Sample letters to Pope Francis
These are copies of letters we have sent to Pope Francis. We offer them here for you to adapt to what you wish to write our Pope. Leave out any reference to the Synod as that occurred in October, 2015.
Letter #1: Letter about three Key Requests
His Holiness, Pope Francis
00120 Vatican City
Most Holy Father:
I am a Respondent writing to you to bring your attention to how abusive the annulment process is to individuals like me. discussions about the deeper pastoral care of people involved in annulments. I have some issues I would like you to address ...
First: Tribunals fail to comprehend the degree of trauma and pain experienced in the breakdown of a marriage and the annulment process. All too often, church officials, rather than helping to heal this pain, in fact make it worse. I request that the annulment process be made more pastoral and transparent. Tribunals often ignore the rights of respondents, while favoring the cause of the petitioner.
Second: Media reports are quoting Cardinal Sean O'Malley as wanting to eliminate appeals to the Roman Rota. I believe this is unjust. Appeals to the Rota are essential to overcome the bias, abuse and petitioner-partiality of local and regional tribunals. I urgently request that you ensure the viability of the Rota appeals process.
Third: Children of all ages are negatively impacted by the annulment process. This is another form of the Catholic Church abusing children. What will the Synod do to stop this abuse?
As one of a thousand Respondents helped by Save Our Sacrament, I urge you to explore our website: SaveOurSacrament.org
Thank you for considering my concerns about respondents. I ask you to bring these three important issued before the Synod.
Letter #2: Letter about four Key Requests
His Holiness, Pope Francis
00120 Vatican City
Most Holy Father:
I am a former annulment Respondent writing you in regard to four important concerns regarding the annulment process ... discussions about the annulment process, I ask your help to ensure that the following four concerns will be discussed during the Synod:
First: Local and regional church tribunals
fail to comprehend the degree of trauma and anguish experienced by
Respondents during the annulment process after the already painful
breakdown of a marriage. All too often the tribunals, rather than
helping to heal this pain, in fact make it much worse.
It is my request that the Synod transform the annulment process to become pastoral to Respondents, and more transparent in general.
Second: Children of Respondents are scandalized by the adversarial annulment process. In reality, the impact of annulment on Respondents’ children is another form of abuse of children by the Catholic Church. What will the Synod do to stop this abuse?
Third: Media reports have
written that ---- has stated that annulment cases should be
allowed “to be brought to conclusion at the
national level without appealing them to Rome.”
As a Respondent, I can assure you that this would be a grave injustice to Respondents for whom the Appeal Process is the only means of validating their sacrament. Local and regional tribunals very often ignore the rights of Respondents, while favoring the view of the petitioner. Appeals to the Rota are essential to overcome both of these biases.
I sincerely request that the Synod guarantee that Respondents will continue to have access to the Rota Appeals process.
Finally: As a possible alternative to the Appeals Process, or if the Appeals Process has become too expensive for our Church to bear, it is my prayer that the Synod will consider the far more pastoral approach of the Greek Orthodox Church: their belief follows the theology of “oikonomia”, permitting and blessing a second marriage without annulment, as you Holy Father, discussed with the media on July 28, 2013.
As one of a thousand Respondents helped by Save Our Sacrament, I urge the Synod members to visit the website: SaveOurSacrament.org in order to familiarize themselves with our organization and its purpose.
Pope Francis, thank you for considering my concerns regarding the devastating impact of annulment on Respondents and their children. Again, I humbly ask that you ensure that these four important issues will be discussed at the Synod in October.
Sincerely and with profound respect,
Letter #3: More formal Letter to the Pope, to fill in the blanks
His Holiness, Pope Francis Apostolic
Palace Vatican City
Most Holy Father,
Inspired by your language of mercy and “accoglienza” in Amoris Laetitia I humbly approach you with a request. In this year of mercy you address those of us with frailties and call for greater compassion towards “imperfect” Catholics such as myself. I am especially interested in what you say about divorce and annulment because I am a Respondent in a current annulment case. You initiated positive and relevant change in the church when you said, “The Church should seek not to judge, as it has often done in the past, but rather to listen and understand the context of people’s lives.”
My name is ------- and I am (wherever your case is currently) in the annulment process. A petition for annulment was filed by my ex-husband, ------, in -----20--- in the Diocese of ------ in the United States. (Here write any information about your case that you want Pope Francis to know).
In good conscience I defend my marriage. I availed myself of existing Church practice, yet was rebuffed. I trusted the local diocese when I agreed to participate in the annulment process, but I experienced gross injustice. Your words that call us to be mindful of those who are in the margins resonate with me. Respondents who defend their sacrament are marginalized by the annulment practice. We are unseen and unheard. I defend my Sacrament of Marriage before the Roman Rota and, although I expect a legal outcome, I fear that my case will be ----.
Most Holy Father, I ask you to review the ongoing case of the annulment of my marriage, ------, and as Bishop, please review the shortcomings of justice found within. I trust most Holy Father, that you will prayerfully read this account of my annulment experience. These are the words of a Respondent who persists in defending her Sacrament of Marriage in spite of innumerable obstacles.
