Does the way annulment works result in de facto divorce?


These do not exist in a vacuum. Society was different then, no-fault divorce did not exist, divorce was considered a social disgrace.


By which you essentially mean more people have invalid marriages these days as opposed to rules becoming lax?


No, I am saying that the world was a very different place.

To go back to the cancer analogy, decades ago, when someone saw the signs of cancer in a marriage they were likely to simply hide the symptoms because seeking treatment was socially unacceptable.


Personally I believe lots of marriages were likely “invalid” in the old days but it was harder to split so what happened was most stayed together and either became “hell holes” or they matured and became relatively happy together…even if they could, in theory, still be clear cases of not validly married in the first place.

That does not deny the other extreme today and that abuse of the current system easily occurs if someone lies.


One must understand it is not a “marriage” that is shown to be null when a Decree of Nullity is granted by a tribunal… It is that a “Sacramental Marriage” is shown to be null. You were married, but the Sacrament was not present due to the impediments. IF you have a valid Sacramental Marriage you can’t get a Decree of Nullity. If you were not married Sacramentally then in the marriage is simply civil in the eyes of the church and according to the Church it never took place though those attending and involved thought it had. In the US, the USCCB has required you be divorced prior to applying for a Decree of Nullity (certainly a questionable practice since if you are found to have a Sacramental Marriage you or your spouse (the one who filed) may now be guilty of Mortal Sin (Grave matter/ innocent party see Catechism) if you civilly divorced for selfish reasons. Canon law allows separation with bond remaining in cases that meet the requirements (but always include intent to reconcile when any danger has passed). The Church is only determining if the marriage was a Sacrament. If it was you are bound by your vows. If it was not and you are divorced civilly you can remarry in the Church and receive the Sacrament of Marriage (for the first time in the churches eyes.)

This process is certainly abused. A well known Catholic speaker has two decrees of Nullity and hard to imagine how a knowledgeable Catholic can, after going through the process that defines what it takes to be married Sacramentally, enter into another marriage without complete knowledge of what is expected.

One of my kids was married in the Church by a Priest that did not know the couple well. The priest used his homily to ask each of the questions and discussed the answers that determine if a marriage is valid. He had them answer out loud. It was wonderful… and also cost them the option of a Decree of Nullity, since all witnesses heard them answer that they had full knowledge and understanding of each point. They loved it too. We need more priests that actually support marriage vows more than they support those who file for divorce.
Divorce can be a sin for one of the parties. It is rarely discussed but will be a topic at the judgement of the person responsible. You can’t be forgiven for a sin you are glad you committed and would commit again if in the same circumstance. The penitent may regret they “had to” divorce… but they are not sorry, as they told the priest in the confessional. If they were they would repair damage they have done, not celebrate the fracture they have caused.


I don’t think that this is correct. A tribunal makes no judgment whatever about the sacramentality of a marriage. It makes a judgment only about its validity. Sacramentality is not an issue.


Divorce was considered socially unacceptable back then because it was expected that people would keep their word, and that promises made would be kept. A divorce meant that one party or the other did not keep his word.

Marital consent is not complex. It is simple. Vows are made each to the other to be wed for life. It may be hard to do but it is easy to understand. The problem now is I suspect, that much of the vows are based on feelings, and who can be blamed for changing his feelings? But feelings or not, a promise is a promise.

I have read that when Maria Von Trapp married her husband she was not happy about it, but it was what she had been advised to do by a mother superior at a convent, so she did it. She did not love him. But after years of marriage she decided that she did love him and was greatly grieved at his death. Under today’s circumstances she could probably have received an annulment. Was her marriage valid? I think so. Even though she had doubts, she gave consent, and she kept her word.


From the USCCB… If a marriage is declared null, does it mean that the marriage never existed?

No. It means that a marriage that was thought to be valid civilly and canonically was in fact not valid according to Church law. A declaration of nullity does not deny that a relationship existed. It simply states that the relationship was missing something that the Church requires for a valid marriage.

The Catholic Church does not conduct marriages that are not both Sacramental and Civilly valid (in most states the Priest acts also as an authorized agent of the State in the marriage). The Church (Tribunal) only looks at the validity of the marriage canonically… the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage. They do not investigate the legal issues that may or may not apply to the civil marriage validity. Actually the presence of a Sacrament is exactly what they are investigating. It is the only determination the Church makes. No Sacrament? No marriage took place that day. The USCCB requires a divorce to avoid civil legal issues of determining a Marriage that is valid civilly (meets State requirements for marriage - same as if done at Justice of the Peace but conducted by a Priest, with the power conveyed to him by the state to conduct marriages) is not a marriage at all. The USCCB forces couples to remove that possibility prior to taking any application for a Decree of Nulity. Only then do they evaluate if it was canonically valid… and at that point the civil marriage no longer exists due to the divorce decree. If you have a valid marriage after the tribunal reviews the case they determine you are still Sacramentally married to your ex-spouse and can’t remarry due to the Sacrament still being in place (until the spouse dies). It looks only at the moment they are married, when the Sacrament should be conferred. The divorce court does not interview the Priest to determine if the marriage existed prior to granting a divorce. Civilly they know the marriage is valid (the Priest fills out paperwork and submits it to the State, just like any civil employee authorized to marry couples would), as does the USCCB (or they would not ask for a civil divorce to protect them from civil action). The Church evaluates the Sacramental state.


That’s practically self-contradictory–even if the bishops did write it. I mean sure it existed civilly, but who cares. That’s a piece of paper and nothing more. The marriage never existed canonically, that’s what matters at the end of the day and that’s what this discussion is about. That seems to follow trivially from what an annulment is.


