Frivolous ​Annulments

Posted on April 19, 2012 by


There’s an epidemic in the U.S., destroying marriage. At first glance I’m sure you’re all going to assume I am talking about “gay marriage,” but sadly I am not. This epidemic is taking place right under the very nose of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.

Too often marriages fail because of feelings and because one person or both parties involved feel they were not truly married due to their problems. Let me be kindly frank here– marriage can be challenging at times with no reward to you and there are times where you wonder what you are doing. If we continue upon this line of reasoning eventually we will ask why be in a marriage that makes you unhappy? Is marriage about happiness?

Marriage is about holiness. Through this holiness a man and a woman demonstrate to others just a snapshot of God’s love for us on earth. In marriage if you are blessed, a couple gets to bring forth new life as part of God’s holy plan. If we decide that marriage and family is about happiness, we take a superficial human feeling and attempt to apply it to God’s creation. Why sully holiness? Yet this very thing is happening at our doorstep, through annulments within the Catholic Church.

It took me a long time to understand what exactly was going on with annulments. I understood annulments to be something which was supposed to be quite rare and only due to extraordinary or difficult circumstances. Before I was Christian, I understood that Catholics overall did not believe in or agree with divorce. I remember growing up going to school with classmates who had Catholic relatives. When they shared with me how some of them did not have good marriages, the couple was often separated but not divorced and neither person had plans to divorce or remarry. This was back in the early ’90’s, and I daresay times have changed.

In the Catholic Church, annulments are granted when one or both people could not give their full consent to the marriage. In other words, if there was a “defect” involved, the sacrament could not take place and therefore the couple was never truly married, even though a ceremony took place along with consummation of the marriage. One instance of this is if one person was previously married, remarried because they believed their spouse was deceased and then found out their spouse was still alive. The living spouse would render the current marriage to be invalid, since the previous marriage is still intact. Like I said before, annulments are supposed to be rare. But in the U.S., they are far from rare.

According to an article I found on Catholic Insight, the U.S. RCC grants 78% of the world’s annulments, even though only 6% of Catholics reside within the U.S. It’s startling to think about how easy it is to get a Catholic version of a divorce when the Church is supposed to oppose the destruction of marriage. I could ask why the Church is allowing for these things to happen, but I already know the answer.

The Church is simply pandering to the whims of people who, for whatever reason, don’t agree with Her on various moral issues. Many of these people don’t believe the rules apply to them but really they aren’t “rules.” Marriage isn’t a “rule”; marriage is a sanctified union expressing holiness between a man and a woman. However, if you think your circumstance was special enough the rules don’t apply to you and therefore, you should be able to receive your annulment. If people know the Church will grant them an annulment if they know how to bend the system enough, they’ll go after what they want just as easily. Those who want annulments will know all they have to do is obtain a civil divorce first before obtaining an annulment.

Often a reason for a divorce is because a spouse has a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or a personality disorder. The same can be said for a disability, such as Asperger’s Disorder. Mental illnesses are indeed stressful on the other spouse and without treatment or other intervention, the marriage can suffer. Most of the time it is the other spouse doing all of the work to keep the marriage together, but it does not provide a worthy enough excuse to end a marriage. Leaving a marriage when there is a physical or mental illness is the abandonment of someone for the sake of  convenience and comfort. The only mental illnesses that are suppose to be valid for annulment’s sake are those which existed at the time of the wedding and resulted in the afflicted spouse being unable to give full consent to the marriage. In no way am I saying mental illnesses should not be taken seriously, because they should. Nor am I saying people with mental illnesses cannot at times be abusive or even downright dangerous and in those cases appropriate caution should be exercised. But the majority of people deal with a spouse who is able to get treatment if needed and eventually manage their illness without posing any danger.

We live in a day and age where the quality of marriages are given way to feelings. If we don’t always feel happy, there has to be something wrong with our spouse. If we aren’t getting what we want, it’s because of our spouse. We fail to look at ourselves. The Pope has talked about serenity and self-examination:

3. To a disciple who was forever complaining about others the Master said, “If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers, than to carpet the whole of the earth.”

