Marriage as a Sacrament
The Sacrament of Marriage is an outward and visible sign of the inward spiritual reality that is God’s love, God’s Word made flesh in the human condition
The Sacrament of Marriage is an outward and visible sign of the inward spiritual reality that is God’s love, God’s Word made flesh in the human condition.
In Christian marriage Christians ‘ordain’ themselves to minister to each other (and others) a sort of love that is divine. Their own human love remains, of course. And it retains its own integrity.
But the couple’s human love in the Sacrament of Matrimony contains within it the special power of God’s Covenant love, a love that is for the whole of life in its complete totality, a partnership love, a covenant of love that goes beyond a mere legal contract.
Christians give themselves, therefore, irrevocably, so that if one party fails or hurts the other (or even tries to crucify the other), the covenant relationship remains.
Contracts are terminated by breaches, covenants are above and beyond breach of contract.
Moreover, Sacraments are acts of a community of faith; they are for the Faith Community as a community. They are not simply acts of private individuals.
While it is true that each spouse in a marriage partnership needs affection, approval, affirmation, and acceptance (and rightfully we should expect such), it is nevertheless true that others who relate to the partners in marriage need their support, the strength and power of their relationship, and the Spirit within their love.
This is especially true when children are conceived and raised. The marriage relationship is placed in the hands of God in order that His grace and power might work through, with, and in that marital love.
This is absolutely and fundamentally necessary for the psychic, emotional, and spiritual health of children. They need a vital, stable, and loving bond between their mother and father more than they need bread and milk.
In the Christian context there is a recognition that God has given Himself tous in the mode of a Covenant. He has “married” himself to humanity. As a result, He can never not be integrated or “married” to our humanity.
He has therefore not given himself to us in the form of a contract. His commitment to us, springing out of the Jewish Covenant and coming to us in the Christian Covenant, comes to us in these terms: “I will be your God and you will be my people, and I will love you no matter what happens.
Even though you ignore me, even though you go whoring after false gods, and even though you try to crucify me, I will still be your God. You cannot escape me or avoid my relationship with you.”
And in the Word becoming Spirit-filled flesh, the nuptials are consummated. It can be seen, therefore, that it is no accident that the Gospels begin with the first miracle of Christ occurring at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.
The Last Supper is, as the Book of Revelation puts it, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
Divorced Catholic Questions
- Can a divorced person receive Communion?
Definitely. A divorced person is in a situation similar to that of a single person in the Church, with full rights and duties except for the right to enter a new marriage without having first obtained an annulment.
- When I die, can I be buried by the Church?
Yes, divorced Catholics, including those who have been remarried can be buried in a Catholic cemetery, after a Mass. It is presumed that a person continues to practice his/her faith after a divorce.
- Is a divorced person excommunicated from the Church?
No, a Catholic is not excommunicated when she/he is divorced. In May, 1977, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to lift the penalty of excommunication imposed by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884) which applied only to American Catholics who remarried after a divorce from a valid marriage. This vote was ratified by the Holy See in November of the same year. Therefore, the penalty of excommunication doesn’t apply to divorced or remarried persons.
- Does that mean that a remarried Catholic who has not obtained a Church annulment can receive Holy Communion too?
No, even though a remarried Catholic who has not received an annulment is not excommunicated, it does not mean that remarried Catholics can automatically receive Communion. That tradition was recently summarized and repeated by the International Theological Commission, a consultative body to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
- I don’t want to get an annulment and don’t want to remarry– where do I fit in?
There are many men and women who do not choose to marry or remarry. The single life has always been held in high esteem in the Church. The opportunities for growth, for ministry to others in the community and for full participation in the life of the Church are especially available to those who have not ever married, or have not remarried.
