Editor’s note: Two readers share their thoughts on annulments being seen as part of a healing process and an aid to help make second marriages work.
Recently, Catholics in Germany and elsewhere have asked Rome to allow divorced Catholics in nonsacramental second marriages to receive Communion.
This suggested policy would eliminate the need for an annulment and a “blessing” of the second marriage. But it might also eliminate the potential healing that the annulment process can bring to people who were scarred in previous unions.
The broader use of Church annulments has a history of about forty years. The Church began to wonder about the validity of marriages where the Vatican II ideal of “communion of spouses” never seemed to take hold. Procedures differed in dioceses around the world. Some sensational cases (like Rep. Joe Kennedy’s remarriage) made many Catholics skeptical. They wondered about the quote from Christ: “What God has joined, let no man put asunder.” They wondered if wealthy Catholics could get diocesan courts to brush aside valid marriages. Most of all, they heard that the annulment process reopened old wounds: memories of bitter conflicts and crying children, and a sense of failure.
Since the mid-1980s, spurred by new insights and policies in the revised Code of Canon Law, Roman Marriage Tribunals and Diocesan Tribunals have developed professional skills not only in detecting ignorance or psychological problems that doomed some apparent “marriages.” They also began policies helping needy Catholics to get annulments, answering complaints that only the wealthy can afford to divorce and marry someone else. Most of all, diocesan and appeals courts have come to recognize that future marriages will be much more stable if the people getting annulments are helped to deal with the problems and hang-ups that doomed the marriages they seek to annul.
A St. Mary’s parishoner wrote “Going through a divorce was devastating to my family and me. The annulment process forced me to take time to reflect, to think, and to heal for myself. I am now happily married in my Church, so important to me and my husband, and an example for my children.”
It seems that one-fourth of marriages between two American Catholics experience divorce, while almost fifty percent of marriages between a Catholic and a Protestant or a person with no formal faith end in divorce. This is just part of the picture in most Western cultures. Many “rich and famous” individuals jump into “serial marriages” where the necessary questions are never asked—am I compatible with my new lover? Have children been damaged? Do I have disorders dooming long-term commitment?
Based on “mercy,” the Church might open Holy Communion to people in invalid marriages. But is it not more merciful to help people to resolve the conflicts that led to previous failures? Is it not more merciful to insist that people enter new marriages with deeper, more accurate self-knowledge? Families are so important to society and to personal faith. The Church must continue to improve this healing process….and also insist upon it.
Daryl Roberts of St. Mary’s Separated & Divorced Ministry wrote: “Being a Catholic and getting divorced has a particular sting. The annulment process helps heal that wound.”
Steve Beard, director of Religious Education at St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis, MD, previously was the county attorney for Anne Arundel County in Maryland. Father Joseph Krastel is a parochial assistant at St. Mary’s.