Beliefs about divorce and remarriage
Roman Catholic view: About annulments
Sorry, this essay provides only general information. If you are seeking guidance
on your own personal use, please consult a canon lawyer or other authority.
The proper term for an annulment is "An Ecclesiastical
Declaration of Nullity." 1 Such declarations can be
issued by a church tribunal to cover marriage and other sacraments.
Divorces are not permitted within the Roman Catholic Church,
because valid marriages are considered to be indissoluble. Church canon law 1055 states that any marriage that takes place
is legally presumed to be a valid sacrament, and is thus permanent. However, if sufficient convincing
evidence can be shown which indicates that it was not a valid marriage, then a Declaration of Nullity may be given. This
is, in effect, saying that the marriage never existed; it was not an ecclesial
reality. Only after an annulment is granted is the couple free to marry other people. Anullments are not restricted just to
Catholics. A Protestant could have married another Protestant, and later obtained a divorce. If one
of them wants to marry a Catholic, they must first receive an annulment from the
Church for their first marriage.
Even though an annulment implies that no valid marriage
occurred, children of that marriage are considered legitimate. (Catechism of the
Catholic Church [CCC] 1138 &
1139). An "annulment can't affect children's status retroactively." 2
Church canon law 1057 states that a marriage is brought about
The consent of the parties (the bride and groom),
by those qualified according to the law (again, the bride and
An annulment may be obtained on a number of grounds. Some are listed below:
It may be granted if it can be proven that there was "a defect of
consent on the part of one or both ministers [i.e. the bride or groom]. Or, the consent was not
legitimately manifested. Or, one or both of the parties may have been
incapable according to law to exchange consent." 1
Consent of the parties requires that the bride and groom, at the
time of marriage:
Understand the nature of marriage: that it is permanent, that
they are to remain monogamous, that they are open to having children, etc.
Not having placed conditions on their marriage, like marrying
only if they would live in a certain city, or would have no more than two
Be free of mental illnesses -- including latent illnesses that
have not been diagnosed -- that might restrict their ability to
Be free of fraud and deceit.
Be "free of coercion or grave external fear." (CCC, 1628)
An annulment may also be granted "by reason of a defect of
form" if it is determined that the officiating priest lacked the proper
authority. Alternatively, if two baptized Catholics decide to get married in a
civil service by a Justice of the Peace, their marriage is not recognized as
valid by the church.
The bride and groom must have met certain requirements at the
time that they married. Some are:
They must be old enough (16 years for the groom; 14 for the
The groom or bride must not be a member of a Catholic religious
Neither has lied about the existence of a previous marriage.
The bride and groom are not too closely related, either by direct
blood relationship, or adoption, or marriage.
They must have been baptized as Catholics, or have obtained
special permission to marry.
The pope may dissolve a marriage that was not consummated.
The Archdiocese of Boston, reports that a typical
annulment takes about one year to complete. It costs about $900 of which the
petitioner is expected to pay about half. Contrary to common rumors, the Church
loses millions of dollars a year in the granting of annulments. "The process is involved. The
Petitioner is asked to submit detailed testimony. The tribunal contacts the
former spouse. Witnesses are required. An expert in the field of psychology may
be required for an assessment. It is not an easy process. However, it is not
impossible either." 1
It may be that the Archdiocese of Boston has streamlined the anullment process. Anullments in the island of Malta aleggedly take nine years to complete.
Most individual Roman Catholics appear to ignore the Church's
teachings about remarriage. After divorcing, they often remarry without first
having received an annulment. David Willey of the British Broadcasting Corp. stated that the Holy Roman Rota (the Vatican court that handles some annulments) processes about 200 marriage annulments per year, while
civil courts in Italy process over 100,000.
Twenty one percent of adult American Catholics have experienced a divorce.This
is equal to the rate experienced by Lutherans, Atheists and Agnostics. It is
lower than mainline Protestants at 25%, much lower than Baptists at 29%, and a
great deal lower than non-denominational Protestants at 34%. 3
The Archdiocese of Boston estimates that fewer than 20%
of the couples that can apply for an annulment do so. Since over 80% of
divorced individuals remarry, it is obvious that many Catholics remarry outside
the church, and that their new marriages are not recognized by the church.
The trap that some Catholics find themselves:
Couples that obtain a civil divorce and remarry without first
obtaining an annulment are denied access to the Sacraments of Penance (a.k.a.
Confession) and Holy Eucharist. (Catechism 1650).
If they continue in the new marriage, they cannot make a valid confession through the Sacraments of Penance becuase the latter would require a genuine committment to abandon the marriage. Thus they will be prevented from to receiving Communion. Meanwhile, their sins are
accumulating. Because the church does not recognize their new marriage, it
considers that every sexual act within the marriage may be a new act of adultery -- a mortal sin.