One final note. An annulment process does not determine the guilt of either partner. This is simply a non-adversarial procedure in which the final judgment is only based on a fact question: Was this a sacramental union, or wasn’t it? It’s a question of fact, not a question of guilt. Information about Marriage and Annulments by Fr. Charlie Irvin
Note: Canon Lawyers no longer care to use the term “annulment”. They have no shorthand word as yet to denote the fact that this an internal Roman Catholic “procedure for declaring the invalidity of a marriage”. Because there is a separation of Church and State, this procedure has nothing to do with the status the parties (or their children) in civil law. The following essay was written when the term annulment” was still in usage.
- How do I start the procedure?
A Catholic who wishes to clarify his/her status before the Church should first approach their parish priest to find out the particulars of diocesan policy. In most cases, the person is asked to write a resume of their background, their courtship, their difficulties in the marriage, the cause or causes, in their judgment, for the separation, the divorce and their life after divorce. This is sent to the Marriage Tribunal along with certified copies of marriage license, divorce decree, baptismal information and other papers.
- Does my former spouse have to cooperate?
No, but because the annulment procedure affects him/her, your former spouse must be informed of the procedure and is given the opportunity to tell his/her side.
- How are the allegations proved?
Primarily, the testimony of at least three witnesses, counselors or other parties is needed to substantiate the allegations of the petitioner.
- Can anyone be a witness?
Two criteria should be used–they should be knowledgeable of the marriage and the personalities of the parties, or of the difficulties in the marriage. They should also be objective witnesses (if possible).
- Does everyone who applies get an annulment?
No, but the majority of those who have their petitions accepted by the Tribunal do get annulments. Some petitions for the formal process are denied, however, but always for stated serious reasons.
- Why would an annulment not be granted?
There are times, of course, when a person doesn’t seem to have provable grounds for nullity as understood by the Church today. The more usual reason for denying an annulment is the situation wherein the allegations cannot be proven, usually because witnesses are either unavailable or insufficiently informed.
- My former spouse was baptized a Catholic but never had anything to do with the Church/practice of Catholicism. Would that lack of faith be considered grounds for the nullity of our supposedly sacramental marriage?
At the present time, no. Some theologians and canonists have suggested that such a lack of belief destroys any complete, sacramental marriage. The identification of marriage between baptized persons (Catholic or not) and the sacrament of marriage in Catholic law was formulated in the last century but is traditional.
- Are there any civil effects of the annulment?
No, a Church annulment in this country is solely for the spiritual well-being of the parties. Annulments have no effect on any decisions of civil courts, the status of the parties (or their children) in civil law..
- How does an annulment affect my children? Does it make them illegitimate?
An annulment has no effect on the status of children in the Church. Obviously, the children exist as a gift of God. Legitimacy is a legal category; civil and canon law can make laws that affect the legitimacy of children, and canon law states explicitly that children born of a marriage that is later declared to be null are legitimate. The annulment is based on the fact that a sacramental marriage did not exist.
- If I get an annulment does that meant that my former spouse can remarry?
An annulment does not mean that either of you can automatically remarry in the Church.
- Do you mean that I might not be allowed to remarry in the Church either?
The Church would want to be certain that the invalidating factor is no longer present. When this occurs, then both parties are free to remarry in the Church.
- What does an annulment say about my past life–was I living in sin when
I thought I as married?
An annulment says that a previous marriage did not fulfill all the requirements for a valid marriage in ecclesiastical law. It does not say that the relationship was good for nothing; it might have been a good one for some time, and we are all affected by the people we meet and know. There is no way one can commit sin if she/he is unaware of the invalidity of the marriage. A sacramental marriage presupposes that each partner is able to commit him or herself at the time of the wedding and therefore make that commitment at the time of the vows, to encourage a “community of life and love” with each other.
A topic as fundamental as this one must necessarily begin with an examination of our primary Christian documents, the Gospels.
The fact that the words of Jesus about divorce are repeated verbatim in all three of the Synoptic Gospels tells us that the very first Christians who knew and lived with Christ regarded this particular teaching of Jesus Christ as having the utmost importance. We must, therefore, regard the followings words of Christ as having the highest possible significance.
“Some Pharisees approached him and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’
Moses allowed us, they said, ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you.
