What is an Annulment?

The Biblical Root of Annulments.  The Lord says this in regard to marriage: “What God has joined together, let no one divide (Mat 19:6). On the face of it, divorce and any sort of annulment is forbidden would seem forbidden by this. But actually the text serves as a basis for the Church’s allowance of annulment under certain circumstances. The text says What GOD has joined together cannot be divided.

Now just because two people stand before a Justice of the Peace, or a minister or even a priest and swear vows, does not mean that what they do is a work of God. There have to be some standards that the Church insists on for us to acknowledge that what they do is “of God.”

There are a number of impediments that can render what they do ipso facto invalid. Things such as prior bond, consanguinity, minor status, incapacity for the marriage act, and crime to obtain consent. There are others as well. Further, it is widely held that when one or both parties are compelled to enter the marriage or that they display a grave lack of due discretion on account of immaturity or poor formation, that such marriages are null on these grounds. All these are ways that the Church, using her power to bind and loose, comes to a determination that what appeared to be a marriage externally was not in fact so based on evidence. Put more biblically, the putative marriage was not “what God has joined together.”

You may ask, “Who is the Church to make such a determination?”  I answer that, “She is in fact the one to whom the Lord entrusted, through the ministry of Peter and the Bishops the power to bind and loose (Mt 18:18) and to speak in His name (Lk 10:16).

Annulments are not Divorces– A decree of nullity from the Church is a recognition, based on the evidence given, that a marriage in the Catholic and Biblical sense of the word never existed. Hence, since a person has not in fact been joined by God they are free to marry in the future. In such a case a person does not violate our Lord’s declaration that one who divorces their spouse and marries another commits adultery (cf Matt 19:9).

There are some who wonder: Are we giving too many annulments? While it is clear that the Church has some pretty clear canonical norms regarding marriage, like any norms they have to be interpreted and applied. Certain American practices and norms have evolved over the last thirty years that some question as being too permissive and thus no longer respectful of the binding nature of marital vows. I am not without my concerns that we may give too many annulments but there is nothing intrinsically flawed with the Church teaching here, concern is directed only to the prudential application of the norms.

Annulment cases vary greatly. Often it isn’t as cras as somebody coming in and saying, “Well I got rid of my first wife and have got me another I want to marry, let’s get the paperwork going Father.” It is usually far more poignant than that.

Perhaps someone married early, before they were really very serious about the faith and they married someone who abused them. Now, years later after the divorce they have found someone who is able to support them in their faith. Perhaps they met them right in the parish. Should a marriage that was in young and foolish years and lasted all of six months preclude them from entering a supportive union that looks very promising? Maybe so, some still say.

Another more common scenario is often the case where in a person shows up at RCIA who has recently found the Catholic faith and wants to enter it. However, they were married 15 years ago in a Protestant Church to their current spouse who had been married before. Now, mind you, their current marriage is strong and they have both been drawn to the Catholic Faith. They have four kids as well. What is a priest to do? Well I can tell you that this priest will help the one who needs an annulment to get it. I can tell you a lot of cases come to the Church this way. It’s hard and perhaps even unjust to say to someone like this that there is nothing the Church can do for them, they will never qualify for sacraments. No, we just don’t do that, we take them through the process for annulment.

Perhaps too another person shows up at the door, A long lost Catholic who has been away 30 years. During that time he or she did some pretty stupid stuff including getting married and divorced, sometimes more than once. Now they show up at my door in a current marriage that seems strong and helpful and which includes children. The person is in desperate need of confession and Holy Communion. What is a pastor to do? He takes them through the process of annulment to get them access to those sacraments.

So there it is. There are very grave pastoral issues on both sides. The current instinct of the Church, given the poisonous quality of the culture toward marriage is to be more willing to presume there were problems.

If you are in a second marriage, please consider contacting your parish priest. Don’t presume you’re unwanted, or can never receive the sacraments. The tribunal process isn’t that difficult and the Church stands ready to assist you.

37 Replies to “What is an Annulment?”

  1. If a priest who is forbidden from administrating the sacraments marries a man and woman, are the man and woman married, and, if not, than is that grounds for an annulment?

    For example, there are ex-Franciscans in Medjugorje who are forbidden to administer the sacraments yet are administering sacraments, including matrimony,

    1. Jurisdiction is very important in marriage. Hence a priest who administers the sacrament without proper delegation celebrates an invalid marriage. Such a marriage could be declared null unless it is subsequently validated or receives what is known as sanatio in radice (radical sanation) wherein the bishop heals the sacrament’s validity by applying the jurisdiction ex post facto

  2. I think the key is found in catechesis and the proper formation of our children before they start dating. The proper understanding of love. The proper understanding of freedom. The proper understanding of sacrifice, and the proper understanding of marriage, etc, etc. Then again, that would fix so much more than just the high rate of marriage failure.

