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What we don’t know about the Kennedy-Rauch case

June 20, 2007

UPDATE: June 21. I’ll be discussing this news with Al Kresta today at 4 pm Eastern; and Jimmy Akin did a good fisking of the Time article, which was, need I say it?, laughably bad in some places.

ORIGINAL POST: Canon law is not only much older than common law, but in many respects, it operates very differently from the legal system we Americans live in. Try to keep this in mind (I know it’s hard, but really try) as a multitude of pundits weigh in on the most recent development in the Kennedy-Rauch annulment case. In brief, what we don’t know about this case vastly outweighs what we do know, and that should give thoughtful people pause.

We don’t know, for example, what evidence was put before the Boston tribunal by which it found for nullity in this case. I reviewed Sheila Rauch’s book Shattered Faith back in 1997, and noted then how little hard information about the case itself was contained therein. I’ve worked on enough marriage cases to know that what outsiders, even closely related outsiders, know about a marriage, and what tribunals know about a marriage, can be at times stunningly disparate.

Moreover, we don’t yet know what the Roman Rota sentence even says, whether, for example, it reversed Boston on procedural grounds that can be fairly easily corrected, or on evidentiary grounds that can be supplemented and resubmitted, or on substantive grounds that offer little hope of reconsideration (that last category being, for many reasons, by far the least likely).

Now, I could stop right here and say, “Anyone who (like me) doesn’t know the answers to these questions has absolutely no business commenting on the case (so I won’t, either)”, but I can raise a few more questions for the interested.

For example, will Kennedy refile in Boston (as is his right per 1983 CIC 1643 et c.), or will he appeal this decision within the Rota itself? Rota decisions are indeed, I won’t say frequently, but certainly not rarely, appealed within the Rota, and sometimes reversed. That this can happen at all should give pause to those who will cast this Rota decision as the voice of God pronouncing judgment. Or, passing over why the sentence sat in Rome for two years, will it be published in five or so years as is now typical of Rota cases? And by the way, why did the case go directly to Rome in the first place, instead of passing through normal second instance (I’m just curious about that, there’s nothing untoward in such a move, per 1983 CIC 1417, though it is unusual).

Sheila Rauch, an Episcopalian who filed for the divorce, seems like a perfectly nice lady, while Joe Kennedy, a Catholic who remarried (civilly) before even Boston had reached its decision, strikes me as just another shallow Kennedy climber. But Rauch’s account of this case (which now might be rushed to re-release with a gloating banner across the cover), when not putting forth assertions that are simply wrong, usually resorts to the same old feminist critiques of the Church that we have heard for decades, and Kennedy, yes, even a Kennedy, deserves a judgment based on the facts.

Maybe he just got one. But we’ll all have to wait and see.

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* Read a sample Rota sentence here.
* Read my discussion of American annulment statistics here.
* For a look at several famous Roman Rota cases, including some that were reversed within the Rota itself, see John Noonan, Power to Dissolve: Lawyers and Marriages in the Courts of the Roman Curia (1972).

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