Friday, August 10, 2007

Understanding annulments

Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All who wish to adore Jesus is the Eucharist are invited!!
In response to my May 7 post in which I wrote that “marital love (union b/w spouses) is analogous to the Eucharist (union b/w God and man)”, Anon asked, “So what then, if the union has been broken? How are you to ever again begin to think the act is one that is "holy" and "imitates God". What then?” Great question. It’s important that we understand the nature of the marital union based on what Jesus teaches in Mt 19:6: “what God has joined together, no human being must separate”. If a consummated, sacramental marital bond truly occurs, then it can’t be broken. This is what our Lord is saying here, and it’s what the Church – most recently with Pope John Paul II – has reaffirmed.

When married couples seek a permanent separation, the question is, then, did such a bond truly take place? In other words, was it a valid marriage? This is what the Church looks at with regards to the annulment process. Many people think that an annulment is a “Catholic divorce”; it is not. As excerpts from the following online article ( reveal, a declaration of nullity states that a valid sacramental bond of marriage never occurred in the first place. To view the full article, please click on the title of this post. One of the most significant points about the annulment process for all those who are unfortunately involved is made on the last line of this post: “it’s a great healing”.

“…Misunderstanding is due partly to the word annulment. The precise term is "declaration of nullity." A declaration of nullity is a judgment by the Church that what seemed to be a marriage never was in fact a true marriage. An annulment is not a divorce for it does not dissolve an existing marriage. A declaration of nullity is granted when it can be shown that some essential or juridical defect made a particular marriage invalid from the beginning despite outward appearance, despite even the good faith of the partners or the establishment of a family. It should be underscored that an annulment does not affect the legitimacy of the children of such a marriage.

Certain factors have brought about the considerable increase in Church annulments over the past decade. First and foremost, the Second Vatican Council fostered development in the theology of marriage by restoring the interpersonal relationship of the spouses as an essential component of marriage.

Secondly, advances in psychology have provided a deeper understanding of the complexity of both human decision-making and interpersonal relationships. Thus the Church has new insights for appraising a marriage. Marriage, after all, is the most important decision most people make, and marriage is the most intimate of adult relationships…

… marriage is effected by consent, freely and knowingly saying "yes" to all that marriage involves. Therefore, in considering a particular marriage, this "yes" is the key issue. Its validity may be considered in the context of two basic questions about consent.

First, when they said their vows, did both partners freely accept and clearly understand the lifelong commitment they were making? And secondly, at that time, did both partners have the personal capacity to carry out consent, to form a community of life with the chosen partner? …

…Many persons do remark how wrenching it was for them to recall and sort out painful memories. But they also find that it helped them to discover some meaning in the tragedy of a broken marriage. They appreciate their new insights about themselves and deepen their sense of values. This process can foster psychological and spiritual growth…

…A woman, forced into divorce to protect the welfare of her children, obtained an annulment and remarked that now she felt peace because she had "at least a piece of paper in my hand to prove to myself once and for all that I did try, that a marriage existed on paper only, that I did not fail in my duties as a Catholic, that the Church does understand..."

But the greatest benefit of the pain for many who have established a happy and stable second marriage is their return to the sacraments, the sometimes tearfully joyful reception once more of the Lord in the Eucharist, and the renewal of religious practice as a family celebration.
An elderly priest, after taking part in an annulment hearing, put it simply and poignantly:’It's a great healing.’"


At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned to me a while back that, "with FG, everything leads back to the Eucharist." I wouldn't have put together the Eucharist and marriage, but then, maybe I should think a bit more about what in the center of my life is. FG's center is quite evident.

At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if one spouse did not intend to honor the vow of fidelity? What if a spouse fully understood what he was commiting himself to, but specific behavior existed before the marriage and continued after the marriage was consummated. I know one can’t say for certain what is in anyone else’s heart, but actions can clearly demonstrate intent.

I know marriage isn’t considered invalid if a spouse doesn't intend to cheat but then does, but let’s be real- how many “say” they aren’t going to fall back into many different patterns but do so because they take no different steps? I’m not sure if I’m clearly saying what I’m trying to, so an example-

If you have poor eating habits and have gained weight as a result, and you say, “I’m going to loose weight,” but then you do nothing to educate yourself about proper nutrition and weight loss. You keep going to the grocery store and loading your cart up with cookies, chips and ice cream. Where is the intent evidenced? Words alone mean nothing when no action is taken and/or changes are made.

