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Heated Conversation Over Annulment Article


This morning I was alerted on Facebook to a commotion on the Internet regarding an article by a brother priest of the Archdiocese of Washington.  Another priest, Msgr. Charles Pope, who authors the Archdiocesan blog noted:

“I was saddened to see that a priest of my Archdiocese wrote a rather harsh article on Church Marriage teaching. I do think we need to look to clarify the annulment process but I guess I would reform it in very different ways than Fr. Peter Daly says. Anyway, Ed Peters does a pretty good job here of answering my brother priest.”

I said my prayers, offered Mass and then tracked down the article and Dr. Peters’ response.  CATHOLIC WORLD REPORT aligned itself with Dr. Ed Peters as did Father John Zuhlsdorf on his blog.

Doctor Peters versus Father Daly

The first thing that Google found was the site for the canonist Dr. Edward Peters.  He offered a stinging rebuke to Fr. Peter Daly’s NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER article on reforming annulments.  While the issues at stake were vitally important, saying that it was harsh would be an understatement.  Castigating my brother priest as sarcastic and childish, he critiqued Father Daly’s article, saying:

  • He violates the “heart of Church teaching on the permanence of marriage.”
  • He is “repackaging common historical errors, irrelevant platitudes and bad theology.”
  • His dismissals of the juridical are “complaints about Christ’s economy of salvation.”
  • Fr. Daly does not want reform of annulments but their “abandonment.”

Wow, regular readers are aware that I routinely struggle with a pugnacious manner of my own, but goodness, Dr. Peters certainly pulled no punches!

I guess I was going about this backwards.  What did my priest friend say that merited such rebuke?  I tracked down Fr. Daly’s article at the newspaper site.

Oh boy, what can I say?  As another parish priest, I will share my (personal) position, hopefully with an ample supply of charity.   So what did he write to cause all the Internet chatter?  The article is entitled, “Pope Francis Should Consider the Church’s Outdated Annulment Process” (January 13, 2014) by Fr. Peter Daly.

True Sensus Fidelium

He admits that the catalyst for the article was the recent request from the Holy See for input in the upcoming special Synod on the Family.  Along with many others, he is excited by the apparent new openness of the Magisterium to hear from the rest of the Church, the rank-and-file priests in the trenches and the laity in the pews.  (Some critics are arguing that the survey was only addressed to the bishops but this is not strictly true.  The bishops sent the questions to priests and the faithful for collaboration.  Several dioceses placed the questions online for quick electronic responses.  Deadlines were give clergy and laity as to when to send in their answers.)  He stamps this change of direction as a miracle and writes:

“In our top-down hierarchical church, the concept of the sensus fidelium has been pretty much a dead letter since the Second Vatican Council. Usually Rome talks and we listen. But now he wants to hear from us. Thank you.”

Certainly, there is much to be said about listening, but we all still have different roles to play and ultimately the response of sheep to a shepherd is that of obedience.  As for the sense of the faithful, we must be wary of the fact that many if not most today are formed more by a secular, hedonistic and materialistic world than by the Gospel.  Only those believers who maintain the core truths, worship, and conscientiously live out their discipleship are truly agents of sensus fidelium.  You cannot transmit or develop what you really do not have.  I would suggest that fallen-away uncatechized Catholics and the majority of dissenters do not qualify despite the fact that someone spilled water over their heads decades ago to appease aging grandparents.

The Protestant Practice & the Orthodox Model Fall Short

Father Daly takes the survey from Rome and narrows his focus to the question of annulments.  His response is blunt:  “scrap our current annulment process and look east to see what our Orthodox brothers and sisters are doing.”  As a priest in good standing, he rightly asserts that Jesus did not approve of divorce and remarriage.  (I have often been amazed at the mental gymnastics that certain Protestant churches must employ to get around this restrictive teaching, especially in the Gospel of Matthew.  They make wiggle-room where there really is none.  But is Father Daly trying to force wiggle-room?)  He also knows full well that the current annulment process is an effort to respect this teaching while showing compassion to our people.

