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Catholic Marriage Annulment: Is it merely the Catholic version of Easy Divorce?
June 11, 2009
Discourse on the Marriage Annulment Process.
Vic Biorseth, Wednesday, June 10, 2009
First, the Church does not prohibit, per se, separation or even divorce. A married couple is encouraged to strive to resolve differences and rise above difficulties, but when all that fails separation is not out of the question. Particularly in cases of abuse, it may be the only solution. What the Church frowns on is, not separation or divorce, but rather, re-marriage after such an event. It is of vital importance to individual souls, to families and to the larger culture that the marriage covenant be very strongly protected. The Church – as exemplified by the leadership of Rome – has done a very good job of that over the centuries. But, the Church – as exemplified by most American dioceses and archdioceses – has done a less than exemplary job of it. (In my opinion.)
Perhaps as a good beginning I might copy in here one of my class assignment papers from a “Tribunal Training” class I took in the Athenaeum of Ohio LPMP program. It was my response to an essay type question.
What American trends in the Catholic Annulment Process tell me reaffirms the old saw about how any compromise with the world leads to more compromises with the world, and that each successive compromise gets a little easier, until one day we look up and find that the world is in command of us. Some things cannot be compromised without being destroyed. Marriage is one of them.
The Numbers Tell the Story. The number of Annulments granted by the Catholic Church in the whole world between the years 1952 and 1956 was: 392.
Prior to Vatican II the only psychological grounds for annulment were those that showed that one of the parties lacked the faculty of reason, to the extent that they could not properly perform the act of will required to understand and properly consent to the requirements of the marriage contract. This rather extreme degree of the lack of reason had to be shown with certainty.
When the Church began recognizing other “psychological grounds” for annulments in 1970, the numbers began to rocket. The American total for 1968 was: 338. The number in 1978 exceeded 27,000, an increase in excess of 8,000%.
The numbers continue to increase. The numbers through the 80s:
There is definitely something wrong with this picture.
Some have postulated that the 1983 changes in Canon law relating to the annulment process had a second dramatic affect, again boosting the numbers of annulment cases both filed and approved. It became an increasingly popular new path to Catholic marriage annulment in America. Specifically, Canon 1095 is claimed to have had this affect.
Canon 1095 – They are incapable of contracting marriage:
One such notorious use of Canon 1095 involved the U.S. Congressman Joseph Kennedy. He sought and received from the Archdiocese of Boston an annulment of his marriage to Sheila Rauch Kennedy, on the grounds of “lack of due discretion.” This annulment was granted in Boston in 1997. The congressman and his wife had met during her senior year of college, and they had known each other for nine years prior to their marriage. Then, after 12 years of marriage and two children, he “discovered” her mental incompetence.
Mrs. Kennedy, apparently not so mentally incompetent, wrote a book about the ordeal titled Shattered Faith criticizing the Church for granting this annulment. She was right. The Vatican overturned the Kennedy annulment in 2005. In my opinion, the Vatican should look very hard at Canon 1095, and at the whole notion of “psychological grounds” for a Catholic marriage annulment.
And, of course, at the motives of a majority of America’s bishops. The real problem is probably loose (at least) or biased and/or devious (at worst) interpretation of Canon, law more than the Canon law itself. The diocesan or archdiocesan bishop bears ultimate authority and responsibility here.
The two most significant purposes of marriage are the unitive and the procreative. The Sacrament of marriage “unifies” the two parties into one communion; from that point on, throughout life, they act and react to the world together.
God instituted marriage between a man and a woman: “ … male and female He created them.” Gen. 1:27.
God’s first words to man and woman, after blessing them, were, “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth.” Gen. 1:28. This is our first prohibition against artificial contraception.
Our Lord Jesus Christ raised marriage between a baptized man and a baptized woman to a sacrament. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church;" Eph. 5:31-32.
Our Lord Jesus taught the indissoluble nature of marriage.
”Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Luke 16:18.
”To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) -- and that the husband should not divorce his wife.” 1 Cor. 7:10-11.
By Canon 1055 we know that a Catholic marriage is both a contract and a sacrament. The agreement and the intent of the baptized parties to join in marriage form the matter of the contract; the vows, liturgy and so forth provide the form of the marriage covenant. Marriage is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring. No matter what any civil authorities might say about it, the married spouses, through marriage, assume primary if not sole responsibility for the education, care and well being of their own offspring.The form of a marriage between two Catholics includes taking place in a sacred space, meaning a Catholic Church, before a priest or deacon, and with two witnesses. The normal marriage liturgy is part of a Mass, right after the liturgy of the Word and the homily. If it is a mixed marriage where one party is baptized but not Catholic, the marriage liturgy takes place outside of Mass. If you want to be married while sky-diving or scuba-diving or some such thing, then you are not serious enough about the sacrament itself or the sacredness of the covenant for a Catholic marriage.