    1. It’s been observed before that Confirmation is often seen as the end point of catechesis rather than the beginning of a life of faith. Many young people disappear from chuch after Confirmation (and this phenomenon certainly isn’t limited to the Catholic Church). I wonder whether this drop-off has actually been quantified, or whether it’s just anecdotal information.

    2. Yes, bottom line is that we don’t do a very good job preparing young people for the vocation of marriage. We used to do a lot such as even getting them to meet at CYO dances. Now we let them go to the meat markets at the local Bar et al. Wish I had a grand vision as to how to restore it all, there is just so much to do. Theology on tap has had some limited sucess, maybe a model?

  3. This was also posted, earlier this year at Father Z’s blog, here:

    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/02/benedict-xvi-to-the-churchs-jurists-and-tribunals-shun-pseudo-pastoral-claims/

    ——————————————————————————————————————————————-
    Can. 1096 §1. For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties MUST BE AT LEAST NOT IGNORANT marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.

    §2. This ignorance is not presumed after puberty.

    and, taken in the context that this also is the law of the Church:

    Can. 1083 §1. A man before he has completed his sixteenth year of age and a woman before she has completed her fourteenth year of age cannot enter into a valid marriage.

    §2. The conference of bishops is free to establish a higher age for the licit celebration of marriage.
    together these Canons give evidence of SIMPLE consent which can be exchanged even among adolescents. I am not aware of the US bishops altering the age of licit celebration of marriage.

    I do not see how such simple consent is so, apparently, easily lacking, unless there are very severe, incapacitating issues, which while using other words, is what, I believe, has been taught in the Papal allocutions before the Roman Rota. It seems that the inch has been stretched to the proverbial mile.

    I have not formally studied Canon Law but I would consider it if I had sufficient funds and the time. Unless I win the lottery, however, this will not be the case barring a benefactor with significant goodwill, lots of cash and a willingness to part with it. I am not holding my breath.

    I have lived through the annulment process from January 1991 through the third instance decision by Stankiewicz, et al in December 2002. I also know others who have been through the process and even more who are currently going through the process.

    I have a niece, whom I have gently through her mother(my sister), asked to give this process a thought. But her pain has driven her from the Church and she has also seen, first hand, what I have gone through, so she wants no part of it. I am simultaneously, very sad for her but completely understanding of her desire not to repeat my experiences. She does not understand the world of difference between our circumstances even though I have tried to help. So, I am not opposed to the proper administration of the process. But, to this day, I have not experienced that.

    I have not read all the comments but SUPERTRADMOM, I know the process from experience, I’ve read a lot, I’ve spoken to many people with experience with annulments and written to those who have and have not gotten annulments and I can assure you there are far more than a few anomalies that have destroyed lives and destroyed faith due to this process not being sufficiently overseen. I know of some people whose issues have never been addressed in spite of years of efforts. For almost twenty years I have tried to have many issues addressed but have been refused or ignored, in the United States but also in Rome. The problems run throughout the entire tribunal network, at least in the U.S and how it relates to Rome. I have experienced the same in numerous dioceses in the U.S., as my wife has moved from place to place.

    In my experience, your comments of being cynical and lacking faith are much more appropriately linked with the clergy/canonists than with respondents. You should NOT give the Church the benefit of the doubt. You should give the benefit of the doubt to the marriage and those defending it. This should be particularly true when the respondent has successfully defended their marriage. In such a case, at least in my opinion, special deference should be given to such a respondent and their opinions should be solicited on many issues related to their experiences in the process. Most certainly, when they allege wrongdoing, there should be immediate action taken, independent of the local bishop’s control and influence, to fully investigate the allegations.

    MR FERGUSON, you said:

    “mighty”, I’m not saying that one needs to be a canonist to recognize a problem. What I’m saying is that if someone is truly serious about correcting what they see as a problem, rather than standing on the sidelines casting aspersions, then he should get himself involved and try to fix the problem. But I know, it’s a lot easier and a lot more comfortable to sit at home and point fingers and critique others than make the effort to learn the teachings and the laws of the Church and get involved. Perfectly understandable.”

    I am here to tell you that every single effort I have made to do just as you advised has been thwarted. It does not work. I am not saying you are being untrue. I am saying that, even in Rome, no one cares. The Church has had a small mountain of evidence, for years, regarding many acts of misconduct and outright violations of canon law but I have never seen anything done to address any of them.

    By the way MR. FERGUSON, before I decided HOW to respond to my wife’s nullity libellus, I sought out an old canon lawyer. It was he who advised me of my obligation to defend our marriage, based upon what I had told him. At the time I knew very little of annulments and was completely blindsided by my wife’s actions.

    It was only after having been forced into this process that I learned about it. I had no predisposition to the process one way or the other. I simply, having lived with my wife for all those years, could not fathom that our marriage could be “found to be null”! Throughout our whole marriage we had frequently recommitted ourselves to it, to each other and to our children. We were practicing Catholics and were active in the Church.