He brings up the Orthodox churches of the East which allow second Penitential Marriages as a possible solution.  But many of us fault it as a negative symptom of national churches.  Remember that Roman Catholicism was willing to allow the entire English church to slip away over the issue of marital permanence and King Henry VIII.  Would we now backtrack and say we were just kidding about the gravity of this issue?  Neither Sir Thomas More nor Bishop John Fisher can be given back their heads; and neither can we really turn back the clock on licit and valid marriages.  Along with certain Protestant notions about faith, authority and Scripture that are trying to get a foothold in the Eastern churches, especially those transplanted into the West, this issue of second marriages may be a greater hurdle to ecclesial reunion than either the Filioque Clause or Papal Primacy.

The annulment process might need to be reworked, but I do not believe the Orthodox provide a viable alternative.  Although not as shallow as our Anglican friends, the Orthodox might hide a false caricature of marriage behind elaborate ceremony and the pretension of sorrow.  True contrition means reform or change of life.  The so-called Penitential Marriages just give the couple their own way while feigning some degree of anxiety in conscience about it.  Father Daly insists that the matter should rest entirely with one man, the priest on the ground.  But he and I know that priests are not the same and there are some who may wrongly replace the Gospel with their own opinions and sentiment.  The Tribunal seeks an objective reality.  Is the prior bond a true or false marriage?  There are the judges, an advocate and the defender of the bond.  Beyond these five or more people, the judgment rendered will be reviewed again by another Church court.  They study the facts of the case and hopefully are neither susceptible to the manipulation of money nor to a false compassion.

I must admit that I am devilishly amused by Father Daly’s Episcopal priest-friend finding delight that the Catholic Church’s stand on divorce and remarriage will always give cause for the “Episcopal church.”  The shadow of the reformation still falls upon us.  His friend may be right.  Indeed, I would add (perhaps without charity) that until the final judgment, there will be a place for the Episcopalian church so long as sinners cling to a counterfeit priesthood and Mass, the fantasy of priestesses, the blessing of same-sex unions, the promotion of contraception and tolerance for abortion, the marrying of adulterous couples and the reception of renegade Catholic priests who want to bed their paramours.  Goodness me, I really have to work harder on my ecumenism!  But I would rather be a member of the Church that goes to heaven than the “church of anything-goes.”

The Pastoral versus the Legal?

Father Daly writes:

“The problem with the process in the Roman Catholic church is that it takes what ought to be a pastoral matter and turns it into a legal one. It is complicated, often unfair, and frequently unintelligible to the participants. Some tribunals are easy. Some are hard. It can be very capricious.”

(Is the use of the small “c” in Church an editorial liberty taken by his newspaper?)  As a civil lawyer, Father Daly has a point.  The subjective elements in how many cases are handled can be very worrisome.  Although I would usually be cold water to Father Daly’s hot, we agree upon this much.  The annulment process is not easy.  Formal cases require people to revisit all the pain and betrayal that poisoned their unions.  Adequate grounds have to be discerned in the muddle of mutual allegations and tears.  Witnesses are gathered.  Interviews are given.  Essays are written.  Then a thousand dollars and a year later a verdict hopefully emerges from the backlogged Tribunal.  That verdict is then reviewed by a second court that can approve or send it back.  Most applicants I have assisted seem to get declarations of nullity, but not all.  Sometimes I have to scratch my own head about the grounds.  But I am not a canon lawyer and would not want to be.  I pray for those who must spend so much of their lives and ministry ruminating over the dark side of life and marriages gone sour.

Father Daly desperately wants to be welcoming to those attracted to Catholicism.  While I have serious disagreements with him, he obviously cares and grieves about those estranged by marriages gone bad and new bonds that are not recognized.  My heart also bleeds for the few who wanted to save their marriages— angry and weeping daily at what they see as complicity in allowing their spouses to marry again in the Church.  Annulments are very staggering in principle and practice.  We are saying that couples previously regarded as married, even before a priest in Church, are not really married and that there is no sacrament.  Some defect invalidated the meaning of their marital act (sleeping together, i.e. sexual congress), having children and living a common life.  They said in their vows before God and to each other that they would forever be faithful and endure all hardships for each other.  But now we hear that someone lied or was incapable of living out the vocation or was mentally ill or had no intention of being faithful or practiced deceit or really did not understand what he or she was doing (after a six month wait and pre-Cana instruction).  One or both of the spouses want out.  It may be a year or twenty years later, but they feel entitled to start over.  Father Daly and I both help such people to begin again, although I am left troubled in conscience by many cases.  People even joke these days, “Promises are made to be broken.”  However, I was raised to believe that vows were made to be kept— in marriage and in the priesthood— even unto the Cross.