Matrimony – marriage – is, by its very nature, an exclusive union between one man and one woman, and the bond of marriage lasts for the couple’s entire earthly life.
Catholic Annulment Defined.
An official Catholic Church “Decree of Nullity” is a formal finding by a Church Tribunal that – on the day that the marriage vows were exchanged – some essential element required for a valid marriage was lacking. It refers very strictly to the day the vows were exchanged, and to no other date. If someone goes insane or something on any later date, that has no effect on the validity of the marriage on the date the vows were exchanged. The vows include the words “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; till death do us part.” No matter what happens later, we are bound by the Sacrament of marriage, and by the true value of our own word, to keep the vows of marriage, for life. Period.
Affects on Children.
A declaration of nullity of a marriage has no effect whatsoever on children born of the marriage. The children are never considered anything other than perfectly legitimate children of married parents, for life. It is held that whatever factor(s) contributed to the finding of the Tribunal were not known at the time of the marriage, and the parties to the marriage were perfectly free to consummate the marriage and to legitimately live together as man and wife, and to have and raise legitimate children. If the factor(s) contributing to the finding of the Tribunal had been known at the time the vows were exchanged, the marriage would not have taken place.
Impediments to a Catholic marriage.
After a Catholic marriage, some pre-existing impediment to the legitimacy of the marriage may be discovered. For example, a married sailor may be lost at sea. After some years, when he is presumed dead, his widow remarries. Some years after that event, the sailor is discovered marooned on some island, and is returned to his home and family. Now it is discovered that the current marriage had a pre-existing impediment in the form of a previous marriage; the second marriage is thus invalidated, or nullified due to the pre-existing impediment.
If you think that example is far fetched, crazier things have happened.
Some Catholic marriage impediments:
The Fornication Impediment.
”It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.“ Matt. 5:31-32.
”And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.” Matt. 19:9.
The above quotes are from the RSV, my favorite version. In the Douay-Rheims, which is an exact interpretation from the Latin Vulgate, the only version ever blessed by a Church Council, the word “unchastity” is rendered “fornication.” I believe the Greek rendering is “fornication.” (Correct me if I’m wrong.) In all likelihood, our Lord was speaking about fornication rather than adultery, and he certainly knew the difference between the two. The sinner commits the sin of fornication only before he or she is married, and the sinner commits the sin of adultery only after marriage. So what our Lord was talking about here was the discovery that a spouse was not a virgin at the time of marriage. He or she had committed the sin of fornication.
If a party intended to marry a virgin and only a virgin, and would not marry a non-virgin, and discovers after the marriage that the other party was not really a virgin at the time of marriage, there may be grounds for nullification of the marriage. This is a very rarely used reason today. In the primitive Church everyone was assumed to remain virgin until after marriage.
Adultery some time after marriage is not, in and of itself, grounds for nullity. If, however, it may be shown that adultery was present at the beginning, as in an affair that began before and continued after the marriage, that might show the intent of the offending party in another light, and it may indeed present grounds for nullity, since unity was not an intent of one of the parties at the altar. Unity requires the exclusion of all intimate relationships other than with the spouse.
The Pauline Privilege.
We have the enigmatic quote of our Lord from Luke, in which He speaks of division and fire rather than peace. It is because of the New Covenant which He is establishing, and the new “Way,” the Way of the Lord.
”I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Luke 12:49-53.
To this day, nobody likes a Jesus freak. In that day, it brought much more severe division, among Jews, as well as among Romans, Greeks and other pagans, because a new religion was being born. Imagine a child, or a wife, or a servant coming home to an orthodox Jewish household and announcing that they had just been baptized into a new religion, a religion not familiar to anyone else in the house. They could well be thrown out of the house. Our Lord and His Gospel became a cause of extreme division in the first century and afterward.
If a non-Catholic divorces a Catholic, or one who seeks to become Catholic, and the reason for the divorce is the Catholicism of the spouse, then the Catholic spouse has grounds for nullity of the marriage. The non-Catholic must be the one who initiated the divorce. To quote St. Paul:
”To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) -- and that the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife? Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.” 1 Cor. 7:10-17.
The key verse is verse 15: “But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace.”
While it is preferred that they remain together, if the non-Catholic initiates and accomplishes a divorce, the Catholic spouse has grounds for nullity.
