Many Catholics and others as well, are often confused about what the church teaches about divorce and remarriage in the Catholic Church. There are many myths about divorce and the Annulment Process. Specifically, the questions often have to do with how the process works and why the Church requires it. A person who is not Catholic but is seeking marriage to a Catholic often asks the latter question. We hope this article will attempt to answer some of the concerns and questions you may have.
The First step to understanding the Annulment Process is to know what the Catholic Church, in its Canon Law, teaches about marriage. First, it is one of seven sacraments that the Church celebrates. Because it is a sacrament, the marriage of a man and woman becomes a visible sign of the presence of God. The marriage covenant is a bond not broken by divorce. “What God had joined, no one must divide.” Even if married by a civil official, people of other faith traditions are considered to be in sacramental marriages if at least one is baptized.
This “marriage bond” or covenant is an enduring and permanent partnership in which husband and wife establish a loving and life-giving relationship that reveals to the world the love and faithfulness of God. While recognized as a sad reality by the Church, divorce is seen as a last resort to protect one’s rights – and not an easy answer to problems within the marriage. When a marriage does end in divorce, either party may petition the Church to look at the marriage. For non-Catholics, it is important to know that the Church only asks this of them if they are marrying a Catholic or if they wish to become Catholic. This is because married people who are in communion with the Church must be in a sacramental marriage.
The Tribunal has different procedures for different types of cases. Some procedures apply to Catholics married outside the Church, or to a person who is married to someone who was previously married. The informal cases are mostly documentary processes.
The more formal and lengthier procedure applies to other cases. When a Declaration of Nullity is granted, it is a statement by the Church that, despite external appearances, the enduring bond of a sacramental marriage was not present at the time of the marriage. This reality could be true for a number of different reasons that are unique to each marriage. Examples range from a serious lack of maturity to physical or mental abuse.
The process for each diocese varies, but the Canon Laws are the same. The current address of the ex-spouse must be given to the Tribunal as he or she will usually be notified of the petition and asked to provide testimony. In formal cases, each party to the marriage is also asked to provide witnesses. Witnesses are family members, friends or counselors, if applicable, who can offer insights into you and your marriage.
One can begin an annulment by calling a Catholic parish, and asking to speak to a Priest, Deacon or a Lay Case Sponsor about a previous marriage.
For more information, contact the Archdiocesan Tribunal by phone 210.734.1696 or see if the Tribunal has a website.
One last note: divorced Catholics who are not remarried in the Church remain in communion with the Church and are encouraged to participate regularly in the Sacramental life of the Church.