More On Annulments

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

I am an ordained Roman Catholic deacon in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Regarding the response of the psychologist who consulted on annulments, you took issue with one of his points in a summary of typical reasons for an annulment: 5) Lack of appreciation for the full implications of marriage as a life-long, faithful, loving commitment with priority given to spouse and children. You said that was just a euphemism for "I don't want to be married anymore." But if you read it carefully and realize this involves what was happening at the time of the marriage, not now, you'll see that's not what it means.

I was aware of the distinction, but the rule still sounds so vague and subjective that it seems one could easily apply it retroactively. As in, how can an annulment official contradict someone insisting he or she had a "lack of appreciation" in the past? As if on cue, another reader wrote:

Proof of a "lack of appreciation" basically comes down to how strict or expansive the Tribunal in the particular diocese chooses to be.  Does the word of one of the spouses (i.e.: "boy, I had no idea this was going to be 'for life'") suffice?  Or does there need to be some conduct that evinces the "lack of appreciation" (i.e.: early and consistent adultery, refusal to forego birth control, etc.). This is where you'll find the more right-wing diocese cracking down.

Another reader has a harsh but understandable take on the whole issue:

The difference between an annulment and a divorce is that a divorce affirms to the world, and at least any children, that a marriage did exist at one time. It tells them that you (the children) were produced by a couple who loved each other at one time, but that may have changed. An annulment, on the other hand, says ‘no marriage ever existed’, Daddy and Mommy had a “3,000 night stand”, and you are the bastard offspring of something that God did not ever bless. What God has joined together, the Church can pretend never ever happened.

(This says the Church doesn't consider such children illegitimate.) The Catholic deacon reader also broke down some the vagueness of the #5 rule:

"Full implications": Can be someone who has an immature understanding of marriage, and is therefore really unable to responsibly enter into it

"Life-long": If someone enters into marriage with the idea that they'll just try it for a while, that is grounds for annulment.

"Faithful": If one was involved in an affair at the time of the marriage, or open to the idea, or even seeking one, that is grounds for an annulment.

"Loving": Those who see a marriage as an advantageous business or family contract, or who who marries to improve their station in life, or who has an erroneous idea of what a marriage relationship is (e.g., "I'm the husband and she can just do whatever I say"), that marriage could be subject to an annulment.

I respect the good-faith efforts of annulment officials trying to gauge such criteria in the often distant past. But shouldn't the exact same scrutiny be applied to Catholic couples before they tie the knot? Perhaps that is the case, though the answer wasn't obvious after my brief research. Here is the exhaustive list of formal "impediments" compiled on Wikipedia. And here are some FAQs on Catholic marriage.