Monday, September 14, 2015

Dear Pope Francis, regarding mercy and forgiveness...

Dear Pope Francis,

First, I have to rescind rescinding my offer for you to visit my home while in the U.S.  Turns out I’ll be here in the U.S. that Saturday and Sunday after all!   I can take you to a very special U.S. “religious” event – an American university football match on Saturday.  I have 2 extra tickets for that day’s game at my alma mater so you can even bring a friend.  Saturday doesn’t work?  How about Sunday dinner?  I’ll try my hand at making empanadas.  Travel an issue?  No place to park the “Shepherd One” aircraft or your pope-mobile in my humble town?  Say the word and I’ll fly to see you in Philly and even try practicing my Spanish so we don’t exclusively communicate in English.  I’m very sincere in all my offers.

Anyway, with that expression of hospitality done, allow me to comment on something.  Francis, forgiveness, true forgiveness, does not emerge from believing you are the “better” person but from realizing that you are “no better” person - likewise for extending true mercy.  To “forgive” or show “mercy” based upon a presumed position of superiority reflects condescension more than forgiveness or mercy.  Such “forgiveness” and “mercy” devolves even further when that sense of superiority invents the shortcomings being “forgiven” and the process for obtaining "forgiveness." 

Maybe this hypothetical example helps illustrate my point.  Let’s say I declare people must eat at my home or they suffer eternal damnation.  Let’s say I also declare that switching football team allegiances constitutes a grave sin, accuse you of committing this sin, and then forbid you from eating at my home because of it.  However, in my “benevolence and concern” I declare you are still welcome to visit my home but just not eat because starvation might inspire you to realize how wrong you are.  Small side note: Hypothetically let’s also say I myself have vowed to never become a fan of any football team.  I don’t even like the game of football.  Instead, I’m a cricket fan, am actually team captain…and have changed cricket teams numerous times.

Though I switch cricket teams more frequently than most people change smoke detector batteries, to receive my forgiveness for switching football team allegiances, I create rules that you must first submit a 13-page application for my forgiveness explaining why you were so misguided as to do this.  You must also pay me a $200 - $1,000 application processing fee, have four sworn witnesses submit corroborating justification for your limited mental faculties resulting in this behavior, and be interviewed by a panel of my friends who mostly also have vowed to never become football fans and are sworn cricket captains who have changed teams several times.  As a matter of fact, most members on my panel of judges have never participated in a football match in their entire lives and, like me, know almost nothing of the game. 

Once I receive all this paperwork, I will notify your former football team that you are filing for forgiveness and ask them to respond.  If they don’t respond, then … maybe we can proceed with your forgiveness application…it just depends….  If they respond and don’t support you seeking this forgiveness, then…well…it sucks to be you…because this could drag out for years and I might never forgive you.  If they respond and do support your application for forgiveness, then depending upon the ruling of my panel of mostly football ignorant judges, you might receive preliminary approval for forgiveness in 12-18 months.  Final approval depends upon a second panel of equally unqualified judges reviewing your entire application.  That could also take months.  Please be patient though. We are all praying for you!!

Now imagine that someone announces he is simplifying this process, making it more merciful.  Yet, all of the above must still occur with these noted exceptions:  Your application fee is reduced to cover only true processing costs, your forgiveness verdict does not need a second panel of judicial review, and final judgment for forgiveness comes from one judge who must have vowed to never be a football fan.  Are you feeling the mercy and seeing the simplicity yet?  Me neither…

Yet, what I just described greatly parallels your motu propio modifying the marriage annulment process.  Currently in the U.S., to receive an annulment the petitioner must complete a 13-page form, pay $200 - $1,000 depending on the diocese, secure witnesses and have them submit forms, be interviewed by church personnel, have their former spouse be contacted for response, and all this paperwork submitted to a tribunal of mostly clergy judges (men who have vowed never to marry yet who consider their vocation as a “marriage” with their parish…and subsequently change parishes several times in their career without needing to seek an annulment from previous parishes) who will provide the initial ruling regarding the nullity of the marriage.  That ruling is required to undergo review by a second tribunal of mostly clergy (more men who have vowed never to marry yet who have changed parishes to which they are “married” several times). 

Your edict removes the requirement for the second review and suggests lowering the fee to cover only true administrative costs.   However, it also states that judgment must now come from a single tribunal judge and this person must be a cleric, unless I misunderstand this statement: “The constitution of a single judge in the first instance, who shall always be a cleric, is placed under the responsibility of the Bishop, who, in the pastoral exercise of his own proper judicial power shall guarantee ...”   

