Vatican Finally Declares 1996 Kennedy Annulment Invalid

Now the story can be told — or at least part of the story. The parts we don't know, but should, are still more interesting.

Long ago an informed Vatican official informed CWNews that the Roman Rota had ruled in favor of Sheila Rauch Kennedy, affirming the validity of her marriage to former Congressman Joe Kennedy. But our Vatican source asked us to keep the matter quiet, and we did.

Now, however, Time magazine has broken the story. The decision by the Roman Rota has been confirmed.

Here, in brief, are the facts as we know them:

  • In 1991, while serving as Congressman from Massachusetts, Joseph P. Kennedy II divorced his wife Sheila Rauch Kennedy.
  • In 1993 the Congressman sought a decree of annulment from the Boston archdiocese. Without waiting for the result of his petition, he entered into a second marriage with a former aide, Beth Kelly; that wedding did not take place in a Catholic Church.
  • In 1996, Sheila Rauch Kennedy learned that the Boston archdiocesan tribunal had proclaimed that her marriage to Joe Kennedy was a nullity. Rauch, who is Episcopalian, was appalled by that decision, and contested the tribunal's judgment. She also wrote a book, Shattered Faith, denouncing what she saw as corruption in the annulment process. Rauch complained that Church officials in Boston never gave her an opportunity to demonstrate the validity of the marriage; nor did they inform her about her right to appeal the decision to Rome.
  • Nine years later, in 2005, the Roman Rota reversed the Boston tribunal's decision, saying in effect that in the eyes of the Church, Sheila Rauch is still Joe Kennedy's wife.

We do not know the grounds for the annulment originally granted by the Boston tribunal, nor do we know why the Roman Rota reversed that decision. That is right and proper; we have no right to know the intimate details of their union.

But we do know that the final decision from Rome came nine years after the original annulment. "Justice delayed is justice denied," the old adage teaches, and in this case the long delay is an injustice. If Sheila Rauch was indeed married to Joe Kennedy, didn't she have the right to a reasonably prompt determination of that fact? If the marriage did not take place, didn't Joe Kennedy have the right to know that he was free to enter into a new marriage in the Church?

Next, notice that the Roman Rota reached its final decision (that is, barring the possibility of another appeal) in 2005. CWNews heard about it in 2006. Sheila Rauch reports that she was not officially informed until May 2007. Is that lengthy delay not a further injustice? According to the Time magazine, the formal notification to Rauch, the petitioner, was delayed "while the official written notice was being prepared." Really? You might think that, after pondering the case for a decade, officials of the Vatican tribunal would have their thoughts sufficiently organized so that they could write up a decision in less than 18 months.

The final decision by the Roman Rota lends weight to Sheila Rauch Kennedy's argument that she and Joe had a real, albeit unhappy, marital union. The way this case was handled lends even more weight to her criticism of the annulment process in the Catholic Church.

And the media coverage of the overdue Vatican decision illustrates yet another problem with that annulment process. A spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, Terrence Donilon, declined to comment on the Time magazine revelation about the validity of Joe Kennedy's marriage. "Such matters are appropriately private and confidential," he told AP.

Nonsense! The reasons for an annulment are confidential. We have no need to know the details that led Church officials to determine that Joe Kennedy is or is not married to Sheila Rauch. But we do have a right to know whether or not the couple — or any other couple — is actually married.

Marriage is a public act. Except under the most extraordinary circumstances, marriages are announced to the public, and Church officials would quite rightly be suspicious of a couple wishing to marry secretly.

Oddly enough I have made this argument before — a decade ago, in a case involving Joe's uncle. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, is Senator Ted Kennedy married to his first wife, Joan, or to his current partner, Vicki? To this day, no Church official has answered that question for the record. But if the sanctity of marriage is important to the Church — and it is vitally important — then the answer to that question is an important one: an answer the public should hear.

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  • Guest

    I have a lot of concerns both about the annulment process and the precana process.  The PreCana conference that my husband and I attended was a joke.  We have a good marriage, and a valid one, but it's easy to see how many people who are in no position to make a sacramental commitment fall through the cracks, and thus the need for way too many annulments.  There just isn't enough premarital screening.

  • Guest

    In my opinion, both the pre-Cana and Annullment processes are sound in principle, but are both in need of reform in many dioceses in the USA.

    I write as one who has gone down this painful road.

  • Guest

    In our parish, here is the marriage preparation program. The engaged couple meets with the priest 4 times. They meet with their mentor couple once a week for 6 months (this includes marriage prep AND bacic catechesis). They complete a several session course in Creighton method NFP (that includes instruction in the church's teaching on openness to life). At the rehearsal, everyone goes to confession. Ordinary engaged couples are required to not be living together. Many times couples have been civilly married for years -we attempt to get them to not have sex. We do insist that they be separated the night before the wedding.

    They are required to go to Sunday Mass even if they can not receive Communion.

    What are our goals? 1) As far as we can make it possible, every couple is in the state of grace at  their weddong so they can worthily receive the Sacrament and its graces. 2) Every couple is well instructed on marriage, both sacramentally and from a relationship perspective.

    Many marriages in our Church are deprived of the sacramental graces because the couples were living in mortal sin on the day of the wedding. We all need those graces but many deprive themselves and thus the high divorce rate and applications for annulment.


    The rest is up to them and their cooperation with God's graces. But we did our part. Is your parish doing all this? If now, why not? Instead of complaining about the problem, lets all get to work!



  • Guest

    very cool , where are you at.  I have not seen anything even remotely like that in the midwest or new england or georgia / floirda.

  • Guest

    Fishman – would you believe it if I told you this was in the Archdiocese of Los  Angeles?  It is true…. but it is a parish program.  The diocesan program is weak, and worthless. We have a very unusual parish – confessions 7 days a week for hours everyday- Ignatian exercises offered by the  priests to laypeople.  5 or 6 all day English language retreats at the parish ever year with average attendance around 1,000. And of course 5 or 6 all day Spanish language retreats with average attendance around 500.

    After each of the 4 daily Masses, the priests leads the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. The only thing we dont have is a Latin Mass.  Give us time!

    And by the way we have perpetual adoration also!  Praised be Jesus Christ! 

  • Guest

    God loves you .


    I am announcing my filing for adoption or at least official guardianship by Jimaroo and his wife.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell or …

  • Guest

    Jimaroo, your parish sounds like a wonderful example for us all!

  • Guest

    hey , any chance I can get YOUR priest to talk to MY priest 😉

    Seriously though, A young priest friend of mine had this intresting obsevation about the older priest who are sometimes critical of him because he loves latin and is very much into prayer and liturgy.

    " They are all dieing" all the young men who are replacing them are MUCH more about liturgy then thier predicessors.

    So I think the church is turng around 🙂