I certainly understand the RCIA dilemma for divorced and remarried candidates but there is no good way around it.  Fr. Daly argues that “All the annulment process does is put a road block in their way to entering the church.”  I would contend instead, that the barrier is their failed marriage and their attempt to bypass divine law in marrying again.  The annulment is the Church’s way of respecting the indissolubility of the sacrament while trying to help a couple out of the mess of their own making.  The process has its faults and is not perfect.  But, we would have them authentically married and delivered from the bondage of grievous sin.  It is not just or charitable to ignore a problem that damages their relationship with God and his Church.  They may not subjectively be aware of how much they need this healing.  We should not side-track or halt this process.

Speaking about non-Catholics having to get annulments before entering the Church, he writes that the process is “painful and pointless.”  I have to admit that this use of the word “pointless” makes me cringe.  It may be that the good Father is employing a degree of hyperbole.  He writes:

“They have to find witnesses, get records, take statements, dig up old contacts, and open old wounds. All of our language is legal, not pastoral. We speak of petitions, tribunals, witnesses, advocates, petitioners, defendants and evidence. It is Kafkaesque. It turns pastors into bureaucrats, to no purpose.”

I certainly appreciate his frustration and empathy for the people he serves.  But I would not say it is pointless or lacking purpose.  How else might we make something that is wrong into something right?  It is a difficult business but life is hard and frequently a real mess.  There was a time when divorce was illegal and annulments were rarely or not granted.  I am sure that Father Daly would not have us backtrack.  At least we are trying.

Father Daly says that he has taken “the pastoral route” for the elderly and terminally ill— in other words, he has invoked internal forum.  I have no comment about this.  It is the business of the confessional.  As long as a couple is not engaging in sexual congress and there is no danger of scandal, the priest may have certain discretion.  But I would be very careful about how far I would stretch this pastoral stratagem.  Dr. Edward Peters seems to read more into it; he wonders what he means and warns that if he married such people then these rites are “gravely illicit” (Canon 1085 § 2), “possibly invalid” (Canon 1085 § 1) and/or “sacrilegious” (Canon 1379).  He states that it would be an “abuse of ecclesiastical power” (Canon 1389).  I suspect that all Fr. Daly is doing is helping sick and elderly people to face their last days in right relationship with God.  I would not make more of it than that.

God Opposes Divorce & Remarriage

While all must follow natural and divine positive law, only Catholics are obliged to follow “man-made” Church laws.  (Of course, some Church laws reflect God’s explicit providence and cannot be abrogated.)  Heterosexual marriages between Protestants are acknowledged as sacraments, no matter if witnessed before a minister or civil magistrate.  Marriages with those not baptized are natural bonds but are also generally regarded as fully binding (with the possible exception of referral to the Pauline and Petrine privileges).  Homosexual unions between anyone, anywhere, are not true marriages.  A Catholic must pledge his or her marriage vows before a priest or deacon.  This law could change but it is unlikely and probably unwise to tamper with it.  Divorce is forbidden by Jesus (Matthew 19:3-9):

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”

Nevertheless, there is the irony that no Church annulment case can precede until after a civil divorce.  While some authorities, even clergy, would wrongly argue against the view that divorce is a sin— such is the case, at least for the party or parties who damage the bond and force the separation.  Spouses have vocational obligations or responsibilities toward one another.  Separation does not immediately dispense culpability for marital duties.  Divorced persons should not date.  Rather they should live chastely with no corner given to possible adultery.  Nevertheless, in practice, most annulments come after couples are civilly married and are sexually intimate.  The mess can get messier.