    I remain faithful to our vows. My wife is still supported in her adultery with her long-time lover, by the Catholic Pastor, and with the knowledge of the local ordinaries, the Latin Rite and Byzantine Rite, Bishop and Eparch, respectively. The lover was accepted into the Catholic Church through RCIA, as he impregnated my wife during the annulment process and I had to threaten the Eparch with action in Rome to, at least in public, stop giving communion to the unrepentant adulterers, after Rome, in the second instance, had reversed the American first instance decision and the third instance decision was pending. I would not be surprised if communion is given in private, in spite of the unrepentant and public adultery.

    This entire tribunal process is supported by outlandish pastoral practices often based on the clear abuse of the “living as brother and sister” accommodation. It is a disgrace. As is the abuse of the internal forum, which to my understanding is wide spread and forbidden to be used as it is. There is much that Rome needs to address, which the bishops in America do not, for whatever their reasons are. They are supervising circumstances that are openly hostile and toxic to marriages. They have known this for over thirty years. The Holy Father’s words were clearly appropriate, but too little and too late. He needs to listen to those of us his brother bishops are trying, at least tacitly, to destroy. He needs to listen to respondents who have defended their marriages. We need him to act. We have waited and waited and waited and waited, as our marriages, by the tens of thousands are openly violated and our spouses welcomed with open arms, with THEIR arms around their adulterous partners. Very often the adulterers have custody of our children and we are often the innocent abandoned spouses, who have no say at all in the sacramental life of our children, although the Church is careful to protect the rights of the adulterers and their lovers over OUR children.

    Please help us defend our marriages, Holy Father, against our own Bishops, clergy and our spouses. Do not leave us alone, any longer. By your own words you MUST ACT. Please live up to your words. This husband and father is begging you to directly intervene in the United States!

    Please help us!

    Holy Father, you said:

    “The Church cannot act charitably toward its faithful without upholding justice and truth….Charity without justice is only a forgery because charity requires that objectivity that is typical of justice and which must not be confused with inhumane coldness…Defending the permanent bond of a valid marriage is a matter of both justice and love…”It would be a fictitious good, and a serious lack of justice, to nevertheless smooth the way toward their reception of the sacraments.”

    I want to believe these words but they have been spoken before, in other ways, for YEARS by your predecessor and NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE TO HEAL OUR VALID MARRIAGE. Either your words must mean something and you must feel COMPELLED TO ACT or you cannot expect us to be faithful to OUR VOWS.
    This is NOT JUSTICE. This is NOT CHARITY. I have begged your brother bishops, including my own three…Cardinal O’Connor, Cardinal Egan and Archbishop Dolan, who has put his signature on the Manhattan Declaration but ignores my personal pleas to intervene in our valid marriage; why do these men and you preach one thing, yet seem to practice another? What does that tell us? What does that tell our children? What are you teaching?

    Why is our marriage treated with the “inhumane coldness” you condemn and none of the justice and charity you say a Catholic must practice?

    How can I come home to a Church that acts in an unchristian manner? You have made a place for Anglicans, whose ancestors murdered Thomas More and John Fisher, who stood up for marriage at the cost of their lives, yet you hesitate to heal this marriage. If the bishops in America will not act, where else can we go?

    I do not understand. I never have understood why the Church will do all it can to assist my wife’s adultery but not offer a hand to heal our valid marriage? To what end, then, is a valid marriage; to be mocked by the very Church which witnessed it and upheld its validity so many years later? How many times must I beg for help? How much criticism must I bear for our marriage and for the salvation of my wife, her lover and her children? Why does the Church not care for these souls?

    When will the priests, bishops and canonists who read this blog understand that good marriages ARE BEING destroyed in this process, in spite of a lot of good hard work? When will these men and women understand that we need their help for our marriages? When will you stop making it us and them and make it all US? We do not run the process, YOU DO. We are sucked into it by the inertia of the tens of thousands of nullities, EVEN IF THEY ARE TRUE! There is no doubt a very strong current of “entitlement” regarding annulments, which creates its own demand.

    Our marriages and our children are being DESTROYED. LISTEN TO US. WE ARE NOT TRYING TO UNDERMINE WHAT IS GOOD! WE ARE BEGGING FOR HELP TO SAVE OUR SPOUSES, OUR CHILDREN AND OURSELVES AND MOST ALWAYS ALL WE FACE IS JUDGMENT AND ANGER OR BEING IGNORED.
    WE ARE LIVING VICTIMS OF “INHUMANE COLDNESS”!

    To fail to address these issues is criminal and unjustifiable. But it has been that way for years and years. This division is artificial and destructive.

