Macfarlane vs. No Fault

CLEVELAND — In an attempt to save her marriage and keep her family together, Marie Macfarlane is using Church law and teaching to battle the civil legal system.

She's in a fight against what she refers to as a “pro-remarriage” movement.

Macfarlane, known as Bai (pronounced “Bay”), and her husband, William (Bud) Macfarlane Jr., are founders of the Mary Foundation, a Catholic apostolate that has become well-known for distributing free tapes and CDs about the Catholic faith. Bud is also known for his work with “e5 Men,” a group that fasts for their wives as described in the fifth chapter of Ephesians in an attempt to bring their wives to holiness and to accelerate the husbands’ conversions.

But Bud moved out of the house in the summer of 2003 and filed for a divorce. And in Ohio, where the Macfarlanes live, the courts routinely grant a no-fault divorce after one year of separation, no matter what the circumstances are, Bai said.

“The culture wants everyone to believe that the children can be raised by Susie Government; as long as there is day care and activities and (keeping the kids) busy, then they're being raised as ‘fine,’” Bai said. “‘What's wrong with you, Mrs. Macfarlane? You're going to get a job; you have an engineering degree from Notre Dame. You have all this experience. What are you complaining about? Your kids are going to be fine.’”

She differs with the secular viewpoint.

“I know that God's plan for life and how people are supposed to know about the world is through the family,” she said.

But her family is being torn apart. On Sept. 13, after a hearing requested by Bud, an Ohio judge ordered that, because Bai is defying an earlier court agreement to stop home schooling two of her four children, Bud should be the legal custodian and primary residential parent “for school purposes” of the children, who range in age from 3 to 12 years old. The judge also said Bud should take immediate “possession” of the children, which Bud has already done.

Bud did not respond to an e-mail request for an interview; his lawyer, Tom LaFond, did not return two phone messages.

In a motion filed in late August, Bai's lawyer reminded the court that the couple had gotten engaged in 1990 and participated in a preCana marriage preparation program that is customary for couples who marry in the Catholic Church.

By marrying in the Church, the couple agreed to follow the teachings of the Church, including doctrines and canon laws, the motion said.

Referring to Canons 1153 and 1692 of the Code of Canon Law, the motion stated that, a spouse has to contact the local bishop before moving out or filing for divorce, although if there's danger or an unsafe situation arises, then a spouse can separate on his or her own authority. The lawful reasons for leaving, according to Canon 1153, include when a spouse causes “grave danger of soul or body to the other or to the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult.”

After the bishop weighs the “particular circumstances” involving the couple, according to Canon 1692, he can decide if there is an acceptable reason for a separation, or he may allow the spouse to approach the civil system — but only if he is assured that no civil court orders will contradict divine law.

Forced no-fault divorce would contradict God's plan, Bai said.

Home-Schooling Issue

Bai said she has been a loyal wife, doesn't have any addictions and is not abusive.

Ben Nguyen, the chancellor of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and a canon lawyer, submitted an accompanying affidavit, arguing that the Catechism states that a couple that enters into marriage is introduced into “an ecclesial order of spouses,” which “creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children.”

The affidavit concluded by saying that the Macfarlanes “have de facto an antenuptial (prenuptial) agreement to adhere to the rights and duties proper to the order of spouses, as governed by the canonical laws of the Roman Catholic Church, including those of separation of the spouses.”

Because Bud was in violation of the couple's prenuptial agreement by moving out without first contacting the ordinary — Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland — Bai's attorney, Robert Lynch, asked in his Aug. 23 motion that the court's temporary orders be dismissed and jurisdiction of the matter be transferred to the Church's tribunal or local bishop.

One of the court orders involves the Macfarlane children's education. Bai said the court appointed a psychologist to interview her, her husband and their children to determine what was in the children's best interests. The psychologist recommended that the two older children not be home schooled, while the two younger ones should be home schooled until the third grade. Both parents have been public proponents of home schooling for years, Bai said.

At the time, Bai said, she didn't know she was allowed a hearing about home schooling, so she believes she was “coerced and intimidated” into agreeing to the recommendation. Currently, she added, the children are wards of the state, but she defied the order and continued to educate her children at home.

But the law is now on Bud's side, saying that the children should be taken away from Bai, with the two oldest boys attending a Catholic school that Bud enrolled them in. Another may be enrolled in Catholic school, too, if Bud wishes, the court said. Bai said all the children want to continue to be home schooled.

Helping Others

In doing research about divorce, Bai said she found many Catholics think there's “nothing wrong” with getting a divorce — even though the Catechism says that “divorce is a grave offense against the natural law.”

“You have to take advantage of the graces that God promised to give you when you made your vows,” she said.

To inform others about what she's been discovering, Bai founded a website,, about divorce and Church teaching. She is critical of organizations and people that she says promote divorce and remarriage and dissent from Church teachings.

Irene Varley, executive director of the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics, one of the groups that Bai criticizes on the website, said her organization exists to address the pain that's caused by divorce.

“As an association, we first of all recognize the sanctity of marriage, and we do not encourage divorce,” she said. “What we offer them is the spiritual healing that needs to take place that they desire.”

Nguyen, the La Crosse diocesan chancellor, is also the “defender of the bond,” a tribunal job that entails finding reasons why an annulment shouldn't be granted. He skimmed through some of the criticisms on Bai's website and did not find any “dissent” in the organizations she criticizes.

“What I am seeing is probably a bit of a loose mentality,” Nguyen said. “The mentality is not so much denial or dissent, but a slouching toward, or a looser application, in the name of ‘pastoral sensitivity.’”

Nguyen added that the temptation tribunal officials sometimes succumb to is “a misguided pastoral sense” when granting annulments.

“It would be easy to say ‘leave and get on with their lives,’ and that's encouraging to the people who hear it,” he said. “But it's not really defending the bond. It's not really defending the sacrament. It's not encouraging the married life and family life.”

Robert Vasoli, retired professor of sociology at Notre Dame University, said he agreed with Bai's assertion that there exists a pro-divorce and remarriage culture within the Church.

“Absolutely,” said Vasoli, author of What God Has Joined Together: The Annulment Crisis in American Catholicism. “One can say that in the American Church, divorce and remarriage in the Church is a very prominent reality by virtue of the ease with which annulments have been granted.”

Pope John Paul II has spoken out forcefully against the divorce mentality.

“It could perhaps seem that divorce is so firmly rooted in certain social sectors, that it is almost not worth continuing to combat it by spreading a mentality, a social custom and civil legislation in favor of the indissolubility of marriage,” the Pope said in a speech to the Roman Rota, the Church's central appellate court, on Jan. 28, 2002. “Yet it is indeed worth the effort! Actually, this good is at the root of all society, as a necessary condition for the existence of the family. Its absence, therefore, has devastating consequences that spread through the social body like a plague.”

Carlos Briceno writes from Seminole, Florida.