Can a person with a faulty annulment unknowingly commit adultery by marrying again?

In a recent question, Fr. Serpa said that annulments are not protected by infallibility. This makes sense to me but it raises the question of whether or not someone who has a marriage declared null and remarries could unknowingly commit adultery if the declaration of nullity is in error. It stands to reason that some annulments would be in error, whether because of honest mistakes or dishonesty on the part of those seeking the annulment. If an annulment is in error because of honest mistakes and the person recieving the annulment remarries, would he or she be culpable for adultery? Also, could it be that the Church’s God-given authority to bind and loose would make such errors irrelevant?

On a related note, why are the positve declarations of canonization infallible but not those of nullity? What separates the two types of declarations? Is it those who make the declarations, i.e. bishops v. diocesan tribunals?

  • JP

Dear JP

When I answered the question you refer to, I braced myself for the possibility that it might encourage some people to begin to question the validity of their annulments—especially with people who tend to be a mite scrupulous—not that I am suggesting that you are one of the latter.

If an annulment was given in error, the people involved who are ignorant of this are not morally culpable for the invalidity of a marriage they have subsequently entered into.

The Church’s infallibility has to do only with the teaching of faith and morals. This is where the Church binds and looses. The canonization of a saint has to do with the faith we have in the graces God has given to a particular holy person. Annulments do not come directly under faith and morals, but under Church discipline.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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