MERGED: Invalid Annulment/Are Annulments Infallible?

Can an annulment be “annulled” (so to speak)? A declaration that “a valid annulment never came into existence”?

Since marriage tribunals do not have the guarantee of infallibility, presumably some have made error of judgement and wrongly determined certain (valid) marriages, to be invalid.

Is it possible for an erroneous determination to be subsequently rectified, and if so, how? (can someone provide a real life or hypothetical example please?)

While it’s always possible that human beings can make a mistake, the Church is extremely careful to ensure that a declaration of nullity is not issued until the matter has been settled as much as reasonably possible.

That’s why every declaration of nullity (every formal one) is automatically appealed to the next highest level (the court of second instance).

So, the answer to your question is (and some might be surprised at this) YES.

That’s why even though the first tribunal might issue a decree of nullity, that decree is not final until it’s been appealed to the 2nd court and the 2nd court agrees with the findings of the first.

This works just like a trial in a secular court. If someone disputes the declaration of nullity, it can be appealed all the way to the pope himself.

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Well, there’s always appeals. The tribunal of the metropolitan archdiocese to which the individual diocese is suffragan has appellate jurisdiction. That and the Roman Rota. And the Holy Father, of course.

I’ll just add to this fabulous answer that a declaration of nullity can be appealed, but it is important to distinguish that saying “an annulment being annuled” is not synonymous or correct.

An annulment is not a thing created which disbands a valid marraige, therefore, being not a thing, it cannot itself be disbanded. Rather an annulment is a declaration that no marraige ever took place… something which can be appealed and repealed, but not “annulled” per se.

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If an annulment is granted by the Church it is valid no matter what any other organisation or person claims.

The reason for this is that the 1st court of instance judges the matter (normally the diocese where you live and apply for the annulment), Their findings or ruling is then sent to the 2nd court of instance (normally the Head Diocese of that State). If they both find in favor, then the annulment is granted and is valid. This is because annulments are particularly Reserved to the Holy See (directly under the control/discipline of the Holy Father) and these two courts and the Judicial Vicars etc. are acting on behalf of the Church.

If either rulings differ, the case is referred to The Roman Rota (court in Rome that decides judicial cases, and it is the final court of appeal). Their decision would be final and valid.

At any time during the process, from the beginning of application to the final judgment, any of the party’s concerned are entitled to object to their rulings and appeal directly to the Roman Rota.


I would say, trust the Church, as they have the Divine Mission to save souls and what they bind on earth, is bound in Heaven.

Douay-Rheims Bible
Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” Matt 18:18

yes that is why there is an automatic appeal process, and the opportunity for additional appeal, all the way to the Vatican, if necessary. The tribunal judges fact and applies canon law to that fact. They can only go by facts uncovered in its investigation. Since presentation of those facts is determined by humans who cooperate (or not) in the investigation of course there is room for error. There is also room for error in applying any of several laws that apply to the case. The system accounts for rectifying those errors insofar as that is possible.

only a sacrament can be valid or invalid

These are some excellent answers.

In our diocese, on the application for a Declaration of Matrimonial Nullity that is submitted to the Marriage Tribunal, there is a section for the contact information of the Respondent (if known). Under that section is a stern warning (paraphrasing) that if the Petitioner claims to not know the whereabouts of the other party and it is later discovered that this was not true, the declaration is invalid.

I suppose an example of a real life or a hypothetical you were asking about of an instance of an invalid nullity, even after it is granted by the ordinary, would be: a person seeking a Declaration of Nullity doesn’t want his/her spouse to know about the petition and lies on the application that they have no idea where to contact them. Afterward, the spouse learns of the proceedings and was unable to challenge it.

As for an example, you can look up the case of Joe Kennedy and his first wife Sheila. He applied for and was granted a decree of nullity. He wanted to marry again in the Church. Sheila appealed to the Roman Rota and the original tribunal decision was overturned, effectively re-validating her marriage. She wrote a book about her experience. (note: the book was written after the annulment process but before the Rota decision)

Correction made in red

A valid marraige cannot be “invalidated” and an invalid marraige cannot be “revalidated”. It is only proper to state that they overturned the declaration of nullity as erroneous.

ie: They annulled the annulment. :stuck_out_tongue:

:stuck_out_tongue: except that an annulment is a declaration that no marraige ever take place.

An appeal which over turns never states that no declaration of nullity was ever granted… it states that a declaration of nullity was granted in error. That’s grammatically different than saying that a declaration of nullity was issued on a declaration of nullity.:stuck_out_tongue:

Exactly. They declared that the annulment never [should have] happened. You get the point…

But the real question: Can the annulment of an annulment be annulled?

Kennedy Marriage- Un-Annulled by Rome: This is huge

The most controversial “marriage that never was” in recent U.S. political history is back. Sources tell TIME that the Vatican has reversed the annulment of Joseph P. Kennedy II’s marriage to Sheila Rauch. The annulment had been granted in secrecy by the Catholic Church after the couple’s 1991 no-fault civil divorce. Rauch found out about the de-sanctification of their marriage only in 1996, after Kennedy had been wedded to his former Congressional aide, Beth Kelly, for three years.

