ANNULMENT – CATHOLIC DIVORCE?
Since my first blog post was about marriage, I thought I’d spend a little bit of time talking about annulments. First of all, annulment is NOT Catholic divorce. A divorce acknowledges the existence of a legal, civil marriage which has now been irretrievably broken. As such, all of the legal entanglements that go with marriage have to be dealt with so that civil and legal authorities know how to deal with each separating party. Divorce requires agreement (either bipartisan or court-imposed) on custody, care and funding of children; disposition of property; disposition of other assets; potential for ongoing financial support of one party by the other - all in recognition of what once existed but now no longer does.
An annulment in the Catholic Church, however, says that a valid Christian marriage never existed between the two parties. Since it never existed, both parties are therefore free to marry again in the Church and contract new, hopefully-valid Christian marriages. The Church does not annul marriages in a cavalier fashion, however; it takes work. Here’s some of the rationale.
First of all, the Church presumes all marriages entered into by two baptized Christians and solemnized by a Christian minister of some sort are, in fact, valid Christian marriages. For the Church to decide otherwise and grant an annulment, proof to the contrary is required. So, in the annulment process, testimony as to the state of the relationship prior to and at the time of the marriage is required from at least the partner applying for annulment. Every effort is made to obtain the testimony of the other partner, as well, who may well view events much differently. Supporting testimony from witnesses who had solid knowledge of both parties and their relationship prior to and at the time of marriage is also required. The local (arch)diocesan Tribunal will evaluate the evidence and render a decision as to whether the marriage was valid at its inception or not. Please note that adultery by one or both parties AFTER the marriage is not grounds for annulment. What matters is what was in the mind of one or both parties at the inception of the presumably-Christian marriage.
Issues such as hidden addictions (gambling, alcohol, drugs, pornography, computer games, etc.) could be grounds for annulment. A clearly stated intent by one or both parties to others that he/she will never have children is another. Maintaining an illicit relationship on the side while getting married is proof of lack of the proper intent. There are other grounds, but those are best reviewed with the person to whom your parish refers you as you seek annulment.
My point, which I hope isn’t lost here, is that the Church so values the sacramental value of Christian marriage, that is the pouring out of the grace of God inherent in the marriage covenant of the two baptized Christians, that the Church:
- Presumes the validity of all Christian marriages prima facie and absent solid testimony to the contrary.
- Offers annulments so that those desiring to live in a sacramental marriage can still do so, despite entering into an invalid marriage relationship earlier in life.
tSo, to repeat: an annulment is NOT Catholic divorce. It is a process, often painful, by which the circumstances of a presumably-valid Christian marriage relationship are examined and either found valid or not. Not every annulment that is sought is granted. That is why, if you are planning to get married in the Church, you should take advantage of all that your local parish offers in terms of marriage preparation.