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“American Annulment Mills” September 15, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Dallas Diocese, General Catholic, scandals, Society.

Wow, that’s a strong statement – “American Annulment Mills.”  It comes from an article that ran in Homiletic and Pastoral Review (a serious theological/pastoral journal) in 2005 and was kindly posted by Sancte Pater.   The author reveals some interesting statistics, that expand on some earlier numbers I had found earlier this year

The result has been an increase from 338 annulments in 1968, to 5,403 in 1970,   to a peak 61,945 in 1991.  Since then, the explosion has stabilized at around 40,000 U.S. annulments per year.  However, these commonly quoted statistics implying a recent decline are deceiving.  

Tribunals are not getting tougher on granting annulments.  They are getting fewer petitions for annulments, probably due to divorced Catholics cohabitating and not bothering with annulments.  Since 1964 the tribunals have consistently ruled for annulment in about 97 percent of the cases they accept.  Seventy percent of annulments worldwide are accounted for by American marriage tribunals though the U.S. has a mere six percent of the world’s Catholic population.  So prevalent has been the granting of annulments, that they are often referred to as Catholic divorces.

The author, Robert J. Kendra, goes on to state that when US tribunal rulings in favor of annulment are referred to the Roman Rota, the Vatican entity that adjudicates such matters, 95% of those US annulments are rejected.  The Rota, however, only reviews about 1 in every 2000 US annulment cases (mostly because US Catholics are unaware they can appeal to the Rota), but over the years many hundreds of annulments granted by US tribunals have been rejected by Rome.

There is an additional factor that comes out in the article, and this one is very concerning.  The author states that US tribunals will not hear an annulment case until a civil divorce has already been granted.  What this means, practically, is that the tribunals have every reason to follow through with an annulment, since in the eyes of the law, the couple is no longer married.  It would, thus, be very uncharitable to deny these folks the ability to remarry by granting an annulment.  I should note what an annulment means: that a valid marriage never took place, because for some reason either one or both parties were unable to give valid consent to marriage.  So what annulment tribunals actually strive to prove, again, for reasons of “charity,” is that for some, generally very vague, reason, the marriage was invalid from the get go.  The Code of Canon Law states that there are only three factors that can prevent the proper giving of consent (Canon 1095):

The following are incapable of contracting marriage:

those who lack sufficient reason
those who suffer from a grave lack of discretionary judgement concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted (remember this one)
those who, because of causes of a psychological nature, are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage (most notably, to be open to the reproductive act)

The first is hard to prove – you have to establish that a person is a moron, which simply does not apply.  The third is certainly a valid reason – if someone gets married but has some severe hang up about sex and can’t consent to engaging in the marital act, that’s a reason to get the marriage annulled.  But, again, that is very rare.  It’s the second reason that so many tribunals hang their judgements.  Using this “reason,” tribunals have stated that marriages lasting decades have been invalid from the start, in spite of many years together, children, pillars of the community, etc., for reasons like “insufficient emotional availability, ‘alcoholism’ (defined as more than one drink per day), emotional immaturity, and ‘failure to sufficiently support a communion of life and love.”  That last one is particularly common, and shows a great willingness to search for reasons to proclaim a marriage invalid, rather than try to keep a couple together (the requirement for a civil divorce before annulment makes that rather difficult).

Before I go any further, a couple of caveats: one, no, I’m not condemning your divorce/annulement.  I know some people wind up with a wife beater or serial adulterer or an alkie (like me!), and you just can’t carry on.  All that is granted.  Having said that, I have personal knowledge of annulments being granted for what to me are very spurious reasons.  Like, the man and woman married for 43 years, seemingly happily, no major complaints, close family assumed they were fine, and then at a point one just decides their not getting what they need and they leave.  No, for a civil divorce in our modern culture, that is adequate reasoning to grant a divorce, sadly, but for the Church, is that a valid reason to state that a valid marriage never occurred?  And don’t say “oh, you’ve only heard one side of the story” – wrong, I’ve heard both, and both pretty cynically took advantage of the process to remarry, but neither thought their marriage was truly invalid.

