Annulment is the common name for a decree of invalidity of a marriage for Catholics. After an investigation by a Church tribunal, if it is proven that the parties’ original marriage promises were invalid, then the marraige itself is null.
Those who marry as the Catholic Church understands marriage must promise
openness to children,
sexual fidelity, and
“orientation towards the good of the spouses*.”
Because Mary’s Advocates works to reduce unilateral no-fault divorce, the question of validity of a marriage is important. For those who have no reason to believe their marriage is invalid, the resources below will help them exercise their rights as a Respondent.
In no-fault divorce, one party can force divorce on the family, though the party wanting to keep the family together has done nothing grave enough to justify permanent separation of spouses. When the family splits, the party wanting to keep the family together would be pleased to meet with those expert in helping couples improve their marriage. Commonly, the party wanting divorce refuses to cooperatively participate and blames the other. For those who chose Catholic marriage, the reasons justifying permanent separation are very limited.
If, in fact, a valid Catholic marriage never occurred, the reason for invalidity is relevant to the determination of a fair, just, separation plan. The Church has competence to judge whether a separation plan is in accord with divine law. The canon law for cases of invalidity show that the Church has competence to remind the parties of their moral and civil obligations toward each other and their children (Mitis Iudex c. 1691 §1, CIC c. 1689), which are commonly undermined in civil divorce court. If a party is mentally ill and incapable of consenting to marriage, the tribunal can prohibit person from entering a new marriage (vetitum).
To see further discussion, read conclusion of paper “The Current Marriage Crisis in the Light of the Original Creation and the Code of Canon Law” by Bai Macfarlane.
Questions Readers are welcome to send questions to defending marriage e-mail discussion group, or contact Mary’s Advocates directly.
When Is Marriage Null? by Paolo Bianchi (1.1)
When Is Marriage Null? Guide to the Grounds of Matrimonial Nullity for Pastors, Counselors, and Lay Faithful. by Paolo Bianchi. Publisher: Ignatius Press, Ⓒ 2015.
This book has forward by Cardinal Raymond Burke, who served as the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. The Signatura is the highest appellate tribunal in the world, over the Roman Rota and all the Pontifical Councils and Congregations. Originally published in Italian, the author gives thorough explanations of the most common grounds used for nullity cases. Plus, he provides lists of criteria that anyone can use to understand whether a ground is applicable in a particular case. Fifty-three pages are dedicated to Canon 1095, for cases in which parties suffered psychological impediments making them unable to consent to marriage.
On page 85 and 213, author shows how “good of the spouses” necessarily incorporates the orientation toward “mutual assistance” that was previously codified in canon 1013 §1 in 1917.
The Theology of Marriage, by Msgr Cormac Burke (1.2)
The Theology of Marriage; Personalism, Doctrine and Canon Law, by Msgr. Cormac Burke. Publisher: Catholic University of America, Ⓒ 2015.
Cormac Burke was a judge at the Tribunal of the Roman Rota assigned by Saint Pope John Paul II. He offers clarity on the broader sense of the phrase “good of the spouses” that was newly added to the definition of marriage in the 1983 code. Citing historical Church authorities, he shows how the “good of the spouses” is not some new discovery of the Church during the late 1900’s. Nor can “the good of the spouses” be used to grant annulments for marriages that would have been judged valid under the pre-1983 code. The last chapter about the “remedy for concupiscence” is a beautiful tribute to the dignity of sexuality and the human person, such that sexual acts are not solely the solution to the animalistic sex drive.
What God Has Joined Together, by Robert Vasoli (1.3)
What God Has Joined Together: The Annulment Crisis in American Catholicism, by Robert Vasoli. Publisher: Oxford University Press, Ⓒ 1998.
Robert Vasolli was a Sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame who had taught courses that dealt extensively with criminal law and procedure and the law of corrections. His wife abandoned him and entered a second union, and she petitioned for a decree of invalidity of their marriage. He wrote his book after ten years of study and his bibliography is nine pages long. The book’s introduction will affirm the “yellow-flags” going up in any respondent’s head that senses that something is amiss when beginning the process as one defending the validity of the marriage. His book is a high-level overview of the history behind the U.S. annulment crisis, statistics supporting his thesis, and descriptions of tribunal practices that violate the rights of the defendant. He discovered from studies on cases between 1980 and 1987, that at least 92% of the American defective consent cases reviewed by the Rota were overturned (page 61-62).
