Thoughts on Marriage, Divorce and Declarations of Nullity

Recently, I had a couple of conversations with people about divorce in the Church. One was with a wonderful lady who is a Director of Religious Ed. Unlike many DRE’s she seems to really have her act together regarding the faith. It’s not about experimentation. She’s all about teaching how to live out the faith and how to love one another as Jesus loved us. She has commented that she can’t understand how anyone can leave the Church if/when they believe Jesus is Really Present.

Unfortunately, she is also a divorced Catholic, through no fault of her own. Her husband divorced her, despite attempts to save the marriage. This DRE has explored the possibility of a Declaration of Nullity, but it looks like there won’t be grounds for it. At the time she got married, they met the conditions that make a marriage sacramental.

This means they freely (of will and without obstacles) were married in a valid ceremony. They were both baptized Catholics and were open to life. There appear to be no hidden agendas, lies or distortions at that time that would make the marriage not valid in the eyes of the Church.

This lady was lamenting that it was unfair that her husband can do whatever he wants and she cannot. After all, she is the wronged party. It seems especially unfair considering how some places hand out these decrees like candy. Or at least have had that reputation in the past. She followed up with the statement that she would never go against Church teaching in this matter and doesn’t even want that now anyway.

Mrs. Fric was empathetic to the DRE’s situation, as am I. But she thought it unfair of the Church too. I bet that a lot of people have this opinion and that it extends into other areas of Church teaching too.

For instance, look at the number of people that claim a right to the Eucharist when holding opinions and doing things that are objectively sinful and/or contrary to Church teaching or dogma. And doing it publicly for all to see. When the Church says that these people are not to receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, these people cry fowl. How dare the Church do this to them.

Not that my DRE friend believes that by the way.

The common thread here is that people who cannot get declarations of nullity and cannot receive communion licitly have not had anything done to them by the Church. The former either brought it upon themselves or it is forced upon them by an estranged spouse. The latter do it to themselves by their very actions.

The Church, in an effort to maintain the integrity of the sacrament of marriage and the Eucharist must remind people that the state has consequences, no matter who brought them to it. It may seem cruel to say someone is still married when their ex is on his fourth new wife already. But he is the one who is sinning mightily against the true spouse and his sacramental marriage. He commits serial adultery no matter what the courts say. Her state remains unchanged, because it cannot change until death do they part.

In the case of obstinate sinners, they bring condemnation and ignominy on themselves and scandal to the Church. By withholding the sacraments (except confession which should only be used to repent fully) the Church is preventing that person from committing more and more sins. It is pastorally sound and wise to do this. Not to them, but for them.

That’s my take on it. What’s yours?


  1. guvnur

    If the one party is still living according to church teachings and chastly though the spouse has moved out they can still participate fully and recieve communion. Also if the other party as moved on into other relationships and even remarried then they are breaking the grounds of the marriage by infidality at this point and it then may be grounds for annulment even if it was a valid marriage in the church at the time the sacrament took place. I would most definanetly urge her to look into contacting the tribunal office.

  2. Fric

    Guvnur, she has been exploring the issue, though not interested in dating or marriage at this moment.

    I don’t have references in front of me, as I am in Lexington, but I believe that there is no legitimate way to get a declaration of nullity when a valid, sacramental marriage is in place. That’s the point of a valid, sacramental marriage. It’s permanent until death, not infidelity. Nothing anyone does after a valid marriage can affect that marriage.

    That isn’t to say that there are many places that hand out declarations like candy though. The Church has in the past allowed that one may civilly divorce an abusive spouse or one that places children in danger, etc. But I don’t believe that makes the marriage null. One could argue that the abusive spouse wasn’t truly intending to live up to the marriage as laid out, etc. which would make it null from the beginning.

    Anyway, my point is that a declaration of nullity is not declaring a new fact. It is revealing an already established fact. Kind of like the canonization process. The Pope declaring someone a Saint isn’t what gets that person into Heaven. They were already there and the Church merely recognized it. Nullity declarations are the same. The marriage was either null prior to infidelities, etc. or not.