But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave his father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body.
So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her.
And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.” (cf.Matthew, 5:31-32 and 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18).
The idea that a genuine marriage is indissoluble rests at the very core of the Gospel of St. John. One could argue forcefully that marriage is the Prime Sacrament in St. John’s entire sacramental system.
One could shatter all contrary arguments with the fact that the central reality of St. John’s entire thinking is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the marriage of God and Man in Jesus Christ, a covenant bonding that can never be broken, even by Man’s futile attempt at Deicide.
There are people who question the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is involved in annulments at all, claiming that annulments are “Roman Catholic divorces.” There are others who decry the interior discernment, claiming that it is “invasive, intrusive, paternalistic and degrading.”
On the other hand, there are those who say that if the Sacrament of Matrimony was not truly present in a marriage then it is proper for Christians to call upon the Church to declare that to be the case. It is the duty of the Church to protect the integrity of the Sacramentsmand to inform us whether or not they are validly present in our human activity.
That raises a second fundamental question. If it is proper for the Church to employ the annulment process, what criteria should the Church use to determine whether or not the Sacrament of Matrimony or a valid non-sacramental marriage is present in any marriage being questioned?
While in a few instances involving external forces the Church’s tribunals use the same criteria employed by civil courts, nevertheless we must hold to the principle that civil divorce cannot dissolve the Sacrament of Matrimony or a valid non-sacramental marriage; a divine institution cannot be terminated by a human institution. However the Church has within her range of responsibilities the duty to determine whether or not that which was instituted by God was truly present.
This is equally so with respect to all of the Sacraments. The Church and the State have separate and distinct legal systems and it is important here to strictly observe the separation of Church and State and not mix the elements proper to each.
THE LOGICAL REFLECTION
Because Jesus Christ has declared marriage to be indissoluble, when the Sacrament of Matrimony is genuinely present, it cannot be declared null even under the “Power of the Keys” given to Peter and the Twelve by Christ.
This is not because the Church lacks the will to do so, but because it lacks the capacity. The same principle holds true for Baptism and Holy Orders.
The Church cannot “unbaptize” anyone once they are validly baptized, nor can the Church “unordain” someone validly ordained into Holy Orders. All three of these Sacraments participate in the indissoluble covenant bonding between God and humanity in the new and everlasting Covenant established by Jesus Christ in His incarnation and resurrection.
Theologically speaking the Sacrament of Matrimony is an actualization of the marriage between Christ and His bride, the Church, and it is a bonding that can never be ended.
In Christ, God has married humanity in a covenant bonding that no human force, institution or choice can overcome. This is why the first miracle reported in St. John’s gospel occurs at a wedding, in Cana of Galilee, and ends with the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the Last Supper, in which the Bridegroom says to us, His beloved Bride: “This is my body, take it and make it one with yours.
This is my blood, my life, take it and mingle it and make it one with yours. I am marrying you, and even though you crucify me, crown me with thorns, pierce my side, and bury me in the earth, I will come back out of the grave to love you, because nothing can make me not love you.”
The Sacrament of Matrimony actualizes this love of God, makes it human flesh and blood, makes it a part of human living. All Christian marriage is built on this fundamental reality, a reality that is indissoluble and which can never be shattered.
In giving their consent to each other, baptized couples confer the Sacrament of Matrimony on each other. Their consent to mutually give themselves as total gifts each to the other is a juridic act to which the Church witnesses and ratifies as the family of faith to which the couple belong.
Such a union is preemptively authentic and valid unless and until that presumption is overcome. In an annulment process the Church examines the interior nature of the mutual exchange between the parties and then ratifies the fact that some vital and necessary element or elements in that exchange of consent were missing in either one (or both) of the parties involved.
Of course external elements could invalidate the exchange, but the great majority of annulment cases involve an interior discernment.
- If my marriage is declared null my children will be illegitimate.
- Annulments take years to complete.
- Annulments cost thousands of dollars and are given only to the rich and .
