Monday, April 9, 2007

Annulments are a bit of Sophistry

Now that Lent is over, I can continue my scurrilous attacks on heresy. :-)

1629 For this reason (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed.132 In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged
Catechism of the Catholic Church

Yup, I got into another discussion with a follower of the esteemed Bishop of Rome, this time about indulgences. As the link says, an annulment states not that the marriage is dissolved, but that there was never a real marriage in the first place. If the Church declares a marriage a nullity, it never really happened. This is true even if the couple had children, were together for decades etc. So, because there was no marriage, there is no divorce. In this way, RCs who, marry into a sacramental union, can have conjugal relations with their second.., I mean spouse. The key to a real marriage is a sacramental union--no sacramental union, no marriage. No marriage, no divorce. In this way, the RCs believe they avoid the prohibitions against divorce from Jesus' own teachings. However, i believe this bit of sophistry has an unintended consequence,undermining the trust the husband and wife have in their marriage.

Now, to be fair, we too have "annulments"--we do not recognize polygamous unions, "marriages" between those of the same sex, incestuous marriages etc. This is true, and my interlocutor brought this up to point out that it is not only the RCC which annuls improper "marriages". As I said, this is a fair point. But it also obscures my point. No Christian church wants to recognize polgamous marriages, for example. The problem I see with RC annulments is the after-the-fact declaration that a normal marriage was nothing of the kind. As a Lutheran, I believe sacraments should have an objective character, and absent that they are much less practical. (I know we do not cosider marriage a sacrament in the same way as Holy Baptism and Holy Communion). So, if the Church can declare a marriage a nullity decades later, how can the ones exchanging vows have any real confidence they are in fact in a Sacramental Union, and hence are in a real marriage? No one can really know, because if one partner fulfills one of the "requirements" for annulment--e.g. he or she did not really realize what marriage is, then the marriage is nullified. It appears that more than a few RCs left the Church because of annulments--probably because they saw the sophistry too.

In any case, it is word games like " we don't have divorce, we really believe marriage is for life...but maybe you weren't really married in the first place..." that make me glad I am a Lutheran, even though the philosophers laugh at us. :-) We are definitely less prone to fancy word play on issues like this, and I thank God for that.


Anonymous said...

Hey Ed,
I'm thankful for your clarity of spirit in walking with the Lord. Maybe someday all christians will come to see the truth of the one, holy, Lutheran and apostolic church that Christ founded in AD1517, er... I mean AD33.


Edward Reiss said...


That is how I see it. For if one was never really married in the first place, one cannot refer to ones former "partner" as a spouse, ex-husband etc. Hence the "er", as while I was writing this I saw that I could not refer to the ex-whatever as a spouse in RC terms, because the ex was never such a thing at all--the "marriage" was all appearance even if children were born from sex in the "marriage" bed. I thought that such a language problem illustrates my point that annulments are really just a word game to avoid saying "divorce", and they raise even more troubling questions. In fact, I cannot think of a word for someone who was only "married" and not in a "Sacramental Union". Perhaps fornicator would do, for that is what they would be, wouldn't they? And I suppose any children are illegitimate. Now, I am confident the RCC has an explanation for this too, but I bet it will just be more wordplay. I prefer clarity: people who have sex and are not married are fornicators, and the children are illegitimate.

The issue is at least twofild for me: One is that the annulment is surer than that marriage vows. The other is that it implicitly undermines the marriage vows because there may not be a marriage if one or both kept certain thoughts in their hearts.

Re 1517. Well, of course the Lutheran Church is the authentic inheritor of the Western Tradition. For us, the RCC only goes back to Trent, just as the Roman Liturgy, the Tridentine Mass, does. :-)

See, we can both poke each other's church in the eye, and bring up a lot of historical embarrassments. I know you believe the RCC is the One True Holy and Apostolic Church, I disagree, as you know. And even a large part of what the RCC says are "true particular Churches", i.e. the EO, agree with Lutherans at least on that point.

Weekend Fisher said...

Then there's the awkward question about, well, if the marriage was annulled -- i.e. they weren't married -- were they (by retroactive decree) fornicating / living in sin? I mean, by not saying the "D" word have we really put these people on higher moral ground? If they *weren't* married, then they were impenitent sinners. Except ... they weren't impenitent sinners only because they were married.

Edward Reiss said...

Weekend Fisher,

Exactly! I have never heard a coherent explanation as to the status of the children in a "marriage", nor of the moral state of those who were "married"--indeed, what would happen if a marriage was really a nullity, and one or both of the "spouses" dies? If we say they did not sin because they were ignorant, then we have to say that they were never really married even though they believed they were, which is one of my main points; the whole marriage vow and blessing is called into question by this doctrine. Are they in a state of sin (by RC reckoning) or of grace? How would they even know?

For what it is worth, I believe even the EO recognize divorce, though it is a sin. The problem is that the RC sees marriage as a sacrament, which cannot be broken. Since such a determination is now infallibly proclaimed, they cannot allow divorce--so they have to say something like "The marriage was never really a marriage".

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts!

Bop said...

Really I think you miss the point.
Ultimately it is not a matter of being coherent, but of doing the right thing. And sometimes doing the right thing means being ultimately incoherent.
I bet you know of more divorced Lutherans than you do of Catholics from annulled marriages.

