Annulments can clear way to remarriage - Catholic Courier

Annulments can clear way to remarriage

It’s a common misconception that a divorced person cannot remarry in the Catholic Church, said Mary Dundas, coordinator of evangelization and sacramental catechesis for the diocese.

Divorce may not necessarily prevent a person from remarrying — it all depends on the circumstances of the previous marriage, she said.

"There are so many situations that it’s better to meet with a pastor or deacon and ask, ‘What are the chances?’" Dundas said. "It is possible in so many cases."

The Catholic Church does not recognize that civil divorce frees a person to marry again, teaching instead that a valid, sacramental marriage between two baptized people cannot be dissolved by any human power. However, with proof of invalidity it may be possible to obtain an annulment, which is a declaration from the Catholic Church that a marriage was invalid from the start, noted Father Louis A. Sirianni, pastor of Greece’s St. Mark Parish. There also are instances in which the bond of a valid nonsacramental marriage may be dissolved and instances in which the marriage of a Catholic is not recognized by the Catholic Church because the Catholic form was not followed during the wedding ceremony.

Father Sirianni, who also serves as judicial vicar for the diocesan tribunal, or court, said the tribunal can investigate and conduct trials when the validity of a marriage is called into question. The tribunal investigates more than 100 such marriages each year, he said.

The Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth explains that a valid Catholic marriage takes place between two people who are free to marry; who freely exchange their consent; whose consent includes having the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and to be open to children; and whose consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and a properly authorized Catholic Church minister.

Canon law states that a marriage legitimately celebrated is valid unless proven otherwise, Father Sirianni said, noting that people should not see the annulment process as adversarial.

"Nobody’s on trial here," he said, adding that tribunal investigations are conducted "to determine the status of the individual relative to that marriage. If anything’s on trial, it’s the marriage."

In the case of potential remarriage, the tribunal is asked to rule on the validity of a previous marriage so that couples will know whether they are free to remarry in the Catholic Church. Some people seek annulments even if remarriage is not imminent.

"They want to have their status determined," Father Sirianni said. "For some people, it’s an opportunity to put closure on a failed relationship."

Father Sirianni said grounds for invalidity include impediments that would prevent people from being free to marry, such as a close blood relationship between the parties. Another category of grounds for invalidity is flawed consent at the time of the marriage. Though there are many nuances in this category, a person’s consent could be flawed if he or she was psychologically incapable of marriage; was forced or coerced into agreeing to the marriage; or faked consent at the ceremony.

"A person might say the right words at the vows, but have no intention of being faithful or of having the marriage last as long as they lived or no intention of ever having children," Father Sirianni explained.

Catholics whose marriages were not performed using the Catholic form during their wedding ceremonies and who did not receive dispensation from their bishop to deviate from the Catholic form remain free to marry in the Catholic Church, Father Sirianni noted, because the church does not recognize marriages that were not performed according to canon law.

For example, a Catholic who was married by a justice of the peace and without having obtained a bishop’s dispensation would be in a marriage that lacked the Catholic form because canon law requires that Catholics be married before an authorized priest or deacon. In such instances, an annulment would not be required.

A person petitions the tribunal for an investigation to determine whether his or her marriage was invalid. The tribunal then reviews the petition to see if there is enough evidence of invalidity to proceed.

The investigation also will explore the testimony of the former spouse and other witnesses. Couples wishing to be remarried in the church are encouraged to contact the tribunal early, since the process can take six to 18 months or longer to complete.

Couples also are advised not to set wedding dates prior to the conclusion of the tribunal process since there is no guarantee that a prior marriage will be found to be invalid. If a prior marriage is not found to be invalid, neither party can remarry in the Catholic Church because the remarriages would be considered invalid, Father Sirianni said.

"We’re basically saying they shouldn’t be getting married in any church in any form," he said.

Father Sirianni noted that divorced Catholics who have not remarried are free to receive the sacraments.

To be able to receive Communion in the Catholic Church after remarrying, divorced Catholics who remarried outside the Catholic Church must first determine whether they are free to marry in the Catholic Church and then have their current marriage convalidated, or recognized, by the Catholic Church. If they do not do this, their remarriage would be considered invalid, which would prohibit them from participating in the fullness of the sacraments, he said.

"They are still considered to be Catholics, and they are not excommunicated, but they are not supposed to receive Communion until and unless they have their current marital situation resolved with the Catholic Church," Father Sirianni said.

The church’s rules about marriage have their basis in Scripture, Father Sirianni noted. He cited the example of the prohibition against divorce, which comes from the words of Jesus, who told the Pharisees in Matthew 19:6 that "what God has joined together, no human being must separate."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the mutual love of a married Christian couple becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love God has for mankind. The marriage bond also reflects the relationship of Christ and his bride, the church, which makes divorce impossible, Father Sirianni said.

 

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