- Annulments are always granted, especially in the United States. The “American Church” is at variance with the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.
- Annulments are hardly ever obtained.
- The Catholic Church thinks that all non-Catholic marriages are invalid.
- Only marriages lasting a few months and without children are considered for the annulment process.
NOTE: The Catholic Church does not “grant annulments,” it simply declares the juridic fact of nullity. The jurisprudence is one of witnessing to the reality of what is present or not present in a marriage presented to it, determining whether what is present in that relationship is consonant with what it understands to be essential to the nature of a marriage.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCH
One of the duties of the Church is to witness to the presence of Christ reaching us and sharing God’s life with us in His Sacraments. One of the Church’s concomitant duties is to tell us when a sacrament is truly present and when it is not.
The Church ought to tell us whether or not a priest validly offers the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Holy Mass, when he uses pizza and beer instead of bread and wine. Similarly, the Church ought to tell us whether or not the Sacrament of Baptism is authentically administered when the one baptizing uses rose-water and glycerin instead of water.
Likewise, the Church has the duty to declare whether or not a true marriage is present when either one or both of the parties offers the other a consent to marry that is a radically defective consent.
A divorce is the ending of a marriage contract by the civil power of the state; the state uses its power to rescind the marital contract. An annulment, however, is a determination by the Church that the requisite elements for a valid marriage were not present in the first place when the parties exchanged their consent.
Behavior patterns of either or both persons, either early on in the beginning or later on in their relationship, can provide strong indications of a fissure which might be traced back to the beginning of their union. The evidence must demonstrate that the requisite consensual elements were missing all along.
The Church’s annulment process does not negate the truth that a loving, spousal relationship was present and that the children born of that union were legitimate.
The Church’s annulment process does not deny the civil recognition of the previous union, or its social or anthropological existence. Annulment is a very limited thing, focusing strictly on the essence of the commitments made, each party to the other.
For there to be a valid marriage, sacramental or not, certain necessary components must be present. And while it may be alleged that the children of an annulled marriage are second class citizens in the Kingdom of God, the reality is that the graces of marriage run or do not run to the spouses. The status of their children in the eyes of God is never in question.
Simply because their parents did not share in an authentic Sacrament of Matrimony does not mean that the children born of that union received any less than a full measure God’s graces. Nor can it be properly said that children born of parents who are not baptized are deprived of God’s graces.
The Roman Rota (so named because of the rotating teams of three judges) is the highest marriage tribunal in the Roman Catholic Church, adjudicating as an appellate court petitions for declarations of nullity within the jurisprudence of the Catholic Church.
The Rota has made some remarkable decisions based on Pope Paul VI’s teachings on the nature of marriage found in his Encyclical Humanae Vitae and based also on subsequent papal teachings. These Rota decisions have opened the way for declarations of reedom to marry again in the Catholic Church that were previously not thought possible.
This has been brought about by newer understandings of the nature of matrimonial consent and the psychological capacities needed to support such a commitment to a lifetime of co-partnership between a man and a woman.
Because of the Second Vatican Council, marriage is seen not simply as a legal contract. It is also a covenant between a man and a woman to establish and live together in a partnership for the whole of life, “communio totius vitae.”
A careful reading of the Nuptial Blessing, a beautiful and essential part of the Nuptial Mass, reveals much: “Father, by your plan man and woman are united, and married life has been established as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away in the flood.
Look with love upon this woman, your daughter, now joined to her husband in marriage. She asks your blessing. Give her the grace of love and peace. May she always follow the example of the holy women whose praises are sung in the scriptures.
May her husband put his trust in her and recognize that she is his equal and the heir with him to the life of grace. May he always honor her and love her as Christ loves his bride, the Church. ”
In the twenty centuries of Church history the science of psychology has appeared and developed only within our century. This has given us new insights as to the nature of consent, commitment to another, and the psychic capacities necessary to support decisions to live in total commitment to one another.
