St. Joseph Shrine Parish at 8743 US-12, Brooklyn, MI 49230 US - FAQ Questions on Marriage and Annulments
FAQ Questions on Marriage and Annulments
by Fr. Charles Irvin
St. Mary's Catholic Church, Manchester MI
QUESTIONS DIVORCED CATHOLICS ASK ABOUT THEIR STATUS
- Can a divorced person receive Communion? Definitely. A divorced person is in a situation similar to that of a single person in the Church, with full rights and duties except for the right to enter a new marriage without having first obtained an annulment.
- When I die, can I be buried by the Church? Yes, divorced Catholics, including those who have been remarried can be buried in a Catholic cemetery, after a Mass. It is presumed that a person continues to practice his/her faith after a divorce.
- Is a divorced person excommunicated from the Church? No, a Catholic is not excommunicated when she/he is divorced. In May, 1977, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to lift the penalty of excommunication imposed by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884) which applied only to American Catholics who remarried after a divorce from a valid marriage. This vote was ratified by the Holy See in November of the same year. Therefore, the penalty of excommunication doesn't apply to divorced or remarried persons.
- Does that mean that a remarried Catholic who has not obtained a Church annulment can receive Holy Communion too? No, even though a remarried Catholic who has not received an annulment is not excommunicated, it does not mean that remarried Catholics can automatically receive Communion. That tradition was recently summarized and repeated by the International Theological Commission, a consultative body to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
- I don't want to get an annulment and don't want to remarry-- where do I fit in? There are many men and women who do not choose to marry or remarry. The single life has always been held in high esteem in the Church. The opportunities for growth, for ministry to others in the community and for full participation in the life of the Church are especially available to those who have not ever married, or have not remarried.
- How do I start the procedure? A Catholic who wishes to clarify his/her status before the Church should first approach their parish priest to find out the particulars of diocesan policy. In most cases, the person is asked to write a resume of their background, their courtship, their difficulties in the marriage, the cause or causes, in their judgment, for the separation, the divorce and their life after divorce. This is sent to the Marriage Tribunal along with certified copies of marriage license, divorce decree, baptismal information and other papers.
- Does my former spouse have to cooperate? No, but because the annulment procedure affects him/her, your former spouse must be informed of the procedure and is given the opportunity to tell his/her side.
- How are the allegations proved? Primarily, the testimony of at least three witnesses, counselors or other parties is needed to substantiate the allegations of the petitioner.
- Can anyone be a witness? Two criteria should be used--they should be knowledgeable of the marriage and the personalities of the parties, or of the difficulties in the marriage. They should also be objective witnesses (if possible).
- Does everyone who applies get an annulment? No, but the majority of those who have their petitions accepted by the Tribunal do get annulments. Some petitions for the formal process are denied, however, but always for stated serious reasons.
- Why would an annulment not be granted? There are times, of course, when a person doesn't seem to have provable grounds for nullity as understood by the Church today. The more usual reason for denying an annulment is the situation wherein the allegations cannot be proven, usually because witnesses are either unavailable or insufficiently informed.
- My former spouse was baptized a Catholic but never had anything to do with the Church/practice of Catholicism. Would that lack of faith be considered grounds for the nullity of our supposedly sacramental marriage? At the present time, no. Some theologians and canonists have suggested that such a lack of belief destroys any complete, sacramental marriage. The identification of marriage between baptized persons (Catholic or not) and the sacrament of marriage in Catholic law was formulated in the last century but is traditional.
- Are there any civil effects of the annulment? No, a Church annulment in this country is solely for the spiritual well-being of the parties. Annulments have no effect on any decisions of civil courts, the status of the parties (or their children) in civil law..
- How does an annulment affect my children? Does it make them illegitimate? An annulment has no effect on the status of children in the Church. Obviously, the children exist as a gift of God. Legitimacy is a legal category; civil and canon law can make laws that affect the legitimacy of children, and canon law states explicitly that children born of a marriage that is later declared to be null are legitimate. The annulment is based on the fact that a sacramental marriage did not exist.
- If I get an annulment does that meant that my former spouse can remarry? An annulment does not mean that either of you can automatically remarry in the Church.
- Do you mean that I might not be allowed to remarry in the Church either? The Church would want to be certain that the invalidating factor is no longer present. When this occurs, then both parties are free to remarry in the Church.
- What does an annulment say about my past life--was I living in sin when I thought I as married? An annulment says that a previous marriage did not fulfill all the requirements for a valid marriage in ecclesiastical law. It does not say that the relationship was good for nothing; it might have been a good one for some time, and we are all affected by the people we meet and know. There is no way one can commit sin if she/he is unaware of the invalidity of the marriage. A sacramental marriage presupposes that each partner is able to commit him or herself at the time of the wedding and therefore make that commitment at the time of the vows, to encourage a "community of life and love" with each other.
One final note. An annulment process does not determine the guilt of either partner. This is simply a non-adversarial procedure in which the final judgment is only based on a fact question: Was this a sacramental union, or wasn't it? It's a question of fact, not a question of guilt.