‘They are not God’

Barb Sweet
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Woman says Catholic Church had no right to annul her marriage

Lorraine Parsons was divorced in the 1980s, and knew her ex-husband sought an annulment back then, but says she was dismayed to learn two years ago the deed was done without her involvement.

Francis Puddister.

The now elderly St. John’s woman doesn’t want to involve her family or her ex in the issue publicly, but said her problem is with the Catholic Church and its ability to carry out such a process, particularly on non-Catholic marriages.

Some might say Parsons’ concerns are rooted in long-abandoned generational mores or, she acknowledged, might judge her as being bitter.

But Parsons teared up at times describing how, to her, an annulment affects the status of her one offspring on paper. She said it depicts her as an “unwed mother,” even though her child became an adult decades ago.

Parsons said she got the divorce from her husband and retaining the marriage isn’t the issue, it’s the fact that its very existence has been erased.

“How can the Catholic Church take your marriage and do what they can with it?” she asked.

“They are not God.”

She received a letter in the 1980s from the Catholic Church that her ex was seeking an annulment. It was addressed to her with her maiden name even though she had legally taken her husband’s surname.

Parsons said neither she nor her ex-husband were Catholic and so they were not married in a Catholic church, but he was seeking to remarry a Catholic.

The letter invited her to take part in the process, but said it would go ahead without her if she declined and her objection would not prevent it.

Parsons did decline and said she knew nothing of the outcome until a couple years ago, when she ran into someone she had not seen for years, but who said they had heard about the annulment.

Although she knew her former husband had remarried, Parsons said she is unware of Catholic process and would not have figured  an annulment would have taken place, since she was never notified of the outcome.

She has since recovered a document from the annulment file and tried legal proceedings to access all the file — she said she was told it had been shredded because of its age.

The one late-1980s document she did receive — which looks somewhat similar to a legal decision one might find in Supreme Court — lays out the facts of the case and refers to witness testimony. It’s stamped with the seal of the Halifax Regional Tribunal Branch Office, St. John’s division.  The gathering of evidence included interviews, reviewing documents and letters, and obtaining medical records or psychiatric assessments.

Personal details being discussed in a church that is not her own bothers Parsons.

“How dare they put me down,” she said. “I am self-educated and proud of what I have done.”

The nullity of marriage document delves into intimate details of the marriage and the spouses’ personalities, and refers to witnesses’ statements.

Parsons objects to that process going ahead with or without both people involved in the marriage.

Vicar general Father Francis Puddister presided over annulments for about 30 years as sole judge, up until a year ago, when he assumed new duties.

While he can’t discuss specific cases, he said when someone applies for an annulment, the church is required to contact both parties, but the process can indeed go ahead without the consent of the other spouse. When the decision is made, a copy is sent to both former husband and wife and the right to appeal is made clear. But there can be instances where one party has made it clear during initial contact they don’t want to be contacted ever again.

“That can make it a little bit sensitive,” Puddister said.

“I can’t say absolutely that everybody is told about the decisions.”

However, Puddister said even if the church hasn’t reached both parties in every case, usually divorced couples are in communication.

He said from time to time people do object to the Catholic Church’s ability to grant annulments, but the church informs them it is an internal process that is confidential, and has no effect on civil law or the status of children.

Annulments of first marriages are still required for a divorced person to marry in a Catholic church.

But requests for annulments have declined over the years, as more people opt to have civil weddings, or just live together.

Puddister estimates there are about one-quarter of the annulment requests in recent times compared to when he started presiding over them 30 years ago.

Recently Pope Francis directed new rules that simplify the annulment process for certain cases, in which a short form is used for couples who have no objections.

Puddister said the short form is a welcome change.

“Some cases are straightforward. It’s very obvious why (the marriage) broke down,” he said.

The annulment process helps people not only to have their new relationship celebrated in the church, but gives them some peace of mind because during the process they have focused on why their first marriage failed, Puddister said.

Annulments aren’t free. According to the Basilica of Cathedral of St. John the Baptist website, a standard fee of $900 is requested by the Archdiocese of St. John’s, although costs can range from $1,000-$1,500, depending on expert testimony. However, the fee can be reduced or waived in cases of financial difficulty.