Capacity to Consent, Mentality of Divorce, by Edward Egan (1.4)
Capacity to Consent, Mentality of Divorce. Vatican’s Team of 1983 Canon Law Editor, Edward Egan
It is incorrect to believe that “When a couple consents to marriage, they do it .. by exchanging the right to some additional thing or things without which the marriage would be invalid. … : an interpersonal relationship, a community of life and love, self-completion, self-development, and self-fulfillment.”
Lack of Due Discretion of Judgment, by Edward Egan (1.5)
Nullity of Marriage for Reason of Insanity or Lack of Due Discretion of Judgment: Vatican’s Team 1983 Canon Law Editor, Edward Egan, Rota’s Scholarly Journal 1983
The valid psychological reasons acceptable to demonstrate a marriage is invalid are clearly limited. Canon 1095
Incapacity to Fulfill the Essential Obligations, by Edward Egan (1.6)
Incapacity to Fulfill the Essential Obligations Vatican’s Team 1983 Canon Law Editor, Edward Egan Rota’s Scholarly Journal 1984
Exposes false discovery from the 60’s and 70’s that spouses didn’t have the capacity to marry if they didn’t achieve “their mutual fulfillment, completion, integration, and enrichment.” Canon 1095
Sequence of Events Marriage Invalidity Case (2)
Accepting Case, Citing Respondent (2.1)
See Facts (in general), Get Advocate, Respond to Citation (2.2)
Collection of Proofs, and Psychologist Witness (2.3)
Publication of the Acts, Final Briefs (2.4)
Judgment, Appeal (2.5)
Other Sources (3)
Pope: To the Roman Rota, and US Bishops (3.1)
Pope Benedict XVI to Roman Rota, Jan. 29, 2011
Pope Benedict XVI reminds tribunal judges, “The right to contract marriage presupposes that the person can and intends to celebrate it truly, that is, in the truth of its essence as the Church teaches it. No one can claim the right to a nuptial ceremony. Indeed the ius connubii refers to the right to celebrate an authentic marriage.”
Pope to Roman Rota, Jan. 29, 2010
Pope Benedict XVI reminds tribunal judges, “One must avoid pseudo-pastoral claims that would situate questions on a purely horizontal plane, in which what matters is to satisfy subjective requests to arrive at a declaration of nullity at any cost, so that the parties may be able to overcome, among other things, obstacles to receiving the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.” . . . “In this sense, existential, person-centred and relational consideration of the conjugal union can never be at the expense of indissolubility” . . . “there is a grave risk of losing any objective reference point for pronouncements on nullity, by transforming every conjugal difficulty into a symptom of failure to establish a union whose essential nucleus of justice the indissoluble bond is effectively denied.”
Pope to Roman Rota, Jan. 29, 2009
Pope Benedict XVI reminds tribunal judges that the behavior of a spouse years into marriage is not grounds for a can. 1095 annulment (Canon Law regarding mental incapacity). He reminds us of Saint Pope John Paul II’s teaching about psychic incapacity. “To speak of capacity or incapacity, therefore, is meaningful to the extent that it concerns the act itself of contracting marriage, … and its continuing validity does not depend on the subsequent conduct of the couple during their married life. ” […] “First of all, there is a need for a new and positive appreciation of the capacity to marry belonging in principle to every human person by virtue of his or her very nature as a man or a woman. We tend in fact to risk falling into a kind of anthropological pessimism which, in the light of today’s cultural context, would consider marriage as practically impossible.”
Pope to the Roman Rota, Jan 29, 2005
Pope John Paul II cautions those who believe there is a pastoral requirement to declare marriages invalid because there was a family breakup. Tribunals are tempted to simulate the judicial process to achieve this desired result, which would be a grave problem and the Bishops are responsible for ensuring their tribunal staff seeks objective truth.
Pope to Roman Rota, Jan. 29, 2004
Pope John Paul II cautions tribunal judges against presuming a marriage is invalid just because the couple (or one party) failed at keeping their matrimonial promises. Sin can be the cause of the breakup of families.
