Annulment reform is a smart bet at looming Synod of Bishops

If there were a Las Vegas betting line about the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome, the prospect of a press for a streamlined annulment process in the Catholic Church would probably be a strong 2-1 favorite.

Assuming that one of the major fault lines in the Oct. 5-19 summit will be whether the church’s ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion ought to be relaxed, making the annulment process more user-friendly looms as a potential compromise measure that could give most camps at least some of what they want.

For that reason, annulment reform is where the smart money about the meeting’s outcome might well go.

Unlike divorce, which is premised on the idea that a real marriage is being dissolved, an annulment is a declaration from a church court that no marriage existed in the first place because it didn’t meet one or more of the tests in the church law for validity.

I don’t disagree with the premise of the article (it seems to be the conclusion that a lot of people are coming to), but I’m not sure how reliable Crux is as an (orthodox) Catholic news site:

“Crux” is very much hostile to Christ and His Church. Take it with a huge grain of salt.

I would make the following edit of the article.

I’d certainly agree that the tribunal process should be more transparent to applicants so that people can readily determine where they are in the process and if there is a roadblock, what it IS. I’ve heard all too many horror stories of processes dragging on years only to find out after over a year that a witness failed to turn in some certain paperwork. It took a YEAR to tell him that? Seriously?

But the criteria itself certainly doesn’t need loosening. Instead what we ought to do is TIGHTEN the criteria for marriage in the church. Those who want to be married in the church really ought to be required to demonstrate parish membership and attest to regular mass attendance, for example (Can you even confect the sacrament if you aren’t in a state of Grace? I dunno!). Essentially, marriage preparation should include a lot of the sorts of examinations that the tribunal examines and couples not eligible or free to consent shouldn’t be allowed to delude themselves that they are entering into a catholic marriage in the first place. By all means, be pastoral and offer help in resolving problems, but I’m convinced that an awful lot of the “catholic weddings” that go on out there have more to do with having a nice photo backdrop and making Daddy and Grandma happy than actual desire for the Grace of the Sacrament. Why not tell the truth to those people?

I know that this is a Roman Catholic site and I do not want to be disrespectful, but I suspect that the Roman Catholic annulment process as practiced in the USA is a workaround the prohibition against divorce. It seems more reasonable to say that if someone is married for 15 years and has been going to Church regularly, that the Holy Spirit together with the prayers of the Church would remedy any small defect that had been present at the time of the wedding ceremony and thereby result in the marriage being sealed. The way it works now, in many cases, is that after 15 years of marriage one of the partners is unfaithful to the marriage and decides to leave and marry someone else, but at the same time wants to receive the Sacraments of the Church. So the application is made to annul the first marriage.

What ever. But, if there are to be changes I would suggest the following:

Put a time limit on the process. It takes too long and there is no excuse for that. If there is evidence of domestic violence grant the annulment without taking a century to get it done. The harm done to children living in a violent home is just not worth it. And finally, stop charging so much. People are not wealthy and are already miserable with the prospect of a failed marriage. Priests, regardless of their position are not supposed to be “in it for the money.” Granted some charge may be necessary, but some of the fees I have heard about are plain ridiculous and greedy.

Divorce is a sad thing, but people staying together who are simply never going to get along, or when there is infidelity and violence is much worse and sadder.

If the marriage is not valid it was not valid at the beginning. Apart from a convalidation ceremony or a radical sanation if the marriage was in an irregular situation (for example, a couple who married outside the Church) you cannot “seal” the marriage. What happened after the marriage is not necessarily relevant to the situation UNLESS the behaviour was pre-existing. The tribunal WILL want to know about when the problems started in the marriage and what caused them, but a problem such as adultery is not grounds for a declaration of nullity in and of itself UNLESS it can be proven that there was no intent to be faithful. In general every marriage is valid until proven otherwise. The only exceptions are situations where there is clear, undeniable evidence that the marriages was not valid (such as being already married, being married outside the Church if you’re Catholic, or being too closely related). Not every request for a declaration of nullity is granted. I suspect that we’re seeing more requests today because you have people converting into the faith when they are already divorced and remarried, you have Catholics wanting to marry non-Catholics who were previously divorced, and you have poorly catechized Catholics who thought divorce and remarriage were acceptable.

What percentage of Catholics out there are really married when 95% of all USA marriages, when tested by the annulment process, are declared to be invalid?

Can you back that opinion up with some specific examples of “hostility?” I realize Crux is a creation of the Boston Globe, between which and the Church little love is lost, but Crux’ associate editor, John Allen, was widely respected even when he wrote for the National Catholic Reporter, and is most certainly not “hostile to Christ and His Church.” Nor do I think he left his prior position in order to side with interests hostile to the Church.

That wouldn’t be strictly appropriate as an edit though. Tribunals make no judgment re: the sacramentality of a marriage but its validity, and a marriage can be valid (and an annulment refused) by the tribunal even if it’s purely natural.

I am referring to the tone of the site, which is plainly hostile to the Church. You have a right to your own opinions, of course.

Respectfully, I accuse you of making that 95% figure up from thin air. Put up or shut up on it.

Secondly, one should realize that the tribunal process itself pretty much discourages people who clearly have no case from applying. It’s time intensive, costly (canon lawyers are as highly educated as civil lawyers) and embarrassing. Nobody does it who doesn’t receive advice that they have a case. The sorts of putative marriages that actually get ruled on are not remotely characteristic of the typical USA marriage, so not only is your 95% figure made up, you’re mis-using it even if it were true.

I’ve never understood this part. The priest doesn’t confect the sacrament, he only witnesses it and blesses it. I can’t comprehend personally why a putative marriage would be invalid if, for example, a couple married with the firm intent on the wedding day NEVER to have children and to use contraception to avoid it if that couple a year later repented of that decision, went to confession and became open to having kids. To me, it would seem that the barrier to their marriage being valid was thus removed and they confected the sacrament on each other having already received the blessing of the church previously. Why does it matter if the priest wasn’t there when the sacrament was actually confected if the couple are the actual ministers of the sacrament?

Either something is screwy with the tunnel vision focus of the tribunals on the conditions present on the day of the marriage or my understanding is not complete (or both).

Point taken, thank you. :tiphat:

Exactly!! Thanks much, Fr. Z.

I’m assuming the bulk of the annulments were’t Catholic weddings. A civil ceremony can be annuled in a week for $40. It’s even a different, shorter form (I saw the releif on my priest’s face when he realized it was a civil ceremony I was seeking an annulment for).

This is too vague to bet on. :slight_smile:

Besides, everyone wants reform until they actually see the final results. If you trim the process in a half, they’ll want another half.

I’m sorry but thats just not realistic. If you make getting married so hard you’ll just make the church marriage rate hit rock bottom. A lot of catholics are the baptized married funeral types, it would alienate so many people. It would go completely against the broad church movement that started this whole debate. I think the status qou should be kept and no we should never allow second marriages

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