Organizations: Catholic Church, Supreme Court, Halifax Regional Tribunal Branch Office Baptist

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Recent comments

  • A Religious Dissident!
    January 20, 2016 - 08:40

    The undoing of love: Thanks for your great information. I totally agree especially with your last statement that Church AND State have a lot of house cleaning to do.

  • The undoing of love
    January 19, 2016 - 14:26

    There are only seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. Holy Orders and matrimony require vows. How does one undo a vow? If a marriage can be annulled cannot an ordination be annulled also? A civil divorce is not concerned with vows – just that a lawful marriage has genuinely broken down and one or both parties can sue for dissolution. Even if only one spouse has petitioned for divorce the other has to be served with notice from the court. Often the defending spouse is advised to counter-petition to protect their rights. However a Court has to have jurisdiction to hear any case. A Catholic tribunal has no jurisdiction over anything in another denomination. Not only is that a violation of Ecclesiastical jurisdiction but probably a civil liability if a citizen has been negatively and materially affected. The annulment may not interfere with civil proceedings but would it influence devout Catholics handling or processing the case? For example it might be too much to expect a Catholic lawyer active in the Knights of Columbus to petition for a divorce between two Catholics unless an annulment has proceeded first. Would a Law Society allow him/her to drop a case because there wasn’t an annulment? Would he/she refuse to sue for alimony if there was an annulment? Then what about the declaration of the grounds for divorce? The fact that one spouse did not convert to the faith but the priest married them anyway is not grounds for divorce. Clergy register all marriages with the Province. Can the Annulment tribunal call expert witness such as psychologists to declare that one spouse did not understand “marriage” and was “confused” unless that spouse is permitted to challenge and cross examine that witness. In any case, civil marriage and religious marriage are registered with the Province, but Divorces are registered federally. The last time I checked there was no cross references in those databases. I have no idea where civil annulments are registered. Seems to me both Church AND State have a lot of house cleaning to do

  • Curious
    January 18, 2016 - 12:40

    I would be interested to hear the opinion of the Privacy Commissioner-I don't think this woman's medical, personal history should be disclosed without her consent. And the Catholic Church is clearly out of their jurisdiction with two non Catholics. This couple did not get a civil annulment-they were divorced in the civil courts. The Catholic process was out of line. I agree that the act of annulling a marriage where a child is part of the family picture is often disrespectful to the child and spouse. We need to be more respectful of each other and this annulment was not respectful.

      January 18, 2016 - 13:28

      Curious: I agree that the act of annulling a marriage where a child is part of the family picture is totally disrespectful to the child and the spouse. Did the Roman Catholic Church think it was really God?

  • McLovin
    January 18, 2016 - 07:52

    I'm not sure what the issue is. She received a letter from the church in the 1980's giving her an opportunity to take part in the annulment process and telling her what would happen if she didn't. Now 30+ years later, she's surprised of the outcome? Wow

  • Bernice
    January 17, 2016 - 18:35

    Wow, I had to respond to this! I must say I have never heard of a non-Catholic having an Annulment in the Catholic church and also not have been married in the church. I think it may be more to this story! I was married in 1980 in the United church and 15yrs later my marriage ended because of alcoholism and abuse. In 2008 I got my annulment with no personal questions in detail being asked, only stated why the marriage broke down, and I got my Annulment and it didn't cost me a dime! So to the people that stated they are making money off Annulments I can tell you that that is not true of every situation and that they are there to help people who need and want help. Every organization has rules and policies to follow. In fairness to the Roman Catholic faith, they didn't make me feel belittled in any way, I felt good that the marriage was dissolved and I was free to marry in my own Roman Catholic faith if the day ever came! Also, I don't think this story validates the as Front Page news!

  • reality check
    January 17, 2016 - 08:50

    I'd be curious to know what the legal status of this 'annulment' is? I would think that it means nothing outside of the catholic church and is only done to allow catholics to remarry...it is a slap in the face to this woman, because an annulment is a declaration that the marriage never existed...I fail to understand how they can do that. I wonder what fee was paid to get this done...

  • Glenn Stockley
    January 16, 2016 - 23:19

    they make quite a lot of money from these instruments of spite i understand....