There is an old saying, “If I get better, others get better too.” The reform and transformation of the whole world begins with me. There is great serenity to be found in staying in our own lane and working our own issues.

Much anger is abated in a marriage when an aggrieved spouse says within, “My marriage is not perfect because I am in it.” Perfect marriages, perfect churches, perfect families, perfect workplaces do not exist because there are no perfect people to populate them. And the imperfection begins with me. There is serenity in realizing and accepting this.

Unrealistic expectations (e.g. that others should be perfect) are premeditated resentments. And resentments rob us of serenity.

It is true that we must engage in properly ordered fraternal correction. But fraternal correction has little impact without humility and the serenity that defuses the difficultly of the moment correction is administered.

Abandoning a spouse due to a mental illness is no different than leaving your spouse because they have cancer. A spouse with cancer will entail a lot of hardship, pain, and suffering. Yet, a spouse who abandons their husband or wife for having cancer will be seen as cruel and unloving.

A Catholic friend of mine went to confession and talked briefly about her marriage. Her husband is contracepting, while she is not. The priest suggested to her that she could obtain an annulment because her husband is forcing her to be in a sterile marriage. I believe she told me her mouth hung open and she stared like a cow in disbelief. What I thought was, why would a priest even SAY that? It is cruel for a priest to say that as many Catholic married couples have children and the mere presence of children is proof of two people becoming one flesh in a marriage. By this line of thinking, if a priest believed my friend should obtain an annulment because she was in a marriage where her husband was not “open to life,” then all other Catholic couples who are married to a contracepting spouse should get annulments, too! My friends, this opens up a slippery slope.

Contraceptive use is not allowed in the Church and is considered a mortal sin or grave matter, of course. Many husbands may decide they do not agree with the Church on this issue but does that warrant an annulment and the possible destruction of a family? Imagine all the husbands who came back to faith and were in full communion because of the faith of their wives to continue in their marriages and pray for their husbands? In scripture God said to us, “Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?” God knew these situations would occur long before annulments, and we are admonished to think about the role of our actions in saving our marriages. When a Catholic is asked if they will be open to life at the marriage ceremony, they are agreeing to a promise to be open to life. Unfortunately, people break their promises all the time but in the end a spouse must do what they need to in order to help the marriage stay on the path to holiness.

Annulments are also granted when after a divorce, the ex-wife or ex-husband decides they want to remarry in the Church. This requires the previous spouse to basically consent to giving their side of the story and being involved in the process. In a way, this process is forcing the previous spouse to show how their marriage was invalid. Now, unless one or both people were wed at gun-point, drunk, or coerced in some other way, how can this be proven? When Sheila Kennedy was divorced from Joseph Kennedy, he later filed for an annulment and it was granted. She believed their marriage had indeed been valid and what is worse about their situation is she was a Protestant appealing to the Vatican about why their marriage had been valid. You know it’s been a bad day when a Protestant has to appeal for the validity of a marriage within the Catholic Church. Cafeteria Catholics, abound.

The reasons behind annulments within the U.S. are often not valid to obtain an annulment but the Church is often too preoccupied with pandering to the feelings of dissenting members. The fears that these people will leave the Church are often what lingers and therefore, the rules are bent to appease those who would rather have it their way. It’s very easy to take pity on those who give the sob story about how they are the only ones putting in the majority of the work in their marriage, and how their particular circumstance is so difficult. I said before, marriage can be very difficult and can entail suffering. This makes me wonder, should St. Monica have received an annulment because her husband Patritius had a violent temper and they were not equally yoked until almost his death? I suppose St. Rita should have had an annulment too, because of the abuse she endured yet she was able to bring her husband to faith, too.

I speak tongue-in-cheek here but my point still stands. It’s time to start taking “What God has joined together, let no man separate” seriously, so we stop being the laughingstock of the Catholic Church.