That last change has been overlooked by most people perhaps because they assume all tribunal judges are already priests.  Yet, currently females can serve as tribunal judges. Why do you say you want more important roles for women but your actions here do the exact opposite?

I thought you despised clericalism and felt too many powers lie exclusively in the clergy’s hands already. Why add to the list?  Why insist that avowed unmarried people are the only qualified people to rule on marriages?  Here’s just one example giving cause to my concerns about placing all annulment powers in clergy hands.  Just two weeks ago, I sat through a homily by a clueless priest laughing, yes laughing, as he said he counseled people suffering in abusive marriages that they should consider the abuse a blessing because God was teaching them patience and charity.  How many women continue to suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse because clueless priests like the one I just described make them feel too guilty to leave abusive marriages?  Issuing that misplaced guilt is beyond shameful; it is sinful.  Chastise the abuser not the abused seeking refuge, if you must chastise someone.  You seem to take a merciful stance with Syrian refugees who are being abused… 

I went through the annulment process almost two decades ago, receiving my annulment in what I’m told was record time (about 7 months).  Frankly, I’m underwhelmed by your changes.  I assume since I resemble your target market on this, you’d appreciate my feedback.  Therefore, here are some things that I would have found truly merciful simplifications. 

  1. Stop using communion as a treat for people you consider well-behaved…for any reason.
  2. Require divorced and remarried people to undergo the same process that priests require when they divorce one parish and remarry another…. Oh, that’s nothing?  O.K.  Sounds simple, merciful and equitable, to me.
  3. If you retain an annulment process, how about requiring married people to act as judges?  Better yet, how about requiring that the judges be people who have received an annulment themselves?
  4. Permit clergy to marry and then only married clergy can be marriage tribunal judges. (By the way, with women's increasing earning power, this might save the church a bundle.  Wife makes more than priest spouse...they are devout...priest doesn't take a salary from the church...doesn't need healthcare benefits...they can pay their own housing and food bills...priest car allowance not insurance paid by wife's income, etc....  The exact opposite situation for going to strict unmarried clergy now exists.  Originally the move occurred to protect church property from being divided amongst priests' heirs.  Now, women can actually relieve the church's material requirements for supporting priests.)
  5. How about shortening the application form to one page?  I’d even be happy with a reduction to 5 pages. How about putting the form online and allowing it to be submitted electronically with automated workflow and cognitive analytics that provide the recommended ruling?  Thus the judge only needs to review the recommended ruling and justification – tremendously expediting the process and introducing a high degree of ruling consistency.
  6. Fees?  Eliminate them completely, even the “administrative” ones.

Anyway, in the meantime while you consider my suggestions, please stop calling minor alterations to an invented process for an invented infraction penalty “merciful” or “simple.”  And please stop calling anything “merciful” when you act from a position of superiority versus equality.

Hope to hear from you while you’re in my country but if not, I wish you safe travels, an unvarnished view of my country, and the wisdom and courage to do and say what God desires.

Yours in Christ,

The “ewe”

As an aside to my blog readers: sorry for the long lapse in writing.  I've had an abnormally intense global travel schedule in the past few months.  


  1. Brilliant. Not that i need an annulment am a widow. But i like your thinking

  2. Although I believe PF is turtle slow, inching forward, and personally won't take major risks in his pontificate, he is clearing the forest for the changes that must come. So, you and I must endure this maddening pace a while longer, always continuing to take risks modeling more Jesus-like behavior in our inspired daily vision. Missed your messages! Rosie Smead, ARCWP

  3. so maronite priests can marry, orthodox priest can marry, the roman rite priests only in the past 800 years are supposedly not allowed to marry, but many still do, in Africa. Well. Just let them. K.I.S.S.

  4. My annulment process was somewhat different. It was a very simple process for me in that I had not been married in church but by a judge in civil court. The annulment took a couple of months.

    My husband had not been married in the Catholic Church as he was not Catholic then. We had to got through a far lengthier process for him. Filled out the questionnaire in in essay format. Provided names and addresses of witnesses. Submitted all the paperwork. And sat back and waited. No contact. No follow-up, no nothing. About a year later we got his decree in the mail. One of the most frustrating experiences.

    Not sure why my previous relationship with 2 Catholic participants could be annulled with so little time or effort. His took so much more effort and time and no feedback to us At ALL. Talk about dismissive.

  5. On the subject of fees....the start of a marriage is the same,no? A (cough,cough) "donation" is required to the church for the service,despite it being a sacrament. As well as the church only allowing their own photographer inside the church,so taking their cut of his fees. Or at least that´s what the situation is here in sunny Spain.