The Petrine Privilege.
Petrine Privilege may be applied only to a non-sacramental marriage, i.e., a marriage between a baptized and a non-baptized person, which has been terminated by divorce. For a just cause, the Holy Father can “dissolve” such a marriage “in favor of the faith.” Dissolution of the bond will not be granted to a Catholic whose non-sacramental marriage had been properly dispensed from the disparity of worship (disparity of cult) impediment.
The Petrine Privilege involves, rather than a declaration of nullity, a dissolution of an otherwise valid marriage, and it may only be approved by the reigning pope. Obviously, since only one man on earth may approve them, these cases are exceedingly rare.
The Petrine Privilege involves the circumstance where one spouse is un-baptized and the other is baptized. The un-baptized spouse must have remained un-baptized throughout the entire duration of the marriage. In this circumstance, if either spouse wants either to 1: become Catholic, or, 2: marry a Catholic, that spouse may apply to Rome for a papal decision in favor of the faith.
If the petitioner is the un-baptized spouse or was validly baptized into another non-Catholic but Christian Church, he or she must either wish to be baptized or received into the Catholic Church, or to marry a baptized practicing Catholic.
If the petitioner is a baptized Catholic who was married to an un-baptized person, he or she must either wish to marry a baptized Christian or promise to marry a baptized Christian in the future.
Petrine Privilege involves highly technical and complicated cases requiring deep immersion in Canon law and precedent. It requires petition directly to Rome and an ultimate decision by the Holy Father himself.
The Annulment Process.
The Purpose of filing for an annulment is to enable a petitioner, whose prior marriage(s) ended in civil divorce or dissolution, the right to marry in the Catholic Church.
Any Person, Catholic or not, baptized Christian or not, whose prior marriage(s) was/were terminated by civil divorce or dissolution may petition the Church for a declaration of nullity. The person who initiates the process is called the petitioner, and the former spouse is called the respondent.
The Petitioner must have some geographic relationship to the archdiocese or diocese where the petition is filed. It may be:
The petitioner bears the obligation to prove the case, through responses on the proper questionnaire(s), necessary documents, names and addresses of the respondent and all witnesses.
The respondent has the right to present his or her side of the case, and may appoint a priest, deacon or qualified lay person as procurator, who may assist the respondent in understanding the process, and who may defend the respondent’s rights. If no attempt is made to contact the respondent the annulment process itself will be made null and void.
The cost varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In many cases there is no charge; in others, it is minimal. In many, either the diocese/archdiocese, the local parish, or both, may defray part of all of the cost. Last time I looked, in the Cincinnati Archdiocese, a simple lack of form case cost $35, and the cost ran up to $400 for a Petrine Privilege submitted to Rome. The fee for a formal declaration of nullity was only $300, although the actual cost to the archdiocese was considerably higher than that; sometimes as much as $1,200. If any psychological evaluation is required, the petitioner is asked to bear the cost.
Petitioners with financial difficulties should make them known to the Tribunal at the beginning of the process so that alternative arrangements may be made.
The time required for the whole process will be a minimum of 12 to 18 months, and the time will depend heavily on the complexity of the case, and the work load of the Tribunal. Note that some cases cannot be proved. No date for another wedding may be set until an annulment is final.
The process begins at the parish. A priest, deacon or qualified lay expert will discuss the case with the petitioner, and go over the initial biographical facts of the case. Before the case can go to the Tribunal all civil records of all marriages and divorce/dissolutions involved must be provided. These are always available at the courthouse(s) where these public acts are recorded. The priest / deacon / lay expert may appoint or become your procurator, who will eventually present your case to the Tribunal. All communications between petitioner and Tribunal must go through the procurator of the case because of the complexities involved.
Petitioner must fill out a Form F-100, the standard questionnaire for annulments, which has 44 questions that must be answered. The answers must be clear and make sense to the Tribunal. Simple yes or no answers are often not that helpful. It is advised to do one or more “rough draft” F-100 forms for your procurator to go over with you before completing a final one. The F-100 to be submitted should be typed or printed legibly in dark ink. Many people will be handling and reading this form. Some petitioners have taken as much as three months to complete a final F-100. It is very important to get it right.
Documents, Witnesses, Professionals. All facts presented on the F-100 are regarded as allegations until proven. Petitioner is required to submit names, addresses, phone numbers of the respondent and a reasonable number of witnesses who know the facts of the case. (Minimum of 2 or 3, maximum of 6.)
Any involved psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, priest, minister or other professional can make statements via the “professional release” forms provided with the F-100 form. These forms release the professional from professional secrecy, and the Tribunal will only read their statements if one of these signed forms is provided. One can be copied and supplied to each professional whose input is needed.