Maybe my broader question is “what constitutes intent?” If one merely “says” they “intend” to honor their vows, but makes no changes in his/her life, in my opinion, those words have no merit and (at least to me personally- the church aside) would “nullify” the union. (FG- this question is important to me, and I’d really like this one answered)

Also, I’m confused- the annulment hearing was a great healing, or the fact that an invalid marriage is nullified is the great healing? For what happens when one spouse wants to seek an annulment but the other (for any number of reasons) doesn’t? When a marriage fails, bad feeling are common, doesn't this hearing process would require a measure of cooperation between potentially “warring” parties. What happens then?

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Daisy said...

A priest told me that you get married once, and you make it work. I like his stern statement because it forces people to realize that marriage is not a game, which our culture wants us to think. Marriage is for real and needs to be taken seriously because there isn't any going back. Even if people don't like hearing "harsh" statements on important issues like this one, it needs to be said and may be the only effective way of distinguishing between the truth and our culture's excessive garbage.

At 5:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to work with a girl who married, divorced but remained close with her ex-husband. They'd meet for dinner, go to happy hour together, and talked on the phone all the time. I assumed that they were reconciling and commented on it. She corrected me and explained that her ex was still her best friend, but after 4 years of marriage, she stopped having that "weak in the knees" feeling about him. I was younger then, but I remember thinking she seemed incredibly immature in her thinking. I was also probably a bit immature in my thinking then too, eventhough I had a different outlook. I thought that it was never too late to decide to be happy in your relationship. If you look for the good, surely you will find it. Sadly, reality is a bit different from my way of thinking then. Good relationships require a lot, and sometimes, sadly, some problems are insurmountable and one cannot simply "happy" their through things.

Making the best of it can be a harsh reality, for sometimes the “best” is not very good. I believe God wants us to be happy and healthy. I don’t believe He has an attitude that would say, “Well, you’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”

As much as I appreciate one speaking to the sanctity of the sacrament, if a priest told me that I’d better “make the best of it” (my marriage), I’d be offended by the simplicity of his thinking. However, I do agree that marriage is one of the things that fits with the other post about the disposable nature of our culture. As a society, we easily dispose of our marriages.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger fran said...

I found the question posed ealrlier, as to "what constitutes intent," very intriguing. Here is my perspective -

If intent to make changes in one's lifestyle is not supported by the firm desire to act on that intent, is it really and truly intent? Seems to me that a stong will and firm purpose to make changes is essential if you really want to call it intent. Otherwise it is nothing more than wishful thinking at best.

I am reminded of the phrase, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, when it comes to defining intent. If the spirit AND the flesh are not in sync with one another, then one's intention is all well and good in theory, but can hardly become reality if not driven by the desire to make lasting changes.

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

One of my aunties left her alcoholic, abusive husband, taking her three children with her, when I was a baby. This was in the late 50s, and she was able to survive thanks to the generosity of one of her single brothers who was happy to take the family in.
Some time later she married again and had another child. She has been married to her second husband since the 60s and they have grown old together.
She has never tried to find out anything about an annulment, and apart from when she buried one of her daughters who died of cancer, she has had little to do since with the Church.
There are times when marriage is ended too lightly, but when a woman and her children are in abusive situations as she was, the way to "make the best of it" may well be to leave the marriage behind. Sadly, there are many like my aunty, who have then found themselves outside of the Church, and the way back seems way too difficult.

At 6:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do what it takes to make the marriage work. to many people are throwing away their vows and committments to each other. God has made this union between the two of you for a greater purpose.

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love is work; the opposite of love is laziness. The state of being IN LOVE, on average lasts for about 18 months. Many couples meet and marry during that time-then one day they wake up and realize they are married to an ordinary person. This is precisely when true love should begin.

Whether you are in the midst of a horrible marriage and wondering if you should stay in it, considering or going through the annulment process, it all requires work. The work is hard and takes great effort, perseverence. The work requires each spouse to sweep their side of the street. Ultimately, whether you are the one who commited adultery or not, you must sweep your side of the street in order to find God's will.

At 9:46 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

Today's (Saturday) gospel reading almost made me laugh out loud, for this was part-

"Lord, have pity on my son, who is a lunatic and suffers severely;
often he falls into fire, and often into water."

I won't even touch the "lunatic" part...but in the past few weeks, we have had a major flood and then, last night, had a fire in our home. The main reason I'm sharing this was the wise advice of a seasoned (and extremely kind) fireman- "Never go to sleep or leave your home with your dishwasher and/or drying running." It was something I often did but will never do again!