    Anyone who reads this post and thinks that it is hostile is mistaken. It is so fundamentally important, not just to me and our family, but it is essential to the Church itself. This situation is consuming so many families and so many souls. In spite of the significant experience of many good canonists, you do not understand things as we, who have been through this process, understand things. It is for all of US to find ways to help each other and that MUST BE realized. But, I do not have much left from this battle. It is not the same thing to sit as a judge or as a canonist/advocate as it is to be the one and only who is fighting to defend what is real and what is valid. Platitudes should go on the shelf. I lost everything. The life I knew is gone. I never raised our children. I am alone. Do not tell me that our marriage is valid and then support those who violate that marriage. Such falsehood should be condemned but rather, it is encouraged. Do not tell the victim to forgive without in the earlier breath telling the guilty ones to repent and acting strongly to bring that about. Such is terrible injustice and false charity, which abound in this process, canonically and pastorally. Do not fail to hold to full account those, in the Church and out, who have, knowingly, supported the guilty in their adultery and in their persecution of their victims, which more often than not, include their own children.

    As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story. The annulment process bears that out. But there is only one truth.

    The truth is that “for a valid marriage there is no limit to what should be done to save it”.

    I read this in an email from a young Fordham University PhD candidate in Medieval Philosophy, whom I have known since he was a child. God bless you, John Peter. He was commenting to me on some work by Monsignor Cormac Burke.

    It is a simple truth.

    God bless you all.
    ——————————————————————————————————————————————-

    Karl

    Yes, Monsignor, just bas there are valid reasons for nullity, there are BETTER reasons for the Catholic Church to turn around its efforts, away from PUSHING nullity and start pushing marriage. It should start(just start) by restoring the excommunication for civil divorce that is done without a legitimate nullity, then many, many
    bishops, priests and canon lawyers need to be held to account for their actions in encouraging the destruction of marriage and refusing to engage those of us seeking help. These people need to be replaced. I would venture they are beyond the learning curve if they could have sat back, as they have for decades of destruction, and NOT LISTENED to us. They should be gone, period! Let the Pope ask, I can name a few names to start with.

    I know one bishop, waiting for a Red Hat, who will not give me the time of day after twenty years of faithfulness to our vows and two decision in the Rota. He did tell me it was OK for me to be buried in our family plot in the cemetery even though I have defected from the faith and I am happy about that, but that was all. Balderdash.

    There are massive injustices all about this process and fiddling is not the answer. Successful respondents need to be sought out and listened too, especially if the canonists and clergy disagree with us. But this should have been done more than thirty years ago. We are living what these reprobates are putting us through. Yes, our spouses, their lovers, those who push, control and administer these false nullities are the reprobates I am writing about! They should bear severe consequences for their crimes. The evidence is there unless one is blind and “falsely orthodox”.

    1. Karl, you have my sympathy – really. You pop up every now and again with your story and your pain is palpable. Although there are not a lot of details, I seem to recall that Mother Church initially decided in your favor against the annulment?

      In any case, hard as this is to say, I think your focus needs to shift from what you consider to be injustices in the Church, to the fact that your wife no longer wanted to be your wife, and that is the core problem. But to do that, you have to look at yourself, and is it possible that you may not like what you see?

      I don’t know your wife and her current husband’s situation or how that came to be, and really, that’s not relevant for my point. But ask yourself what the consequences would be if by some miracle the Church could force her to return to you to live forever? In all likelihood, she’d despise you and your children would come to despise you as well. It’s not likely that you’d have a marriage at all, in the truest sense of the word.

      Speaking as one who has been through the process and is mightily grateful for it, had I been denied an annulment I would still have never gone back to him – no matter what – and I would likely be living in a state of sin right now. I would have accepted that. I do, after all, have the free will to do just that. I would have spent the rest of my days begging for God’s mercy.

      One thing I would not have done was petition the Church over and over to hear me and hear my side. There is only so much the Church can do in personal relationships, and I don’t believe I can offer anything to the Church in the way of ‘change’ that would be beneficial. It’s not a case of ‘if you don’t like it, change it.’ There are some things about the Church that I find less than satisfactory, but I don’t speak about them in public or private because it’s not my place to agitate or instigate.

      Finally, why have you defected? You are being a fair-weather friend to God because His Church on earth won’t force your ex-wife to come back to you? Why should any clergy make time for you? You won’t make time for the Church – at least not in a meaningful way.

      You are still in the middle of what sounds to me like a twenty-year temper tantrum.

      For the sake of your soul and your peace of mind, consider getting over yourself.

      You can’t change her, you can’t change the Church and shouldn’t even try, but you can change yourself.

    2. Karl — If I were you, I would disregard those who seek to deflect from the issue at hand — the validity of the Sacrament, including the defense thereof, or lack of such defense, or outright attack thereon — and whose idea of advice to you is to instead try to tell you that you personally are the problem.

    3. Well this whole dialogue between Karl Bender and J all help underscore the point that there are parrion and real people on both sides of the annulment question. This is what makes me think that a worldwide synod of some rather lengthy duration might be necessary to ponder and pray over all the pastoral implications of what we are doing. There are pastoral implications in both directions. People DO come to us in difficult and messy situations. Some solutions seem to be warranted. Yet still, there are also implications when it is perceived that we are no longer upholding the objective sacramental reality of the marital bond. It’s bigger than any of the four of us. I wish I could say that a significant pastoral synod of some sort was in the offing but I am not optimistic. For now I will have to file it under “If I were Pope….”

