In 2000, 22 years into their marriage and four children later, her husband told her he was gay.
Jean Spencer, 62, knew she would get a divorce and a declaration of invalidity (annulment), without a doubt.
“I don’t feel that I did (hesitate) for the fact that he was gay, and he told me when he came out to me in 2000 that he knew when he was 13 or 14 that he was gay, but it was not acceptable in 1978 when we got married to be gay, therefore, he was trying to hide it,” she said in a telephone interview with the Catholic Herald. “So I felt that he misled me from day one of our marriage and so I felt that I would have no problem getting the annulment.”
Certain life factors delayed her from getting one, but she didn’t have a problem – this year marks the second anniversary of her annulment.
She and her ex-husband finalized their divorce in 2009, because she wasn’t working and needed to be on his insurance policy.
In the meantime, Spencer attended a six-week session offering support to people like her at St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine, and began attending the separated and divorced support group there, which she now facilitates at her parish, St. Edward, Racine.
After her divorce was finalized, Spencer attended the New Horizons healing weekend for separated and divorced people offered through the archdiocesan Nazareth Project for Marriage and Family Formation, and has been involved ever since.
She said filling out the forms requesting the annulment was painful at times – she would fill out some of the questions, and then had to stop before continuing.
“However, I will say, when I finally filled it out after going through the New Horizons weekend, I have written my story and presented it there several times, and having done that made it easier for me as far as filling out the annulment papers,” she said.
Finding witnesses, as the process requires, was a little more difficult though, she said.
Part of the annulment process requires the petitioner, the one requesting an annulment, to provide witnesses who can offer information about the marriage and help to substantiate his or her testimony.
Not only did Spencer and her ex-husband lose touch with many of their friends, they didn’t have many close friends, and no one was aware of his lifestyle.
She eventually asked two of her sisters to be witnesses, and one of her ex-husband’s sisters.
The process took a little more than a year and for Spencer, the fee was waived because she demonstrated she was financially unable to pay.
She was happy when she finally received the decree.
“If I ever wanted to get married in the Catholic Church again, I can, and that was the most important thing for me is to know that in the church I can remarry again and I did not want to wait until I found someone if I ever did and then start the annulment process,” she said.
Offers healing after pain of divorce
Cheryl Touchett, 65, facilitator of the separated and divorced support group at her parish, St. Frances Cabrini, West Bend, said she uses her experiences from going through her divorce and petitioning for an annulment to help people who attend the group.
The mother of four children experienced the pain of divorce in 2001, after having been married since December 1973. She began attending the separated and divorced support group when she was going through her divorce, and took over when the facilitator moved to a different parish. Touchett began the annulment process a year after her divorce.
“I did it two-fold, not only for myself and the closure, but for the knowledge of going through the process and how I could pass that on to other people that were divorced and struggling with issues of faith and with wanting an annulment,” she said in a telephone interview with the Catholic Herald.
Outside of completing paperwork and traveling to the Cousins Center for her deposition, Touchett said the process was “relatively easy.” For her, the decision came in about six months.
Self-reflection can be challenging
She remembers the questions in her deposition being thought-provoking and relevant, including how the wedding day went, how the marriage started, what life was like after the wedding, whether she felt valued then … etc. That was the only part that she felt was a little challenging.
“It was only challenging in that you do a lot of self-reflection and sometimes that self-reflection can be – it brings up things that aren’t pleasant,” she said. “You know when you discover you really weren’t loved, that’s sad, and so that’s challenging, but you get through it. The truth is hard to face but the truth is what, when you can face it, it’s what helps you to heal.”
It also helped her heal from feelings of guilt and responsibility, and realize that it wasn’t her fault.
What’s sad to Touchett is that some people don’t feel like the process is available to them, and that when they go through a divorce, they are left with the idea that they can’t receive Communion or participate in church activities.
“That’s kind of the sad part; it’s like when they need the church the most, they feel like they’re being rejected by the church,” she said.
People also think children aren’t considered legitimate after an annulment, which is also false.
“People think that they’re going to come by, fill it out, get the annulment and all of a sudden they have illegitimate children, as opposed to simply not being married in the eyes of God, which is basically what it is … it also allows you to have other relationships and get married in the church again.”
No reflection on children
Annette Zablocki, 53, a parishioner at St. John Paul II Parish, Milwaukee, said she would have gotten an annulment for her 1986 marriage to her ex-husband that ended in divorce, sooner had she known what she knows now.
The New York native was hesitant because of her two children.
It wasn’t until she and her husband John, who were married by the Justice of Peace in New York in 2001, saw an announcement regarding annulments in a church bulletin that she would learn more.
“At this point, it was ground into my head that it reflects upon the children and I didn’t want that to reflect upon the children, so we went to this meeting. The priest was very nice, explained everything to us and we decided to go for it,” she said in a telephone interview with the Catholic Herald.
So, she made an appointment to talk with a priest.
“He did assure me that there was no reflection upon the children in the Catholic Church. …” she said, explaining that the children weren’t even involved in the process she started in 2002-2003. “That really was my biggest fear; I mean we probably would have done it sooner, but that was my biggest fear until I found out that that was not an issue.”
She said her deposition lasted about an hour to an hour and a half, and the questions asked were intimate, but no one should be afraid of them because it’s part of the process.
“After you give your deposition, it’s just a waiting process,” she said. The decision came about eight or nine months after she started the process.
“My husband was never married before and I wanted to be able to get married in the Catholic Church again, and it worked out well. …” Zablocki said. “It was called a blessing ceremony and it was very nice.”
And it was simple, according to Zablocki.
“I thought it was going to be a whole, long involved thing, and it wasn’t. …” she said. “It was very, very simple and I was very glad I did it.”
She said the cost of an annulment is worth being able to marry in the Catholic Church and receive Communion, but also to feel closure.
“It is a healing, it is closure, because you do get that sense of ‘OK, now I’m free, and I can go and do what I was meant to do,’” she said.