Few people would have supported her to win, against the power of the Kennedy clan and the American Catholic Church.
But, after a decade of legal wrangling, Sheila Rauch Kennedy finally emerged victorious.
The Vatican has agreed to overturn the annulment of her 12-year marriage to Bobby Kennedy’s son, Joe.
The original ruling was made in 1996 by the Archdiocese of Boston, at the heart of the family’s political power.
It happened when the couple had two boys together – and effectively rendered them illegitimate in the eyes of the Church.
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Yesterday Mrs Rauch Kennedy, whose fight for justice has lasted almost as long as her marriage, said: ‘It has been a long one. I am very grateful that the marriage has been validated.
“The cancellation totally ignored the fact that I felt we had a very strong marriage at the start, we had two wonderful children and it has endured.
“I was certainly happy at first…things worked out, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t have a marriage.”
During the dispute, the staunchly Catholic Kennedys were accused of using their influence to persuade the Church to agree to the annulment.
Joe Kennedy, now 54, and his then wife were civilly divorced in 1991 after their relationship broke down.
But in 1993, he sought to have the marriage declared invalid, without consulting her.
The former US congressman apparently wanted to remarry, in church, and the Vatican does not allow divorced people to take communion or participate in any of the sacraments, including marriage.
The first time Ms. Rauch Kennedy, a Harvard-educated urban planning consultant, learned of the move was when a letter bearing the seal of the Roman Catholic Church arrived at her house.
He said her ex-husband was set to appear in Church court to swear theirs had never been a real marriage.
Indignant, she declared in an interview: “I have no problem with the divorce. What I cannot tolerate is a process that will declare my children to be descendants of a marriage that never existed.
In ecclesiastical law, the grounds for annulment are either impediment to union, including non-consummation of marriage or bigamy, or lack of full and free consent to marriage, including cases of union force or emotional or mental incapacity. .
Neither seems to have been appropriate in the case of the Kennedys.
They had two growing sons and both had been willing partners in the marriage. However, the
The Archdiocese of Boston decided that there were grounds on which Joe Kennedy was not competent to give his full and free consent and granted the annulment.
Mrs Rauch Kennedy, a Protestant, decided to hit back – saying she was not a ‘Kennedy doormat’.
The prominent and charismatic political dynasty produced men almost as famous for their infidelities as for their political achievements. Three generations of wives would have turned a blind eye to the scandals.
She, however, did not fall into line. Their relationship, which had begun nine years before their marriage, began to unravel after Joe entered the family business, politics. His ex-wife said she felt left out and ignored while she was away in Washington.
Mrs Rauch Kennedy claimed her marriage ended “by choice, not because the union was never morally validated”.
And when she discovered the extent of the Catholic Church’s interference in marriage – the US Catholic Church grants more than 60,000 annulments a year – she wrote a book, Shattered Faith, about her experiences and those of five other women.
It was released at the same time Joe Kennedy’s brother Michael had died in a skiing accident and the congressman decided to step down from the race for governor of Massachusetts.
Yesterday neither he nor the Vatican commented on the decision to reverse the annulment.
It’s also unclear where the decision leaves Mr. Kennedy’s second marriage in the eyes of the Church.
But Ms Rauch Kennedy said: ‘My joy is somewhat tempered in that I think that unless people know they have a right to appeal to Rome, they are not fairly shaken up here. they are trying to defend their marriage in the United States.’
Terry Donilon, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, declined to comment. “These matters are rightly private and confidential,” he said.