Program #0219 for Friday, January 20, 2012: Maria Bianco

January 20, 2012

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): Maria Bianco of the Metropolitan Tribunal for the Archdiocese of Boston

Links from today’s show:

Today’s topics: The work of Maria Bianco, a judge in the Metropolitan Tribunal

Summary of today’s show: Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell are joined by one of Fr. Mark’s colleagues on the Metropolitan Tribunal, Maria Bianco, a judge on the Tribunal. She is a native of Argentina, speaks four languages, writes poetry, has a degree in psychology, and has practiced both civil and canon law in the US and Argentina. Maria provides the office both with a native Spanish speaker who understands Latin American culture and can assist the many natives of those countries, but also a heart that understands the spiritual, pastoral, emotional, and therapeutic dimensions of the work of the Tribunal, primarily with those seeking marriage-related assistance.

1st segment: Scot and Fr. Mark talked about the Patriots-Ravens game this weekend and gave their predictions. Scot said 34-20 Patriots, while Fr. Mark said the Patriots will score in the 30s. Fr. Mark is going to Baltimore next week and hopes everyone there will be sad.

They then discussed Fr. Mark’s classes he’s teaching at St. John Seminary. He’s teaching a course called Marriage and Family to the third-year seminarians.

2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Mark welcomed Maria Bianco, a judge on the Metropolitan Tribunal. Scot said she is the first person from Argentina on the show. He asked her what her childhood was like. Maria said she grew up on a farm near a small town. She lived there until she was 5 and was sent to a Catholic school in a nearby town. She still owns the farm which produces soybeans and cattle.

She always knew she’d want to keep the farm, but also knew she had to find her own way in the world. Social and political matters were prominent in her family life and the call to serve the Church came later. She first worked as a civil lawyer in family law. In Argentina, there were many people who were divorced and couldn’t get remarried in the Church, so she decided to study canon law to help them with the annulment process.

Maria has three children of her own. Fr. Mark said she also studied psychology. Maria said she needed to do this while working in family law in order to help the people who came to her with all their family problems.

Maria said the divorce rate in Argentina is similar to the Boston area’s. But at the time she was practicing law, divorce was only recently legalized and there was a rush of pent-up demand to seek divorces. Scot asked her why she came to the United States. She worked with the Metropolitan Tribunal at the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires and she learned that tribunals in the US were much faster at resolving annulments, so she wanted to come to see how it works here. She also wanted to have an international experience and knew of an Argentinean working as a judge at the Boston tribunal. That’s how she came.

Scot said she’s been here 10 years now. What has kept here? Maria said it’s the group of people she has met in the Tribunal and because she has learned a lot. She also finds the US to be much safer than Argentina because of the civil upheaval and corruption in society.

Scot asked Maria the best part of her job. She said it’s the feeling of serving others. In civil law, you are also serving others, but in canon law, you go beyond the ordinary matters of life because canon law concerns eternal life. Fr. Mark said Maria has helped so many because she speaks Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and English. Her language skills connect so many people in the Archdiocese of different cultures to the Church. She also provides connections to tribunals throughout Latin America, which is necessary because when immigrants from those countries seek annulments or other cases they must get documentation from their dioceses of origin.

Maria said for Latin Americans, Catholicism isn’t just about faith, it’s about culture and traditions, so to be denied the sacraments is very painful, so to have a resolution in each case is rewarding for her personally. Some of these are very poor people who don’t fit in with society in general, but are looking for a place for themselves in the Church. Fr. Mark said it’s not just understanding language, but understanding the culture, sometimes knowing what the people are really asking.

3rd segment: Scot asked Maria what a canonical court judge does compared to a civil court judge. She said you have to be very patient and make people feel comfortable. It’s not about determining child support or fighting for child custody. Instead they are asking about feelings or past history, which can be terrible. Scot asked Maria what information she’s trying to gather from the people. Maria said she tries to make contact with the person and they make contact with her. She tries just to be an observer. She asks for permission to allow her to be “under their skin”, to feel their feelings. She is not actually judging the person or their behavior or past or why the marriage failed or what they did wrong.

Fr. Mark said this is why Maria is so valuable to him because he would have answered the question differently, by entering the technical and talking about invalidity. But Maria thinks first of people’s feelings and caring for them and this is why she balances the office.

Scot asked how many different cases she’s working at any one time. She tries to concentrate on one case at a time, although there many be many waiting. As for how long it takes, the law requires the first part of the case be completed in one year and the second part in six months. But they also sometimes have to contact tribunals in other dioceses, and sometimes that takes a long time. Or they have to interview witnesses several times or consult expert witnesses or some other consideration and so it can end up taking longer.

