Integrity of annulments

One of the criteria for an annulment is if either of the couple did not understand or commit fully to what the marriage entails. So, it could be annulled if the husband never intended to be faithful.

So, say a couple wants an annulment. Isn’t it possible for the man to lie and say he didn’t never intended to be faithful? Or more likely, he could have been sincere in his promise to be faithful on their wedding day but, later when seeking an annulment, sort of forgot how he felt and say never intended to be faithful? (How we remember the truth and our intentions can change through time, it does happen that we conform and distort the truth to suit whatever we currently want.)

It seems easy to abuse, yet we know it isn’t. For example, even Cardinal Mahony’s own brother couldn’t get an annulment, and for sure he would have access to good canon lawyers to help him navigate through it since his brother was an important prelate. So how are annulments safeguarded against that?

Another criteria of annulments is if it’s a shotgun wedding. Why, then, do priests allow shotgun weddings anyway? I can think of several cases where marriages happened because the brides got pregnant. In those cases, it could be easily argued that neither party freely entered into the union, even though they of course will claim it’s a free choice at the time they are preparing for marriage since, to save face, they’ll never admit even to themselves that it’s something they’re doing because they had to. Shouldn’t the priest have prevented a union like this from happening?

And the last one isn’t just hypothetical. I’m the godfather of the son of a guy whom I was friends with at the time, it was a shotgun wedding. He cheated on his wife months after and they’re essentially separated. I know their marriage wasn’t really free choice even though at the time of their wedding they claimed it was. I doubt this is a rarity, and priests are surely aware of that. So if it can be reasonably doubted that a marriage would be valid, isn’t it imprudent for the priest to give the green light?

Anyone can lie anywhere. The bartender can lie and tell you that it’s Beefeater Gin when it was really rotgut or the car mechanic can lie and tell you that he used genuine Ford parts when he didn’t.

The annulment paperwork I filled out had the following right before the signature line.

I attest before God and my conscience that the above information is true and complete to the best of my knowledge.

Anyone is free to lie on the paperwork, but they have to submit witnesses who can back up what they say, and at the end of the day they are not just lying to a bunch of canon lawyers but to God himself.


Being the guy in charge of marriage prep and also an advocate in the annulment process, I can’t help but think that if we spent half as much effort impressing upon young couples the sanctity and serious nature of the process they are embarking upon as we do upon those seeking an annulment, we would need spend far less time and effort on annulments.


As noted, yes, people can lie but it takes more than someone’s word to prove any marriage to be invalid due to a defect in consent. There has to be corroboration. Could a whole group of people provide lying corroboration? Yes. That’s the nature of things and we have to be aware of it. But, I have yet to see that kind of wholesale perjury.

Shotgun weddings: people must freely consent to marriage. The priest, to the best of his ability, has to satisfy himself that the couple is acting freely. Canon 1066 says “Before a marriage takes place, it must be established that nothing stands in the way of its valid and lawful celebration.”

If the couple says “we are getting married because of the pregnancy”, that alone is not sufficient reason to deny the wedding. A couple can validly and licitly marry, motivated by a pregnancy.


You need to have 3 witnesses to testify to the nature of the marriage. Consequently, I’d find it very hard to believe that 3 people, plus the petitioner, and possibly, the respondent, would corroborate the same lie. Not only that, but remember that every nullity case is actually tried TWICE because it is appealed. Consequently, I think we have to trust that they are doing the best they can.

By making it an adversarial process with both defender of the bond and advocate; gathering testimony from multiple witnesses, the respondent, and the petitioner; and proceeding through a court of first and second instance, plus the abiity to appeal to the Rota.

Typically a priest will not perform such a marriage if there is doubt related to coersion or invalid consent.

You perhaps are not privvy to all the details. A marriage “just because” the woman got pregnant would indeed have the possibility of impediments but not necessarily invalidate marriage. A wedding already underway but with the addition of pregnancy might present different circumstances that show there is no coercion.

Again, anecdotal information. The priest who prepared them would have fully gone through the investigation. If they lied to him, well, then they will have to prove that in the external forum.

Yes, It’s certainly possible for a man to lie (fraud) or have a lack of due consent. It’s one of those, “I thought I knew my husband, but he changed after we got married.” While I was working at the tribunal, there was such a case. We referred to the husband as “The Magician,” in which he showed up for the children’s birthdays and whenever the family was seen in public, but otherwise he was almost always away on business trips and not really there to nurture the family (other than materialistically). This was a 40+ year marriage, btw.

It seems easy to abuse, but it really isn’t. The truth eventually comes out. In a case I knew, a male petitioner had convinced his two aunts (his witnesses) to lie in the tribunal interview. It was found out through the interview process of additional witnesses that the petitioner was lying and the whole case was thrown out of court. More often than not, what will stop a petition for annulment is usually lack of additional witnesses/testimonies, lack of evidence, proper documentation – paperwork. Sometimes, it will be either the petitioner of respondent’s refusal to go see a court psychologist or doctor.

