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Column: Beating the bullies in the Bishop's Palace

One woman tells her story of being told by her husband of 13 years that he wanted their marriage annulled – and how she felt bullied by a two-hour inquestion by clerics to give it to him.

Image: José Eduardo Deboni via Flickr.com

WHEN MY EX-HUSBAND applied for a Church annulment, having secured a divorce in another country, an official letter arrived from the Catholic Church’s Tribunal Office. That is the official Court of the Roman Catholic Church, summoning me to the Bishop’s Palace, (now called the Bishop’s house on the official website – this was in the 1990s) in Drumcondra, Dublin.

I was not informed on what grounds he was seeking the annulment, but the words non-consummation, cruelty, insanity (none of which applied to us) flew around in my head. We were married for thirteen years, had known each other for several before that. It was an official, legitimate and for most of the time, a loving union.

Initially I was horrified at the thought of the Tribunal and wanted nothing to do with it. But, if I didn’t attend, I had been told in writing, the annulment would be granted. It appeared the Catholic Church could and would simply rule that the marriage had never been. A huge chunk of my life would be negated, invalid.

My ex-husband’s brother was a priest; a well-connected one, it seemed. The Tribunal office informed me that they had ‘everything on their side’ including witnesses who would give evidence that our marriage had been invalid. These witnesses were his brother, his mother and a friend.

My ex-husband had met a woman who wanted a church wedding

The truth of the matter, in my view, was simple. My ex-husband had met a woman who wanted a church wedding. Standing in the way was me and my valid marriage, which must be declared null and void. Rage took over. Why should I be put on trial? I would appear and state that the marriage had certainly existed and been valid.

I found only one woman who had been through the procedure willing to talk about it. She had taken ‘The Oath’ but agreed to speak to me. Her advice was that I would need all my strength just to get through it. Others could not bring themselves to speak about the details, explaining that they had ‘taken The Oath’ and that was that.

The date for the Tribunal was set and I presented myself alone; I had been told the questioning must be carried out in private.

At one point, the Archbishop’s man queried the sex life of my parents

The hell began and endless questions were fired at me by one of the Archbishop’s men. There was no let up as he put me through a gruelling two-and-a-half hours, at one point querying my knowledge of the sex life of my parents. Nil.

I can still see the cold eyes of that man as I became understandably distressed at this line of questioning. My mother had died only six months earlier, cancer having whisked her off at only 63, and to consider her in this way was horrendous. The ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer system made it worse, not allowing any deviation from the questioning. A man put some water in front of me at that point. Had he been in the room behind me all the time? I didn’t know.

The Inquisitor opposite me – that is how I considered him – brusquely told me we would go through all the questions; procedure must be followed.

A fury began to gather force in me

I began to feel exhausted and felt the other side maybe did hold all the cards. They seemed to have the witnesses, the connections, leading to rather high places perhaps and that, including, I felt sure, money, would be used to get rid of me.

But something, a sense of righteousness, seemed to click in my brain and in spite of the growing fatigue, the brutality of the questioning and the severity of the answering method, a fury began to gather force in me.

I tried to sit calmly, deliberately putting my arms along the arms of the chair, and continued. The boiling inner rage, calm exterior, and being a fast reader all came together in the end.

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I was abruptly informed we were finished, handed a page and told to read it aloud, hand on a large bible. It appeared to be some kind of statement, a summing up of the process. As I spoke the words, I read the lines following. Then I saw it; coming up was the famous Oath of Secrecy, demanding that I never, ever reveal what went on in that room.

I stopped reading, put the page on the desk and refused to say anymore. My Inquisitor blustered at first, seeming more surprised than anything. I, at that moment, far from feeling daring or heroic, thought I would faint from pure pressure. My head was pounding. I just sat, staring at him. Suddenly he began to shout, saying I could not leave the room, never mind the building, without saying the Oath.

It still counts as one of the worst experiences of my life

At that point I stood up and walked from the room. I had my car keys in my hand as I practically ran down some stairs and fled. I drove into the car park of the nearby Skylon hotel and wondered if my legs would carry me in for a coffee; I certainly was not focused enough to drive.

It is a measure of how harsh, tough and ruthless that process was that I would detour to avoid passing that mausoleum of a place. It still counts as one of the worst experiences of my life. I later learned that Ivan Payne, convicted child molester and priest, had been part of the Catholic Church’s Marriage Tribunal, but was relieved of his duties following various scandals. It is beyond belief that this character might have had a say in my future. When will people stop taking this lot seriously?

The upshot was that the annulment was never granted; I was not told why, just received a short note to the effect.

It’s always worth standing up to bullies. And the boys in the frocks, with their lavish lifestyles, sumptuous clothing, opulent crosses and rings and centuries of torturing practice behind them, are the worst bullies of all.

The author, while wishing to be named, could not be identified in this piece to protect the privacy of her former husband and family.

About the author:

Johnny Fallon

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