Pope to Roman Rota, Jan. 18, 1990
Pope John Paul II says it is a violence against truth to issue a decree of invalidity when the judges has false compassion that degenerates into sentimentality. “A valid marriage, even one marked by serious difficulties, could not be considered invalid without doing violence to the truth and undermining thereby the only solid foundation which can support personal, marital, and social life. … The roads leading away from justice and truth end up in serving to distance people from God, thus yielding the opposite result from that which was sought in good faith.”
Pope to US Bishops, Blasts Number Of Annulments 1998
Pope John Paul II (bio – news), meeting with a delegation of US bishops on Saturday, expressed his dissatisfaction with the number of annulments being granted to Catholics.
Pope to Roman Rota Jan. 25, 1988
25 January 1988, ibid., 15 February 1988, p. 7
Pope John Paul II taught “All possible explanations for the failure of a marriage for which a declaration of nullity is sought will have to be considered and not just the hypothesis of it being due to psychopathology.” …”There is another and not infrequent source of misunderstanding in the evaluation of psychopathological symptoms. It arises not from an exaggeration of the extent of the illness but, on the contrary, from an unjustified exaggeration of the concept of capacity to contract marriage. As I noted last year (supra p. 192, no. 6), the misunderstanding can arise from the fact that the expert declares that a party is incapable of contracting marriage, while referring not to the minimum capacity sufficient for valid consent, but rather to the ideal of full maturity in relation to happy married life.”
Pope to Roman Rota, Feb. 5, 1987
Pope John Paul II ” For the canonist the principle must remain clear that only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent and in realizing a true community of life and love invalidates a marriage. Moreover, the breakdown of a marriage union is never in itself proof of such incapacity on the part of the contracting parties. They may have neglected or used badly the means, both natural and supernatural, at their disposal; or they may have failed to accept the inevitable limitations and burdens of married life, either because of blocks of an unconscious nature or because of slight pathological disturbances which leave substantially intact human freedom, or finally because of failures of a moral order. The hypothesis of real incapacity is to be considered only when an anomaly of a serious nature is present, which, however it may be defined, must substantially vitiate the capacity of the individual to understand and/or to will.”
Supreme Tribunal of the Signatura (3.2)
Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Signatura, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Mar. 20, 2014
The 12 years before the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the U.S. bishops did grave damage to marraige by virtually eliminating the automatic 2nd instance review for positive nullity decisions. “The poor quality of many first instance sentences examined by the Signatura….demonstrated grave damage done to the process.” From Lecture given at CUA, “The Relation between the Apostolic Signatura and the Local Church.” Min. 55 Sec. 44 (6 minutes).
Interview with Msgr. Joseph Punderson, defender of the Bond at the Signatura. Our Sunday Visitor, 1997; from the 7-6-97 edition
Interview stars 1/3 way down page. … “Unfortunately, some part of the increase in the number of affirmative decisions on the grounds of psychological incapacity for marriage — especially those usually described as ‘lack of due discretion’ and ‘inability to assume the obligations of marriage’ — is the result of a misunderstanding of this development and a mistaken application of some of the jurisprudence of the Roman Rota.”
Roman Rota Judges (3.3)
Stankiewcz – Dean of the Roman Rota – on Immaturity 2006
“minimal preparation for sacramental marriage, insufficient human maturity understood in a general way or imprudence in in behavior” are not proof of invalidity of marriage.
Good of the Spouses. Lack thereof is NOT ground for invalidity. September 17, 2004
Roman Rotal Judge Cormac Burke’s writings are searchable. Link to articles from 1989 to 2000 discussiong “Good of the Spouses.”
c. 1095 lack of discretion, not apply if party not seeing psychologists early on April 29, 1993
Roman Rota case: When many years have passed after the marriage without the spouses having ever consulted or sought treatment from doctors or experts in psychiatry or psychology, it seems almost impossible to conclude with certainty to a psychic anomaly or character disorder at the time of consent”
Ruling by Tribunal of the Roman Rota, April 17, 1997
Roman Rota case corrects erroneous applicaition of grounds for annulment: “serious problems preventing rational judgments concerning matrimonial rights and duties (c. 1095, 1 and 2)”, and of “psychological problems rendering [both parties] incapable of assuming the essential obligations of marriage (c. 1095, 3)” […] “From the viewpoint of christian anthropology, given the basic commandment of loving everyone without exception, it seems questionable that one can ever speak of absolute incompatibility.”
