So, when DW & I were in Jerusalem Family Court back in the spring of 1999 to receive an adoption order for our eldest son (whom we had received in June 1997 when he was 4-months-old, the judge, before she dictated the order to her secretary, told us that adoption, “was like a Catholic wedding because it’s forever.” But I know that this isn’t necessarily so. I’ll forget what I’ve seen on TV or in movies and ask if one of my CAF cyberfriends could explain to me what exactly an annullment is & how it differs from a divorce & why Catholicism accepts the former but not the latter.
Congratulations on the ‘new’ addition to your family, whom I would guesstimate is nearly ten years old by now. I also am an adoptive father, under rather different circumstances. I hope your son is giving you and your spouse great joy.
A Catholic decree of nullity suggests that while a marriage may have existed ‘under civil law’, some essential element of marriage was lacking at the time of the marriage, and that in spiritual terms no true marriage ever actually existed. I am wording things the way I am partly because I am NOT Roman Catholic and hence likely to be a tad less exact than a Catholic might prefer; and partly to avoid one of the central objections to the notion of annullments–that such decrees suggest that a remarried person has been living in ‘fornication’ for numerous years and/or that any children born of a subsequent marriage would be ‘illegitimate’. ‘Illegitimacy’ is a civil issue, not a Church issue; I think that Catholic teaching prefers that one who has been divorced remain chaste unless and until a decree of nullity has been granted. In the vast majority of cases however, people only seek a decree of nullity long after a divorce and secular remarriage.
It is important to recognize that a decree of nullity can only be granted under certain circumstances. While such decrees are given out rather liberally in Western nations at present, they are NOT guaranteed. A church court must investigate all of the circumstances of the petition. Oddly enough, I believe that lopsided decisions can occur–one party to a former marriage being granted the annulment, whilst the other party being denied. Hopefully, someone will weigh in and either clarify or correct me on this.
In the Episcopal and some other Protestant churches, there are, in addition to church annullments, certain grounds for a church divorce–specifically, adultery and abandonment by a non-Christian spouse. Many churches in recent decades have included the right of church divorce when physical abuse exists. The British Royal Family went through this matter of a church divorce just recently–British Episcopalianism apparently is much stricter on this matter than the American Episcopal church. Most Protestant churches have long since ceased the practice of granting or denying ‘church divorces’, and in many cases don’t scrutinize the matter too closely if a divorced person presents themselves for membership.
The question of whether or not Scripture permits ANY grounds for divorce–i.e., divorce which permits remarriage–has been hotly debated on this board–the longstanding and traditional Roman Catholic position is that there is NONE. Catholic liberals have tended to side with Protestants on this–that there are SOME grounds, LIMITED grounds, but that one cannot lightly enter into either divorce or a remarriage after a scripturally-justified divorce. In practice, as traditional Roman Catholics like to point out, granting that there are ANY grounds for a Christian to divorce and remarry tends to ensure that divorces will multiply. Everyone, Catholic or Protestant, wishes to be compassionate in the event that a divorce has occurred, and this has led many Protestant denominations to become increasingly lenient in their interpretation of whether or not ‘scriptural grounds’ existed when a divorce occurs.
Catholics are often surprised to learn that Protestant churches have ANY official limitations upon divorce and remarriage–many PROTESTANTS are unaware of the fact. It is common, for example, for Protestant denominations to have an official policy against remarried pastors. In practice, many times such policies get ignored or applied very loosely, especially in denominations which have a ‘congregational’ system of governance. In such cases, a popular minister who experiences the tradgedy of divorce is NOT removed from his pulpit, at least not permanently.
I have not doubt that there are sme lengthy threads on this subject available and that Catholic Answers has some articles you can read online. Hope this is helpful.