me toward a new Spirituality include Michael Morwood and Thomas Berry, C.P., Ph.D.:

Michael Morwood/ It's Time (2013) and In Memory of Jesus (2014)

In my reading of his work, Michael Morwood's perspectives apply well to the annulment process: it is clear that genuine Love is present in the marriage history of each Respondent with whom we’ve worked. God’s Divine Presence is that Love.
In Morwood's recent book, It's Time, he makes clear that "Divine Presence is always present and active in our lives throughout the World; never absent, and permeates everything that exists". Further, he points out that: "This Mystery is beyond our human notions of "person" and the way we humans observe, react, think, plan and intervene. The Universality of consciousness and energy are worthwhile contemporary pointers to this Divine Presence permeating and sustaining everything that exists. The Divine Presence is manifested in our universe and in our world through natural and observable patterns such as cooperation and the interconnection of everything that exists. The human species emerged within the Divine Presence at work through these patterns. The Divine Presence has been, and always will be, present within the human endeavor, as with everything that exists." (Morwood, It's Time, pages 160 – 161)
Important: this is especially true as a Respondent takes on the annulment challenge.

Morwood's book In Memory of Jesus (2014)offers a faith-filled understanding of Creator-Divine Presence and Jesus. http://www.morwood.org/new-book.html

Thomas Berry’s "Earth / Universe New Story Cosmology"
Berry’s insights have also become central to my Spirituality. Berry, an "eco-theologian" and Passionist order priest (1914-2009), expands insights and themes found in Morwood's books. Berry wrote The Dream of the Earth '88; The Sacred Universe '2009, etc.). Many other theologians and writers have been inspired by Berry such as Brian Swimme: The Universe Is A Green Dragon '84, etc.).

The following (shortened) tribute to Thomas Berry by Matthew Fox, written ten years before his death, gives insight into who Thomas Berry was and what he exemplified:

Thomas Berry, scholar and lover of the Earth
by Matthew Fox
EarthLight Magazine #34, Summer, 1999

I remember the first time I met Thomas Berry. It was about twenty years ago in January in Chicago at Mundelein College where I had begun our Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality a few years earlier. Scientist Brian Swimme had moved out with his family that Fall to teach with us and he insisted that we invite Thomas Berry from New York to speak to the students. After his challenging presentation, we were walking to dinner through the wet slush of a Chicago January and I told Thomas that I was working on a book on Hildegard of Bingen's paintings and illuminations. "Ah, Hildegard!" he said. "A great genius." And he was off expounding deeply on Hildegard.




Thomas Berry has studied contemporary science with depth and abandon, mind and heart. He has also immersed himself in the ancient wisdom of indigenous peoples and the wisdom of China and the East. Yet he has always stayed true to the path of critical thought and of prophetic consciousness. He speaks with the poetry of his Celtic ancestors, and his scholarship (as distinct from academic ego) is both critical and caring.

Above all, Berry's love of the cosmos and his insistence that all education and all professions are ultimately responsible to the cosmos is his deepest legacy. By calling us to an enduring Creation Story from the new science he gives us tools for beginning over. He not only deconstructs; he reconstructs. So many priests of his generation are cynical and so many academicians are only committed to deconstructing. What Thomas Berry has that these people lack is a sense of wonder that has not diminished with age. There is a youthfulness in Thomas Berry that is evident in the radical questions he asks as well as in the wonder he elicits. He helps us dream the Earth anew, dream our work anew, dream religion and education anew.

I find in Thomas Berry and his passion for eco-justice and cosmic storytelling, a true descendant of the Celtic spiritual genius. His love of the Earth, his sense of humor, his gift of language, his poetic consciousness, his moral outrage, his primal appreciation of the aesthetic, his common sense, and his prophetic storytelling all point to the interconnectivity of nature and human nature, the sacred and daily life, the divine and the human and the more-than-human that characterize the Celtic spirit at its best. His work is a gift that he has given us, as he encourages other thinkers to move even beyond his own work.

Thomas Berry is a true elder. A student of Teilhard de Chardin, he has been true to his Catholic heritage in the deepest sense of finding and naming the sacramental character of the Universe. In the tradition of Thomas Aquinas, he has "shared the fruits of his contemplation" by his writing, his teaching, and lecturing. And by his witness he is an elder gifting generations to come with the blessings of creation. Our gratitude might well be expressed in getting on with our living and our citizenship whereby we integrate Thomas Berry's values, the ecological values the world needs today, into our work-worlds, our worship-worlds, and our psychic, cosmic, and planetary worlds. Thomas Berry has laid out an essential agenda for our time.


This essay was written for EarthLight in Thomas Berry's honor and was part of a special 10-page section featuring Thomas Berry and the New Cosmology in the summer 1999 issue.

Matthew Fox is president and founder of the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland. He is the author of 23 books including Original Blessing, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen and most recently, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Lessons in Transforming Evil in Soul and Society. And more recently: One River, Many Wells (2000); Creativity (2002); Christian Mystics (2014); A Way to God: Thomas Merton's Creation Spirituality Journey (2016)