Do you think the Catholic process of “annulment” is ridiculous? I didn’t understand, either. I had no idea how just, biblical, practical, rational, and beautiful it truly is.
It protects the deepest dignity of the human person, upholds the truth, honors the words of Christ, and is a stalwart defense of the sanctity and permanence of marriage.
But isn’t it just “Catholic divorce?”
Doesn’t it make the children illegitimate?
Doesn’t it say there NEVER was a marriage?
NO.NO.NO. Fake news.
I know a young, sweet, bubbly five-year-old who one day had trouble walking and it went downhill from there. A few years later she died from a cancerous tumor that, after investigating and doing tests, doctors confirmed was there from the time she was conceived. It just took those years, which seemed normal and healthy, for the hidden reality to show up and take over. She seemed healthy, but she was not.
Tragically, some marriages seem “real” but are not. They are legal, civilly valid in the eyes of the state, and look normal (maybe even “perfect”) from the outside. No one looks for serious problems, no one suspects. Despite the hopes or dreams of at least one of the parties, and knowing that everyone has some good times and affection (and beautiful children), there can also be hidden, cancerous conditions that grow and ultimately burst like a tumor into a deadly divorce. It can take a few years or decades for that to happen. The Church knows there must be something more than a man, woman, and a civil marriage license for a true marriage bond (the way God designed it) to come into being.
The young woman who is pregnant, afraid, pressured by per parents, and even believes she may go to hell if she doesn’t marry the cheating, womanizing bully who is the father? For years he shames, humiliates and cheats on her. She tolerates it and distracts herself with the kids that come along. Cancerous tumor blocking a true marriage bond?
The troubled and secretive young man who does not want to be gay and thinks marriage will somehow cure him? He marries his kind, sweet, and lonely friend and after the baby comes, he finds himself unable to stay away from other men. Cancerous tumor blocking a true marriage bond?
The young man whose father, grandfather and uncles love their wives—and take good financial care of them—but who all have girlfriends on the side. He thinks this is normal and permitted and only intends to be “faithful” when he wants. Cancerous tumor blocking a true marriage bond?
The desperately lonely woman who marries the handsome, charming drug-using alcoholic, who keeps getting fired, hoping she can fix him? He marries her for a green card and, in an argument, spits in her face on their honeymoon. Real marriage? *
Sure, all marriages have difficulties, sadly some more than others. For better or worse, right? Yes, the Church believes for better or worse. But there are more than a few that are founded on such disordered, disastrous realities from the very beginning that when they say “I do” no true marriage happens. The Catholic Church acknowledges:
There is a valid civil marriage.
There are valid civil obligations.
There was an attempted marriage, with valid efforts made at least in part.
The children who are born are valid and beloved children of God, and their parents love them.
The parents and their children will always be united by family bonds.
Even some good times and affection are valid.
But true marriage—as the Church understands it—is based on the way Jesus the Bridegroom loves and commits to us, his Bride. It requires four distinct elements that no other human relationship has, otherwise it is a union of sorts but not a true “marriage”. It must be entered into:
FREELY, without agendas, grave fears, intense pressure
FULLY, nothing held back, no partial giving, not temporary (‘til death), no conditions
FAITHFULLY, sexually, emotionally, socially, financially, physically, in every way
FRUITFULLY, open to life, and the gifts of children
When divorce occurs, it may simply be because people get tired of the tough times and bail. They think they have a right to be happy and leave their spouse. These are not reasons for divorcing and declaring the marriage bond null! But in the annulment process, people can ask the Church to help them prove that there was something cancerous from the very beginning.
If you were a close friend or family member—or even are now an adult child—of someone who divorced, could it be that:
- you didn’t know everything in the mind and heart of both of those people standing at the altar?
- you weren’t around when some really bad things happened?
- you did not know everything that went on behind closed doors?
- you saw signs but didn’t want to believe or dismissed them?
People who struggle with these relationship”cancers” (abuse, bullying, infidelity, addictions, and more) often hide and lie because of the fear and shame associated with them. When you find out what was really going on, it may hurt, anger, scare, or be unbelievable to you. But believe them when they finally open up and tell you now.
God desires that we stand firm, honor, and obey our marriage vows (Mal 2:16). Marriage is modeled after the way God loves mankind and is even a glimpse into his divine mystery. It is serious. But even Jesus knew there were those—God love them!—who were not capable of authentic marriage. Maybe you know some of them, too.
“And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” Eph 4:32
* All true stories.