  3. guvnur

    I would recommend a copy of “Annulment: The Marriage that was” It can be picked up at the Tibunal office or Tonnini’s carries it for about 12.61 tax and all will cover all processes and commonaly asked questions. It also makes a great reference book dealing with questions anyone ask’s for it is laid out in a very clear and easy format. Actually your statement on Tribunals handing out annulments like candy is very unfair and we cannot judge these priests who sit on the tribunal’s decisions without having went through the investigation process with them. Though annulments are much more common these days it can be do to some very common factors that people do not consider. They are no longer sent to Rome and each diocese has its own tribunal that has all the wonders of modern communication and technology at its fingertips. Even this subject is addressed in the forementioned book.

  4. guvnur

    I need to clarify also my comment on the infidelity issue after one spouse has left the marriage. True that the issue of a valid marriage is based on the occurances at the time of marriage, actions that are occuring in present day may point investigations towards a fault that may have been but not noticed at the time of the marriage. The annulment process is very complex and if a person would like an idea of the questions that an applicant has to address they can go to their Diocese web site and find the link for the Tribunal. On this link is the PET 100 and anyone can download this form and start to see the depth that these investigations proceed.

  5. Fric

    I think we need to clarify what I am talking about here… I am not saying that the Church everywhere hands out declarations willy nilly to anyone that shows up. Nor am I saying that it doesn’t give them out when they should.

    What I am saying, and thought I already did, is that there are many places that have the rep of giving them out like candy. So much so that the Pope sought to put it back on level ground some time ago. I wish I had the sources to refer to this, but I do not. I do remember reading about it some years ago and that the Northeast of the US being singled out.

    Next, my main point was that there seem to be way too many people that think that a denial of a declaration is something that the Church does to them. It is NOT. The Church cannot change the status of a sacramental marriage. Are declarations given out wrongly? Sure. Not given out wrongly? Sure. I don’t doubt that both are true. But I think that too many people see a declaration as a RIGHT within the Church rather than a last resort.

    When applied properly, the process should produce the proper results. I do not doubt that the official process and documents are extremely thorough. They should be. But I wonder when powerful politicians can get their declarations after 20 years of marriage and infidelity(s), and others cannot. The process is not uniform, nor is it viewed correctly.

    Again, we have a case of bad catechesis in the Church in my opinion.

  6. Anonymous

    You poor people trust the Catholic Church to be truthful and you have no idea what you are talking about.

    Annulments are handed out like rubbers in a High School.

    The Catholic Church is not interested in justice it is interested in expedience and keeping the money in the collection plate.

    The Catholic Church does not care about fidelity other than to use it to APPEAR to care about it.

    I lived through the annulment process and that is why I am a former catholic. It is a demeaning and corrupted process. There is absolutely no interest by the Catholic Church in reforming this evil process.

    Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool and ignorant at that. Your clergy are a lazy bunch of adultery encouraging reprobates who could care less about an innocent spouse. Damn them for their arrogance. Most, I hope, will spend eternity apart from the God who is Truth, whom they continue to so horribly offend as they destroy countless Sacramental marriages and families and innocent spouses.

    And may God bless the innocent spouse(s) and be a comfort to them on the tough road they have if they want to remain faithful to God and to their vows, which is their obligation.


    A former life long Catholic who loved the Catholic Church but loves truth more and sees the Catholic Church as an impediment to truth, based upon his very personal experience with the “annulment system” and who would not lie or misrepresent what he has seen, unlike what I continue to see everyday among the totally corrupted clergy of the Catholic Church.

  7. Fric

    So many thoughts here. I’m not sure where to start. Guvnur comes across as if what happens in our Archdiocese is the norm. Now we have Anon. saying that they’re handed out like “rubbers in high school”…

    While Anon’s post would seem to back up my initial post, I just can’t come down on his side at all. As I said before, not all diocese are like this. I know several people that have gone through the process here and NONE have talked about how it’s an annulment mill as it were. All talk about the length of time it takes. And not everyone gets their annulment.

    What I find interesting is that someone who was a “lifelong Catholic and loved the Catholic Church” would leave because his marriage was declared null. If TRUTH is all you love, then why leave. Surely you know that the Church was founded by Christ. And thus is the fullness of truth as left by Him.

    Whether or not your marriage was not sacramental is not my concern here. But it obviously was not the cause of the breakup between you and your wife. This has in no way kept you from living your life OR PARTICIPATING IN THE SACRAMENTS. Civil divorce is not cause for that. Only if you are divorced and unchaste (living together, sexually active, unlawfully remarried, etc.).