I was responding to this statement… I don’t think that this is correct. A tribunal makes no judgment whatever about the sacramentality of a marriage. It makes a judgment only about its validity. Sacramentality is not an issue.

… according to Church law… that only deals with the Sacrament of Marriage. The tribunal asks is it a Sacramental marriage and try and prove that it was not or was. Civilly, if you are drunk when married (which would be grounds for a Decree of Nullity to be granted) and divorce 25 years later try and get the judge to agree you don’t have to pay alimony because you were not really married. Sacrament did not ever exist but marriage did (which is why the children are not considered illegitimate when a Decree of Nullity is granted.)


I was thinking of this quote from Edward Peters canon law blog:

“Not only is the sacramentality of a marriage NOT determined in an annulment case, the question of its sacramentality is not even RAISED in the process. The annulment process is about the validity of marriage and only about validity; a successful petition results in a “declaration of nullity”, not in a declaration of non-sacramentality.”


Read the article again… Like Peters but it is his opinion… both are experts in the field… Peter Smith, writing in the National Catholic Register (21 jul 2014), interviewed two experts about the annulment process. The quotes from one of them, Benedict Nguyen (a canonist for the Diocese of Venice FL) are reliable; but the other expert, Dcn. Patrick O’Toole (actually featured in the article) is confused about the central question in every annulment case. According to O’Toole, “We know a valid civil marriage occurred. The only question is whether a valid sacramental marriage occurred” (original emphasis). O’Toole repeats his phrasing later: “What we’re looking for is: Was everything that is required for a sacramental marriage there from the very beginning?” O’Toole is mistaken.

What Peters is saying is we have no way to know if a Sacrament was conferred… only were the conditions met at the moment of the marriage that those reviewing the case were they validly married according to Church law… not civil law. Were conditions met that are required for a Sacramental marriage to take place in the church that day? God can confer a Sacrament under any circumstances. This is why many marriages that do not meet the church requirements end up being long lasting and fruitful marriages… Grace is present even when the conditions were not exactly to the Church law. When a Sacramental marriage has a party file for and receive a civil divorce and one party requests it, the tribunal examines the conditions on the wedding day to see if impediments can be identified. No impediments = valid Sacramental marriage is assumed so no additional marriage is allowed in the Church, with the Sacrament conferred until the death of the spouse.

Peters is not saying they judge the civil aspects of a wedding. He is saying a tribunal can’t determine if God conferred the Sacrament or not. (Peters takes a unique view on divorce too. His opinion (all the above is… one man’s opinion, which differs with one he considers an expert on Canon Law by his own admission) on whether one needs the approval of a bishop to file for divorce is in direct opposition to the words in Canon law. It is not what Canon law says… it is what Peters “feels” is right. Not sure his opinion is more valid than the approved Canon Law as published for the entire world of Catholics to follow. Popes could have easily changed it to reflect his opinion yet not one, even Pope Francis, has… yet.


Where do you get this idea from?
For example my marriage is not sacramental but I am a validly married Catholic.
Are you saying a marriage tribunal can do nothing for me if it fails for the very same reasons that annulled sacramental marriages often are declared so?

Or is my marriage already null by virtue of not being sacramental?

You seem to have it all wrong I suggest.

The Catholic Church does not conduct marriages that are not both Sacramental and Civilly valid.

It certainly does so I really have no idea where you are getting this from or what you mean.
You may have a distorted understanding of what a “sacramental” marriage is.


If that is the cause for the huge increase in the number of Roman Catholic annulments in the USA, and of course, each annulment has to be preceded by a legal divorce - why is it that you do not see this huge increase in the number of marriage breakups in other churches or in US society at large. In the Roman Catholic Church you go from 10 ;per year in the USA in 1929 to more than 60,000 per year in the USA. If this was the result of the culture changing, you would expect to have similar results in other churches or in American society at large, which you do not.
You do not see these results in other churches because there has been a paradigm shift in the Roman Catholic church over what constitutes a reason for granting an annulment. And other churches have not had this paradigm shift but have remained constant in how they treat marriage breakups.


Right, because an invalid marriage cannot be Sacramental.


Which other churches in America have marriage Tribunals? Where do they publish their statistics?

I can speak for personal experience with the Assemblies of God, with Forusquare Churches and with the Independent CoC/CC. Since the 1960s each of these denominations has changed their stance on divorce as well as divorce/remarriage.

Prior to this time, an Assembly of God minister who divorced lost his license with the denomination, that eased to allow divorced men to continue to hold license. Later on, they also allowed remarried men to maintain their license.

I remember one meeting of Fouresquare ministers where the topic was divorce. That until that time, a divorced man was not permitted to hold a seat on the board of the church. The bylaws had to change or they would have no one eligible to sit on the board in many congregations.

So, yes, Protestantism has changed their teachings on divorce over the past years.


How has the number of marriage breakups changed in the USA from 1929 to the present?
2016 about 830,000 divorces
1929 about 195000 divorces.
IOW an increase of about five times or less.
Take a look at the difference with the marriage breakups in the Roman Catholic Church.
1929 about 10 marriage annulments
In recent years the statistics have varied from 30,000 to more than 60,000 per year.
That is an increase of 3000 times.
If the problem of Roman Catholic annulment surge in the USA was due to the culture of the USA or trends in American society you would find a similar surge in divorces in the USA over the same period, which you do not. You can check the CDC for the US divorce figures.


Back even in the 60’s, people in the pews had no idea that the church Tribunal existed (honestly, there were likely Dioceses who had no tribunals). People simply remarried and refrained from the Sacraments until the Last Rites. Times were different. Sometimes it is hard to imagine!


Did the people who who simply remarried and refrained from the Sacrements and died in situations that did not allow for the administration of the Last Rites die in a state of mortal sin?


Could you give some concrete examples?


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