  4. Let me make three comments, from the perspective of devil’s advocate.

    First, the complaint that “the Church gives out too many annulments” amounts to the complaint that “the Church regularly gives decrees of nullity for valid marriages.” It is an extraordinarily grave charge, one that is not deflected by the distinction between a declaration of nullity and a divorce.

    Second, this complaint is not principally raised in the light of civil marriages between teenagers that last a few months. It is raised in the light of decrees of nullity given to couples who were married in the Church, were active in their parish, brought their family to Mass every week, then — after ten or twenty years, for any number of reasons — got divorced. Often enough, only one of the partners is seeking an annulment, with the other left waiting to hear whether the Church declares that his or her marriage never existed. If virtually every such case is a case in which there never was a marriage, then whether *any* Catholic couple is validly married is unknowable — even to the couple themselves! — absent a tribunal. (This is similar to the problem raised by the Protestant doctrine of “once saved, always saved”: If someone backslides after decades of virtuous living, he must never have been saved.)

    Finally, the complaint is if anything strengthened by statements like “this priest will help the one who needs an annulment to get it.” Current circumstances, however pastorally heartbreaking they may be, have nothing to do with the question of whether a past marriage was valid. The idea that anyone who “needs” an annulment can obtain one is precisely the complaint against the process.

    1. Yes Tom, good points. It is a grave charge. However one might ameliorate it by concluding it is an error in prudential judgment. As to your second point, cases like these are seemingly the most egregious ones that make a lot of people balk at the whole annulment situation. I once had a canon law (also a priest) tell me that he could prove in 2 minutes that my parents were not validily married. I was angry to hear him say this but realized it was not personal. He meant that the current norms envision a climate for consent that is so ideal as to never really be possible. As to your third point it is a true fact that current circumstances have nothing to to do with past validity. However, as a parish priest I am not competant to determine valdity, that requires a tribunal. The people who come to me have a right to petition the tribunal and I as their pastor should help them. That it might result in them having access to the sacraments is an important motivator for me and most priests, but in the end you are right, it cannot effect the tribunal’s judgement.

  5. My annulment process was tremendously healing for me, an opportunity to take stock of my contribution to the marriage and its breakdown. Fortunately, due to certain circumstances, I was unable to submit the paperwork immediately as I would have liked. As a result I would periodically review what I had written, each time coming to a deeper understanding of my own guilt to the degree that I could not in good conscience blame anyone for what transpired but myself. I could explain in greater detail, but that’s not the point.

    My annulment came over 25 years ago. I was a rebellious teenager when I married the first time, marrying in the Catholic Church because it was pretty and because my parents were pillars of the parish. My meetings with the pastor prior to the wedding were a bust. I was arrogant and conceited, knowing without a doubt he would not refuse to marry us. By contrast, the priest who married me the second time had a reputation for denying the sacrament to those he knew were not well prepared.

    Isn’t that the root of the problem? Throw a little money to the right priest and you can have the whole shebang – the long aisle, the beautiful altar setting, the appearance of holiness? Preparation for marriage should begin in the home as our children are being raised. We as parents should, by the example of our own sacrament, be models of what it takes to make a strong and holy marriage. From there it continues into the parish community and finally, face to face with the priest who will conduct the ceremony.

    There’s plenty of blame to go around. Perhaps, though, people would enter into marriage with more seriousness and permanence if they understood that absolving the union required more than a lengthy wait and a few hundred dollars tossed toward the tribunal. Maybe annulments “are” too easy to obtain.

    My point, however, is that instead of arguing whether annulments are too easy, we should be looking at the reasons why marriages dissolve in the first place.

    And for the record, I personally know two people – two separate dioceses – whose annulment requests were denied. One of them was denied twice.

    Toni

    1. I too have found that working with people through annulment cases can be very healing. You are lso right that we need to look more into why marriages fail AND why we almost never fail to celebrate weddings for people who ask for them. It is usually said, that people have a natural right to marry and hence we are canonically impeded from refusing in most cases. Here too better guidance can be given to priest as to when and how to delay a wedding. Currently most of us are taught that we need to have a grave reason to deny to celebrate the sacrament.

  6. I haven’t read up on the annulment process but I thought a person (a priest, or no?) was appointed to fight for the sanctity of the marriage and prove that it was indeed valid in order that both sides are represented (the marriage versus the one/two wanting an annulment). I would think that this appointed person would take this responsibility seriously. I have full faith in our Church and believe that if an annulment is granted then it must have been found that the marriage was invalid. I’ve also heard that an annulment is more painful than a divorce as the lives of the people are scrutinized by the process more than a divorce legally is. Correct me, if I am wrong, but this is what I have heard from people who I respect.