Letter #4: This Letter is included here as an example of our SOS work. All initials are not the Respondent's, except Jan's. This is NOT a Letter for you to use or adapt.
Post Office Box 5119
July 11, 2014
Most Holy Father, Pope Francis,
Re: Synod on Marriage & the Family, October 2014
We are writing to you as members of Save Our Sacrament (SOS), an organization comprised of both former and current Respondents in marriage annulment cases. We represent over one thousand individuals who have contacted us in need of help. Most of these Respondents have experienced what could be termed “abuse” on psychological, emotional, and moral levels, by priests working in diocesan marriage tribunals.
The Synod must hear the
Voice of Respondents
An important question: During the Synod in October, we humbly ask how many attendees who will be discussing the annulment topic have ever spoken with a Respondent for more than fifteen minutes?
The reality is that most
parish and tribunal priests speak ONLY at length with petitioners,
not the Respondents. As a result, tribunal priests making the
annulment decision understand
only the view of petitioners. They
never deeply hear or understand the truth of Respondents defending
their marriage sacrament.
Our experience is that most priests in marriage tribunals actually intend not to validate marriage sacraments that come to the attention of their office, but rather it seems their deliberate intention is to nullify as many marriage sacraments as possible.
We are also concerned about the children in families where tribunal priests have mandated annulment. They are devastated when they learn that the Church decided that they were never in a sacramentally graced family. This is absolutely shocking and scandalous to the innocent children in ‘annulled families’.
Our Two Requests:
1. Pope Francis, we humbly ask that a primary Agenda topic for the October Synod will focus on the devastating impact of the annulment process on Respondents and their children. And that each of those who attend the two Synods will take the opportunity to actively listen to the Respondents’ experiences.
I speak from personal
experience: during the fourteen years after
our divorce, but prior to the
annulment, my husband Frank and I often met for lunch, and our
family met together on holidays and our children’s birthdays. For
the divorce, Frank and I had amicably worked out the process of
dividing our assets and sharing in our children’s experiences. But
it is impossible to ‘divide’ a sacrament. As a result, it was clear
that the annulment process
itself, not the
divorce, destroyed the family-connection that had continued
When he petitioned for the annulment our views differed radically, and so our relationship then became adversarial: after a twenty-five year marriage it was clear to me that the sacrament had sustained our marriage and was valid. So while I had no objection to Frank’s wish to remarry, in good conscience I could not agree that our sacrament “never happened”. The pro-Petitioner/ pro-annulment bias manifested by the local tribunal priests has destroyed families that otherwise could have worked through their differences and remained a family, even after the divorce. This is a key dilemma that Respondents must deal with, and it has left most of us questioning the core goodness of our Church.
We pray that those attending the Synod realize that for Respondents throughout the world, the annulment process is not a pastoral “healing process” and certainly does not offer Respondents any Christ-like compassion or understanding. Local diocesan tribunals have not listened to or respected the Respondent’s truth; instead Respondents’ experiences with tribunals have left them devastated and humiliated.
2. The Importance of the Appeal Process Given the intractable bias against Respondents by diocesan and regional marriage tribunals, the Appeal Process is a Respondent’s only hope. Respondents come to realize their access to the Rota Appeal process allows them the only means of validating their precious sacrament. Most of the Respondents we have worked with are parents. They are motivated to endure the excruciatingly painful task of challenging their tribunals because these parents wish to show their own children that the Church seeks the truth and stands by the sacredness of the marriage sacrament.
As Respondents, we believe
that reforming the annulment process can lead to positive benefits
A) the Roman Catholic Church and also B) every Respondent:
A. Reforming the Annulment Process
will Benefit the Church
One of the benefits to the Church, if the annulment process is made more pastoral for Respondents, is financial.
A prominent Canon Lawyer Monsignor in Canada has written:
“We are living in a litigious culture and the slightest indication of violation of basic human rights in the Church or in the institutions representing the Church, can cause irreparable (financial) damage not only to our ecclesiastical tribunals but also severely tarnish the image of the Roman Catholic Church already shattered by the recent developments (the pedophile scandal) all around the world. It is the duty of each one of us who minister to the people of God (i.e., Respondents) to be sensitive to this situation.” - written correspondence to a SOS Respondent, 7/30/02
The process of annulment is a scandal second only to the pedophile scandal that has shattered the Church since 2000. If the Appeal process is denied to Respondents, will they be forced to take their challenges to U.S. civil prosecutorial courts? Remedying the scandal of annulments at the two Synods, either via the Appeal Process or more preferably the Greek Orthodox “solution”, could save the Vatican expensive financial embarrassment in the near future.
B. Typical Respondent
SOS has hundreds of heart-wrenching case histories where Respondents’ basic human rights for justice and non-biased understanding are totally blocked by tribunal personnel. The examples below are typical of the personal case histories of SOS Respondents :
- I.T. (New Jersey) has five children, ten grandchildren and one great grandchild. She was married 50 years when she received the first annulment notice from the local tribunal. Despite the fact that she was caring for an adult daughter in the final stages of Cancer, the tribunal insisted that she either write her responses to their Questionnaire with no delay or forfeit the sacrament of her marriage. Even so, the local tribunal soon nullified her marriage of five decades. Without the benefit of the Appeal to the Rota, which validated her marriage sacrament, the sacrament would have remained devastatingly “invalid.” Her daughter died before the Rota heard her Appeal.