Maria said they need to approach the process in an interdisciplinary manner. Yes, they consider the law, but they also have to consider pastoral issues and psychological issues. The priest gives support to the people involved, but the tribunal does too. Fr. Mark said every divorce is wound that people carry around with them, and even for those who don’t get the nullity, they leave them healed in some way.

Scot asked Maria what the biggest misconception people have about the process. Maria said it’s about money. People think that it requires a lot of money to go through the process. Fr. Mark said there is a filing fee and a second larger fee, but no one who has difficulty paying is required to pay. He said some people think rich people can buy a favorable declaration of nullity, but that’s untrue. The judge doesn’t see anything about how much the people have paid or whether they have.

Scot asked what keeps someone away from starting the process that they would like to educate people about? Maria said if she puts herself in their place, she thinks many people don’t do it because of the emotional requirements. They have to confront in themselves what went wrong in the marriage. She said a woman from Guatemala met with her yesterday and she was afraid what her husband would do to her. He is in jail, but will be free in a few months, and so she doesn’t know how to deal with that. When people see the questions they will be asked, they don’t know how to answer. This is why they need to work harder with those who are involved in the process to give the emotional support people need and sometimes even therapeutic support.

Fr. Mark said there is also a misconception that the children are illegitimate, but that’s not true.

Scot said he was surprised that Maria is also a poet. She has written two books of poetry in Spanish. She doesn’t know how she began, but it was about 12 years old. It was a sort of therapy. Each time she writes, sometimes it’s a way of working out something she’s thinking about or expressing her feelings about nature or something else in her life.

Fr. Mark said Maria is a civil lawyer, a canon lawyer, an expert on the family, a mother, a grandmother, and a poet. She is a Renaissance woman. Scot said Mariah has helped him to appreciate the human dimension of the work of the Tribunal.

Her books are “Trepando la Llanura” and “El Canto de la Piedra”. Here is one of the poems:

  • Spanish

De niña, en el río perdí la luna.
Se me escapó en las arrugas del agua
y quise atrapar el agua
y se me escurrió de las manos

Y en gotas del rocío
volví la tristeza canto
hice surco la frente
se me secaron los labios.
Nunca alcancé la luna:
el río no detuvo su marcha.

Y quedaron lágrimas.

Y una a una
resbalan
otra vez. Otra vez.

  • English (rough translation)

As a girl in the river lost the moon.
It slipped into the water wrinkles
and I wanted to catch the water
and it slipped out from my hands

And in dewdrops
I turned my sorrow song
I furrow the brow
I dried my lips.
I never reached the Moon:
the river did not stop its march.

And there were tears.

And one by one
slipping
again. Again.

4th segment: Now as we do every week at this time, we will consider the Mass readings for this Sunday, specifically the Gospel reading.

The word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying:
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD’S bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing,
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed, “
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.

  • Second Reading for Sunday, January 20, 2012, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.
From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.

  • Gospel for Sunday, January 20, 2012, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 1:14-20)

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.

Scot said this is Jesus’ first homily in the Gospels. He said that it’s a big deal that one of the first things Jesus says is “Repent”. Maria said she wonders why Christ chose that environment and those men for his first homily. She thinks there is a subtle message here that Christ is asking us for that same simplicity that he was experiencing in that place. It can be tempting to make everything about the call of Christ too complex, but we have to keep this simplicity in our lives. We have to pray to be given the strength to find this simplicity.

Fr. Mark thought of the power of repentance and belief. He said you can see Jonah who doesn’t want to go to Nineveh, who pouted and tried to flee. But then he goes into this very rich city, preaches once, and they believe him instantly. Jesus begins his ministry with the same message and power. We’re still called by the same message today but there’s still a lot of Jonah in us, unable to believe it radically like John the Baptist.

Scot asked Maria what she thought of Jesus calling fishermen as his first disciples. She said it was because of the simplicity of their souls. They were able to respond as a child to his call to follow and believe. Maybe they didn’t understand the second part of the call, that they would become fishers of men, but they responded anyway.

Fr. Mark said there’s something real and down to earth about Peter. He’s real and human. Jesus picking fishermen showed us the way to be disciples as ourselves. Scot said we are also all called to be fishers of men in the Church. Five out of six baptized Catholics in the archdiocese don’t come to church. One of the reasons is because the one in the six doesn’t invite them. Fr. Mark said another reason is because people they’re not in good standing with the Church and the work of the Tribunal is to help bring about healing for those people.

Scot noted that the March for Life is this weekend and asked for prayers for all those who will be traveling to Washington, DC, and that their voices will bring about a conversion in our society.

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