  7. The Church must always uphold truth. Her pastors cannot act with charity if they discard truth. While, I imagine it must be difficult to turn someone away from the sacraments, to guide them through a process that would conveniently, and perhaps falsely, declare a sacrament null, offends and degrades the sacraments. Truth can’t be conformed to meet a set of circumstances regardless how noble the circumstances may seem. It is reasonable to me that some unions could not or would not have ever been joined by God, but the number of annulments granted seem vastly too many; I’d suspect there are many more who are unwilling to honor their vows rather than those who were ever unable to.

    I agree with the person who posted about stressing marriage prep. I don’t agree that being merely post-puberty (per Karl’s post) is sufficient to determine adequate maturity for understanding and committing oneself to the responsibilities of marriage. Our modern culture nurtures immaturity in its members, and concepts like sacrifice and fidelity have lost importance. Without proper instruction/guidance and example (what’s the divorce rate- 60%?), a small percentage will stand before the altar adequately mature to either capably or willingly honor the vows they take. Pastors really need to step it up in the marriage prep.

    1. Yes but haow to step it up is complicated. Young people often come to us in great disrepair. To make up for years of pastoral neglect and poor formation in a six month or even year long preparation is difficult to imagine. I am very clear with the couples I counsel as to the meaning of the vows. But what are six hours of instruction up against 28 years of “God just wants me to be happy” theology and 28 years of cultural corruption. It’s a tall order.

      1. Msgr. Pope,

        In my experience, we need to step up our education of marriage through our school ministries, faith formation programs, homilies, and more before our youth are at the “marrying age.”

        In my diocese, beginning in kindergarten (or younger), students are talked to being called to a religious vocation, including priesthood and religious life. No or little emphasis is ever placed on the fact that marriage is just as important of a SACRAMENT. I, among many of my friends, have spent years believing the only way we could truly follow God and have a personal relationship with Him is through a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

        How come we never have married couples in our school ministry or faith formation programs speak of the sanctity of marriage? We obviously have very qualified lead couples who help during marriage prep. Would these same couples be willing to speak once a year to our various faith formation programs?

        A homily each year, perhaps on the Feast of the Holy Family, speaking about the sanctity of marriage, and other times mentioned in homilies would do much. In addition, the USCCB has started a wonderful website, http://foryourmarriage.org/, which has Marriage Tips of the Day. Inclusion of one tip weekly in the parish bulletin would continue to keep this topic in the minds of parishioners and youngsters.

        In addition, I come from a region with a vibrant young adult community (across our diocese) for those in their 20 & 30’s. This has been vital in continuing my formation about marriage, abortion, and other “hot topic” items.

  8. The truth is that “for a valid marriage there is no limit to what should be done to save it”.

    This says exactly what needs to be said. It sums up how I feel.

    A sacrament simply, is. It cannot die. It is. A Catholic who does not accept, embrace and demand, yes demand, that the Catholic Church, act upon this is not behaving as a Catholic.

    To those who are offended by my offense. When you have been raped for twenty years with the cooperation of the Catholic Church it is hardly offensive to be outraged. It is outrageous to even, think, one should stand in judgment at such treatment of a person, their children and a marriage. The judgment should be reserved for the criminals, not the victims.

    “Speaking as one who has been through the process and is mightily grateful for it, had I been denied an annulment I would still have never gone back to him – no matter what – and I would likely be living in a state of sin right now.”

    I am sad for you. You indict and, for all intents and purposes, convict yourself. It is you who needs, far more than I, to examine your conscience. What you have said is scandalous, if you are willing to seriously think about it and reflect.

    Facing justice you seem to indicate that you would refuse, whereas, I have tried to be willing to forgive. There is a difference. Forgiveness does not mean abandonment of justice. You seem to confuse this. To walk away from a valid marriage, as I was taught and as I believe, is certain eternal condemnation, without any hope at all, were one to refuse reconciliation with a repentant, errant spouse. Yet, the Church does, in fact, encourge this with its policies, as they are carried out. It does not, really, matter what is meant, when the function of the practices move in another direction and those in authority REFUSE to act upon this when THEIR VICTIMS BEG THEM TO.

    “Finally, why have you defected? You are being a fair-weather friend to God because His Church on earth won’t force your ex-wife to come back to you? Why should any clergy make time for you? You won’t make time for the Church – at least not in a meaningful way. ”

    You misstate the facts. I am a living witness to a Catholic Church that is in union with terrible sin. I remain waiting for its unfaithfulness to be addressed, just as I await my wife to address her unfaithfulness. I have joined no other, woman or fake Church, nor will I, with the mercy of God. It is my cross and I accept it. I do not and will not, however, accept that the Catholic Church will not take its most merciful step to bring about my wife’s repentance………..formal excommunication, after a person who represents the Church addresses her actions with a complete response, upon hearing from her. Until either she repents or the Catholic Church formally excommunicates her, in the face of her longstanding and continued violation of her promises, I will remain waitng for both to repent to me, formally and in public.