    If you think a declaration of nullity causes breakups, I wonder if you really understand the situation of most people who go through this. No one I know has ever gotten a decree and then a civil divorce. It goes the other way and likely did for you too. So where’s the anger coming from? I honestly don’t get it.

    As far as having corrupt clergy. Well of course. Christ even chose one bad apple out of twelve. But according to you, the 10s of thousands of priests in this country and probably worldwide are all the Catholic version of the mafia. Yep. Every last one of them. That’s the real seminary scandal. All the honest men are turned away and all the ones that would have gone into organized crime are accepted. That’s the REAL vocations crisis.

    Anyway, I think this is a pointless exercise. I pray that you are relieved of your anger and return home to Mother Church. Truly, I do.

  8. WICatholic

    This is long past the time when it was ‘timely’ to respond, however, guvnur’s comment needs to have a comment. Regardless of WHAT the party who left the marriage is doing now, even if married again civilly, it has nothing to do with the validity of the first marriage. That was decided the day the two married, not by any actions years later. Adultery itself also may not make a marriage null.

    The faithful spouse is able to receive the Eucharist, the one who abandoned the marriage and married again outside the Church without having had the marriage examined for validity/nullity cannot.

    In order for her to now petition for nullity, she must know in her heart that her marriage was null, in order to sign those papers to begin the process. If she believes it was valid in her heart, she is unable to petition. We live, then, in obedience to God and the Church, and count it all to His glory. We live in worst, in poorer, etc. It is what we vowed to do before God and man that day. We are not responsible for what the other chooses to do, only for living up to what we promised God and our spouse with witnesses.

    In this country, I would even question the outcome and no matter what the dissuasion used, would appeal to the Roman Rota in order to know for certain the outcome of the decision, as many from the US have been overturned by the Rota. I would not even go to the Court of Second Instance here, but immediately to the Rota. And I would make that clear immediately that this was my intention.

    I would recommend very FEW books written here in the US, actually. But would recommend Robert Vasoli’s. The Holy Father himself, JPII has frequently expressed deep concerns about the number and reasons for US null decision, going back to the beginning of his Papacy. So, regardless of how others may feel, though the Tribunals don’t ‘hand them out like candy’, they use some very questionable grounds many times. The psych reasons are NOT always valid grounds, etc. I have met very few who did not get the Null verdict. And I have been watching for 23 years. VERY FEW who did not get a null verdict here in the US. That leaves many of us stranded with no recourse. We who were abandoned by today’s no fault unilateral divorce cannot file and be honest because we believe our marriage to be valid, but the same one who deserted the marriage to begin with can, with no qualms whatsoever, file those papers already planning another marriage, and almost count on a Null verdict to marry again in our Church.

    That is scandalous, and it hurts the first faithful spouse, as well as those children of that marriage. It is precisely why the Rota will be appealed to if it ever comes to that in our case.

    Catechesis does not make or not break a valid marriage, and I really am tired of hearing that this is the reason people do not know what they are doing. The Church recognizes all marriages to be valid until proven null. ALL marriages. That means that any marriage between two Baptized people is Sacramental, and any marriage, including those not between two Baptized is valid. It is why all marriages must be examined if someone divorced enters the Church before they can receive the Sacraments. Now, if two non-Catholics can have a valid marriage and know NOTHING about our Church, tell me how WE cannot simply due to ‘poor catechesis’??? That is simply an excuse, a justification, a way to rationalize. There is no way that there should be this many null decisions. JPII said this often. And getting to divorce court does NOT prove nullity, especially today, when ONE decides, and ONE destroys the family with no right of defense by the respondents. No fault, forced, unilateral divorce of today is the evil, and all the ‘compassion’ in the world will not make all of those marriages null regardless of WHO says it, nor all the paperwork involved when grounds that are not real grounds are used to ‘prove’ things.

    We KNOW what we promised. And very few did not meet the very minimal requirements for matrimony on their wedding day. We can justify anything with hindsight. And there are many in the life of the Church who understood, and still are many as the DRE in your story, who understand today, the significance of Jesus’ words.

    As for not casting a positive light on the Church by saying that too many null verdicts are granted… if there is evil happening, there SHOULD be light cast on it. Long ago, a King decided he knew better, and he started his own Church. Today, people are preaching his sermon and calling it good.

