Rorate Caeli

Annulments vs. the Vatican, continued

Looking at data on Catholic marriage and divorce, it often seems the last person to have his annulment petition denied was Henry VIII.  Major dioceses grant annulments to around 97 percent of those who divorce and ask for their marriages to be declared invalid.  That may be changing, according to reporting by John Allen on a recent conference in Rome:

‘Loose canon’ on annulments may get tighter


Doc said...

The abuse of annulments in our time is analgous (although probably more widespread) to the abuse of indulgences before Leo X's constitution and the reforms of the Council of Trent.

Instead of buying your way into heaven, you can buy your way out of marriage.

Anil Wang said...

Something definitely needs to be done on this. Poll after poll have shown that Catholics divorce at nearly the same rate as Protestants. Not only is tragic, it is also a black mark on the Church and discredits to outsiders that Catholic claim that marriage is sacred.

stcatherineofsiena said...

It is a problem for the Church to speak against divorce when so many Catholics are allowed to get divorce and remarry. Plus, I think the reason anulments is down is because many Catholics have not gone through the process instead they have just divorce and remarry on civil courts and still going to Church and receiving Eucharist. In other instances, I know of many Catholics who never married in the Church and they are just civilly and still go to Mass and receives Eucharist. There are another groups of Catholics who are marrying divorced people and seem not to be aware of the Church's teachings on marriage.

Picard said...

It´s a REAL, BIG problem that you get nowdays very easily a "catholic-divorce", i.e. an annulment - in cases were the marriage is evidently not invalid. It is a great unjustice not only re GOD but also re the part that does not want to be "divorced" in such a case.

It is a problem the SSPX always put her finger and therefore established their own annulment-courts.

As I first heard of that I was (like others) reversed (an frightened, that that could be a real schismatic attitude). But when I got more facts and had time to reconsider it, it became more clear, that the problem is not the SSPX and their attitude but the official annulment-courts and their "get-a-catholic-divorce"-mentality.

This is one problem that must be solved - like other, f.e the "for all - for many", the new "offertory"-prayers, hand-Communion etc.

Ann said...

Annulments are not THE problem but rather a symptom of the problem. Cracking down isn't going to keep marriages together. Marriage prep is abysmal, but the core problem is that people are not really raised in the Faith to the degree that it is lived in their every day lives. Add in today's societal norms and you have an uphill battle. Like in medicine, if you want to cure the disease you must treat the cause. Start young, educate people in the Faith, how to pick good partners and then weed out the bad unions BEFORE the marriage. Afterwards it's a foregone conclusion.

Ann said...

**To be sure, the number of annulments being granted each year in the United States is in decline. From peak of almost 64,000 in 1991, the number fell to 35,000 in 2007**

That means people don't care anymore and that is a huge problem. You have to get them back, not drive them further away.

Picard said...

Must be "reserved" in my last comment, of course... And some other typos... (it´s late and time to go sleeping!)

David L Alexander said...

According to the statistics, the overwhelming majority of petitions for a declaration of nullity in the USA are granted a favorable decision. In other words, their marriages are declared null and void. This development by itself seems like a big deal, to the point of scandal. And it very well might be, were this to be the whole picture.

It is not.

First, you have to consider that roughly five out of six divorced Catholics who remarry, do so outside the Church. So it doesn't sound like they'll be adding much to the paperwork anytime soon. Then you must take into account, should it appear evident that a petitioner will not be granted a favorable decision, that the common practice is to discourage him or her from going forward with their petition. So that's an undetermined number of marriages whose validity is upheld, before they even enter the system. What you are left with, then, are the ones that do get through the system.

It would be interesting to hear from any number of parish priests and canonists on this subject -- you know, people who actually know what they're talking about, as opposed to those of us in the peanut gallery who read so much we just think we do.

So then, the question of "too many" is answered one way or the other, without all the variables -- one more good reason to look elsewhere, to the beginning of the process, and not the end. Some would call it the "root," don't you think?

Or don't you?

vatvince37 said...

