Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bishops crack open door on divorce

But meeting fudges key issues of Catholic Church's approach to sex, love, marriage

VATICAN CITY • Catholic bishops have wrapped up a divisive synod by approving a compromise report reflecting a stalemate in the battle between the Church's conservative and liberal wings over its approach to sex, love and marriage.

The document, which Pope Francis is free to ignore or implement as he sees fit, fudges the key issue of whether divorced and remarried believers should be allowed to play a full role in the Church.

And it confirms the pullback from the more explicit opening to lesbian and gay believers supported by progressives when the review of teaching on the family was launched last year.

But it also leaves Pope Francis with room for manoeuvre should he wish to defy his conservative opponents and push on with his attempt to make the Church more relevant and more welcoming towards believers who find themselves in breach of its rules.

Pope Francis, who recognised in closing remarks that the three-week synod had exposed deep divisions in the Catholic family, now has to decide on which way to go, if and when he updates guidelines on Catholic teaching.

The text, approved last Saturday, advocates a "case-by-case" approach to the most controversial question, the handling of divorced and remarried believers, saying they need to play a greater role in the Church, but stopping short of explicitly ending the current ban on their receiving communion.
People in this situation need to be treated with discernment, allowed to play a greater role in the Church and not made to feel as if they have been excommunicated, the document states.

Underlining how controversial this section of the text was, the paragraphs related to divorced and remarried believers just scraped the required two-thirds of synod votes to gain approval.

The document includes only one brief article on the Church's approach to gay believers, framing the question in terms of how priests can help support families who have "persons with homosexual tendencies" in their midst.

It reiterates that the Church believes every person, regardless of their sexuality, is worthy of respect and a reception which takes care to "avoid every sign of unjust discrimination".

But it strongly reiterates the Church's opposition to gay marriage, saying: "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and the family."

The emphasis contrasted sharply with first drafts last year which spoke of recognising the value of loving same-sex relationships, to the outrage of those opposed to any dilution of Church teaching that homosexuality amounts to a kind of disorder.

In closing remarks, Pope Francis said the synod had been about confronting "today's realities" without "burying our heads in the sand".

He said the divisions that had emerged reflected important cultural differences which the Church should embrace in the way it applies its teaching - an ambiguous comment that will concern conservatives.

"We have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another," he said.

Pope Francis, 78, also appeared to take a new swipe at the conservatives who had accused him of rigging the synod's organisation to try to engineer progressive conclusions.

"The different opinions which were freely expressed - and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways - certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue," he said.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Creatively Channeling the Pain of Divorce

From The North Shore Weekend newspaperContrary to the stereotype of the strong silent type, Evanston resident John Frank has LOTS to say about divorce. His two-act play, which will be staged two weekends in November, is the tip of the iceberg.

“Men don’t talk about how they feel; they just kind of soldier on and people around them think, ‘oh, he’ll be fine.’ But there is, in fact, a lot of pain that men don’t talk about,” said Frank, who divorced after 16 years of marriage to his first wife. “For example, only seeing your kids every other weekend is a terrible way to live. I have no trouble talking about that.”

And so it was that he wrote Boys in the Basement, described as “a unique look at divorce from the perspective of men who have lost their families and everything they once held dear.” It is inspired by the network Frank developed over the years after his divorce.

“In the suburbs, a divorced man is kind of a non-person. I created a network of divorced men friends, as we were all sort of stuck in limbo,” he said.

Frank explained to me that the script tells the story of the tenants in an apartment building – efficiency apartments, that is, located close to several of the tenant’s children and therefore the tenants’ ex-wives – who meet nightly in the basement of their building to share stories over beers.

Among the tenants Frank described there is a player, who is twice divorced; a younger guy who is working up the courage to talk to women; an attorney (played by Frank) who is having an affair with his second ex-wife, though she has gone back to her first husband; a new tenant, who thinks he still has a chance to reconcile with his ex-wife; and the landlord, a still-married guy who flaunts to his tenants that he knows what it takes to be successful in marriage.

(There are a few women in the building, too, who cross paths with the gentlemen throughout the play.)

“It’s about the fine line between love and hate,” Frank said of his play, “how quickly love turns to hate, and how men deal with loss. In many ways divorce is like death, as it changes your dreams and your life so quickly.”

Frank purposefully recruited a female director, Mary Reynard, to counter the male perspective from which he wrote the script. But he is firm: the play will wake audience members up to the man’s mindset during and after a divorce.

“I want people to think about how the other person feels when they’re fighting and finding ways to separate themselves. I want people to think about how traumatic divorce can be and yet how people can go on, and whether there can still be true love.”

