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Divorce & Annulments

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.
 
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12 Comments

  1. Mike-851273 May 21, 2012

    Hey Lisa. Good read. My situation is a bit different. I was married for 17 years and I’m grateful for the time I had with my wife and for our two children. She decided she needed to move on. We went to counceling for years and could not put things right. I had to let her go. I can not in good conscience stand before God and say the marriage never occurred. However I would like to experience spritural emotional and physical intimacy that a loving relationship brings. Methinks I’m in a bit of a pickle. Any thoughts?

  2. Lisa Duffy
    Lisa Duffy May 21, 2012

    Hey, Mike,

    Thanks for your question and candid explanation on your situation. I’m sorry to hear that your marriage ended and I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy for you or your children to say the least.

    I hear what you are saying about standing before God and taking responsibility for your life. I wish more people operated in that mode. But receiving a decree of nullity does not – in any way – state that your marriage never occurred. It only states that the marriage was not sacramental; it wasn’t an indissoluble bond in God’s eyes.

    The Church never denies that a marriage relationship took place and that there was in fact a natural marriage bond. Sometimes you can have all the appearances of a sacramental marriage but something was lacking enough to be an impediment to the sacrament.

    Only by going through the annulment process can it be determined whether or not you and your wife had a sacramental bond. When I went through mine, I placed the entire process and decision in God’s hands and told Him I would be happy with whatever the outcome would be. This was the only way I felt at peace during that time – just letting Him have the control.

    So if you believe that in the future, you would like to be in a relationship again, I recommend you go through the process without hesitation. Too many people wait until they are in love with someone else and then, they find themselves in more that a bit of a pickle. If the verdict is returned that you had a sacramental marriage, then you will know which road to take from there.

    I wish you the best and count on my prayers,

    Lisa

  3. Anna W. May 21, 2012

    I also had an annulment and am very glad that did it – even if it wasn’t healing at all (on the part of the Church). But I still can’t comprehend how “receiving a decree of nullity does not – in any way – state that your marriage never occurred”. What is “a natural marriage bond” if sacrament wasn’t present? If I live with somebody, or have a civil marriage, is it “a natural marriage bond” that is OK even if there is no sacrament? No. To nullify something means to void it, to cancel. For what I understand, my marriage didn’t exist. I thought it did, I treated is as such, but it was a fantasy, a mistake. Children are a blessing regardless of marriage, I don’t even bring them into my reasoning.

  4. Anna W. May 21, 2012

    To the article: “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.” It is only partially true. Yes, preparation has to be more serious, but it is very hard to do with the volume of willing to marry, and often requiers not only spiritual but also professional psychological help. Without such personalizied approach the number of sacramental marriages will drop abruptly (maybe, it is not a bad thing, too…)

    In addition to immaturity there is very serious objective problem: 3000 or 500 years ago marriage was different: it was not for personal fulfillment and had nothing to do with love. It was for survival and satisfying basic needs for sex and having children. If you didn’t have 6 children, half of them boys, your faced begging in your old age.

    The art of marriage was left for relatives who usually knew each other for generations. Now we don’t even live in the same town, often come from different cultures and in addition don’t have a need to adjust and compromise, and don’t have ingrained Catholic discipline to see marriage as absolutely final. Under such conditions marriage is a gamble. Lucky ones meet a good partner, unlucky go through painful experience more than one time.

    I often think that to join a religious order you have to go through stages, from a novice, to temporary vows and then to permanent. It is understood that not everybody who has a desire to be a priest or a nun, or a brother can do it and they need to have a taste of their vocation for several years. But if marriage is also a vocation…

  5. Lisa Duffy
    Lisa Duffy May 22, 2012

    Dear Anna,

    A natural marriage bond is defined by Canon law as:

    “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its very nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children” (Canon 1055, § 1).

    This natural marriage bond takes on a sacramental nature when the bride and groom are both baptized Christians and intend to make the union a permanent, life-long union with the unitive (for the good of the spouses) and pro-creative (bringing children into the world) intentions – and with the full freedom to do so.

    This means that a couple can have a church wedding, live together in a house, have children, a dog and cat and a mini-van; in other words, all the appearances of a family in modern society, and they will have a natural marriage bond, but they might not have a sacramental bond. This is why the annulment process does not state that the marriage didn’t exist. It absolutely did exist! The couple lived it, the children witnessed it, society observed it… it absolutely existed. What may not have existed was the sacrament – the indissoluble covenant with God and the spouses.

    As far as the way marriage used to be years ago, you state it was not for love but for survival and child-rearing… It may have been that way, but God intended it from the start to be for the good of the spouses as well – for love. The book of Genesis tells us:

    God created all the animals and brought them before Adam to be named. But a “suitable partner” was not found for him among them. So God created the woman, and Adam responded: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2: 23). Adam needed someone for himself. Someone to love him, as well as for him to love.

    All that being said, I think your statement on how religious go from level to level before taking their final vows is a great point to reflect upon in regard to marriage preparation.

    Sincerely,

    Lisa

  6. Ronique-499294 May 24, 2012

    I married in the church to a non Catholic (he has since declared himself as not believing in God). Our divorce has been lengthy. How can I integrate the annulment process (I’ve had an annulment consultation). to move this portion forward?

  7. Stacey-101742 May 29, 2012

    Thank you for explaining that in more detail Anna , it makes so much more sense to me why the Tribunal granted my annulment now . We lacked the sacramental marriage bond . Even now my ex has remarried but they have the same thing a natural marriage bond , not a sacramental bond and I need to sacramental bond , and that would explain so many gaps in our relationship and his lack of having that deep committment and all that goes with that . Thank you for explaining .
    Stacey

  8. Adel-818653 June 1, 2012

    Dear Lisa,
    I was married for 35 yrs. and I thought we had a sacramental bond in our marriage but I guess there was not. We were both raised Catholic but looking back now, he did not have a personal relationship with God like I did. I have not applied for annulment. I have the papers with me but have not filled it out. I don’t think I will re-marry again since It would be hard to find that special person who will commit to that sacramental bond, so I will not get an annulment.

    • Stephen-725391 June 1, 2012

      Adel,

      Why? I have a friend who is 74 and been widower for 7-8 years. During the Reconciliation liturgy at his parish this last Lent, a newly (just at a year) widowed lady (66) had jumped two other lines (they had 9 priests hearing confession), my friend turned to her and said the line I’m in ALWAYS is the longest. Well, they started to talk and yesterday, as they were walking her dog, she up and kisses him (scandalous for those here on CM). So you never know and being completely available for whatever the Lord has in store for you is, well, if you are not, His plans are thwarted – Are they not?

      Stephen

      • Adel-818653 June 1, 2012

        Stephen, Thank you for your encouragement. I guess it goes back to FEAR that I don’t want to marry again. At times I want more than friendship and want to annul but fear of getting hurt again makes me not to proceed. I pray that I will completely forgive the fast. I went to confession this week and the priest told me annulment will help the forgiveness. God Bless!

  9. Adel-818653 June 1, 2012

    oooppps, forgive the past, not fast.

  10. Cesar-808228 July 7, 2012

    Great post Lisa! God Bless!

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