Revisions were proposed for the Church’s Code of Canon Law based on these newer psycho/spiritual understandings. Much of the content of this expanded jurisprudence is used in the Church’s diocesan marriage tribunals. While the jurisprudence of the Church is well grounded, it is also dynamic and continues to expand as the Church reflects on the mystery of marriage in the light of Christ’s teaching and in the light of human experience.
It is a wondrous and joyful thing to behold the return of Catholics to the sacraments, sacraments which had been denied them in the past because of the previous state of matrimonial jurisprudence in Roman Catholic church tribunals.
MARRIAGE AND VATICAN II
One of the basic sources for these new annulment possibilities is found in the Second Vatican Council. The Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) defines marriage in terms significantly differing from those pertaining to legal contracts.
Contracts speak of rights, duties, and property. Those are terms involving property and ownership rights. They are inadequate notions relative to the inter-relationships between human persons committing themselves to living Christ’s covenant love in their lives. They are inadequate tools to be used in discerning the commitment spouses give to each other in what God has joined together.
In addition, Vatican II does not speak of marriage in terms of “primary” and “secondary” purposes. In his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI shifted the theological focus on the fundamental elements of the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Humanae Vitae, along with other papal encyclicals, presents marriage as a total partnership in all of life, a “communio totius vitae” as Pope Paul VI put it. The covenant love of a couple, said the pope, must be human, total, moral, and fruitful. Marriage is not viewed solely in terms of the giving and receiving of rights, duties, and obligations.
Nor is it seen primarily in terms of reproduction. Marriage is now to be seen in terms of God’s unbreakable commitment to belong to us forever in love, a love that is, at the same time, generative and creative.
There is cause for alarm in the woeful lack of understanding in the minds of many couples regarding the basic Christian reasons for marriage. All too often pastors find themselves talking with persons who want only a pretty ceremony that is somehow vaguely blessed by the Church.
This is little more than a license to live together. Even worse, it reduces the covenant nature of this commitment, and the total love that it entails, along with the meaning of the relationship as a Sacrament of Christ, to the level of a mere legal agreement.
MARRIAGE AS A SACRAMENT
The Christian covenant of matrimony is something which has elements within it that the couple do not determine for themselves. These fundamental elements of the Sacrament come from One who is beyond the will of the partners.
They come from Christ, the One who gave Himself to us, Body and Blood, in an Everlasting Covenant. The terms of the covenant are His, not ours. And the same is likewise true for divorce.
The law against divorce is not a law invented by the Church. It comes from Christ who told us: “What God hath joined together, man must not divide.”
The Sacrament of Marriage is an outward and visible sign of that inward spiritual reality that is God’s love, God’s Word made flesh in the human condition. In Christian marriage Christians ‘ordain’ themselves to minister to each other (and others) a sort of love that is divine.
Their own human love remains, of course. And it retains its own integrity. But the couple’s human love in the Sacrament of Matrimony contains within it the special power of God’s Covenant love, a love that is for the whole of life in its complete totality, a partnership love, a covenant of love that goes beyond a mere legal contract.
Christians give themselves, therefore, irrevocably, so that if one party fails or hurts the other (or even tries to crucify the other), the covenant relationship remains. Contracts are terminated by breaches, covenants are above and beyond breach of contract.
Moreover, Sacraments are acts of a community of faith; they are for the Faith Community as a community. They are not simply acts of private individuals. While it is true that each spouse in a marriage partnership needs affection, approval, affirmation, and acceptance (and rightfully we should expect such), it is nevertheless true that others who relate to the partners in marriage need their support, the strength and power of their relationship, and the Spirit within their love.
This is especially true when children are conceived and raised. The marriage relationship is placed in the hands of God in order that His grace and power might work through, with, and in that marital love. This is absolutely and fundamentally necessary for the psychic, emotional, and spiritual health of children. They need a vital, stable, and loving bond between their mother and father more than they need bread and milk.
In the Christian context there is a recognition that God has given Himself to us in the mode of a Covenant. He has “married” himself to humanity. As a result, He can never not be integrated or “married” to our humanity.
