Saturday, February 19, 2011

Annulment: 100 Questions and Answers for Catholics

By Pete Vere and Jacqui Rapp, 116 pages, Servant Books.

Rather than bogging the reader down in legalistic mumbo-jumbo, the authors repeatedly show the theology that inspires the canon law regarding the sacrament of marriage. Because of the sacramental nature of the faith, marriage is nothing to be trifled with. The Church takes marriage very seriously, as it does all the sacraments.

Vere and Rapp write with theological awareness, but also with the compassion of pastors. The work of the marriage tribunal should be healing and full of grace.

The theology behind canon law reflects the belief that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman, and is for life; only God, through the death of one partner, can end a sacramentally valid marriage.

Given our fast-changing society, things are not always so simple. Does the Church presume a sacramental marriage between 2 Protestants, or between a Protestant and a non-Christian, for instance? How about a Catholic-Protestant marriage?

The authors address important terms, such as "declaration of invalidity," "annulment," and "dissolution" with precision, as well as less commonly-known terms as "monitum," "vetitum," and "sanatio in radice." Again, these terms are not merely legalisms, but originate in the deepest beliefs of the faith; they are part of the deposit of the faith because they help defend the sacramentality of marriage, the authors show.

With so many misunderstandings regarding "Catholic divorce," often also known as "annulment,", the authors take the time to correct mistaken views: Even "annulment" is a misnomer. "[T]he Church does not annul marriages; she declares them invalid."

Such a declaration means that "a Church court, when sufficient evidence is presented, declares that from the beginning something important was missing from a relationship." This obstacle "prevented the relationship from coming together as a marriage. The issue had to be serious, and it had to be present at the time of the wedding."

Clear examples in Annulment show the nature of the impediment. If one partner was alcoholic at the time of courtship and before the wedding, it could be taken to be an obstacle. The alcoholic partner was not capable at the time of making the grave decision of being in a lifelong relationship where children were a strong possibility.

If the alcoholism can be shown to have developed after the wedding, such as in the third year of marriage, one partner's alcoholism would not be considered an impediment. Perhaps the marriage tribunal would look for another obstacle present at and before the wedding. For one, the court would try to ascertain the reasons for the development of alcoholism. Perhaps these had been present on or before the wedding.

Vere and Rapp answer many of the common questions, such as the legitimacy of children. Children from a marriage declared invalid are still legitimate in the eyes of the Church. Another common question happily married couples have is whether their marriage is valid or not, such as when a priest from a neighboring diocese officiates at a wedding without the approval of the local bishop. The Church presumes marriages to be valid; it is the invalidity of a marriage that must be proven.

Annulment can put anxious hearts to rest, as the authors show the compassion and faith behind canon law.

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