More than a 'loophole,' the annulment process helps couples confront a failed relationship and build a future within the Church.
BY: Jennifer M. Paquette
Many Catholics feel annulment is just a clever loophole, but according to Rev. Patrick R. Lagges, Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese of Chicago, that's one of many misconceptions. To Catholics, he says, the indissolubility of marriage is a testament to the permanent and faithful love of God. Annulment is no loophole, but a process whereby a marriage tribunal determines that a valid marriage never existed. His experience has shown that, in most cases, "a declaration of invalidity doesn't tell people anything they didn't already know."
Responding to a common concern, Lagges points out that children of an annulled marriage aren't considered illegitimate. Though a Decree of Nullity (as annulment is formally known) establishes that the marriage was never valid in the sacramental sense, their one-time civil marriage is sufficient for legitimacy, and annulment can't affect children's status retroactively.
Official Stance on Divorce:
"The Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed. In this case the contracting parties are free to marry." (From theCatechism of the Catholic Church
True marriage is permanent, but we often fall short of our potential. Divorce itself is not a sin in Catholicism, but remarriage is not permitted without an annulment. Individuals who are divorced and remarried without annulment are not permitted to receive the Eucharist (Holy Communion). Annulment frees remarried individuals to participate in the sacraments and thus fully realize their relationship with God despite their previous failings.
After a civil divorce is granted. Often, participants wait until they are about to remarry before considering an annulment. Most pastors urge individuals to consider it as soon as they feel ready, rather than waiting.
At home, in your pastor's office, and/or the offices of your diocese's marriage tribunal. In the rare instance that annulment is denied, you can appeal to a higher jurisdictional (city, provincial, state, or national) level. In some special cases, either party may have the right to petition the highest appeal court in Rome (the Roman Rota).
Annulment can be initiated by either spouse, but both may be asked to testify. The spouse's pastor will be the contact person, though the annulment itself is processed by a marriage tribunal at the archdiocese level. Individuals and couples can also seek the counsel of priests and laypeople who are expert in the annulment system.
Children don't usually participate or testify, but if they're old enough to understand the civil divorce and have some understanding of Catholic traditions, you can discuss what annulment means and how it affects your relationship with them (and theirs with the Church). Making time to sit down together with your pastor may help resolve any questions they may have and ensure that they don't develop bitter feelings about the confusing and painful process they see their parents going through.