- O.S. (Florida) At the time she received the annulment notice, O. had been married 41 years with four grown sons. A tribunal judge demanded that her case be heard in Pennsylvania, over a thousand miles from her home in Florida, which clearly would have been a great inconvenience to her. As with I.T. above, why did the local tribunal even accept the petition against a marriage lasting many decades?
- L. S. (NY) was 75 years old, married for 50 years, with five adult children when she received the first notice of annulment from the local tribunal. It took her six years with the help of a non-tribunal lay canon lawyer to prove the validity of her marriage. Here again, without the benefit of an Appeal, her marriage would have remained “invalid”. And when a tribunal accepts a petition from someone in his late 70’s, what does this indicate about the mentality of Church personnel?
- L.Q. (Louisiana): The diocesan
tribunal accepted without question, from L’s husband, confidential
records from their marriage counselor without L’s permission. The
falsely diagnosed her bi-polar by without
ever having met her! L’s defense of her
sacrament was successful only after she brought this violation of
U.S. HIPAA privacy laws to the tribunal’s attention.
This example is not unique in the experiences SOS has heard from Respondents.
- Janice L. (MA): My annulment process took nearly a decade and Canon Law was violated when the Rota’s decision of validation was withheld from me for over three years: I submitted my Questionnaire Responses in 1996 and my Appeal document in 1998. In return I received just one letter from an advocate in Rome written in Latin, which was the very last correspondence I received for NINE years. Even after the Boston tribunal received notification that the Rota validated my sacrament, they never contacted me. Years later, when Sheila R. Kennedy called to tell me of her impending sacrament validation, I then phoned my advocate, to learn that my sacrament had been validated… three years previously. The vicar who did that is now a bishop.
- C.C. (Penn.):C. is Lutheran, her husband is also Lutheran; they were married by a Protestant clergyman in their Protestant Church. Non-Catholic Protestants are confused and often scandalized when they receive a letter stating that the Catholic Church is contemplating the annulment of their Protestant marriage. These individuals have no knowledge of Canon Law. Ecumenism is damaged by the Catholic Church in this process.
- J.N. (MA):
Roman Canon Law annulment language is legalistic and therefore
confusing to Respondents.
Because Respondents are most often not helped by their “advocate”, they cannot understand annulment language and become intimidated and overwhelmed. A great many leave the Church devastated and embittered.
Where is the “healing” aspect of annulment for Respondents?
- When D.C. (NJ) received the annulment notice
from her local tribunal, she had debilitating arthritis; she could
not move without pain and was caring for her four teenage children.
The tribunal demanded that she go through THREE separate case
presentations and TWO Appeals, to date. The final Appeal remains
unresolved to her knowledge. She was medically diagnosed with
Cancer after her first Appeal.
Why do tribunal priests seem to need to inflict this level of bureaucratic intimidation on Respondents?
- M.D. (PA) is currently enduring a THIRD Rota Appeal process. Her local tribunal has made a mockery of any basic human rights on her behalf. M. appealed her original case to the Rota, which upheld the validity of her marriage sacrament. Her husband appealed that decision, and again the Rota found in M’s favor, resulting in TWO conforming decisions from the Rota. Then she received another letter from the Rota requiring her to go through a third Appeal process. (Her sacrament was again validated just this year, thanks to an ‘outside’ Canon Lawyer.) Why was this THIRD Appeal case even accepted by Rota?
In Conclusion we ask that you, Pope Francis, will encourage those attending the two Synods to make the annulment process one of unbiased pastoral integrity toward Respondents. Also, please remember the children who have been deeply scandalized by the annulment process who very often leave the Church after seeing the annulment pain inflicted on their Respondent-parent.
Synod attendees would be
well guided by Msgr. Clarence Hettinger’s
writings on annulment. He was a Canon
Lawyer from the diocese of Peoria,
Illinois. His important insights underscore
what we have written in this letter.
We pray that the changes Monsignor Hettinger called for years ago will be promulgated by the two Synods.
Our offices of Save Our Sacrament have ample data on our SOS computers of communications from Respondents from 1997 through 2014. In good faith, we are willing to share with you statistics documenting the abusive words, actions, mandates, and obvious “procedural errors” which Respondents have had to endure in order to defend their sacred sacrament of marriage. Some of these SOS Respondents will be emailing you soon with their own experiences.
Finally Holy Father, perhaps most importantly, all the above would be unnecessary if the Greek Orthodox view of remarriage would be accepted during your Papacy. The Greek Orthodox Church, as you know, opens the sacrament to divorced non-annulled remarried Catholics. It is also important that non-Catholic marriages be untouched by Catholic tribunals. Thank you.
Very sincerely, with blessings on your continued compassionate work,
Janice P. L., Ph.D., M.Ed., M.Div. for the
Save Our Sacrament Board of Directors