In 1991, Joe Kennedy (son of Bobby Kennedy) obtained a a civil divorce from Sheila Rauch Kennedy which she accepted. What she refused to accept was the annulment Joe Kennedy received from the Church two years later. Outraged that this annulment meant there was no marriage in the first place (it had lasted 12 years) and that her two sons were bastards, Sheila Kennedy (an Episcopalian), fought the annulment tooth and nail.
In 1997 she wrote a scathing book accusing her former husband of pedddling his family’s influence to obtain the annulment. She provided Vatican authorities with boxes of documents, including numerous letters, showing that her Marriage to Joe Kennedy was valid. After nine years the Roman Rota (the Vatican’s divorce court) ruled against the annulment and recognized the original marriage.
Is it any wonder that so many Catholics and non-Catholics are cynical about this process? In any one year there are approximately 40,000 decrees of nullity issued from American marriage tribunals alone. Some people call an annulment “Catholic divorce”. Others call it a healing process. Most people would probably agree on this: the Church’s system for marriage annulments needs to be reformed. But don’t hold your breath — it will not happen any time soon.
Too bad. Annulments enable the couple to receive communion. The rejection of an annulment prohibits them from doing so. What a pity. So much hypocrisy and cynicism.