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So I thought I was all done with annulments, but based on the
emails I’ve been receiving from all of you, I apparently need to do one
more to “clean up” a few remaining issues.

I’ve done a lot of writing in my life, and probably stirred
up more than my fair share of controversy. And one thing I’ve learned
is that I’m usually on the right track when I’m being criticized from
both sides.

Apparently I’m on the right track.

Wow.
Some of you are mad at me for implying that divorced-but-un-annulled
persons should avoid serious dating. The rest are annoyed at me for
suggesting that any sort of opposite-sex friendship is possible among
the divorced-but-un-annulled. And then there were those who assumed
that I must be writing all of this to justify my own “friendship” with
some divorced-but-un-annulled man.

Okay – taking these in reverse order. To set the record
straight: I am not personally involved in any kind of close
relationship – “dating” or otherwise – with any
divorced-but-un-annulled man. And, with the exception of one very
brief, very chaste and very platonic friendship several years ago, I
never have been. So I didn’t write what I wrote about friendship to
defend or excuse my own behavior. I wrote it because I believe it to be
true. Certain types of opposite-sex friendships that would be highly
inappropriate for the married can be appropriate for the
divorced-but-un-annulled.

Look, I have male friends. I have male friends who are
married. These aren’t “close” friendships in the way I’m close to my
girlfriends or even to some of my single male friends. But I have been
known, on extremely rare occasions, to walk into restaurants with these
married male friends, sit down and order food – all while their wives
weren’t present. Why is that okay? Because their wives are my friends,
too. Because their wives know we’re there, and they’re perfectly
comfortable with it. Because they know we’re discussing business or
whatever we’re discussing, and that we wouldn’t say anything that
couldn’t be said if she was sitting there with us. And, most
importantly, because these wives know that their husbands love them and
not me, and that I constitute exactly zero threat to their marriages.
In fact, I am highly protective of my friends’ marriages. There is no
line of marital intimacy – physical or emotional – that I would come
within a mile of crossing. And I’d kick a man clear across the county
if he came anywhere near crossing any of those lines around me.

Spending time with a married man whose wife didn’t know
and trust me would be wrong. Likewise, crossing those physical and
emotional boundaries would be wrong. It would be a sin against that
wife, against the intimacy that they share and that she has a right to
expect.

What many of you seem to have forgotten is that the
picture changes somewhat after a couple is civilly divorced. Even if a
sacramental union remains (or, more accurately, is presumed to remain)
the expectation of physical and emotional intimacy is gone. She is no
longer sitting at home waiting for him. In fact–when the man is the
kind of faithful Catholic that we CM women like to spend time with–she
is often the one who severed that intimacy, and she may very well be
off doing all kinds of unchaste and immoral things with unchaste and
immoral men. She is likely not losing sleep over the fact that the man
she abandoned is having coffee with some nice girl somewhere.

Note that I have consistently referred to “friendship.” As
far as I’m concerned, pre-annulment relationships should stay at the
brother-sister level. Even if there is no spouse at home waiting, there
is still no assurance that the Church will find the marriage invalid,
and therefore it’s a bad idea to move ahead as if that had already
happened.

Many of you were concerned that such friendships would
constitute an “occasion of sin.” Well, yeah. Any friendship between
people of the opposite sex can become an occasion of sin. This is where
it becomes important to “know thyself.” If you’re feeling terribly weak
and vulnerable, you probably shouldn’t be spending time hanging out
with someone with whom you’re likely to fall into sin. That’s true
regardless of the marital status of the other person. And even if
you’re feeling confident, you need to keep physical boundaries way on
this side of acceptable. Just don’t get started down that road.
Friendship, remember?

There was also come concern that such friendships could be
the cause of scandal. That could be, if the two people involved were
engaging in heavy PDA (“public displays of affection”) or even gazing
lovingly into each other’s eyes while sharing a milkshake and holding
hands across the table. But chatting over lattes at Starbucks isn’t
going to raise a whole lot of eyebrows in today’s world. The guidelines
are simple. Don’t give anybody any reason to suspect that anything
unchaste is going on.

My point is that chaste friendship between men and women
is possible. The saints have demonstrated that to us throughout the
ages. The friendship between St. Francis and St. Claire was good, pure,
totally chaste and clearly infused by the Holy Spirit. If their
friendship could be chaste, then ours can too.

Of course, among those of us yet to be canonized, chastity
doesn’t happen automatically. The boundaries need to be clear and wide.
Our lives, and our relationships, need to be infused with prayer. If a
relationship does become an “occasion of sin” we need to widen the
boundaries even further. And if that doesn’t work, we need to have the
courage to walk away rather than placing ourselves and others in danger
of serious sin.

The whole point of this series has been to encourage you to
take the annulment process seriously. I know by your emails that many,
many of you already do, and I admire you for it. I know that it isn’t
easy, and that it brings up a lot of memories and feelings and often
sadness and grief. I also know that it can be very, very healing in the
end. I am grateful that the Church gives you the opportunity to bring
your case to the Tribunal for review, and grateful that so many of you
take that opportunity.

I just don’t want the sheer volume of annulments granted to
give us the idea that a valid marriage is dissoluble, or that any
married person who submits the appropriate paperwork can be relieved of
their marital obligations. The Church’s teaching on the permanence and
indissolubility of sacramental marriage is very beautiful, and very
important in today’s world.

I suspect that no one knows that better than those of you who
have entered into a marriage believing it to be valid, and have
experienced the heartbreak of watching it disintegrate because of
factors you didn’t even know about.

May God’s mercy and love be with all of you!

 

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