There is much discussion on this site about the ease of getting an Annulment in today’s Church and how this somehow shows that our Church is pro-divorce. I honestly don’t believe that is a fair assessment of the state of our Church or the divorced/annulled people on this site and how we collectively view divorce.
You will have to trust me when I tell you there is nothing easy about Annulments. First off, it is a lengthy process. Secondly, it is a process that requires quite a bit of self-reflection and assessment which is not an easy thing for us humans to do, especially when seeking to understand motives. Lastly, it may not be this way for all people, but I found it to be quite an emotionally harrowing experience of just knowing that the trajectory of my entire life rested with the decision of the tribunal. And all this comes after the tragedy of the humiliation of our civil court system and living through that divorce process. Honestly, there is nothing easy about Annulments.
Perhaps what people mean when they talk of the ease of Annulments is the action of the Church in granting them. Annulment however, is the end of the process. If it seems that many people are receiving annulments, we must look to the beginning, to the cause. An annulment determines if the marriage is valid at its inception. This can’t always be determined by what happened during the marriage itself though these can be symptoms of a problem. Holy Mother Church looks to the beginning to see if both parties understood and undertook the institution of marriage properly. If there are impediments to this at the beginning then oftentimes the marriage is declared null at the end.
So in actuality, the annulment process really begins with preparation for marriage. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that my marriage preparation consisted of my former spouse and I meeting with a priest for about two hours and taking a standardized test. This was the entirety of our marriage preparation. I am not saying this to lay the blame of the situation on the Church, I am merely recounting my own personal experience. In defense of the Church, I have to say that I would have gotten married to this man even if I was sent away for a week-long retreat and had every priest I knew telling me it was a bad idea. Because that is where I was in my life at the time and one of the only reasons I got married in the Church was for my father.
Quite obviously, I did not truly understand the institution of marriage and the Catholic Church. Why was this? Honestly, I was never taught. I knew the party line: “until death do us part” etc. but I did not come from a faith-filled family and my CCD classes consisted of making felt banners and singing songs. This lack of real marriage preparedness came to light during the Annulment process. Should this gift of a second chance be denied to me or to anyone who after many years of intense Catholic study now understands what marriage truly is in the Church when then we did not?
And another word about marriage preparation:
There were no marriage preparation classes at the parish that I got married at because there was no one there to run them. I should say that again: there were no marriage prep courses at that parish because there was no one there to run them. The pastor told us that he had stopped requiring couples to attend the diocese event because they just would not go. So he would meet with couples personally and refer those who he felt needed it onto further preparation. Again, I don’t say this to assign blame because in these and all circumstances where priests are doing the best they can, how can we judge? Is it really any wonder then, why there are so many annulments in our Church today?
We are all part of the body of Christ and all called to use our gifts and talents to Evangelize. I am quite sure that the people of my generation, unless they were raised in a fully devout family, had many of the same experiences as I did in learning about marriage in the Church. And so I must ask, what are we doing about it now? How much time and energy do you devote to stewardship at your parish? Are you involved in ministries there?