If you’ve read my book, Divorced. Catholic. Now What?, or any of my blogs, you know I encourage divorced Catholics to go through the annulment process. I do so for two specific reasons: first, to receive the understanding, acceptance, and healing you can only get through this process and second, to receive clear and unmistakeable knowledge of which direction your life will take after divorce. If you do not receive a decree of nullity, you will need to remain single until your spouse dies, and this sets a whole new tone for the direction you need to take. If you do receive a decree of nullity, you know you are free to marry if you choose.
This, in my estimation, is what the annulment process was originally intended for. It was not intended to be a “get out of jail free” card, nor was it intended to be approached with the demand that the Church should allow a divorced Catholic to get married again so they can “be happy.”
The question of excessive amounts of annulment cases is a source of conversation that keeps surfacing, especially since both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have stated their concern of the large numbers of decrees of nullity dispensed in the United States, and this is something that we cannot ignore. However, it cannot be broad-brushed, either. Too many people automatically assume the large number of annulments in the US is too high because the system is being abused. Really?
I won’t say abuse never happens because it does. But to categorize all annulments under the label of abuse which a lot of people do is not only wrong, but extremely uncharitable to all the men and women out there who have approached the tribunal in good faith, filled out the paper work, cried their way through the lengthy and probing questionnaire, gathered their witnesses and waited patiently for a verdict to be returned.
But the wave of criticism is certainly there, especially in regard to Canon 1095
, the grounds upon which more cases are ajudged than any other grounds.
Dr. Edward N. Peters
, notable Canon Lawyer, author and speaker said in his article, Annulments in America: Keeping Bad News in Context
, had this to say about the criticism of annulments:
“Frankly, to attack American tribunals on the basis that, under Canon 1095, they are declaring null tens of thousands more marriages than they did a few decades ago is akin to attacking American hopsitals on the basis that they are diagnosing tens of thousands more cases of HIV/AIDS than they did a few years ago . . . Nevertheless, no credible social observer takes the position that average levels of personal maturity or individual integrity–two very important factors in Canon 1095 cases–have done anything but plummet over the last 30 years.”
Dr. Peters refers to “the startling, and ultimately destructive, levels of immaturity and irresponsibility which so many people bring to marriage today” as a major factor in why so many marriages fail.
With all the time I’ve spent working with divorced people, this is a valid point, in my opinion. Think of all the Catholic couples out there who are sexually intimate before marriage, believe the Church’s stance against artificial abortion is silly and outdated, believe pornography is no big deal, and especially those that get married so their spouse can make them happy.
But then, there’s a whole new phenomena I have witnessed that also doesn’t seem to have been prevalent 30 years ago. I’ve heard more stories about spouses who had suppressed homosexual tendencies, married, and decided later on he or she could no longer live as a heterosexual and abandons the family. This is becoming very common and it’s scary.
So, what’s my solution to the problem? I think it should be harder to get married, not harder to get divorced.
If marriage prep directors would intensify – and lengthen – their programs I think this would make a noticeable difference in the number of annulment cases. Couples would either be stronger in their understanding of what marriage really is and how to make it through the tough times or they would realize that they aren’t ready to get married. Not a bad thing, either way.