Fortunately, although we're a little smokey and our kitchen needs some work (it matches the state of our flooded lower level now), no one was hurt. Both incidents have created some chaos, but it could have been so much worse. So, if my faith were being tested, I can honestly say- not a dent. I have six healthy children who think it's so cool that we will be doing quite a bit of eating out. We've also pitched a tent in our lower level (right now-a sort of "construction zone") aad they are loving that too. God gave me some lemons, so we're having picnics (and I don't have to cook for a few weeks- yipee!) and "camping out"! Thank you, God!

At 12:27 PM, Blogger fran said...

While still living at home, before being married, situtations would arise that would cause me to think or say "it isn't fair." My mother would respond with, "well, life isn't fair." I didn't like the sound of that phrase very much then, but she was right. Life is not fair. It is difficult, it throws you curveballs, it puts difficult people in your path, and it is constantly fraught with challenges and struggles.

I have learned and have come to appreciate, and actually anticipate, the good that is certain to come following one of life's hardships. Now, the good that follows the bad has rarely presented itself on my own terms. In some instances I have had to wait years for what I had hoped and prayed. Sometimes the answer has been "no." Am I any less grateful? I suppose I could be, but I am not. I focus on what I do have, rather than what I do not. and I thank God every day.

Regardless of our own personal struggles, we can and should see God in all of it and remain firm in our faith during both the good and the bad. I think today's post on St. Clare, phrases it nicely:

"...we can be committed faithful follwers of Francis and of Jesus, while doing it in our own unique way and accord with our circumstances in life."

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

"I didn't like the sound of that phrase very much then, but she was right. Life is not fair."

How true- life isn't fair, but I do believe it is balanced, and I try to keep my focus on that.

One of my closest friends has tremendous attention to detail. God gifted her with a great deal of self-dsicipline. I, on the other hand, am not the most disciplined person, but God gifted me with creativity. I look at the big picture and say, "Woo-hoo, let's go!" She looks at the fine details and says, "Wait a minute, let's think this through." Together, we are an awesome force. I think our lives all relate to each others' like pieces of a puzzle- we each have our own distinct shape and proper place. Maybe the "shape" of our lives is filled with things we don't want or think we need, and we think some things unfair. But I trust that God has actually designed me to be exactly as I am- warts and all. Each experience and encounter (even with those I'd prefer NOT to encounter) adds another dimension to my shape, and it would do me good to remind myself of that more often, for I can get caught up in "why is this happening to me?"- big time!

At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A neighbor has asked, "although I want with all my heart to be closer to Jesus by becoming a member of the Catholic Church, why won't they let me?" The neighbor, a non-Catholic, had previously been married, as did her current, second husband. She now wishes to join the Catholic faith, but has been told that she cannot until both her and her husband's previous marriages are annuled. I follow the argument that annulment does not "dissolve the marriage" (important since there is a child from one of the previous marriages), but can make it "invalid." In the case of annulment, the focus is on the non-validity of the marriage, not the individual. The individual remains valued yet the marriage does not. However, when the Catholic Churh refuses to embrace a willing and committed individual into the Church without an annulment of a distant prior marriage, it seems as if the Church is making a value judgment of the individual, not the marriage. The Church encourages contrition and forgiveness, but it seems to penalize the recently enlightened and give the appearance of being exclusive rather than inclusive. It would seem appropriate to welcome the individual into the Catholic faith regardless of past deeds. The Church may choose to not recognize the current marriage until an annulment is obtained, but that should not prevent a committed individual from becoming a Catholic. Has she misunderstood the Church's (a local priest) response?

At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"However, when the Catholic Churh refuses to embrace a willing and committed individual into the Church without an annulment of a distant prior marriage, it seems as if the Church is making a value judgment of the individual, not the marriage."
Hi, Last Anon, wow you have been given a great chance to witness for Christ in the Eucharist. The Catholic Church is already embracing or inviting these committed neighbors by offering the beautiful gift of the annulment process. They are inviting them to start a healing process. The Church, as mandated by scripture, MUST protect Christ in the Eucharist. This means advising/informing people that they must discern if there is mortal sin on their souls. To receive His body and blood while in a state of mortal sin is (as noted in the scriptures), a very deadly sin. Father Greg talks about this in his Sunday homily.

The Church is not standing in judgement of your divorced neighbors. The Church is inviting them into a discernment process (annulment) which will hopefully lead them to Christ's fullness in all of the sacraments.

On a personal note, I have a teenage child who refuses reconciliation. She is in a state of mortal sin but does not believe that she needs to ask a priest for forgiveness. Guess what? She also can not receive Christ in the Eucharist. She is turning down Christ's invitation to Reconciliation, and now she also knows that she can not receive Him in the Eucharist.


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