Mr. Alexander's conclusion that that decrees of nullity are not of major importance flies in the face of factual data going back to at least 1998, and described in Robert Vasoli's book, What God Has Joined Together. Vasoli, then a Sociology Professor at Notre Dame, was asked by his wife for an annulment after 16 years of marriage and one child, wrote that the American Church, represented 6% of Catholics worldwide, but were granted 75% of the requests for nullity. He insisted that "The American Catholic Church suffers a runaway tribunal system, bent on making annulment as easy and painless as possible." Vasoli also points to certain U.S. diocese as "annulment mills," in which the party resisting the annulment are often misinformed as to their legal rights under canon law.
Finally, Mr. Alexander's conclusion that most of these people who receive an annulment decree marry outside of the Church is of little solace to those whose lives have been altered in extremis by a system that is in terrible need of repair.

Gravitas said...

David, what in the world does them remarrying have to do with this? Isn't the fact that most of these annulments even take place the scandal?

Is there a reason you, as I'm guessing a traditional Catholic, are trying to muddy the waters on this topic?

Brian said...

as divorce has become more common, there’s often a powerful pastoral drive to find grounds for an annulment, given that a Catholic whose marriage breaks up can’t get remarried in the church without one, and if they remarry under civil law, they’re excluded from the sacraments.

Exclusion from the sacraments is not the only option. The re-married couple can separate or, if there are children involved, can choose to live as brother and sister.

Kosta 63 said...

Alas, and to think...
one of the last archbishops of the ArchDiocese of 'Destroy-it' (Detroit) once proudly boasted how we lead the church in annulments...

'nuf said

Athelstane said...

Hello David,

Those are excellent points. Quite a lot of cases never make it to adjudication. Annulments have been handed out too frequently and too easily in too many tribunals; but the raw numbers may be overstating the severity of the problem.

At any rate, tribunals already have been taking a harder line in recent years, thanks to proddings from Rome; the appellate process has been strengthened. And we should all be glad that this trend appears likely to be strengthened now.

This will mean that even more people will not bother with pursuing the annulment, and will simply get remarried outside the Church. But that process is already well advanced, as evidenced in the general collapse in the sacrament marriage in most dioceses. In the last 20 years, marriages celebrated in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, for example, have dropped by half. In Providence, the number of marriages in the Church has been dropping by about ten percent every year.

Those are sobering figures. But we may take some solace in knowing that if far fewer sacramental marriages will be taking place in the future, they'll be likely much more durable and genuinely Catholic ones, and thus in less need of annulment in the first place.

David L Alexander said...

"Mr. Alexander's conclusion that that decrees of nullity are not of major importance ..."

I said no such thing, and drew no such conclusion. If you want to avoid "muddying the waters," deal with what I said (that something is not the whole picture), not what you think I meant (that something therefore is not important). Geez!

Gravitas et al:

I take no solace in the number of broken marriages, speaking as a party of one (against my will, FWIW).

People jump to conclusions based on what they see, without the benefit of what they don't see. Can anything be considered "automatic," for example, regardless of the outcome, if it takes six to eighteen months? Is anyone aware that Pope Benedict has also complained about the process taking too long in some parts of Europe (eight or nine years)?

I pray that none of you ever have any actual experience with the process, but rest assured that a petition for declaration of nullity is neither entered into lightly, nor is it some kind of "get out of jail free" card. If there is a "war" against the family, there are going to be casualties, as the consequences of our choices in life stay with us.

RedGoat said...

A few facts:

1.) Married couples seek for an annulment only when things go sour.

2.)The annulment means that they were never validly married in the first place even before things went sour.

This being the case it means when the couple who seeks an annulment were perfectly happily "married" they were not. Given the high number of CURRENT annulments it stands to reason that there are an extraordinarily high number of happily "married" couples out there right now walking hand in hand in a nice green park with their happy children - who are not validly married at all and who are potential annulment seekers. Remember that a marriage does not cease to become valid after a certain point - it was either valid from the beginning or it was not. Now that's a scary situation: you might think you're currently married to your wife right now but you're not! And that is a legitimate take on the implications of this annulment fiasco.

It seems to me one or the other has to be true - it's not likely that both could be:

A)There is a good portion of Catholics out there going about their daily lives thinking they're validly married yet they are not due to some defect. This would represent a catostrophic crisis in the Church.


