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A Daughter's Reflection on how the Annulment experience has affected her life and life-decisions
A Reflection on Annulment
Since my parents went through a rather emotionally and financially draining divorce during the latter half of my teen-age years, I got quite a few of glimpses of what my parents experienced during the annulment. My father, an Episcopalian for as long as I could remember, decided to convert to Catholicism in order to seek an annulment for his first marriage to my mother. The woman he was next marrying sponsored his "conversion" to the Catholic church.
My father's "conversion" seemed to occur overnight, as did his engagement to the woman he suddenly decided to marry. In fact, they were married less than a week after my parents' divorce was legally finalized. My sister and I were not invited to the ceremony, although this did not come as a surprise to either one of us.
My sister and I had always been well-behaved kids who had high grades and filled our time with 4-H, Girl Scouts and theater. We rarely got in trouble or even disagreed much. Still, for years afterwards we often wondered what we could have done to prevent his departure.
This is the man who the Catholic Church was saying was fit to remarry as they were granting him an annulment. Today I believe seeking an annulment is a natural course of action for somebody who had difficulty taking responsibilities for their decisions and their mistakes.
The Witness Statements
Around the time their divorce was finalizing and my father was preparing to remarry, relatives and friends of the family called to tell her that they were receiving evaluation forms from the Catholic Church, asking them to assess the marriage. My mother had received NOTHING from the Church at this time. Eventually she too, began receiving correspondence from the Catholic Church informing her that he was seeking to annul their marriage. It was my sophomore year in college and when my mother first alerted me to the situation, I was a bit incredulous. I had heard of annulments, but only in cases where the couple had only been together for a brief time. My parents raised two children and had been married for over 26 years. It did not seem possible that any Catholic court would grant them an annulment. But we soon realized this was not a true court of law.
Annulment / Incomprehension
As time passed I set out to learn more about the annulment process. My feelings evolved from shock, to anger, and finally, to incomprehension. I was raised an Episcopalian, and I genuinely felt sorry for children who had been raised in the Catholic Church who were later told that their parents' marriage should have never taken place. I imagined how devastating such a realization would be, and how it would impact their view of God and the Church.
Since I was and had always been an Episcopalian, at first I simply dismissed the annulment as a ridiculous example of religious-ritual meeting judicial-procedures. Because I was not Catholic and did not abide by the rules and beliefs of the Catholic Church, why should I care if it 'annulled' my parents' marriage? The Episcopal Church certainly did not feel that I was illegitimate or that my parents' marriage was a blasphemous mistake. I considered the idea of Canon law not applicable to us as Protestants, and found the annulment proceedings similar to those radical anti-government groups (like the Montana Militiamen) who set up their own courtrooms where they declare their "rulings" on cases they feel were mishandled by the federal court system. The rulings certainly did not hold any validity and was not recognized by the government, or even society. Why should any ruling by a church that I certainly did not belong to, or have any desire to belong to, hold any meaning for me?
How the Annulment Impacted Me
For awhile, I tended to roll my eyes at my mother's anguish about the annulment. I told her to let it go, that my sister and I had not been contacted by our father and we knew that she loved us and we loved her. As time went on, however, I became more disturbed by the idea of what the annulment represented. It contradicted the philosophy and principles on which I led my life. I had always felt, and still do today, that everything in life happens for a reason. There are no accidents or mistakes, only situations from which we learn. In my own life, I have always found some positive lesson or aspect to derive from an overwhelmingly negative experience.
For example, there have been times over the years when I felt that I wound up on the wrong career path by choosing the wrong major in college. I know that my life path, while bumpy and treacherous at times, has led me to people and experiences that I would have never known had my situations been different. Without them, I would not be who I am today. I could never consider annulling any of these experiences and simply pretend that they never happened. Otherwise it would be an insult to the people I've shared my life with.
Unfortunately, it became obvious that my father, and the Catholic Church, did not share in this philosophy. I arrived at the harsh realization that, if my father could do it all over again, he would not have married my mother and my sister's and my very existence was a regret to him. My self-esteem plummeted. While I had always felt rejection as a result of my father's behavior in the divorce, the fact of the annulment resulted in a harsher blow to my sense of being. I felt worthless, and I justified my inadequacy by marveling how anyone else could possibly approve of me if my own father wished I had never been born. Why would someone want to be my friend, teacher, boyfriend, etc. if my own father did not care for me? My grades dropped, I distanced myself from my friends and I quit all of my school activities. Eventually, I went into counseling at my mother's urging. I resisted, but she was worried about me and did not want to lose any more people in her life.
I'll never know whether my father's behavior would have been the same if he had never become Catholic and sought an annulment. I do suspect, however, that he would not been as fast to write-off his family and start over with someone he barely knew. My sister and I might be constant reminders of a life that he felt had little meaning for him. But could he believe that our very presence was a result of his mistake in marrying the wrong person?
The Catholic Church has not only given him permission but also, in fact, encouraged him to view his first marriage as invalid and not blessed by God. In light of this perception, how could he possibly be expected to embrace his responsibility to us and love his children by his first marriage? If God never wanted my sister and I to be born, as the annulment means to me, why should he even acknowledge us or waste any energy raising us? For this reason, I believe it was much easier for him to make a total break from his past.
On days when it seems that life keeps hurling obstacles my way, I pause to wonder if my father and the Catholic Church are right and if so then is God trying to tell me something negative? A part of me will always wonder about that. I think the other long-term effects manifest in my personal and professional life. While most of my friends are getting married, I shy away from the prospect despite the fact that I've been in a long-term relationship for nearly 6 years. As a result of this annulment I view marriage as a big waste of time, since the marriage that I am the most familiar with spanned 26 years and is viewed as a mistake by my father and the Catholic Church. I'm concerned about investing all of my energy and time into something that is ultimately 'not meant to be' and therefore doomed to fail. In time I have learned to deal with the rejection, but it still creeps up on me every time I suffer a setback or disappoint.
The other glaring effect can be found in my distrust of organized religion. While I used to be involved my church youth board in high school, I now find the idea of attending church nothing short of mindless ritual and politics. I particularly have strong feelings against Catholicism. While I try to keep an open mind and respect the religious beliefs of others, I find it difficult to accept a denomination that causes such alienation and hurt among its practitioners. I still have a relationship with God and I still pray, but I consider both very personal. Had it not been for my experience with the atrocities of the annulment process I would have a completely different philosophy regarding organized religion.
Sadly, I think that what the annulment process leaves with me, and others hurt by annulment, is- regret. By annulling his first marriage, my father erased all of the great moments and experiences along with the mistake. He has chosen to concentrate on the negative and not embrace the positive products of that union: my sister and I. Eliminating that marriage also eliminated two people, and with it countless school plays, report cards, walks in the woods, 4-H projects, fishing trips, proms and homecomings, cross country and speech meets, first dates, birthdays and a lifetime of other happy memories. In short, by annulling his marriage, he was really annulling me.
My Mother's Struggle against the Annulment
My mother tries to empathize with how difficult it must be to lose a parent under these rather unique circumstances. I now realize the importance of appreciating the past instead of attempting to invalidate or regret it.
In the past few years, I have come to appreciate my mother's challenge to the annulment. In some ways I think she dedicated a significant part of her fight on my behalf of my sister and me. Even though we have one parent who wishes that he had never married and produced two children, we have a mother doing everything within her power to assure us that her marriage to my father was worth it because of us. She believes that the marriage could not have been a mistake if my sister and I resulted from it. For me, that statement is more than enough to compensate for the opinions of both my father and the Catholic Church.
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