    1. Yes, but what annulment tries to discover is IF it is a sacrament. Just because two people say vows does not necessarily make it a sacrament. Can two 10 year olds enter a sacramental marriage? Why not? Maturity we would say. But are 18 year olds magically mature? When does maturity bud? 18, 21, 25? In Jesus’ day youngsters married at 14. We would never allow that today. Why? Again, maturity is an important factor as to the sacramentality of a marriage. Just saying Karl that you want it all to be simple, but there are factors beyond the exchange of vows that do merit consideration.

  9. I trust the Church’s judgment, and if things need to be addressed, they will be. Marriage is in turmoil, that is for sure, and people are in different kinds of situations that need discernment to understand.

    For me, the annulment process was merciful, being one who married rashly years ago while young and infatuated, and saw it fall apart only a few months later. Only years later I became a Catholic, and began to learn what love really is – and then met a wonderful Catholic man who was willing to love me in that way. And I am grateful for the annulment process, because it freed me from that terrible and stupid decision from long ago, and I am happily married in a good Catholic marriage today.

    It was also a good witness to my Protestant friends, who had many questions about the annulment process, and came to appreciate the Church’s mercifulness in respecting the sacrament while acknowledging and pardoning human failures to truly enter into it.

    1. Yes, thanks for this. I am glad your expereince was a good one. I also appreciate your mentioning that there is an attempt by the Church to respect the sacrament but also to acknowledge that some people are in difficult situations that should be attended to on a case by case basis.

  10. It seems as a culture we have more need of annulments as the culture’s belief in the indisoluability of marriage increases. As that happens, more and more couples go to the altar with the idea in the back of their mind that if it doesn’t work out you can always marry someone else. This leads to an epidemic of deficient consent. It is obvious that our culture is in a marriage crisis.

    1. You seem to advance the notion that valid sacramental marriages are hard to come by today. Perhaps. This surely reflects our culture. But the norms as they currently exist seem to posit an impossibly high standard for valid marriage as well, if you apply them retroactively, couples who request marriage would have to have almost absolute maturity, complete discretion and come from perfect families. Further they would have to have an almost absolute freedom, perfect motivation, and perfect knowlege of the other person. I guess the question I raise is what can we reasonably expect people to bring to the day of marriage? What is right to expect and what is too idealistic.

  11. My sister and her ex-husband were married for 30 years and had raised a son when her husband separated to carry on a relation with a younger women he had been haveing an affair. He then had the gaul to ask my sister to sign papers for an annulment so he could get married and be buried in the Catholic Church. We all grew up in the Catholic faith from families who were historically Catholic. Her husband graduated from Notre Dame and said he would not leave her destitute if she signed the papers and he bought her a new home. My sister and myself personally see a hypocracy as great as selling indulgences when the church would dismiss their 30 year marriage in the church and allow him to buy his way to salvation while enjoying his shallow carnal vices. Such actions condoned by the Catholic church only support the already double standards demonstrated by priest,bishops and the Vatican.

    1. Was the annulment granted? I understand your anger about cases like these. I treally seems that such marriages cannot possibly be declared null but they are. What it comes down to is an extreme focus on the day and moment of the vow and what preceded it. What happens afterward seems of little import to the tribunal process since it is all about the validity of the vow. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that even if something were lacking at the beginning of a marriage, the sacrament could heal it over time. That pastoral sort of thinking seems to have been replaced by a more litigious thinking.

  12. Too many annulments are given. My marriage was blessed many times over by God, especially with five sons. My ex-husband applied to annul our marriage to marry his mistress, it was granted and she was granted an annulment of her two previous marriages. You know when two people cheat on their spouses, one of which cheated on two of her spouses, how trustworthy can their testimony be. I was dealing with mental breakdown and was in no shape to deal with this. I called the tribunal office to object and was told that usually when an annulment request reaches them it almost always goes through. I wanted to write the vatican about it, b ut was told it is expensive to try have it overturned. I’ve been told to be a good catholic and let it go. Tell that to our five sons whose parents never had a ‘true marriage’. Such is life, today.

  13. I have a few thoughts about this,

    First, I think that one serious problem is that, at least where I live, the annulment process only begins after a civil divorce has been granted. A good friend of mine said it felt like he was being asked to lie by going through the civil procedures first. He continued to wear his wedding ring and refer to his wife until after the annulment was granted. I believe the reality of a civil divorce reduces the chances of reconcilliation for the couple if the annulment is not granted.

    Second, perhaps the languange of the vows themselves could be revisited. Surely a person at 18 is capable of making a lifelong promise and being held to it. Mybe they should be asked to give specific consent to a lifelong bond with no possibility of divorce, and specific consent to be open to children, etc….

    Third, we have reached the state where it is difficult to know whether one’s own marriage is vailid or not. I had an issue that came up in my own marriage which cast doubt on it’s validity and after having had 8 children, I had to have my own marriage convalidated.

    1. Thanks for this. As to # 1 The Church cannot grant annulment prior to Civil Divorce due to the fact that this would open us to being sued for alienation of affection.

      As to # 2 I like this idea.