He has therefore not given himself to us in the form of a contract. His commitment to us, springing out of the Jewish Covenant and coming to us in the Christian Covenant, comes to us in these terms: “I will be your God and you will be my people, and I will love you no matter what happens.
Even though you ignore me, even though you go whoring after false gods, and even though you try to crucify me, I will still be your God. You cannot escape me or avoid my relationship with you.” And in the Word becoming Spirit-filled flesh, the nuptials are consummated.It can be seen, therefore, that it is no accident that the Gospels begin with the first miracle of Christ occurring at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. The Last Supper is, as the Book of Revelation puts it, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
VALID NON-SACRAMENTAL MARRIAGES
In Roman Catholic theology, a marriage is a sacrament when two baptized Christians give themselves to each other in a proper forum and with the requisite interior dispositions and capacities.
The Church quite properly recognizes that other marriages may have all of the requisite elements but involve unions where either one or both of the parties are not baptized.
In cases where such marriages break down the Church’s jurisprudence is based on what is commonly known as the “Pauline Privilege” and the “Petrine Privilege.”
A discussion of the jurisprudence involved in such cases is more appropriately done in a separate essay. Persons involved in the breakdown of marriages wherein one is baptized and the other is not should consult their local priest or call their local tribunal for assistance in such instances.
MARRIAGE AS COVENANT
We see now that the Church regards marriage as a commitment in the nature of a covenant, that is a commitment to share in a partnership in all of life.
The consequence is that if either party willfully excludes a commitment to that total community of life (or any part thereof) then there is no covenant commitment, no Sacrament. There is, on the contrary, a falsification of what the Sacrament of Matrimony is all about.
The Canon Law of the Church reads: “Marriage is that intimate partnership for the whole of life between a man and a woman which by its very nature is ordered to the procreation and education of children.”
Note the significance of this language. It does not speak in terms of rights, duties, and obligations. Nor does it speak of primary and secondary purposes of marriage.
Rather it places primary emphasis where it should be placed, namely upon the total community of life of the couple, that basic necessity needed for the emotional, psychic, and spiritual health of their children.
What, then, are some implications? First of all, Christian married couples commit themselves to love in such a way that their love overflows, becomes a fountain so to speak, into the lives of others.
They are not only a sign of God’s love in our world, they are a source of it. They are a Sacrament. Theirs is a community act, not just the act of two isolated egos.
They live so as not to be merely a duality of egos, totally dedicated only to themselves alone. To expect that is to falsify God’s love in a narrow and confined exclusivity.
Christian couples destine and ordain themselves in the Sacrament of Matrimony to live for others, for their children, their friends, and for the Other who is God.
MARRIAGES AS FALSE SIGNS
Now while the indissolubility of the Sacrament of Marriage is something that is precious to Catholics (and the Catholic Church will always hold on to the injunction of Christ not to dissolve that which has been joined together in God) nevertheless people should not be held to marriages which have such defects within them from their beginning as to render them false signs of God’s love for us.
This is particularly so when those marriages failed because of a radical defect in their constitution or that the intentions of the parties were not consonant with the Church’s understanding of the essential nature of matrimony.
Those radical defects may have existed through no willful intention of either or both of the parties in that attempted marriage. Consequently even though we cannot put asunder what God hath joined together, we have the duty and the right to examine what hath allegedly been joined together in God.
A reading of Galatians 5:16 ff. is helpful in discerning the signs of the presence of God in any relationship. These verses give us good indices, among a wide array of others, to judge whether or not a marriage is really a Sacrament of the presence of God in our lives.
Since human life is not absolute, we are touched by death in all aspects of life. Thus faith can be lost, grace can be lost, and marriages can appear to “die.”
And out of a desire to cover up death we often use cosmetics in order to avoid facing it. Thus when relationships between human beings deaden we often cover up by suppressing, repressing, denying, or appealing to law, duty, and obligation in order to maintain at least the appearance of a relationship.