    I also cannot agree with anonymous, either, for the anger is misdirected, and forgiveness is what we are called to. A Declaration of Nullity does NOT cost all that much, for sure not anywhere NEAR what a Civil divorce with min of two lawyers, possibly more charging a lot per hour to divide what God put together. This is not the CHURCH, but Her enemy that is doing this to families. In or out of Church, the enemy takes our kids through divorce, drugs, abortion. The tradedy is too many of us faithful spouses, faithful Catholics have been deserted not only by our mates, but also by our Church members who listen to a ‘spirit of compassion’ instead of to what God says in Malachi. God HATES divorce and what you are doing to the wife(husband of your youth) because of what it does to your children. Jesus in four different places says to marry again is adultery, and names all four members involved. And in 1Cor 7, we are told to reconcile or remain single, and Paul says that is from the Lord, not from him. God bless

  9. Genesis 1:27, “So God made man in his own image”.
    Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.”
    Genesis 2:21-22, “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, …the Lord had taken from man, made he a woman, & brought her unto the man”.
    From the above verses, it is obvious that God formed man/woman from dust instead of transforming apes to human beings.

  10. Perplexed

    My husband just filed for an annulment, after already being married for 12 years with the woman that caused our divorce. They have two kids who now attend parochial school and it was suggested by their priest that they get annulments from their respective earlier Catholic marriages.
    I decided to defend my Sacrament. To my dismay “my” Judicial Vicar — who is also my parish priest — was surprised and did not offer me any support.
    I tried to fight for my rights at the onset of the case. I wanted the case to occur at the Jurisdiction where the marriage took place, which is also the place where the majority of witnesses live and a place where I have a second domicile. The Judicial Vicar insisted time after time that I should just let the case happen where my husband lives and pray about it. After, me trying time after time — he finally wrote a letter to my husband’s diocese granting competence to the diocese where the marriage took place.
    After, a few weeks he wanted to revert the decision. The diocese where my husband lives kept calling him saying that this was not fair to the couple who wanted to get married.
    I asked the Vicar to uphod his decision and the Vicar said he was going to pray about it. At the same time he continue saying things like. ” This may be good for you, as you may want to get married later”. Annulments are healing.
    Considering the 97% for-nulity rate and the already perceived bias from my Judicial Vicar and from the diocese where my husband lives, I decided not to participate on the case. I’ve been recently unemployement and have health issues and thought: It seems that I have very few chances of wining. Why spend all my energy for nothing. Everybody in these dioceses seem to act like I am from another planet — trying to uphold my Sacrament and already decided that my husband deserves an annulment.
    The entire process seems a joke. And, this is coming from a devoted Catholic

    1. Fric

      Perplexed: I held this comment for a while because I wanted to respond with charity. To be honest, I just forgot about it in the busy-ness of life. For that I apologize.

      I won’t speak to your specific case because I only have what you have posted here and none of the real details. I will say that I am truly sorry that you have to go through this. A Sacramental marriage is very important to both husband and wife. There may certainly be too many annullments declared. I will say this about the process though. After much thought and research about what makes a marriage Sacramental, I think that perhaps the problem isn’t as much the tribunals always being too permissive with the annullments.

      What makes a marriage Sacramental is proper form and proper matter. Form for Catholics is nominally to be married by a priest or deacon (or even bishop) in a Catholic church or chapel. There can be exceptions, but they must be approved by the Bishop generally. Presumably, your marriage or one in a similar situation has no issues with form. Matter is where I think most marriages that get annulled are found faulty. Matter is a man and a woman who are baptized and have no prior restrictions such as living divorced spouse without an annullment. Additionally, each must give full consent without coercion. The full consent means that each comes into the marriage with a proper understanding of marriage and knowledge of the potential spouse.

      Proper understanding of marriage means that each understands that marriage is permanent until one spouse dies and that each must be open to life. This means that neither intends to contracept in any way once married. Each must also understand that marriage is a total giving of self to the other and agree to it. There are a lot of ways to express what the proper understanding. If either person holds some sort of mental reservation about the proper understanding, the marriage has failed to pass that test.

      Full knowledge basically means that nothing is kept from the future spouse that would affect their willingness to get married. For instance, if a man or woman has been carrying on affairs during the engagement and doesn’t really plan on giving them up, that is a lack of full knowledge. If one is an alcoholic and has managed to hide it, that is a failure of knowledge. There are too many situations to possibly list.

      I know that some of these considerations are more recent, but I truly believe they are valid. I pray that the tribunal makes the right decision and that all parties can accept it and move one.

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