      As to # 3 – You are right, there are a LOT of technical complications in Canonical Marriage. I suppose when you’ve been around 2000 years you accumulate a lot of rules. 🙂

  14. regarding the annulments.
    my husband and I were cradle catholics. we met through our catholic church where we were both involved in young adult bible study group. I never would have married outside the church. we did marriage prep, took 5 yrs to be mature enough, know enough about each other before we married almost 20 yrs ago. We were both committed to the marriage and understood what it meant to be in a Catholic lifelong marriage. especially compared to freinds and familys marriages we were happy. we both helped others who needed encouragement to hang in there in thier marriages. We did marriage encounter and came back renewed with love for each other. A few yrs ago my husband went through maybe midlife insanity, pulled away emotionally, physically from me, had an emotional affair- Got the idea that there is better out there and made the selfish DECISION to stop being a participant in our marriage, and being a good Catholic father to our children. I felt completely let down when my husband came home to tell me that one of the local pastors told him that maybe he can get an annulment and that this priest practically brags that hes never had a case that he has referred turned down. The reason? after 25 yrs together now he claims he “made a mistake” and should have “listened” to his doubts. funny thing is I was there too. At engagement encounter we discussed specifically DID either of us have any doubts about getting married. I have the book with his writing in it – where he answered “no doubts. ”
    the way the system is , someone like my husband can “claim” whatever he wants now 20 some yrs later. I am still so upset with this priest. How dare he help to rip apart my childrens family. soon after he told my husband this my husband stepped up his efforts in distancing himself from me. is more and more neglecting his finacial obligations to our family and still continues to attend mass every week, considering himself to be ” in a state of grace” to recieve communion.
    doesnt this priest see that in our cannon law the responsibility of a priest, bishop , is to try and encourage reconcilliation, not to help speed up the destruction of a family.
    In our cannon law my husband doesnt even have the right to separate from me. I am not a danger to him, nor am commiting unrepentant adultery.
    If our church wants to teach that marriage is sacred then the least it can do is treat it as such and help, support, and guide unhappy couples towards reconcilling and realize that no marriage they replace thier current one with will be free from trial either. all successfull married relationships require us to pick up our cross and love unselfishly in the example our Lord has given us.
    I love our church but I do see that this is an area where it needs to reform itself.

  15. With the appointment of Dr. Ed Peters to a consultatory position at the Apostolic Signatura, America is being sent a clear message by both Benedict and Burke that it is full steam ahead with nullities with no reform in sight or help with marriages.

    Ed Peters is a solid canonist but he does not seem to accept that their is real corruption throughout the tribunal system.

    I am ever more disheartened with the misdirection of the Catholic Church, apparently everywhere. There is no justice in the Catholic Church, no matter what the empty words spoken by the Pope say.

    I am sorry, Elizabeth. Your lament is dead in the water in Rome and more dead in America.

  16. My experience with annulment is that the respondent is treated like he/she is insane for not wanting an annulment. My “husband” who divorced me and married another divorced catholic woman who was also still sacramentally married, had two children with her. After 12 years of civil marriage their parish priest found out that hey were not married in the church. So my husband and she filed for respective annulments.
    My husband had told me in the past that he felt that we would have no grounds for an annulment, but that his wife wanted to feel good about being catholic. I was unemployed and sick and alone and was encouraged by the Judicial Vicar in my parish to let them have the annulment because there would be no reconciliation. He, told me: She is Catholic, she probably wants an annulment. I proceeded to tell the Judicial Vicar that their current situation has nothing to do with the validity of my marriage. I felt so unsuported by my church that decided not to participate on the process, as I was sick, unemployed and felt that the church did not care about me. I was also told to hurry up with my decision because the couple wanted to get married. I am a craddle catholic who stoped attending church because of what I feel is a un-godly process. In addition my parish priest(also the Judicial Vicar) told me that he does not believe in everything in the Catholic church. I just needed to let them do the annument because it might be useful to me in the future. I will never set my foot in that church again.

  17. I want to add that I was also told that annulment is a “healing process”. Do you think there is a bias here? I told the Judicial Vicar. Annulment might be a healing process for the petinior — not the respondent. The chruch is not interested in the truth. How can it be healing when I have left the church becuase the way I was treated. I lost my husband and lost my church — very healing, is it not?

  18. I just want to thank Karl for his witness and for bearing with those of us who cannot help him. I also want to thank Msgr. Pope for moderating this discussion and for his own, sincere remarks. The current separation between the followers of the SSPX and the Holy See parallels the marital commandment (1 Cor. 7:10-11). Only two options are denoted by God in His marital command via St. Paul: separation or living singly, apart. Followers of the SSPX maintain faithfully the traditions of marriage upheld before Vatican II. Pope Pius XII declared as heresy (see Denzinger 2295) raising the good of the spouses equal to that of the children. God only declares one thing is necessary in Malachi 2, raising “Godly offspring.” If all were to return to what makes God “happy”, so much of the clouded thinking would disappear and unity could be established solidly around His Commandments. May the Holy Spirit truly “renew the face of the earth!”

Comments are closed.