Loud praise or detailed criticism for Jenks' text will vary with each reader. From some audiences there will be loud praise; from others words of disappointment. Before recommending the text to another one reader should have a decent grasp of another's interests or needs.
Though no longer teaching a course on Marriage as sacrament as a priest, I continue to help couples prepare for marriage and occasionally work through the pain of divorce. Every once in a while I help someone with the annulment process. And particularly for questions about annulment I feel I could always use some more information.
In terms of technical information there are better books. Joseph Zwack's text Annulment, Your Chance to Remarry in the Catholic Church, though dated is far more informative. And theologically there are any number of books better at the task of capturing the Church's perspectives on marriage and divorce. Still there is something incredibly important to be gained from this latest text. Jenks captures and conveys how hurtful the experience of annulment can be for a particular group of people.
My previous study and ministry did little to impress upon me the pain of those, generally respondents, who did not want their marriage annulled. My limited ministry has been exclusively with petitioners, those seeking an annulment from a church tribunal. Increased awareness of "the other side of the coin" highlights the importance of re-examining and expanding the church's ministry to all who are separated or divorced. And, if the annulment process is truly to be a healing experience, a position often purported by advocates of the process, then attention as well as sound pastoral care needs to be extended to all - petitioners, respondents and children.
While acknowledging the absence of a critical eye for statistical analysis, I recommend Jenks' work for those wanting a solid sociological study of the reality of divorce, annulment and religious conviction of Roman Catholics who have lived the experience. The author worked at the compilation and evaluation of the data for over four years and he provides his interpretation against the background of a wide range of similar studies. Even those with no critical eye for statistics can gain a solid sense of the wide range of experience and varied human responses often conditioned by religious practice.
Jenks, unfortunately, does not seem to achieve the objectivity of the social scientist that he claims to offer. Part way through his research he became familiar with the work of Sheila Rausch Kennedy, author of Shattered Faith: A Woman's Struggle to Stop the Catholic Church from Annulling Her Marriage. Kennedy's "Foreward" and the pre-publication review of Jan Leary, author of Save Our Sacrament: Reform of Annulment and Respondent Support suggest a tenor that runs through Jenks' work. While, as noted above, the perspective of the respondents is invaluable there is a note of bias in the present book that could disappoint a variety of audiences.
Two chapters of the text are devoted, one each, to the experience of Petitioners and Respondents. The sources for data on the petitioners appear more objective and representative. As admitted by the author, the source for data on the respondents is limited and probably biased. The case studies presented in the first of these chapters offers a wider range of experience and perspective. The second chapter, the one on the respondents, shows little difference in experience and a shared perspective - all were wronged. In two of the case studies even an individual without an education in the tribunal process or even basic psychology might well sense that the petitioner had good reason for the divorce and consequent annulment!
Who should not read this book? People seeking general information on annulments would not be much helped. Who should read this book? Sociologists, social psychologists and social scientists with an interest in religion should find it interesting. Pastoral ministers - canon lawyers, tribunal officials, and those concerned with ministry to divorced and separated Christians should give it careful consideration. Clergy should get a sense of Jenks' overall observations and probably ought to go through the work of Kennedy and Leary. Seminarians could benefit from having this text as part of a series of required reading for their course work on marriage and canon law. By way of conclusion Jenks offers a series of recommendations. The more limited ones come from the texts of Sheila Rausch Kennedy and Jan Leary. He does better in outlining his own suggestions and in first mentioning the approach of Orthodox Christians to divorce and remarriage. What is abundantly clear from Jenks' work as well as the other authors mentioned in this review, the Roman Church has a great challenge in seeking to minister faithfully to Christians whose marriages have ended in divorce. With each challenge is a great opportunity. Perhaps, as suggested by the title and a good deal of the information offered by Jenks, the rich tradition of Catholicism that includes the annulment process, might be helpful in meeting the challenge.