Edward Reiss said...

Hello Bop,

I don't really think I miss the point. I think that the whole idea that an annulment means a marriage never existed is an attempt to be coherent, namely that the sacrament of marriage, because it is a sacrament by RC lights, is indissoluble. IOW,the RCC is trying to be coherent in one place and ends up being incoherent in another. I think it would be better to recognize divorce, which the EO--"True Particular Churches"-- do BTW. Though it is a sin. This is the Lutheran approach too.

You also raise the issue of "doing the right thing". I don't think it is right to tell a couple who have lived together as husband and wife for perhaps several decades that they were never really married in the first place. It raises a whole raft of moral issues, some of which are the status of the children born within the "marriage" and the state of the man and woman in the "marriage". And, as I pointed out in my post, in effect the RCC ends up teaching that the annulment is surer then the marriage vows. That goes far beyond merely being incoherent.

I would also like to know why it is "right" to annul marriages. Mind you, I think that divorce should be permitted in certain narrow circumstances, chiefly infidelity. I also have respect for the RC position that a marriage should be until death, I just don't think they follow through, and they end up with other problems.

Re: divorced Lutherans. I do know divorced Lutherans, and I also know annulled Catholics. I don't keep score though.

bop said...

I would also like to know why it is "right" to annul marriages.

Well, because marriage isn’t, um, forensic. And when the Catholic Church recognizes this it is being grown up in a difficult world.

I don't think it is right to tell a couple who have lived together as husband and wife for perhaps several decades that they were never really married in the first place.
Oh please. Do you think that the church ever told anyone who didn’t wish to hear it that their marriage was never really a marriage anyway. I mean, maybe it did, but that’s not the point of annulment. Annullment tries to help people without mocking that which should not be mocked. Understand this and you’ll understand what Jesus was writing on the ground.

Edward Reiss said...


I do not agree the RCC is being "grown up", because they are engaging in sophistry, at least as far as I can tell. It is not "grown up" to try and find as legalistic way around a marriage vow, in order to allow divorced people to remarry and remain in the Church. In fact, Children can often see through the grownup's attempts at this type of sophistry.

"Do you think that the church ever told anyone who didn’t wish to hear it that their marriage was never really a marriage anyway. I mean, maybe it did, but that’s not the point of annulment. Annullment tries to help people without mocking that which should not be mocked. Understand this and you’ll understand what Jesus was writing on the ground."

I submit it doesn't matter what people wish, it matters what is right. And I fail to see how an annulment does not make a hash out of marriage vows, because one or both may have secret thoughts, or be naive (in that they were psychologically immature--even if they are adults) etc. This is all declared after the fact, and after consummation. How can anyone have confidence in their marriage?

Finally, isn't divorce another sin covered by Christ's work on the cross? Were all those divorced Hebrews in OT times going to hell because they were adulterers?

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised a Catholic and reverted to the Catholic faith after my teens and early twenties. I studied the reformation in university and partly sympathized with Luther's initial objections to certain abuses in the Church. However, I could not understand Luther's "Here I stand..." speach until I became involuntarily divorced against me will and then subjected to an annulment proceeding by the Catholic Church.

I understand the de jure difference between a divorce and a declaration that there was never a sacramental marriage. However, when almost every Catholic who gets a divorce and applies for an annulment is granted one, then I think it is safe to call it a de facto Catholic divorce. The sharp rise in annulments from a few hundred per year in the 1960s to close to 60,000 per year by the 1990s is not solely the result of living in a secular pro-divorce and pro-abortion culture. The pro-divorce culture has infected and metastasized within the Catholic hierarchy, diocesan tribunals and seeped into the spirtual direction given by priests.

The end effect of the active promotion of annulments by advertising them as "healing" in diocesan newspapers, the wide scale denial of respondent's procedural rights by tribunals, and granting an annulment to virtually every petitioner who asks for one has transformed annulments into de facto Catholic Divorces. These abuses are very well documented in Robert Vasoli's "What God Has Joined Together; The Annulment Crisis in American Catholicism" and described in Sheila Kennedy's "Stolen Vows".

These annulments are just scandalous sophistry and for the first time in my life I can say "Here I stand and I could do no other" in the face of being subjected to the inquisition of annulment proceedings when I was a good, not perfect, husband and father who was ruined by the Divorce Industry. It is outrageous!

Edward Reiss said...


My prayers are with you during this difficult time.

Anonymous said...

After 23 years of marriage and five children my wife divorced me and paid $1500 for an annulment, which was granted based on "defect of consent." When I demanded to know what that meant I was told one of us was incapable of valid consent to marry, and that person would not be allowed to re-marry in the church. I was then told that I could re-marry in the church and my ex was married in a Lutheran church...then had her marriage blessed by the Catholic Church! I haven't considered myself Catholic since the annulment, which I contested! That was 21 years ago. Sophistry? I say hipocracy!

Anonymous said...

I'm struggling to reconcile my desire to have a Catholic wedding ceremony and asking my Lutheran fiance to get his previous marriage annulled. He has three children from his previous marriage and although he describes his 16-year marriage as unhappy and unfulfilling, it did exist. Is there a middle ground here? It's important for me to have a Catholic ceremony, but do I not marry the love of my life due to the rules established by my Church?

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