Most of the time this is done to avoid looking at radical defects that existed in those relationships from the very beginning.
Perhaps some examples of marriages that have “died” (from hidden defects present at their beginning) would be helpful on this point. Consider alcoholism, chronic alcoholism, the sort that completely anesthetizes the heart, mind and soul of one of the partners such that the other has no hope of ever living in a covenant of love with a genuine partner.
Can we call such a relationship a Sacrament of God’s love? Or suppose that one of the partners is psychosexually fixed in a homosexual orientation, such that change is, in the judgement of experts, impossible.
Can we consider such a person to be a true partner in the Sacrament of Matrimony? Or suppose an alleged partner in marriage is so psychologically fixated in adolescence that he or she cannot maintain sexual fidelity in a permanent commitment to only one other. Is such a relationship a “sign of God’s covenant love among us”?
Perhaps, also, a young man is raised in a family that has a history in which the men regard women as objects, objects for sexual gratification, trophies that have been “won,” or possessions that add value to the perception the men have of themselves.
Perhaps, too, women are married out of political expediency for the men. In any event and for a host of reasons, women can be married because they are objects instead of persons. Certainly such an intention, however conscious or unconscious, could be little more than a simulation of marriage diametrically opposed to the Church’s basic notions of marriage.
There are other instances, to be sure, used in Catholic Church annulment jurisprudence to declare alleged marriages invalid.
These are cited as just a few examples in order to demonstrate that marriages can and do appear to be superficially real but in reality are rendered invalid by one or more radical or intentional defects hidden deep within them.
To hold people in such “marriages,” or never allow them to remarry simply because policy is more important than people, is to embark upon a course that is cruel and inhuman.
Marriages can fail through no fault of the persons involved. Bad marriages falsify the sign of God’s love in our world.
The Catholic Church recognizes that reality. For this reason, the Church undertakes a careful judicial discernment to investigate the marriages of persons seeking to clarify their status in the Catholic Church.
THE ANNULMENT PROCESS
When two baptized Christians marry they enter into the Sacrament of Matrimony in the act of giving their consent to each other, a consent which is witnessed by a clergy person acting on behalf of the Church.
The bishop, priest or deacon receives the consent of the parties on behalf of the Church. This being so, the Church does not “grant” an annulment should that marriage break down.
The annulment process is such that the Church is presented with the question: “Is it proven that the marital consent in this presumptively valid marriage is null because of [the exact canonical reason given on the part of either one or both of the parties involved?”
The decision given by the tribunal is an answer to this question is either in the Affirmative or the Negative. The Church simply witnesses to the factually established data.
The consent can be analyzed in terms of the capacity to given valid consent, the will to give valid consent, and the proper form in which the consent is manifested.
“Capacity” examines the intellectual and judgmental capabilities of the persons. Is the person or are the persons involved able to make a decision that has future consequences and obligations that constitute the fundaments of that consent?
Some people are simply incapable of discharging the obligations and commitments they made, however well intentioned they were when they gave their consent. Some people “will it”, but cannot “do it” when it comes to giving one’s self over to another in a total communion of life.
Additionally, some lack the necessary will and capacity to remain sexually faithful for life; some people will not to have children of their marriage, and some have the intention of calling in the divorce lawyers when the marriage becomes difficult to maintain. Such lay lack the necessary will to give valid matrimonial consent.
Both the party seeking the annulment, the Petitioner, and the other party, the Respondent, have rights that must be observed, the Respondent having in fact more rights than the Petitioner.
The Respondent has a right to a defense. Both Petitioner and Respondent must be notified that the case has been submitted and the Tribunal will examine the matter based on clearly stated and specific grounds, also known as the “Joinder of Issues”.
They have the right to an Advocate, the rights to inspect the acts of the case at the time designated by the Judge, to be notified of the decision of the Tribunal, and the right to appeal the decision. In other words, the procedure seeks to guarantee the “right of defense” of both parties while the case is under consideration.