B)Annulments are given indiscriminately which is a scandalously catastrophic crisis in the Church.

I would think (B) but either way it's not good.

Kenneth J. Wolfe said...

Excellent comments, RedGoat.

I wonder if there are any priest-readers who care to share thoughts on how it feels to witness a sacrament that, when challenged, has a three percent chance of being declared valid.

This is a very serious problem indeed. The only good news is very few annulments affect traditional Latin Mass (post Vatican II) brides and grooms. There are a handful, but barely an asterisk when measured against the hundreds or thousands of nuptials using the 1962 books since the indult and motu proprio. Perhaps the pre-Cana instruction connected to these traditional weddings is a model for the rest of the Church?

Fr Martin Fox said...


I witness baptisms where families say they will take responsibility for teaching the I have cause to wonder about how that will work out?

Same with confirmation; same with first communion; same with couples exchanging vows.

I doubt human nature has changed all that much since our Lord came to earth. And then we have the sad spectacle of God's People in the Exodus, seeing wonders, believing for a short time, only to say, "So what have you done for us lately?"

So sure, there's a mess here, and no doubt there are recent trends, social and theological, that contribute.

Now, as to marriage per se. Something sure is wrong, no question. I often wonder if we have a lot of physically mature kids in our society. When we ask, "what's different," one thing is that no society has ever known our level of ease, entitlement and death-avoidance.

So as far as what a priest does...we do what we can.

Speaking broadly as a pastor--in reference to everything in parish life--I can tell you lots of folks have lots of ideas on how things could easily be better; whether it's getting more volunteers, or improving Mass attendance, paying our bills, or getting people to be better Christians. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent taking these "obviously good ideas" and thinking them through...ah, that's where you get into the brambles, and that's why they don't happen.

There's a principle here that needs to be articulated and named, but I can't quite get at it at the moment. Give it a go if you like!

Kenneth J. Wolfe said...

Thank you, Father Fox.

Though, I don't see the link with respect to the other sacraments you named. They were (presumably) valid.

We are not talking about how someone lives his life after receiving valid sacraments. This is about the fact that nearly all Catholic (novus ordo) marriages, when challenged, are deemed to be invalid.

That cannot be compared to someone receiving a valid baptism or confirmation and then squandering those graces later in life. The comparison would be 97 percent of those sacraments, when challenged, judged as invalid.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Fair enough, but my point was simply that God's People are a mess, and always have been.

Now, as to the question of a potentially defective marriage, and the implications of that...

I admit it's been awhile since I studied this, and it's not my as the saying goes, this is worth every penny you pay for it! Seriously, however, if someone wants a more precise answer, there are places where these things are addressed.

But here's a quick-and-dirty answer.

Some defects are fundamental: if two people attempt marriage yet they have an impediment that couldn't be healed, then there it is; it cannot be fixed. They have an invalid sacramental marriage.

Some defects pertain to consent only; and if memory serves, the teaching is that these can be healed on their own. I.e., a couple give rash (and potentially invalid) consent on their wedding day, but they observe the form in good faith, they consummate their marriage, and somewhere along the line (maybe day 2, maybe day 200, who knows?) their consent matures and what was incomplete at first is healed.

The argument would be that if a couple enacts a defective consent on their wedding day, it also may be that they never heal it; and these are the cases legitimately judged nullities, and so declared by Church tribunals.

Obviously there is room to wonder if the canon in question is applied just right. But you didn't ask me about that, so I'll move on.

Do I ever wonder if the marriages I witness are invalid? Of course. But I am not privileged with either the requisite knowledge or authority to make those judgments. The Church does not give the sacrament to me, to dispense on my judgment. Rather (speaking generally), the Church says that the faithful may seek them, and unless there is sufficient reason to bar them, they are not barred.

In the case of marriage, my duty is to inquire as best I can about whether they have a sufficient understanding and seem to have free and actual consent. I generally write in the papers I file, "the couple seems to have a sufficient understanding, and appears to have no impediments"--key words being "seem" and "appear." What more is there? I'm not washing my hands of it; but in the end, the responsibility is theirs. And that is a point I try very hard to impress on couples when preparing them for marriage.

