“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 annulled. 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 Chuch 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?”
I worked with a couple of baptized, non-Catholic adults who were in our RCIA program last year and needed to apply for annulments of prior marriages before they became Catholic. At no time during the process have they expressed what your neighbor has said, ‘why won’t they (the Church) let me (become Catholic)?’ I think this has been the case because they have taken RCIA classes and have learned about the sacraments, including marriage. They now have a greater understanding of how much the Church respects the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. During the classes they asked many questions about marriage and annulments, and the RCIA team and I did our best to answer them.
This is really for her to take up with her local priest(s). I don’t know all of the factors involved or what her faith background is. The main question would be: has she taken the RCIA class at her local parish? If not, I would strongly recommend it. If she has taken the class and still feels excluded, then she needs to sit down with the pastor of this parish and present all of this to him. He should clear up the misunderstandings she appears to have.
My post of August 10 (to which your comment responded), “Understanding annulments”, is hopefully a good starting point to approach your questions in general. Towards the end of the post, there is reference made to the sacraments in regards to Catholics who are in a second marriage. The underlying point is that they need to receive declarations of nullity (annulments) from their first marriage before they can receive the sacraments again, especially the Eucharist. The same point is made for those who are non-Catholics who are in a second marriage: they need to receive declarations of nullity before they can receive the sacraments (of Initiation).
One of the main reasons for this is what Jesus says in Mt 19:9: “whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery”. Every marriage is assumed to be valid (lawful) until it is proven to be invalid (unlawful) which would occur during the annulment process. It is through this process, then, that the Church tries to help people – Catholics and non-Catholics – to avoid living in adultery, to experience healing from wounds of civil divorce, and to be able to receive the grace of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.