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The Deacon's Bench

Most Catholics probably know someone who has been through the agony of annullment.

It’s not pretty. But it’s not supposed to be. Marriage is serious business — a sacrament — and ending one takes serious thought, effort and no small amount of interior reflection.

And now a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times has weighed in with her own thoughts on the process:

The decision to end a marriage often is one full of sorrow, disappointment, anguish and even shame. It’s the last resort. But sometimes it’s a necessary evil.

What feels absolutely unnecessary is the religious notion of annulment. In the Catholic tradition, which does not recognize divorces between couples who have been joined together in sacramental, holy matrimony, it is possible, however, to have a marriage declared null and void.

A “Declaration of Nullity,” as Catholic annulment is technically known, does not mean the marriage never happened. It just means it was never a valid union, from the beginning. Which, it would seem, is not a great comfort to many going through the annulment process, particularly those who do not wish to have their marriage annulled in the first place. [snip]

Annulment is like a theological sleight of hand.

Pastorally speaking, the coexistence of annulments with the prohibition of divorce within Catholicism “is like being stretched out between galloping horses,” said the Rev. Donald Senior, president of Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union.

“Some would say it’s become in effect a kind of technical knockout,” Senior said of annulments. “I think it’s not theologically or theoretically inconsistent . . . but how it may be applied, you wonder sometimes.”

Indeed.

Image: “Matrimony” by Rogier van der Weyden, 1445

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