Bai Macfarlane said...

I propose that married Catholics are not instructed to follow our own Church’s teaching in regard to divorce. In the dioceses in the United State, has the Holy See or the Apostolic Signatura issued a prorogation of any bishop's faculties so they are dispensed from the procedural obligations of canon 1692? Please John or Kenneth, look more carefully at canon 1692’s requirement for bishops involvement before any Catholic can file for divorce.

At least the scandal of no-fault divorce and malicious abandonment could be prevented amongst Catholics, if the Church responded to children and reliable spouses who don’t want divorce. Some number of families could be saved if their bishop simply asked people to follow canon law and the Church’s teaching. Bishops could point dissatisfied spouses to experts with experience helping couples, rather than being a silent bystander every time someone files for divorce.

Fr. W. M. Gardner said...

Bai Macfarlane,
I think you make an excellent point. It is not only remarriage that denigrates the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, but also the permanent separation and willful deprivation of the marriage debt that are implied by divorce.
Indeed, could we not say that divorce is analogous to abortion? It is the destruction of a living, and vulnerable, entity; namely, a presumably valid sacramental marriage.
But let no man separate what God has joined!

merdy said...

"Red Goat"-'s comment has "John Wayne appeal"! Don't we all like clear-cut choices?

Yet, life has many shades of gray, as we all experience it--even sometimes at its choicest moments--like when we exchange marital vows.

R.G. writes: "Now that's a scary situation: you might think you're currently married to your wife right now but you're not! And that is a legitimate take on the implications of this annulment fiasco."

Rather than force an "either/or" human logic solution, as R.G. does, I see help in canon law. Canon 1101.1 says the words mean what they state (when exchanging vows). I'm sure there are folks who parrot the vows while withholding some element of consent. Hence c. 1101.2. But, unless the latter are many, and unless they can prove their case at the time-of-consent, it shouldn't matter. The fact that tribunals ALLOW IT TO MATTER, and paint vows "gray" when c. 1101.1 says they are "white" is where the trouble lies (IMHO).

The very act of the tribunal treating our vows like a bad tatoo in need of laser-removal, should represent gross incompetence! Where are the rules and procedures for respondents to nullify actions of tribunals acting with such gross incompetence?

Save Our Sacrament said...

How many of you know Respondents in annulment cases?

The anguish for Respondents when told by a local US tribunal that one's marriage NEVER existed is

Thankfully the Rota is far more understanding, but at too great a financial cost for most Respondents ($1200.).

Our organization, Save Our Is the only place where Respondents find a chance to defend their sacrament. We have helped over a thousand individuals..
Thank you for the dialogue begun on your site about this 'second-greatest-scandal in the RCC today.

Anonymous said...

I suggest followers and visitors of this blog carefully read the information available at the Save Our Sacrament Site.

One of its founders and at present a consultant, as best I can tell, is a founding member in VOTF, Voice of the Faithful. SOS supports the use of the internal
forum to receive the Eucharist when remarried without an annulment. Read their
section entitled Internal Forum: you will find its ruminations more consistant with
the ilk associated with the National Catholic Reporter, than you will , consistant
with the teachings of the Catholic Church, perhaps even reminiscent of the rogue
Austrian Group of priests urging open disobedience to the Catholic Church.

This organization seems to be a dangerous, insidious heterodox interloper among
vulnerable Catholics; a wolf in sheeps clothing. They seem to associate with others
who want to transform the Catholic Church along the lines of the "Spirit of Vatican II" ideals, rather than via a traditional consistant line.

I urge you all to do your own homework.

You would be better served to visit the Marysadvocates website of Bai Macfarlane,
whose yahoo group helps those facing annulment proceedings and whose members are going through the process, have gone through it, are facing it or, like
myself, are going through it for a second time. We have the wounds to show for it and the commitment to our marriages and to the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church, to be orthodox in our advice, rather than seeking ways to subtly and under the radar, circumvent the long-established traditional ways and reinvent
the Catholic Church, like a cancer, in an unrecognizable, malignant, vestigial shell of itself.

Be aware of who is among you, here.