by Rev. Mark Connolly

I would like to share some thoughts with you on the subject of annulment, one which needs a great deal of clarification. Everyone knows that a marriage involves hardships as well as joys and beauties. Couples must learn to cope with these hardships. Serious illness and sickness of a mental and emotional kind very often unite a couple, rather than divide them. Everyone knows, too, that a valid marriage in the sight of God and the Church is one in which a spiritual, morally and emotionally mature couple pledges their lives to Christ through the Church. All of this you know. So where does that leave us with the subject of annulment?

First of all, what is an annulment? An annulment in the Catholic Church is a declaration by a competent ecclesiastical tribunal that a marriage in question was invalid from the very beginning; that in fact, there never was a marriage in the true sense of the word. There are many different reasons for annulment, such as immaturity or psychological incapacity and lack of due discretion or of true marital commitment. Any priest who has done work with a marital tribunal knows that this can be one heartbreak case after another. In gathering testimony from various couples you often wonder how they could possibly stay together. Oftentimes, a tribunal is a place for healing badly damaged lives and giving people a second chance.

On the spiritual side of the ledger, how can we allow young people who might be spiritually immature to get married in a Catholic Church? What we have discovered today is that we have a lot of baptized unbelievers. When infants are baptized, because of the lack of education concerning Christ and the church, the lack of proper education of a religious kind, they have no idea of what intimacy with Christ is all about. They really go through the motions, but simply lack faith. Now if you believe that Christ instituted the sacrament of marriage to give grace, and these individuals now know nothing about Christ or about faith, why go through the travesty of marriage?

Another valid reason for annulment is lack of freedom. Today over 60% of married teenage girls were pregnant at the time of marriage. Those girls were lacking the freedom to enter into a marriage covenant or contract. In order to be validly married, one must be totally free. Therefore, because these girls lacked freedom, their marriages are null and void.

One more example is that often during a courtship, a young man and woman will appear as two different people. Now what we are finding in marriages of several years is not just the infidelity that we used to hear so much about, but a tremendous increase in homosexuality. Suppose a wife were to suddenly find out that her husband has latent, repressed homosexual tendencies. Is it right that she be kept, because of her lack of knowledge at the time of the wedding, in a marriage that is long since emotionally dead?

Radical behavioral changes often indicate that certain personality characteristics were being repressed. Have you ever seen the pleasant person at a party gradually become after a few drinks the quarrelsome, boisterous troublemaker? We all know that the alcohol caused him to lose control. His defenses were broken down and the depression factors became more operative. All of us have seen this. Now let's remember the sixties when young men and women were heavily into the drug scene. No one knows the extent of the damage done to them as a result of mind blowing experiences and induced hallucinations and delusions caused by speed, acid and uppers. Now years later these same people are getting married and some of these ugly desires to get high reoccur. Are these marriages valid? That which at one time puts you out of contact with reality often has disastrous side effects later. Sadly, they sometimes do not reoccur until after marriage has taken place.

Today because we are a more informed Church, reasons have to be given that must be honored. People have said that the annulment process is nothing but a rubber stamp policy. I am afraid I would have to disagree. Every annulment is the result of long process of testimony, witnesses and physiological appraisals. It might take a few months to get an annulment, but it does not mean that it is just a rubber stamp. What most Catholics do not seem to realize is that there just as many validly married Protestant couples seeking to have their marriages dispensed by the Church if there are sufficient reasons for an annulment. That also applied to Jewish people. The law of God and Christ that marriage is a love relationship between two people, a symbol of the love that Christ had for his Church summed up in the word "covenant", and that it is a contract with God, made in the house of God, cannot be taken lightly. It can only be annulled by those who have the power of God. The Church has that power.

An annulment, no matter how you look at it, is a cry for help in a marriage that for various reasons went wrong. It does not point the finger of guilt at one party. It is done to heal those who have been wounded by their relationship with each other. It is the Church in our day saying to a couple, "go in peace and may the peace of Christ be always with you through this annulment."

copyright © 2000-2006, Spirituality for Today