The husband as head of the home expects a certain level of obedience.  That is why he is also regarded as the final authority when it comes to the discipline of children.  The wife must be respected as the heart of the home.  I tell every man who gets married, that his primary duty in life is to make his wife happy.  I tell the ladies that their devotion to the husband must be that of a best friend, and that she is literally his home.  Together they are responsible for their common life, with all its struggles, joys, sorrows, affection, accomplishments and failures.  They are ordered by nature and their vocation to give intimate friendship to one another where there is the satisfaction of sexual passion and openness to procreation.  It is the duty of a husband and wife to become lovers and parents.  The husband is commanded to treat his wife in a generous and honorable way.  They must work together as partners in insuring the goods of the family, materially, emotionally and spiritually.  Husbands and wives are called to be help-mates to one another.  It is grievously wrong to steal the affection and support owed to a spouse and to give it to another.  Mutual respect and esteem should properly be realized.  Indeed, if there is a separation, one of the duties is not to get married again.  A man who walks out on his wife deprives her of his support and a possible family.  Many such women in the time of Jesus were then forced into adultery to find a means of taking care of themselves.  A woman who abandons her husband will deprive him of the friendship owed him, including the physical intimacy to which men are strongly oriented.  How many stories have we heard about men who turned to mistresses when their wives became to their overtures?  Women who use sex (deprivation) against innocent husbands sin mortally.  This would also apply the other way around.  A woman neglected by her husband might be tempted to fulfill her yearning for affection and friendship elsewhere.  Divorce is not recognized by the Church.  Neither separation nor divorce exonerates or frees the spouse from the various inherent duties of marriage.  While extending marital benefits to the spouse would become impossible or absurd in breakups; still no such recourse can be made to others to procure or to offer these benefits.  Doing so is the commission of adultery, even if tender and loving.

An Administrative Law of the Church for Good Order

The “loophole” for Catholics is really nothing of the kind.  Catholics married outside the Church are not married.  That is why a declaration of nullity is short paperwork.  When convalidations take place we are at pains to emphasize that the new ceremony is not a renewal of promises previously made before a Justice of the Peace.  Instead, even if only five people are in the chapel, this convalidation is the true marriage— not the big expensive affair at the rented mansion or before the judge at the seaside garden of a rich friend.

Fr. Daly laments that these quick annulments or declarations seem unjust.  I can top this.  A couple came to me where the bride-to-be was the “other woman.”  She joked that she stole the Catholic boy from a life of sin so that he could marry in the Church.  This woman deliberately made a play for the civil husband of another woman.  Now she justified it in light of the quick declaration of nullity from the Archdiocese. Her attitude sickened me.  I felt compromised by my association with them.

The priestly critic sees no sense in Church legalities about marriage.  But it is not silly.  The Church has a right to regulate her sacraments.  Given that society and the Church no longer share a common vision of marriage, it seems to me that the Church’s legal appreciation of marriage is more important than ever before.  The pastoral cannot trump objective truth.  The priest might want to give the couple a second chance but it is not for him to decide.

The canonist is not dealing with law like a civil lawyer.  Society today deems law as capricious and open to constant revision.  The Church lawyer must acknowledge laws for the good order of the Church, divine positive law and natural law.  The Church could remove the requirement that Catholics must be married before a priest or deacon.  However, it would only complicate the question about true and false marriages.  But the Church cannot dissolve marriages simply on the say-so of forgiving and caring priests.  The priest has the power to absolve sin.  He does not have the authority to redefine right and wrong in marrying people who are already married, divorce decree or no decree.  If God has made a couple one flesh, and it is fully a sacramental reality, then neither a parish priest nor the Pope has the authority to say otherwise.  The priest is a servant of the Gospel, not its master.  We stand under God’s Word, not above it.  When it comes to marriage we must not by the lie that annulment is a Catholic divorce.  The only reality akin to divorce in regard to the Catholic understanding of marriage is death.  Couples are married,  “until death do they part.”  Annulments are simply a limited means of intervening in cases where a prior bond is determined in justice not to be fully real and binding.  If genuine, no act of charity and compassion could intervene.  It is here that Dr. Peters would interpret Fr. Daly’s argument as one against marital permanence.  The good priest acknowledged Christ’s teaching and the understanding of the Church; however, his solution would utterly compromise the doctrine of marriage.

The Plight that Faces Us

Father Daly writes:

“Nobody is deterred from getting divorced and remarried by our annulment process. But many people are deterred from coming into or back to the church by our annulment process. It is spiritually counterproductive.”

The numbers may be few but I would not say “nobody.”  I have known people who broke off relationships because they loved the Lord and his Church more than a romantic entanglement.  Admittedly I am confused by some of my brother priest’s opinions.  People may not understand the annulment process but all we are doing is asking people to keep their promises.  Everyone on their marriage day thinks with the Catholic Church and they vow to be faithful to each other, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, until death do they part.  It is only later when something goes wrong that people want out.  If we close our eyes and mouths to believers who marry outside the Church then do we become accomplices in their sin?  We need to invite them into seeing the annulment process as a stage of healing.  We must also invoke courage and strength when no annulment is possible and any second or third marriage attempt is a form of adultery.  Filling our churches with couples locked into lives of mortal sin is not the answer and would also be “spiritually counterproductive.”