Priest are like doctors in the sense that they can only do so much by the information they are given. Sometimes the priest, because of his cultural upbringing, will decide in favor of a shotgun wedding. Most of the time, it’s usually the parents of one of the spouses or of both spouses that make the wedding arrangements with their local pastor, who either spouses may or may not know. Then, if neither spouse mentions anything or gives false, but convincing statements of consent, then it’s not easy for the priest to judge. Often times, annulment cases are crazy, and sometimes I do wonder how these marriages are possible in the first place. :eek:

I’m wondering, and you’d be a good person to ask, is the setting a courtroom similar to what we see for civil and criminal law? Or is it more akin to just conference tables and offices?

It is mostly done through correspondence, rather than as a trial/hearing.

In my diocese, except in “clear cases”, (which may be decided based solely on the documents) a member of the tribunal meets with the petitioner and their advocate, usually in his office. The meeting, which in my experience lasts anywhere from about 1 to 5 hours, is recorded and transcribed.

If it is deemed necessary, the tribunal member may also meet with respondent and witnesses under similar circumstances.

The recordings and transcriptions become part of the case file which are reviewed by all three members of the tribunal and forwarded on to the tribunal of second resort for its review as well.

This wouldn’t be accepted on hearsay. It was the case in my marriage that both my husband and I were prepared to testify to the truth that my husband always kept divorce open as an option (i.e. never intended the marriage to be until death) and never intended fidelity. The Tribunal wouldn’t accept this as grounds unless there were written evidence prior to the marriage, e.g. newspaper cuttings, letters he’d written… just both of us saying that was his intention wasn’t enough, as the Canon Lawyer said: he’s lying once - either he lied when taking his vows or he lied to the Tribunal; that’s not enough evidence. Also, the Tribunal assumes that even someone who believes in divorce and open marriages doesn’t intend that for his/her own marriage unless proved otherwise - so the bar is set higher than you might think.

And the last one isn’t just hypothetical. I’m the godfather of the son of a guy whom I was friends with at the time, it was a shotgun wedding. He cheated on his wife months after and they’re essentially separated. I know their marriage wasn’t really free choice even though at the time of their wedding they claimed it was. I doubt this is a rarity, and priests are surely aware of that. So if it can be reasonably doubted that a marriage would be valid, isn’t it imprudent for the priest to give the green light?

Some priests I work with, if they have serious doubts about the probable validity of a wedding they are celebrating, will write them down at the time of the marriage preparation and send it to the diocese in a sealed envelope along with the marriage paperwork. It will never be read unless the couple go to the Tribunal to seek a declaration of nullity. It’s probably better that way than a priest refusing to perform a wedding when most couples nowadays would find some way to get married with or without the Church’s approval if the Church refused them a wedding.

I’ve come across notations right in the sacramental record book itself. The priest wrote a whole paragraph on one about the udue pressure of the MIL for both conversion to the Faith and marriage in the Church.

Crazy, but at least it is documented.

One of my best friends recently got an annulment after eight years of marriage. The grounds for the annulment was her husband’s permanent intention against children. According to her testimony, he always used condoms during their marriage. (Her ex-husband chose not to participate in the annulment process.) After eight years of marriage and no children, the tribunal was satisfied and the annulment was granted.

The setting is more like a law office, than an actual courtroom trial.

In our diocese there is a space in the Prenuptial Investigation book for the priest to make comments after the ceremony. Those usually remain blank unless the priest has a concern.

I think that by the time they get to marriage prep, it’s too late. They are starry-eyed and in love. Marriage preparation has to start when children are young. We need to talk to our children about what marriage is and what it is not.

:thumbsup: Sadly, more often than not, this does not happen. Much advice is given about careers and finance, but little on the nature of marriage.

NOT in my marriage prep sessions, and not if they are following the proper guidelines.

But I agree that a few marriage prep sessions are not enough. We need to change the culture of marriage as presently understood in our secular society. Alas, it seems to be getting worse rather than better.

Sorry, I was not clear. I was referring to parents. I know that dioceses and parishes cover all of this. But In a culture where all too often even Catholic parents fail to impart the basic spiritual aspects of marriage, the Church has its job cut out for it.

“Seems” to be getting worse? Deacon - no offense, but butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth (one of my mother’s favorite sayings).

From my point of view, it went into the toilet and someone flushed. Oregon voted for, and passed, a state constitutional amendment stating that marriage is between a man and a woman, and our (Democrat) Attorney General, sworn to uphold the state constitution, has refused to go into court to defend it against a lawsuit brought by homosexuals to overturn the amendment.

I don’t know, maybe someone in the White House told her that law was passed by all those eastern Oregon redneck rubes clinging to their guns and their religion…

And in spite of the absolutely crystal clear constitutional amendment, a business was fined for not making a wedding cake for a homosexual couple entering into a civil arrangement, on the grounds the business was “discriminating”.

And Alice goes merrily down the rabbit hole…

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