Petitioner alerts witnesses that the Tribunal will contact them. Witnesses are asked to give complete, unprompted and truthful statements to the Tribunal. They may be contacted by mail or by personal visit. The normal contact is made by mail unless there are problems such as blindness or other inability to read and/or write. All witnesses supplied on the F-100 witness sheet will be contacted. This is typically the most time consuming part of the whole process.
Confidentiality. The F-100 and all other forms, documents and testimony attendant to the process are held in strictest confidence. The Tribunal is bound by oath to keep all contents strictly confidential.
A Protocol Number is assigned by a Secretary who is a notary and who handles all mail. The Secretary makes the documents official by stamping them on the date they arrive. The Secretary investigates to see if there are any other correspondence on file for the parties in the case, and assigns a protocol number, which, from this point on, must appear on every piece of correspondence relating to the case. No exceptions. If the protocol number is not on any correspondence it may be lost. The Tribunal handles, potentially, thousands of cases per year.
A Case Director / Auditor is assigned to your case. The Case Director guides the case through its various steps. People who gather necessary information are often called auditors or instructors. The Auditor prepares and sends proper questionnaires and cover letters to the respondent, witnesses and other persons listed on the F-100.
The petitioner may be asked to re-contact someone or to seek someone’s cooperation.
Evaluation and Review. At this point the Tribunal will determine if there is a valid ground for the action. The case is reviewed for its merits. A judge or a panel of three judges and a defender of the bond, who will argue for the validity of the marriage, will review the case. The purpose is to find if there is any valid ground for a declaration of nullity. All marriages are assumed valid; they must be proven invalid.
Procurator(s) may be notified if further information is required; other witness testimony may be called for if it is important to complete understanding of the marriage. A psychological evaluation may be requested.
Withdrawal of Petition may be recommended by the Tribunal to the petitioner if there is insufficient proof for the case of nullity. Documents will be kept on file as the case may be reopened if further information becomes available. The petitioner can request a formal decision.
The formal hearing, known as the joinder of issue, then takes place, in which the judge(s) make a formal decision. The judge(s), defender of the bond and representatives of the parties are present on an as-needed basis. The parties themselves may attend, but normally do not, as this is strictly a procedural hearing and they have already given their testimony.
A judgment is rendered and the case is declared concluded. The defender of the bond writes a brief; the procurators of one or both parties may also be asked to write briefs as advocates. Once these briefs are completed, the decision of the judge(s) is written up in a sentence. The parties and the procurators are then notified of the results of the decision.
Due to the serious nature of the matter, an approved annulment only becomes final after the case has received the two independent affirmative decisions required by law. Therefore, an affirmative decision will automatically be sent on to the appeal court for a second formal hearing.
A negative decision may be formally appealed by the petitioner. It normally takes about three months between the decision of the first formal hearing and the appeal court decision, although all cases are different.
Freedom to marry within the Catholic Church is allowed only after the second affirmative finding from the appeal court. A letter of notification will be sent to the petitioner, the respondent and their procurators. This is a very important document that should be safe-guarded; the fact of an annulment is proven through it.
The finding of the Tribunal was that there was a valid ground for the declaration of nullity. This could mean that one of the parties had an impediment to valid marriage that may still exist. Any such impediment, such as untreated alcoholism, extreme immaturity, etc., must be removed before that party is free to marry in the Catholic Church. Also, any civil affects of the first marriage remain unchanged. For instance, any court ordered child support from the first marriage remains a legal obligation. All legal obligations to the first union must be satisfied before undertaking any new obligations.
Elsewhere in this website, and at the top of this webpage, I have taken issue with the way Catholic annulments have been handled in America. My problems are not so much with the process or with the law as it exists as with the perceived looseness of interpretation enabling what I believe are unnaturally large numbers of affirmative decisions. I suspect that Europe has the same problem.
There are numbers of deeply wounded, disaffected Catholics, and even Catholics who have left the faith over this issue. Some of them have contacted me through this website. The thing is, although we can say that children of nullified marriages are unaffected by this, many such children consider themselves somehow de-legitimized by this legal process, and many deeply wounded spouses cannot get passed the fact that the Church actually nullified their marriage of umpty-ump years and X number of kids. A bad decision here can have devastating effects on real people.
I wonder how many times the real motive for annulment was hidden and another one “found.” I believe Catholic marriage annulment, when invalidly done, hurts people, and culture, even more than divorce does.
Pray for the wounded. Pray the pope and the bishops. Pray for justice.
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