There very little wiggle room here. For a sin to be a mortal sin, it must be a serious sin, the person must be aware that it is a serious sin, and they must have entered it of their own free will. That would seem to cover most instances of divorce and remarriage.
According to the church's
teachings, committing a moral sin without confession means that they will not attain Heaven when they die. They will end
up being eternally tormented in Hell. 4 There are only two ways of avoiding this state:
To be fortunate enough to not die suddenly (e.g. to not die
instantly in a car accident or from a massive heart attack). This way,
they might be able to receive the Last Anointing by which their mortal
sins are forgiven. Needless to say, this is a risky route to take.
To make an "act of perfect contrition" instead of
Confession. But this requires the individual to repent of what the Church
considers their sins of adultery, and sincerely intend to never engage in
"adultery" in the future.
If they separate from their new spouse, and live alone, and
sincerely intend to remain separated unless a annulment is granted, then they
can resume their access the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist. But that would require
them to violate their new marriage vows, and terminate their marital
option often seems profoundly immoral to the couple, particularly if there are
Judging from the overwhelming percentage of Roman Catholics who
never apply for an annulment, it would seem that most have abandoned the Church's teaching that mortal sin leads them to Hell. For those Catholics who believe in the
teachings of their church, it would seem expedient to apply for an annulment as
soon as possible after they separate so that they would be free to enter into a new relationship
when they wish.
Statement by the Pope directed to Catholic divorce lawyers:
On 2002-JAN-29, Pope John Paul delivered his annual speech
before the Holy Roman Rota -- the Vatican court that hears marriage annulments. He said that divorce is an: "evil" that is "spreading
like a plague" through society. He said, in part: "Lawyers, who work
freely, should always decline to use their professions for an end that is
contrary to justice, like divorce." He repeated the Church's position that:
"Marriage is indissoluble..." In an apparent rejection of the validity of
secular divorce laws in various political jurisdiction, he said: "...it
doesn't make any sense to talk about the 'imposition' of human law, because it
should reflect and protect natural and divine law." 5 "The Pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said this was the first time
the pontiff had explicitly discussed these ideas and described the remarks as
'an application of the general moral principle of not allowing us to cooperate
with something that is evil'." 6
Reaction to the pope's statement was mostly negative:
Denise Lester, a specialist in British family law commented that lawyers
already work to promote reconciliation where it is possible. She said: "Lawyers
should be free to work with the laws of the state. This is a multi-ethnic society where
divorce is legal, and lawyers, as servants of the community, should be
able to able to carry out their work....The Pope's comments could have an
impact on freedom of choice for both lawyers and their clients."
Cesare Rimini, an Italian divorce lawyer is reported as saying: "The laws of the state do not interfere in
the laws of the Church, so it would be right if the Church did not
interfere in the realm of judges and lawyers."
Right-wing politician Alessandra Mussolini, grand-daughter of the fascist
dictator Benito Mussolini, commented:
"Divorce, at times, is a salvation
because it interrupts a spiral of hate and terror even for children." 5
Roman Catholic Archbishop Hart of Melbourne, Australia, said that the
Pope's remarks did not mean Catholic lawyers and judges were forbidden to
take part in divorce cases. Archbishop Hart said that the pope "...doesn't
say that. What he is talking about is a change of attitude so that lawyers
don't automatically assume that divorce is the answer." 7
Roman Catholic Archbishop Pell of Sydney, said that: "The English
translations are clumsy and somewhat misleading on the role of Catholic
judges and lawyers in civil divorce proceedings. Catholics judges [and by
inference, lawyers] can participate for the common good in divorce
proceedings, for example to help ensure the legal rights of all
participants, such as the care of children, the protection of inheritances
and distribution of property." 7
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Rev. Michael Foster, "Can a marriage be declared null?,"
Archdiocese of Boston, at: http://www.rcab.org/marriage.html
Jennifer M. Paquette, "Catholic Annulment," Beliefnet.com at: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/75/story_7562_1.html#cont
- Christians Are More Likely to
Experience Divorce Than Are Non-Christians," Barna Research Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease
"Catechism of the Catholic Church: IV. The gravity of sin: Mortal and venial sin, #1856," at: http://www.christusrex.org/www1/CDHN/gravity.html
"Pope tells lawyers to boycott divorce," BBC News, 2002-JAN-29, at: http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/hi/english
Darrin Farrant, "Lawyers oppose Pope on divorce," at: http://www.lapresrupture.qc.ca/cpa
"Divorce: Archbishops say Pope's advice mistranslated," Catholic
News, at: http://www.cathtelecom.com/news/
Copyright © 2002 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2002-APR-18
Latest update: 2011-MAY-31
Author: B.A. Robinson