By Msgr. Steven Aguggia, Judicial Vicar
Is there anything more misunderstood by Catholics about something that goes on in their own Church than annulments?
- An annulment is just a “Catholic Divorce.”
- If you have the money or know someone, you can get one.
- Annulments cost about $15,000 and take years.
All of the above statements are false. These and other fictions often cloud Catholics’ understanding of a process that is intended to be one of mercy, reconciliation and new beginnings. An often-quoted principle in the Church is that the supreme law is the salvation of souls. This goes for the annulment process as well as all of the Church’s laws. It is the holiness of people that is the aim of the annulment process, and it is accomplished by allowing people to return to the fullness of a sacramental life in the Church.
The marriage of a man and woman is the foundation of family life. Jesus clearly showed how much marriage is valued in the mind of God by raising marriage to the level, to the dignity, of a sacrament. When a marriage is good and holy it builds upon the grace that is received in the sacrament. Sometimes however, a marriage that may look for all intents and purposes to be a valid marriage is not. This is what the process of the Tribunal is all about.
Let us take the example of the men and women who, after getting to know one another over the course of years, decide to be engaged and continue to grow in knowledge of one another and in love with one another. They decide to marry totally understanding what Christian marriage is all about, understanding the sacramental nature of what they will be doing, making the right decision regarding the person that they are marrying and in a mature way, enter into the married state of life. Their love is fruitful and they begin to raise a good Christian family. This Christian home is a domestic church where the love of Jesus is taught and lived.
Such a marriage is valid because all of the conditions that were required for the valid celebration of the sacrament were present. The effects of this are seen in the fruit that the marriage produces. Certainly, such a marriage is permanent. No one can separate what God has joined. In the case of two Christians, it is a “sacramental marriage.”
Sometimes however, all of the things that necessarily go into making a marriage valid are not present. When this happens, the marriage is invalid or null. It means that even though it may look like it happened, it did not. Something essential to its coming into existence was not there.
Next Week: When is a marriage invalid?