Closing Thoughts

I have long since lost the argument in the Archdiocese about withholding communion, particularly to the enablers of abortion.  I have personally wept over the sacrilege against the sacrament and the prospect of bringing the full weight of judgment to communicants ill-disposed to receive our Lord.  Father Daly writes:  “To our faithful, the real scandal is not the fact that divorced and remarried people might receive Communion, but that sincere people who really desire the Eucharist are kept from it by a legalistic, complicated, capricious and alienating annulment process.”  I think the world of this priest, and I could never challenge his legal knowledge and writing skills.  He was ordained a month after me back in 1986.  He is a beloved and successful pastor.  Family members attend his church and adore him.  He remains in my daily prayers.  I see many of the problems and issues he sees; but I cannot agree in all his assessments and proposed solutions.  I am a parish priest and would not trust myself to write off a command from the mouth of Christ.  I could not do it.  As for Holy Communion, I urge everyone to go to Mass; however, I also ask that each of us reflect upon our worthiness for the Eucharist.  If we are living in an objectively immoral situation and mortal sin, it would be sacrilege to take the sacrament.

The Mass is also a testimony to a marriage banquet.  Christ is the groom and the Church is his bride.  Jesus will never break his promises to his bride.  We should keep our promises.  Christ who is ever faithful was brought to his Cross by all our broken promises.  Yes, even in the face of abuse, betrayal and abandonment, we should remain faithful.  I suspect that the answer for which we are looking in this debate rests with an imitation of Christ and a deeper awareness and resolve to practice sacrificial love.

17 Responses

  1. Dr Peters has now posted another article on annulments and compromise, correctly writing about the need to “show” (prove) that a “ presumptively valid marriage” is invalid: http://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/does-the-idea-of-compromise-even-apply-to-the-concept-of-annulment/ (Some readers might find the treatment by Sandro Magister more informative: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350711?eng=y
    Dr Peters’ term (presumptively valid) points to another difficult pastoral situation where the Church does in fact “compromise” on “proof”: canon 1707. Canon law allows a person to enter a new marriage when it is difficult to prove the previous marriage is not extant when the death of the previous spouse cannot be proven through the usual legal or ecclesiastical means. In these cases, the bishop investigates and can achieve moral certainty of death through means as vague as “well-founded” rumor of death etc, i.e. evidence which does not “prove” death and would therefore be insufficient to issue the equivalent of a death certificate. The bishop’s declaration of “presumption” of death in this case of doubt overrides the “favour of the law” that stops the (presumed) widow or widower from entering a new marriage. Canon 1707 is therefore an example of pastoral flexibility in the face of difficult cases, because it is not necessary to prove death through the usual legal procedures, but merely to find sufficient evidence for the bishop to arrive at moral certitude.
    It seems one solution to current inflexibility of nullity proceedings would be a declaration by the bishop (or Apostolic See) of “presumption of nullity” in cases where the “full” proof required is lacking. The diocesan bishop could arrive at moral certainty of nullity by means normally excluded by procedural law in tribunal cases. It seems precisely these cases that Popes Benedict and Francis wish to address in the coming synod(s). One advantage of this approach might be that it does not simply rely on the consciences of the persons involved – which of course would be a disaster- but instead submits the case to proper authority. Another advantage is continuity with the established approach to another difficult case.
    Of course some will see this as opening the floodgates and plainly open to abuse, but couldn’t that also be said about the present system anyway! Isn’t it possible to maximise the Church’s witness to both the indissoluble sanctity of marriage and the infinite, loving mercy of her Spouse in a more procedurally flexible way than at present? The Orthodox tradition might suggest that the subsequent marriage ought not be blessed (in the Latin tradition perhaps not situated in a nuptial Mass or perhaps even without a member of the clergy present, i.e. civil), however that is a separate question!


    Cases sent to the Holy See seem to take forever to get back. In truth, bishops and popes really rely upon staff to make determinations for them. If anything, the Holy See is more restrictive than diocesan tribunals, as we saw a few years ago with the Joe Kennedy case.

