I recently submitted VOI for the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval. It's a prerequisite for entering it in their Catholic Arts and Letters Award competition...which I did want to do.
Unfortunately, despite having Catholic characters who are unashamedly faithful....it didn't get approved.
It has a divorced character marrying in the Church at the end of the book, without my having mentioned that he got an annulment first.
So because I didn't tell the reader that Lachlan had an annulment from his previous marriage...I was not clearly showing/upholding the Catholic teaching on marriage. And in this culture, yatta, yatta, yatta...
Now, on the surface, doesn't that look legit? After all, the last thing the Catholic Writers Guild wants is to assure an audience that a book doesn't contradict Catholic teaching, only to have some irate soul write them letters--or worse yet, write her bishop or the like--and complain.
But that whole reasoning bothered me.
Frankly, I expected that if it'd be disapproved, it would have been for other things entirely.
For the visions the heroine sees and the voices she hears.
Even maybe because one of Lachlan's key phrases is "God in heaven."
For almost anything but the fact that the "a" word never makes an appearance before the happy ending.
Part of what bothers me about this is the seeming assumption that Catholic readers are dumb as rocks, and if you don't spell out in very clear Canon Law terms what the characters did or didn't do, they'll think "everything's OK and anything goes."
But it wasn't until I really thought about what was on the page, versus what was not, that I realized this disapproval, and the reasons for it, raise a whole swackload of interesting questions on their own.
Follow me on this, if you would.
In order to make the assumption that I was not upholding Church teaching by having my divorced hero remarrying at the end...a lot of other things are are also not spelled out here are, apparently, assumed by the committee.
How did they know the first marriage was a church marriage? (Maybe it wasn't...in which case, if both parties were Catholic, it's invalid by form anyway and won't need an annulment.)
Or...how did they know either of the first-marriage partners was even Catholic at the time of that marriage? (Which would make the entire point moot. How did they know my lead wasn't a convert? They didn't. They assumed he was not.)
How did they know he didn't get an annulment? (Simply because it doesn't say so? It doesn't say that he married his first wife in the Church, nor whether he or she was Catholic at the time. But they had no trouble assuming those things were background facts. Why is that?)
I freely admit that an "annulment," in those terms, was not mentioned.
However, both my protagonists are clearly practicing Catholics in this book, and regular Mass attendees--the pastor knows them both by first name. (Does your pastor know you on sight? By your first name?)
At least one time, my hero is mentioned as receiving the sacrament of Penance.
When my heroine hears voices and sees visions, does she go to the paranormal expert on her campus? No...she goes to her parish priest for counsel. Even though she's a college teacher, and it'd be the most natural thing in the world for her to go to a psych expert, if not a paranormal one...academia being what it is. She does not. She goes for spiritual guidance.
Just between you and me and the local bishop, I'd be willing to assume that a woman who does that isn't going to marry a man who's not free to marry in the Church.
Thus, in every other aspect except the "a" word being spelled out, my characters were upholding Catholic behavior in pretty much everything they did from the point of their meeting on, if not before that.
Frankly, it could even be argued--and assumed--that Lachlan may have already been granted an annulment, considering his ex-wife entered into the marriage under false pretenses. But because the magic "a" word wasn't present...the book's "not Catholic enough." (My words, not theirs.)
This says to me, unfortunately, that the Seal of Approval committee was ready to make a whole lot of blanket assumptions except for one. That strikes me as odd, to say the least.
Disapprovals are not subject to renegotiation or reapplication, and I certainly didn't plan to write a Catholic treatise on marriage rules. But seriously, folks--in order to assume that my characters were somehow messing up on the Church teaching on marriage, it seems to me the committee had to assume a whole lot more about that previous marriage that was also never spelled out. How they could assume one set of things, yet ignore the many other clear actions that would lead a reader to believe that, of course, the couple had done everything necessary to marry in the Church, frankly, strikes me as splitting hairs--and awfully presumptive on the "error" side of the fence. As if they were looking for a reason to say NO, rather than to say YES.
Which is a shame. Because there are precious few good faithful Catholic characters in fiction nowadays. You'd think they'd have considered this a win, and gone with it.
Save for one pesky word.
However, I now realize where I made my mistake: sparing the ex-wife in the first place.
If Lachlan had been a widower, the thing probably would have gotten a seal so fast it'd make your head spin. (Unless then they really took the time to worry about the voices, and the visions, and the occasional swear word...but I digress.)
I clearly needed to kill more people in this book.That would have solved everything!
Next time...I'll do better.
Watch your back.:-)