40 Myths About the Catholic Church–“Annulments”

“The Church makes such a big deal about marriage, but anyone with enough money can buy an annulment.”

This statement contains two basic errors.  First, let’s start with a fact.  The Church does not have the authority to “cancel” a marriage.  Technically there’s no such thing as an annulment.  That’s why I put the word in quotes in the title.  When the deacon or priest says that what God has joined, man cannot separate, we mean what we say.  Marriage is until death do us part.  What the Church can and does do is issue a declaration of nullity.  What it means is that the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place.  It’s more than just a matter of semantics.  There’s a BIG difference.

Before we go any further, let’s make a distinction between civil marriage and sacramental marriage.  They aren’t one and the same though they’re usually performed at the same time.  The civil marriage is a contract.  It gives the parties rights and privileges as defined by law.  (Insurance, joint-ownership of property, etc.)

A sacramental marriage was created by God.  It is a sacrament.  It is permanent.  It makes a material change in the couple.  “The two become one.”  Whether a sacramental marriage is valid or not, any children of the marriage are legitimate.  Having a marriage declared null has no bearing on the kids.  That’s covered under the civil marriage laws.

What does it take to make a valid marriage?  Three things:

  • Capacity
  • Consent
  • Form

This isn’t a technical treatise.  You can find the nuts and bolts elsewhere.  But, it’s not hard to see that if one or both parties doesn’t have the capacity to enter into a lifelong agreement, it can’t be a valid marriage.  For example, an alcoholic isn’t the best candidate for matrimony.  Someone suffering from a mental illness, depending on its severity, might not have the necessary capacity.   I always remind the happy couple that if I detect that they’ve been drinking on the way to church, there will be no marriage that day.

Consent means just what it says.  Both parties have to be willing, of their own free will, to enter into the sacrament.  If Dad’s pointing a shotgun at the potential groom’s head, we may not have valid consent.  There are other more subtle cases where consent might not be freely given.

Finally, there’s form.  This is usually a simple one.  If a baptized Catholic is married in a non-Catholic church without the proper permissions, that’s a defect of form.  If the person performing the ceremony failed to do the proper paperwork, or if it’s a Catholic wedding and the deacon or priest failed to get the proper permissions and dispensations, that’s a defect of form.

If any of the three components of a valid, sacramental marriage is missing, the Church may give a declaration of nullity.  Notice I said “may”, not “will”.  There is a process that must be gone through and sometimes it can be lengthy and complicated.  Every request isn’t granted.  No matter how miserable you may be now, if your marriage was valid then it’s valid now.  No do-overs!  What now?  Am I stuck?  No.  The first thing to consider is counseling.  If all three elements were present on the day of the wedding, there’s no reason to think that the marriage can’t be saved.

iOne thing that people often misunderstand is that it’s not a sin to get a civil divorce.  Divorced Catholics are in full communion with the Church.  It’s when one decides to get married again that we get into difficulties.  What God has joined together, no man may separate.

Now, about the cost.  Yes, a declaration of nullity costs money.  A “defect of form” case costs less than a full-blown investigation.  Somebody has to pay for all that paperwork.  On the other hand, no one may be turned away because they can’t afford the fee.  After all, the Church is all about charity.

But what about rich people like the Kennedys or Frank Sinatra?  I repeat, you can’t buy a declaration of nullity.  That’s what the Church teaches.  Has any individual Bishop ever accepted a “donation” from a rich person and put a little pressure on the marriage tribunal?  I don’t know.  But we’re all human and I suppose anything’s possible.  But look at Henry VIII.  He had boatloads of money and power.  He went straight to Pope Clement VII to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon declared null so he could marry Anne Boleyn in the hopes of having a male child.  The Pope refused and Henry started his own church.  The rest is history.

To sum it up, the Church can’t void a marriage.  She can declare that the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place.  There is a small cost for the process but paying extra won’t help you get a valid marriage declared null.  Personally, I have no intention of ever getting personally involved in the process, but I do know some of the men on the local tribunal.  I have no doubt that they are sincere and dedicated.  I’m sure that if you tried to bribe them, their reaction would be swift and not pretty.

  • Faith (complicatedkate.com)

3 Responses

  1. Bad example using Henry and Catherine, the Pope couldn’t grant Henry a divorce and risk the wrath of Ferdinand.

  2. Naive or worse.

    Encouragement of divorce is disgusting! If the person who wrote this is a Deacon, he should be chastized in public. Sadly, there are so few good priests with the guts to do it, fewer bishops and no Pope in generations worth a darn.

  3. Just curious? Before I’m publicly chastised, exactly how did I encourage divorce? And what is it that priests don’t have the guts to do?

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