    While certain priests might want the authority to just dismiss old marriages and remarry people in the Church; I would suspect that most priests, bishops and popes shudder at the notion of taking such authority upon themselves. It is like Moses permitting writs of divorce because of the hardness of hearts. If we find ourselves contravening the divine will, then the shepherds of the Church would be inviting God’s judgment upon themselves.

    If I recall correctly there is a greater emphasis in Orthodox churches upon the participatory role of the priest in weddings (as a minister). Catholicism defines the priest as a witness for the Church and that the true ministers are the bride and groom. Thus, what they believe and what is going on in conscience is most significant. The difficulty I often see in such matters is the subjective element that we are supposed to weigh. I am also nagged by the possibility of deliberate deception in annulment cases.

  2. Have you seen the quotes from the German interview with the Cardinal from Honduras? The lines are being drawn, it seems.

    The battle for the Heart of Catholicism is setting up, perhaps.

    Father Z posted on it.


  3. I rest my case, Belinda is the fruit, come to life, of the actual behaviors of Catholic prelates towards those of us who have given our lives in the pursuit of the Catholicism of our youth.

    Wuerldly, I think.

  4. We are free to practice charity too, unless strife and judgement is more exciting I guess. Don’t really care how correct a Priest is, just how charitable they are. Shouldn’t they be better at the latter and not the former?

  5. Belinda, the topic here is annulments and remarriage.

  6. http://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/tag/father-peter-daly/

    I am so surprised that you show deference to a priest who is totally different from you. Are you converting away from the dark side? I doubt it. You are probably just hedging your bets given confusion about Pope Francis.

    You are dogmatic and nasty. Your conservatism is well known… on second marriages, on same sex orientation, on abortion, on contraception, etc. You say this priest is your friend and yet you follow everything that Pope Benedict teaches like a robot. You are bought and paid for by the bishops. Father Daly is a priest of the people. Of course, the new pope might shake things up a bit.

    Father Daly wrote this: “Conservative Catholic theologians would no doubt demand that I condemn all homosexual acts as immoral. They would want pastors to insist that all gay boys must learn to carry their unique cross of perpetual life-long chastity, a burden we would never dream of imposing on heterosexuals. They would want me to say that all gay acts are evil and all inclinations are intrinsically disordered. Well, let them say it. Let them say it to those boys who tried to commit suicide. Let them say it to the frightened little Scout who is still figuring out himself.”

    Are you not one of those Conservative Catholics? You condemn second marriages as adultery. You insist that homosexuality is disordered and that acts are sinful. You rebuke couples who responsibly use artificial contraception. Face it, the tide is turning against you!


  7. the emphasis of the Catholic Church should be on repentance and forgiveness. It should retool its entire being to focus on healing wounded marriages and doing what is best for children’s faith. As it is now and has been for decades it is about second and third chances for adulterers.

    That is reality.

    The upcoming synod will be run by those who have supported adultery for decades. It will be a joke, in all likelyhood. It will be a miracle if it is not.

    Go ahead, Father Joe. Bounce this comment. Truth hurts.

  8. I will never take Holy Communion again so long as I live. I married my beautiful Agnes and the church says that we are not really married. It has been thirty years. The priest says we are living in sin. We could not get an annulment. My bride has Parkinson’s and I have to take special care of her every day. The Church would have me abandon her. That will never happen. I love her. If I have to go to hell, I will always be faithful to her.

  9. Impediments and Grounds:

    Underage Spouse (the boy must be at least 16 and the girl 14)

    Perpetual Impotence

    Prior Bond

    Disparity of Cult (marriage to an unbaptized person)

    Holy Orders

    Religious Vows

    Abduction & Coercion

    Crime (adultery and/or murder of prior spouse)

    Consanguity (like second cousins)

    Affinity (a widower can’t marry is dead wife’s mother)

    Public Decency (affinity through scandalous relationships)

    Spiritual Relationship (attempting to marry your godmother)

    Legal Relationship (affinity through adoption)

  10. Hi Fr. Joe,

    Thanks for response, very interesting. I hope that all tribunals and priests are as conscientious as you. I had rather the impression that tribunals would search for any loophole, no matter how remote, in order to allow the annulment and approve what the couple was going to do anyway. Perhaps I was wrong.

    In any case, you write:

    “I am not sure what you are trying to say. What grounds? Religious affiliation does not change divine law.”

    Just as we regard baptisms that do not invoke the trinity to be invalid, it seems to me that marriages that do not invoke God (for example between two atheists) to be similarly invalid.

