Skip to comments.What is an Annulment and How Does it Differ From Divorce?
Posted on 06/10/2020 11:34:40 AM PDT by Salvation
There are some today who speak of annulment as “just another name for a Catholic divorce.” However, this is not correct. An annulment (more technically described as a “Declaration of Nullity”) is a recognition by the Church, based on evidence, that what may in fact have seemed to be a marriage, was not due to some intrinsic flaw at the time the vows we exchanged. A marriage may have been a civil marriage entered into in good faith by one or both of the parties, but something essential was lacking in the intentions or understanding of one or both parties that made the marriage invalid that a true marriage never existed in religious terms. Thus there is nothing to divorce, since no marriage exists. “Divorce” is a term of civil law and the Lord explicitly teaches that he will not be bound by the decision of some civil judge. (see Malachi 2:16 ; Matthew 19:1-12, among others). However, not every couple who goes through a marriage ceremony does so validly and that is the key matter in question in the process of annulment, “Was this marriage validly celebrated?” It is actually our Lord Jesus himself who makes this point at the the very moment he teaches against divorce. Lets look at what he teaches.
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 marriage, consanguinity (too close in the blood lines), minor status (too young), incapacity for the marriage act, and lying or failing to disclose important information to the future spouse. 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 scripturally, 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– As noted, 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. 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 forty 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 crass 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?
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 and see if there can be evidence that the first marriage was null.
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 if possible.
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.
Kinda like Serv Pro.
Like it never happened
Please watch the video to put it in church words.
Monsignor Pope Ping!
There really needs to be stronger marriage prep, starting with parents teaching and being models of a Christian marriage. Working on cases, I have seen so many people whose parents did not do their job.
It’s what Kennedys do so they can have a Catholic Church Wedding.
My protestant relatives who have been married multiple times are fond of saying how they “won’t be lectured about marriage by a bunch of celibate old men.”
These are invariably the same folks who claim Catholics don’t read the Bible.
Basically, annulment means that marriage was never a real marriage and sort of never happened. This would be the case if the couple never consummated the marriage, or if one of the parties did not want to have children, since children are the primary purpose of marriage. For example, if the husband always insisted on wearing a condom, or if the wife always insisted on taking birth control.
However, Vatican II has a whole different take on this, and a friend of mine whose husband had refused her children was not allowed to get an annulment on that basis.Even though that is the primary basis. She got it on psychological immaturity, which is nonexistent. Vatican II is not in favor of children and not in favor of marriage. Unless its gay.
Perhaps the Church should consider announcing and publishing the reasons for each annulment?
Civil marriage divorce is adjudicated in court and is a public record.
I realize that each individual values personal privacy, but acting as a legal and sacramental married couple is not a private matter.
I am not questioning the church’s decision or authority to do so, but having transparency may help understand the process and dispel the process as being a catholic divorce.
While I understand that if the marriage was not valid in the eyes of the church and time shouldn’t matter. It seems questionable that someone who was considered married for a long time and has children from that union should be able to have a later sacramental marriage. On the other hand God has wonderful mercy and He wants all to fully participate in the Body of Christ
I think you just blew out the Catholic Caucus designation.
Did the couple have intercourse? If so, the marriage is consummated.
Isaac saw Rebecca, took her into his tent and made her his wife. EOS.
God made them make and female and for this reason shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall be one flesh.
I was speaking to an older women at church. She told me her name and
I remarked: "Oh I went to high school with a Susy Jones."
She answered: "My daughter went to that high school."
I said: "So how is Susy these days?"
She answered: "She's fine...now."
She continued. "Susy married a man who beat her. We BEGGED her to see a priest, but she wouldn't do it. They had five children and he continued to beat her knowing that Catholics can't divorce.
Finally Susy went to see a priest. He told her that her husband had no right to treat her that way. And he initiated an investigation."
Mary's mother continued: "It took two years of investigation but the priest discovered that her son-in-law had these intentions before he and Susy married."
The outcome was that the Church granted her an annulment because there had been NO valid marriage since the husband had never intended to 'love, honor and cherish' Mary.
The children were NOT illegitimate.
I paused, then asked, "How is Mary doing these days?"
Her mother answered: Oh, she married again and is SO happy. He's SUCH a nice guy and he ADORES her.
I said what was appropriate but thought: These things don't usually turn out so well. But, they did this time! GOOD FOR MY OLD HIGH SCHOOL CLASSMATE!!
When I went thru RCIA & converted to Catholicism, we had a couple of long classes re: marriage/ annulment/ divorce.
We read all the Bible passages already mentioned in the OP, plus several others.
One that stuck in my head was “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God, that which is God’s.”
The Deacon leading the class said, “Jesus wasn’t only talking about gold coins. This applies to everything having a divine & worldly aspect, including marriage. We Catholics call it HOLY matrimony because it must be rendered unto God.”
He went on to explain that signing the marriage license & filing it in the courthouse is only about property & inheritance rights; the *real* marriage is the sacramental one.
THEN he explained that this courthouse stuff is tied to the worldly notion of “illegitimate” children, but in God’s eyes, no child is illegitimate, regardless of Caesar’s approval or not.
He said the idea of a need for abortion is rooted in the idea of marriage being a mostly property arrangement, and divorce as a casting off of the wife as if she is disposable property; women shamed for out of wedlock children came to regard those “illegitimate” children in the same way, disposable. But God does not regard us as Caesar does. We are worth so much more to God, and we must foremost honor God as we act accordingly toward spouse and children.
Anyway, your comment about “secular half-hearted promise.. in Vegas or the courthouse”
reminded me of the “Render unto Caesar” passage.
Sorry for the rambling.
Whether or not a marriage has been “consummated” does not solely determine its validity (Catholic).
That’s kinda the point. If the putative “marriage” wasn’t valid from the inception, it never happened in the eyes of God.
And, that’s what the Church is trying to discern.
And even if you are denied an annulment, Francis says you can still receive Holy Communion.
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