  • Surprised
    January 16, 2016 - 21:27

    I have never in my Catholic life heard of a non Catholic seeking an annulment because they are divorced, but are going to marry a Catholic. I know a man who was married more than once but not in the Catholic Church, but because he wanted to marry a Catholic woman in her church, it was okay because he wasn't considered as being married in the Catholic Church before. I don't understand why someone could marry more than once, but only once in the Catholic Church as his last marriage was performed, but when a Catholic divorces and wants to remarry they have to seek an annulment. This is a first that I heard of a story like this.

    • Question on reason for an Annulment in RC Church!
      January 17, 2016 - 11:05

      I suspect it wasn't the non-Catholic partner "to-be" who wanted the annulment, it most likely was the Catholic partner of the "to-be" Union who requested it? Marriages by Catholics to any other religion were not considered to be genuine marriagess by the Roman Catholic Church and most of its adherents? Maybe that ideology has changed over the past few years. If anyone knows otherwise maybe an answer correcting this particular belief could be commented on this site by a clergy of the Roman Catholic Church or anyone else who has the answer.

    • my comments
      January 17, 2016 - 19:46

      I was put through the same experience - married in the United Church and my ex wanted to marry a Catholic. Told me he did so that she could have communion. I was offended, appalled and very angry. The Catholic Church had no right to annual a marriage that took place in the United Church by two non-Catholics. In the end, it simply reinforced my belief that organized religion with its archaic rules, most akin to the Pharisees, has no place in my life. Kudos to Lorraine for speaking out.

  • Anna
    January 16, 2016 - 18:48

    Is this article really worthy of being on the front page? With all that is happening in the Province and the rest of Canada this gets the headline. Please stop being a community newspaper and start reporting real news.

    January 16, 2016 - 17:38


    • QuebecCityOliver
      January 17, 2016 - 21:30

      Everyone is typically one word. Opportunity - never spelled with an "e" Overreacting (one word) to not "in" The first "There" mistake - They are or They're Next "There" - There are "They're" - should be "their" Squeel - no such word - "squeal" I could attack the catholic church but I don't really care. Oh, you know about the "Caps lock" right? and spell checkers?

  • David
    January 16, 2016 - 17:30

    Another way to convert since most Catholics have been leaving. Need that money

  • Terri
    January 16, 2016 - 15:51

    Wow! Only two comments posted. I am sure that there are more, such as mine early today supporting the Church. Censorship and bias in editing at its worst!

  • Question
    January 16, 2016 - 10:31

    How can the Catholic church cancel a marriage of another non-catholic church? What does the other church think of this?

  • jim
    January 16, 2016 - 10:18

    Wow. What crap! Trudeau said 'because it is 2015'. Obviously not in this case or much of this church.

  • Joe Catholic
    January 16, 2016 - 06:57

    What the church did here is totally unethical. It's like having civil court with witnesses from one side. I wonder if the Catholic church would require an annulment if the couple married in front of a justice of the peace. Must be great playing by your own rules.

  • Fact Checker
    January 16, 2016 - 06:27

    Nothing to see here folks. Just another Barb Sweet article blowing things out of proportion and misrepresenting the Church. Got to love her commitment to her agenda and bias.

  • Tom
    January 16, 2016 - 06:18

    The Catholic Church is not God, but it is God's representative. It does not end marriages, it merely acknowledges that the marriage did not even exist. A marriage is more than a ceremony or legal document, it is a match made in heaven. The match is then discerned by the partners and celebrated with a ceremony, and sometimes people get it wrong. The annulment merely acknowledges that a mistake was made. The annulment has no legal weight in the civil courts, it is merely a ruling done to ease the mind and conscious of the participants. If the participants believe that divorce is a sin, and re-marriage is even worse, it allows them to live life with a clear conscious. It confirms that they are not breaking apart a union made by God in the first place, but rather a match made in Hell. It is unfortunate that one partner would be so mean spirited and/or vindictive to not allow the other to live with some degree of spiritual comfort. It is also not fair the say that annulments "costs." They are not sold, they are freely given, however, a suggested donation to cover the costs of the Church is offered. As for the children, no one looks down on the children of unwed mothers, even Jesus Christ Himself was a child of an unwed Mother.

    • Jim
      January 17, 2016 - 08:23

      I repeat. ..Wow. What crap! Do agree it is not front page news...maybe not even back page but as long as the Telegram keeos printing some of the silly pro, no super - pro religious biased letters to the editor they balance is needed.