The Sacred Cow of Annulment

Since Pope Francis’s bombshell letter “Amoris Laetitia” this following blog post is probably rather superfluous, but since I couldn’t get anyone else to publish it at the time of writing a few years ago, I simply decided to put it on my blog. The mentality has simply changed for the worse, but I still think the piece has some value.

There is a grave problem of the collapse of marriage in the West, even among the Catholics who are considered to be very committed Catholics – those who have a strong faith in and love for both Christ and His Church. No marriage is safe, and unfortunately, if you think yours is the exception, you have no reason to believe that. This is true even if you and your spouse “don’t believe in” divorce.

It is simply not possible to discuss this topic without causing pain to someone somewhere, but, in order to obtain justice, it must be discussed.

Divorce is bad for children; its effects are well-known, but annulments add to the injury. Unfortunately, it is as though the topic of Annulment is a Sacred Cow, which cannot be questioned at all.

This is not good enough in a society where the divorce rate is so high as to make marriage itself a laughing stock, where so many children are suffering terribly and are effectively told to “suck it up” and where even committed Catholics are seeing too many of their own marriages and families destroyed.

In practice, although annulment is not divorce, it has become Catholic divorce. We know that in most cases, people can marry for a second time in the Catholic Church with just a bit of extra paperwork. This is currently how it is in practice.

There are a lot of Catholics who “remarry” outside the Church and some of these are very active in their parish. These people are living in a state of permanent adultery. I do not recognise such “marriages” in my own extended family.

There are at least three fundamental problems with declarations of nullity as they are being granted today in American diocesan tribunals:

One: Annulment does not make divorce suddenly good for children. Annulment does not take away the psychological damage to children. Parents need to put their children’s real needs ahead of their own romantic desires.

Two: It is sometimes alleged by people who have succeeded in their petition for an annulment, that the annulment process was “healing.” The skeptic in me wonders if the respondent and the children also found annulment to be “healing.” I don’t see a lot of healing. I hear a fair amount of carping about the “ex”-spouse.

Three: One of the most damaging things in this shocking crisis is that many Catholics are now suggesting that many or even most marriages in the Catholic Church are probably invalid. Cardinal Edward M. Egan, former judge of the Sacred Roman Rota, describes the situation as follows:

“There are, you see, in the real world no men (and neither are there any women), who know what marriage is, are not insane, can sufficiently consider the wisdom of marrying, marry freely, are capable of the marriage act and capable too of honoring their commitment to the permanence and exclusivity of marriage, but who are are somehow unable to relate to a spouse except in intercourse. Such beings can be imagined, like unicorns or mermaids, but they do not exist.” (Edward Egan, “The nullity of marriage for reason of incapacity to fulfill the essential obligations of marriage.” Ephemerides Iuris Canonici, Rome, 1984.)

Here is a hypothetical, but very realistic scenario. A man tells his wife one day, that he no longer loves her and wants a divorce. She is devastated. She knows he has been unhappy, but any attempts on her part to discover the problem and address it has failed. Nevertheless, she was not expecting this, since all marriages have their rough times. She goes to see her pastor for some help. He is initially helpful, but after the husband gets his quickie divorce and fake-marries another woman outside of the Church the pastor counsels the man to petition for an annulment. How would you feel, if you were this woman? If we are going to use feelings of the parties as emotional ammunition in our debate, why must it all be one-sided? Such petitioners as these are not the only ones with feelings. The pastor here was derelict in his duty. He should have confronted the man early on and sought reconciliation for the couple and then informed the man that to seek a new romance would be a mortal sin.

Incidentally, there are some parishes where the singles social group welcomes divorced and even separated people! What kind of fresh wickedness is this? The Church does not recognise civil divorce! Separated persons are still legally married and married in the eyes of the Church.

Finally, let me show, by means of a true story, how I view the whole crisis. I have a former friend, whom I am still very fond of, who allowed her heart to become very hard against her husband. She has never accused him of violence or any other activity which could warrant a separation. After many years of complaints against him for minor faults, she eventually left him, divorced and then petitioned for an annulment, which was granted. Now, at the time of their marriage, I cannot perceive that there was any impediment. It was a first marriage for both, they were both baptised Catholics and married in the Church. The only possible grounds would be a liberal interpretation of c.1095. This looks very bad to me. She has put her own feelings ahead of the real needs of their four children. Her husband is deeply unhappy about it.

I believe that apostasy and divorce are even greater evils in our day than the horrendous abortion rate and are a large cause of it. The Church in the USA and other English-speaking nations is making an evil situation far worse, by refusing to remain faithful in practice to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Given what Our Lord went through for the sake of His Bride, I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of anyone who commits injustices against this Sacrament.

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