    This leaves open (and maybe even makes worse) the question of unfairness: atheists and fallen Catholics get a pass, whereas Lutherans have to go through a lengthy and expensive tribunals?


    Natural bonds among non-Christians are recognized as binding. The sacrament does, however, take the marriage to another level and avails the couple of supernatural graces. There is no pass for the atheist. If after a failed marriage, an atheist wanted to marry a Catholic before a priest, he would also require a formal annulment.

    However, note the following:

    PETRINE PRIVILEGE – The Pope can dissolve a valid but non-sacramental marriage between a baptized and unbaptized person for the sake of the soul of a person who is thus enabled to marry in the Church.

    PAULINE PRIVILEGE – The dissolution of a marriage bond between two unbaptized persons so that one of them may become a Catholic and get married in the Church.

  11. Dear Alex,

    The only annulment cases with which I assist are with parishioners and then only at the beginning of the process. More are approved than turned down— yes, that is true. Certain cases, as I admitted in the blog post, do trouble me in conscience. It is also true that the process is not foolproof. There was the famous intervention by Rome into the Kennedy case of a few years ago where an annulment was overruled. Having said this, it seems to me that many marriages that fail today, maybe most, are handicapped or doomed from the very beginning. I have even placed notations in marriage files where I had serious doubts or concerns that might be useful in a future annulment case. Our society celebrates the erotic and runs away from responsibility. The very word “love” is twisted and the definition of marriage is convoluted. People might have more school education but in many ways they are far less mature than the kids working on farms from a few generations back. I think many annulments are due to the confusion, immaturity and faithlessness of our culture. My concern is not always an annulment but whether or not even after one the person or persons are any more ready for the sacrament.

    There still are non-consummation cases, as if the wrongful marriage to immigrants for residence purposes or due to homosexuals hiding behind arranged unions with sympathetic heterosexuals. There is also the growing problem of impotence. However, one would have to argue there was not even one genuine act of non-contraceptive vaginal intercourse. If someone is paralyzed and totally impotent, it is impossible to even marry in the Catholic Church.

    Couples who marry must be able to fulfill their duties as man and wife. Some are rendered incapable throughout by long-standing addictions to drugs and alcohol. There is also the problem of mental disease. I had one lady who got an annulment because she was judged as psychologically unfit and able to make coherent consent. Medical reports were quite clear about her disorder. She wanted to marry someone else, but there was a monitum attached to her annulment. She could not attempt marriage again without certification from a doctor that she was healed. Poor thing, she was still sick in the head and could not get married in the Church.

    We also have annulments because of gross deceit. Such deception is related to other matters and is very terrible. Some people marry and hide the existence of prior bonds and divorce. They lie to the intended spouse and to the priest.

    I have had cases where the man had a vasectomy before the marriage and told no one, not even his bride. It is quite shocking for a girl who wants to be a mother to find this out after the honeymoon.

    I have also known men who just wanted to marry girls so as to get them into bed and take their virginity.

    I had a situation of a woman who left her husband after conceiving. When challenged about it she told me that she had all she wanted now. The man she married was regarded only as a means to an ends.

    I had one annulment where the groom went to bed with the maid of honor after the marriage rehearsal. Such showed the lack of gravity he gave to what he was doing on Saturday.

    I have a friend who is so addicted to sex that I am not sure if he will ever be able to validly marry. He tries to sleep with every girl he knows. He has been married multiple times and the grounds for divorce are always his adultery. He flirts and if the girl is interested, he goes for it. I am beginning to think that there are a lot of men today like him.

    My list goes on and on. I guess you would have to be in this line of work to see it. Confidentiality keeps us from talking about most of it. Priests can remark with generalities, but that is about all. I suspect that good people of faith measure the issue in light of their strong convictions and reflect upon how they would feel in such situations.

    You write:

    “Further, the situation with the converts, as both sides discuss, is unacceptable. If we’re going to grant annulments for any except the most obvious cases (and I’m not convinced we should, though that battle appears to be lost), having two non-Catholic (or particularly, non-religious) parties in the “marriage” seems like excellent grounds.”

    I am not sure what you are trying to say. What grounds? Religious affiliation does not change divine law.

    I am not privy to the cases and so cannot say if clamping down would help. It may be that most annulment cases are already the most egregious, and that others opt to remain single (regarding their vows as binding) or marry outside the Church.