Frank believes in it – heck, he remarried in 2007 – but he admits that it’s hard.

“We’re still people and we still have feelings. Some will change and some will never change, but that’s just how life is.”
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Thursday, October 1, 2015

New Law Eases Path to Divorce for Many Couples

A new law will eliminate Maryland's one-year wait for some who want to divorce.
When spouses in Maryland agree to split up and amicably hammer out a separation agreement, state law still makes them wait a year to file for divorce.

That will change Thursday — at least for some couples — when a new law eliminates the waiting period for those without minor children who mutually consent to divorce and agree on a property split. Couples with children will still have to live apart for a year before they can file, even if they have resolved custody and support issues.

The change is the result of legislation sponsored by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin and passed in April by the General Assembly. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the measure will help thousands of Marylanders to move on with their lives.

Lindsay Parvis, a Montgomery County attorney who co-chairs the Maryland State Bar Association's section on family law, called the change "a huge development."

She said it will be a relief for many people to know they can move forward "rather than a law telling them they have to wait 12 months."

The current law starts the one-year clock on the day one spouse moves out of the common home. If the two later stay under the same roof for even a night, the clock resets to Day One.
Parvis said the law will get the courts out of the business of asking eligible couples about that aspect of their lives.

Del. Kathleen Dumais, a family lawyer and vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said clients come to her with settlement agreements and are shocked to learn they have to wait a year.
"They just look at me like I've lost my mind," said Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat. "It just seems so crazy."

There are exceptions to the waiting period in current law for cases in which a spouse has committed adultery or been abusive. Lawyers point to cases where couples didn't want to raise adultery charges in an uncontested divorce, but did so to avoid the waiting period. In other cases, spouses accuse themselves of adultery to expedite a ruling.

Dumais, who helped steer the legislation through the House, said some delegates were concerned that Zirkin's original bill did not include enough protections against one spouse taking advantage of the other. She said the House committee added an amendment excluding parents of minor children from expedited divorce and another requiring that both spouses attend the court hearing in person.

Currently only one spouse has to attend the hearing on an uncontested divorce.

The House passed the bill 104-34, with most Republicans opposed. The Senate, which earlier passed the bill 40-7, accepted the House changes and Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill.

Lawmakers acted after hearing stories such as that of Rachel London and William Atwell.

In joint written testimony, London and Atwell told senators that after deciding in June 2011 that they no longer wanted to be married, they quickly reached agreement on a property split and the support and custody of their 4-year-old son. But because neither could afford to leave their Anne Arundel County home immediately, they lived under the same roof in separate bedrooms until Atwell could move out in October of that year.

It wasn't until a year later they could file for divorce, which was granted in November 2012.
"Allowing us to file for absolute divorce when we were ready more than a year before would have decreased the stress, burden and uncertainty," they wrote.

Under the new law, a couple in their position still would not be eligible for a quick divorce because a child was involved. But Dumais said the legislation nonetheless represents meaningful change.
"What I find in family law is that baby steps are important," she said.

Zirkin, who said divorce law is a small part of his practice, said he hopes the legislation will encourage separating couples to reach agreements.

"It creates an incentive for people to work it out," he said. "Because the last thing you want in a divorce is people fighting over every last thing."

And if couples aren't fighting it out, that could save them on legal fees, Zirkin said.

"If this bill works the way it should ... it's a bad thing for divorce lawyers — which is a good thing," he said.

Sen. Michael Hough, a Frederick County Republican, said the amendments made the bill less objectionable, but he still is opposed.

"Right now there's a cooling-off period that's in the law," he said. "I just don't want to make it so you can get a next-day divorce, and that's where the law is headed."

The bill was one of several that passed this year removing obstacles to divorce. Another that becomes law this week shortens to six months, rather than a year, the time someone must live in Maryland to file for divorce here — an issue important for military families who move frequently.

Zirkin said such changes are part of a broader re-examination of Maryland's approach to divorce.
"We have a lot of remnants of very old common law and very old statutes," said Zirkin, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "This is not the end in terms of modernizing our law."
Other new laws

These are among new Maryland laws effective Thursday:
Rape kits: Requires police agencies to report backlogs of untested rape kits to state.
Mental health: Requires Baltimore and county police to create units by next Oct. 1 trained to deal with mentally ill people.
Police review: Expands mission and changes membership of Baltimore's civilian review board.
Public information: Creates new compliance board with authority to enforce public records law.
Speed limits: Allows state highway officials to set speed limits up to 70 mph.
Human trafficking: Allows someone charged with prostitution to use as a defense being a victim of human trafficking.

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