This is why the tribunals want the civil divorce to occur first – the grounds for which annulments are granted are often so flimsy and the evidence tendered so laughable (often with no chance for the other party to rebutt this evidence), that should actual divorce lawyers in a civil case get access to it they could have a field day.  It would undermine the entire tribunal process.  Can’t have that – there are powerful incentives to keep the present tribunal system going,  so better to insist that people be divorced civilly, first.  Granted, civil divorce is also permitted for essentially no reason (no fault), so it’s not like anyone is being held to a high standard.

So, here’s the truly laughable part.  Most people pursue an annulment when they want to remarry in the Church.  Their divorce may have been many years ago.  So, these tribunals will grant an annulment stating that this person or that just should not have married, they didn’t know what they were doing, they have some problem, they aren’t marriage material, whatever.  Then, the Church allows that person to turn right around months (or weeks, or even days) later and get married again!  Wait…..I thought they had some limitation that made them unable to be married?  Oh…..I see….

Look, I’m sure the people on the tribunals are very nice and well intentioned.  I’m sure they feel a powerful desire to be “charitable” and allow these people the joy of remarrying.   But I know a bit of statistics, and even though there are ostensible mitigating factors that could bias the results of tribunals in favor of annulment, the likelihood that divorce tribunals could return such uniform results (in favor of annulment) without a strong internal bias towards their granting is extremely small.  Statistically, things just don’t work out that way without a massive bias towards one result or the other.   And that’s very sad, the whole process is very sad.  Having read about how tribunals work makes my heart sink.  Divorce is such a painful thing for all involved, but when children are caught in the middle, it’s devastating.  I don’t have to quote the statistics concerning how children fare after divorce, they’re widely known.  And then there is the marked tendency for divorce to fuel the growing narcissistic tendency in our society.  Anyway….there are many reasons the Church should be extremely reticent to be liberal in the recognition of divorce with annulments.

One more caveat – again, I’m not trying to offend anyone who has been through this process, but I’m sure I will.  Sorry.  I’m less concerned about what’s been done and more about whether current tribunal practices ought not to be seriously reviewed with an eye towards philosophically changing their outlook towards one that seeks to preserve marriage rather than a system that grants annulments after a divorce a fait accompli.  I think the idea that most Catholics have, that annulments are not all that hard to obtain and that they CAN divorce and remarry in the Church needs a radical rethink.  This will require suffering, I am sure – part of the reason the present system evolved is precisely because few have had the stomach to tell people that the Church is morally opposed to divorce, and bringing that moral imperative back into operation will require painful re-thinking on the part of many.  I’m sure some will find me arrogant and hypocritical, confidently assured I’ll never find myself in this predicament. Again, that is less my intention than to strengthen the moral fiber of the Body of Christ (us) and prevent people from offending the Truth that Christ has revealed through His Church.  Certainly, many couples that thought they simply couldn’t go on together have managed to not only save their marriages but to lead very, very happy lives together.  Read the Greg and Julie Alexander story.

I keep praying for a great strengthening of Catholic marriage by an infusion of the Holy Spirit.


1. Mary - September 16, 2010

One group of people who could have a dramatic affect on divorces – counselors – needs to be added to the equation.
My experience when going through difficult times is that the counselors/psychiatrists/whatever encourage separation and divorce because it’s easier (and probably safer in the case of a lawsuit) than to work out problems and issues.
The same can be true of priests – they can be too sympathetic.

In my case, a Catholic counselor on the premises of a Catholic Church recommended separation and divorce. In the case of an aunt, her sister was a psychologist who recommended divorce, which they sought after their 3 children were grown and had children of their own.

These ‘professionals’ are typically hearing one side of the story – which will ALWAYS be biased.

No, it’s not the quick-fix prescribe a pill and call me in the morning sort of thing; we are dealing with the souls of all those involved, the spouses, children, friends, grandchildren, etc. I’m praying for friends who are struggling with the loss of a child – a divorce won’t make their situation better, but worse; but it’s tempting to blame and remove one person from the equation; the rest of the future is unknown, and not really thought about until the damage is done.

The family is the domestic church, it is no wonder satan strikes there.

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