The annulment was the subject of Rauch’s 1997 book Shattered Faith, which lambasted her ex-husband and was severely critical of the Catholic Church’s proceedings, which made the marriage (which had produced twin boys) null and void in the eyes of the church. Rauch argued that Kennedy was able to unilaterally “cancel” nearly 12 years of marriage because of his clan’s influence in the church. Kennedy argued at the time that the annulment was the right thing to do in religious terms. Few observers thought the appeal to Rome by Rauch, an Episcopalian, had a chance against the well-connected Kennedy. With women’s groups loudly on Rauch’s side, the controversy may have contributed to Kennedy’s decision to give up his plans to seek re-election to Congress in 1998.

more at the link.

One of the links I found said that Kennedy could still appeal the Rota decision. So, I guess the answer to your question is “yes”. :smiley:

The Kennedy case is really convoluted and is not the finest hour of the Church, at least the Archdiocese involved. Kennedy was able to get his annulment decree “secretly”, without his wife being informed that he had initiated the processs. That shouldn’t happen.

According to this Boston Globe recounting, “The Archdiocese of Boston granted initial approval of the request in 1996. But before it could issue a final decision, Rauch Kennedy appealed to the Vatican.”

If accuracte, this sounds like there was never a ruling by a court of 2nd instance, or rather that the Rota became the court of 2nd instance.

An interesting note from that same BG article

Robert Vasoli, a retired sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame who has done extensive research on the annulment process, wrote that in 1991 the United States accounted for 80 percent of the annulments granted by the church worldwide. Between 1982 and 1984, the Vatican overturned nearly 80 percent of the American annulments it reviewed, he wrote.

It is somewhat disconcerting that the Rota is overturning tribunal decisions at such a high rate. No wonder, the Vatican has repeatedly called for the whole process to be examined, especially in the US.

An annulment is not something that has covenential binding. It is merely a statement that a valid marraige did not occur. Not “should not occur”. “Did not occur”.

An appeal does not state that a declaration of nullity DID not occur. It states that such declaration was in error and that, in respect, a valid marraige did occur. That’s wholly different from the concept of an annulment which states that something NEVER occured in the first place.

This may sound like a petty distinction, but the reason for it is important: clarity in grammar is the only way to clear up secular misunderstandings about confusing annulments with divorces.

But the real question: Can the annulment of an annulment be annulled?

Yes. Declaration of nullity can be appealed all the way up to the Pope, regardless of which way the ruling has previously gone.

Disconcerting, yes… and I used to think the tribunals were at fault.

However, the tribunal must go with the knowledge based on the evidence presented. If a couple WANT the annulment to go through, all they have to do is tell a few convenient lies and find a few sympathetic friends who were there who will support their stories to the tribunal.

Yes, the tribunals may have set a low threshold on what constitutes valid evidence for lack of intent/knowledge required for consent… but at the same time, that was merely opening the door: it was still on the individuals not to capitolize on seeking to have their valid marraiges declared as null (when they were not) and God knows their hearts. In the end, none of us “gets away” with sin and deception.

“There is no such thing as an invalid annulment as claimed by the schismatic SSPX (and/or others) who are not in Communion with the Church. Please! The Vatican has NOT declared sspx to be schismatic - therefore YOU are not free to do so.”

Hi catharina,
Yes you have a point, they are not formally in schism since the lifting of the excommunications, but are materially. They are not in full communion with the

Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei 1988 Pope John Paul II**
3. In itself this act was one of disobedience to the Roman pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the Church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience–which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy–constitutes a schismatic act. [Code of Canon Law, 751.] In performing such an act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Bishops last June 17, Archbishop Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law. [Cf. Code of Canon Law, 1382.]

Here is an extract from a letter that can be found on EWTN:
Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei
b. Thus far the Church has not officially declared what Constitutes “formal adherence to the schism” inaugurated by the late Archbishop Lefebvre (cf. Ecclesia Dei 5, c), but the Code of Canon Law defines schism as “refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him” (canon 751).

d. We reiterate what we stated above: “The Pope is the Supreme legislator in the Church.” Communion with him is a fundamental, non-negotiable hallmark of Catholicism which is not determined by those who set themselves up to judge him, but by the Pope himself (cf. Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium #22-25)."

** In his letter of 10 March 2009 concerning his remission of the excommunication of the four bishops of the Society of St Pius X, Pope Benedict XVI declared: “Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers - even though they have been freed of the ecclesiastical penalty - do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.”**

It is an interesting question, however, as to how these tribunal decisions are being overturned by the Rota at a rate of 80%. Isn’t the Rota looking at the same evidence?

I appreciate the point about the importance of correct grammar and terminology in the interest of preventing misunderstandings about the Church (e.g. saying the sacrifice at Calvary is made present at the Mass, vs. saying Christ is “re-crucified” at the Mass – which is scandalous to Protestants).

So now I can see why asking “can an annulment be annulled?”" is a poor way of wording the question. A better way to ask the question is perhaps, “can an original annulment – a declaration of nullity – be overturned or falsified?” The answer to which, I gather from here, is yes, by means of the appeals process.

I suppose the thing to emphasize, (particularly to the non-Catholics who are under the impression that an annulment is “Catholic divorce”) is that, just like an annulment **is not **the termination of a marriage, but a formal declaration that a couple never actually entered into marriage (per the criteria of what constitutes a valid marriage), similarly, an annulment that is overturned does not mean that the couple suddenly transitioned from “not married to married”, but rather, that a validly married couple was mistakenly deemed to be unmarried: the reality of their marriage was unaffected by the mistake.

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