Ruling by Tribunal of the Roman Rota, Nov. 26, 1992
Roman Rota case corrects erroneous applicaition of grounds for annulment: “[A]ny analysis which identifies the “bonum coniugum” with some form of easy or gratifying human relationship between the spouses is fundamentally flawed.”
Pontifical University (3.4)
Interview With Father Miguel Ortiz, Professor of Canonical Marital Law Rome Sept. 22, 2004
The failure of a marriage does not necessarily imply its nullity.
Annulment Reform Needed, Vatican Official Says September 17, 2004
Marriage tribunals in some countries are abusing Church laws regarding annulments, a leading Vatican authority has charged. … That was the testimony of Joaquin Llobel, a canon-law instructor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and a member of the tribunal for the Apostolic Signatura.
Catholic Periodicals (3.5)
The End of the Annulment Explosion Homiletic and Pastoral Review. July 1996, by Msgr. Clarence J. Hettinger
If practically anyone can get an annulment it becomes logical to deduce that everyone has the right to get one. … The annulment mentality with its potential for harm to the institution and abuse of the sacrament of matrimony was one of those dangers to be guarded against.
Marriage, Annulments, and Gobbledygook (6 MB pdf) Catholic World Report. March 1998 by Msgr. Clarence J. Hettinger
Reprinted with Permission. The key question for Church tribunals to answer is not whether a sacramental marriage has taken place, but whether there has been any marriage at all.
Too Many Invalid Annulments Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Dec 1993, by Msgr. Clarence J. Hettinger
Obviously the United States suffers from a divorce mentality. … Now the American divorce mentality has found its exact counterpart in the scandal of a Catholic American annulment mentality, all the more scandalous because it has come to affect non-Catholics and non-Christians as well as Catholics.
The Annulment Mentality: What You Can Do About It Holiletic and Pastoral Review. Dec. 1994 by Msgr. Clarence J. Hettinger
… the excessive case-load of American tribunals is the cause of both the annulment1 mentality and its pervasive propagation throughout the body of the Church. … the vast majority of annulment petitions never should have arrived at the tribunal … a majority of those which got to the tribunal should have been rejected.
“Creative” Avenues to Remarriage after Divorce Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Dec 1993, by Msgr. Clarence J. Hettinger
… St. Raymond of Penafort-ABC-TV’s on January 6, 1994, brought the shortcomings of the American tribunal system to the attention of the nation in stark vividness. The program focused on the sufferings of recalcitrant defendants who were convinced of the validity of their marriages. (Includes great analysis of “porneia.”)
The definition of marriage in the Code of Canon Law Homiletic and Pastoral Review. June 1996, by Ignatius Gramunt
Is the 1983 Code of Canon Law to blame for the marriage “annulment crisis” of the last twenty years? One side in the current debate in another Catholic publication1 seems to think that the law is at fault by having introduced in canon 1055 the concept of “the good of the spouses” as an end that defines marriage.
New commentary, Old nonsense Homiletic and Pastoral Review. March 2001, by Fr. John Trigilio
The new American commentary on canon law contains a plethora of speculative theology, dissident opinion and at times crass impudence. This article is republished with the permissino of Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Editor: Kenneth Baker, S.J. published by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA
Annulments in America: Rebutting a rebuttal Homiletic and Pastoral Review. mo. 199x, by Robert H. Vasoli
Far from a sudden rise followed by decline, American tribunals have been mass producing annulments without interruption for a generation.
Canon Lawyer Phil Gray on “lack of discretion” Canon 1095 §2 (3-page pdf)
Canon Law provides a large number of potential grounds for nullity of marriage. It is beyond the scope and purpose of this opinion to address them all. I focus on one, simply because it is the most used, and most abused, among cases I have been involved with. Petitioners claim that one or both parties were “immature” or “lacked sufficient judgment” to enter marriage.
U.S. Tribunal Statistics, CLSA (3.6)
Tribunals were asked to submit a copy of the report sent annually to the Apostolic Signatura, as well as some basic financial information, to the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA). See U.S. Tribunal Statistics are for one year (i.e. 2011) are published in Proceedings of the following year’s CLSA Annual Convention (i.e. 2012).
See statistics for the year 2011 here (see in spreadsheet sorted by percentage here)
See statistics for the year 2012 here
See statistics for the year 2013 here
See statistics for the year 2014 here