    Both dead now, I knew an elderly couple who came to Church every week. They had tried to get an annulment for over 50 years, but the case was poor and records were missing. Advanced in years they lived together but more as brother and sister than husband and wife. While avoiding scandal, the Church used internal forum so that they might receive Holy Communion and the final rites of the Church. If annulment cases were submitted for every failed Catholic marriage, I suspect that more annulments would be denied than approved. As it is, most divorced Catholics never submit cases.


  12. We were married twenty years. My father was a minister and he married us. Jim was a Catholic but he did not seem to mind being married in my church. Even his family came out. After a few years I complained that he was staying late at work too much. Then one day he told me. He was having an affair with his sales girl. He left me for her and I was ready to let him go. But that wasn’t true. Later I told him that if he came home I would forgive him. What did he do? He divorced me and forced the sale of our home. Later I found out that he married his tramp in St. Martha’s Catholic Church. He told me to leave them alone and that we were never married. He said that his church and God said we were never married. I was a virgin when I married Jim. Now he was saying that I was nothing more than a dirty whore. Something is really wrong with Catholics if this is how they treat people. They say they are against divorce but then they have their tricks to get out of marriages. I am so upset and ashamed.

  13. Father Joe
    You are a good priest.

  14. Very interesting article and discussion, thanks for sharing. Here are some thoughts from a simple-minded physicist…..

    You argue very strongly at the end that Fr. Daly’s proposed solution would give a certain legitimacy to a sin against the permanence of marriage. My question is, do you really think the annulment process is any better? 89% of formally presented cases (though this may be a bit high, since week cases are often withdrawn) are approved. I strongly doubt that many of these were truly invalid (not consummated, under duress, etc).

    Further, the situation with the converts, as both sides discuss, is unacceptable. If we’re going to grant annulments for any except the most obvious cases (and I’m not convinced we should, though that battle appears to be lost), having two non-Catholic (or particularly, non-religious) parties in the “marriage” seems like excellent grounds.

    I don’t like Fr. Daly’s proposed solution, letting the priest handle everything. I agree with you that this would encourage people to shop for a sympathetic priest rather than reexamining their own lives. On the contrary, I would argue that some people are not free to marry, and that a binding decision should be made against them. Further, I agree completely with Dr. Peters that if Fr. Daly is performing illicit marriages, then such should be regarded as completely unacceptable.

    Still, everyone seems to agree that the current annulment process is painful and capricious, and ultimately ineffective, since most of them end up being granted after much sorrow and paperwork.

    It seems to me theologically correct answer would be to clamp down on the annulment process, granting annulments only in the most extreme and obvious examples of an invalid marriage. This would probably cut the annulment rate to somewhere around 25%. Anything else seems like we’re making it up as we go along.

    But if we’re not going to do that, then I find myself agreeing with some of Fr. Daly’s sentiments. It is absolutely foolish to make an abuse victim contact her abuser, or a very elderly penitent try to track down a former spouse from 50 years ago, if the end result will just be approving the marriage in any case.

  15. My wife got her annulment, even though we married in the Church and had a family. Now my children call another man, “daddy.” She is my wife and always will be. She traded me in for someone she thought was richer, better looking and nicer. Okay, maybe I am not well refined; but I worked like a dog and made money to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. She said they tried to contact me but I heard nothing about anything until the deed was done. She joked that I was now free to get married again. I was hoping that we might get back together. I fought the divorce and would have opposed the annulment. Everyone says it is too late now. She is married again. I will always love her. I have been betrayed.

  16. I have to make contact with an abuser so as to get an annulment? That is not going to happen. I met and married a gentle man who nurtures and loves me while the previous monster abused and used me. I do not need a piece of paper to tell me that this is right and that what came before was wrong. You all are jumping upon Father Daly, but he understands it as it is.

  17. The Church cannot have it both ways. The Vatican and conservative critics should not complain that there are too many annulments in the Western world and then invite ideas for reform that would further increase them. Fr. Daly would practically give an annulment to anyone that asked. Various Tribunals might go through a few hundred annulments a year; an easier process would probably push this number into the thousands. If half of all marriages fail, just imagine the numbers if there was an easy process! As it is, the current effort is hurtful, frustrating and takes way too much time. Can’t we streamline the process to make it faster?

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