There is a lot of talk about making annulments making more easily available, easing the annulment process and how it will fix all the churches problems. I would venture to say that people that make such proclamations ignore 50 years of history, and fail to understand just what an annulment is (Hint – it is NOT “Catholic Divorce”). In fact, divorce is a civil proceeding in which civil authorities terminate a marriage in direct contradiction of Christ’s admonition that “What GOD has joined, let NO MAN put asunder”. The very idea that a state has any authority as regards a Catholic Sacrament is both offensive and ludicrous. The state is simply terminating a civil contract – but the Sacramental Marriage remains. God not only does not recognize a civil divorce approved by men, but specifically forbade it. A Civil divorce does not dissolve an existing Catholic Sacramental Marriage – nothing can. An annulment is a finding by the Church that there was never a sacramental marriage in the first place (so in essence the marriage never happened and therefore rendering the ideal of dissolution a moot issue).
In order to make my point more saliently, I would ask you to to read this article by Msgr. Pope at the Archdiocese of Washington website here: http://blog.adw.org/2014/05/the-church-cannot-change-her-doctrine-on-marriage-and-divorce-concerns-for-the-upcoming-synod/
Pay special attention to this paragraph from his article:
Many troubling statistics could be presented to show that there has been a true explosion in the number of annulments granted. In the early 1960s, there were about 300 annulments granted per year in the United States. Today that number is over 60,000!
Stew on it it a bit. This is the number granted not the number applied for or appealed, and people are screaming and clamoring for many more to be granted for an ever expanding number of new reasons. They do not want to obey their vows or the Church – they want a shortcut back into communion with the Church that somehow makes their ongoing sin clean – or frees them from a binding commitment to God and their rightful spouse so that they can re-enter the Sacrament of Matrimony with another. The fact is that the church is granting more and more annulments every year – so many that even Pope Benedict Ordered a review of the process and criteria used in the US for granting them since our nation/society seems to be in the lead on this. Note that rather than slowing the disintegration of the Catholic families down, it has been like throwing gasoline on a fire to douse it. So much so that an exponential explosion of civil divorces and associated annulment requests continues to expand.
The rapid expansion in the numbers of annulment application has presented challenges for the Church aside from the increasing numbers of divorces by Catholics. This is before we address the very uncomfortable issue of the costs associated with obtaining an annulment. I know personally a number of people who spent huge sums on canon lawyers, application fees and appeals. I also know personally, that by the current levels of decentralizing the process, people have been denied in their own archdiocese – even through the appeals process. Only to apply in another diocese where annulments are known to be more liberally approved, and quickly receive their annulment. Many of these people have come away with the impression that an annulment is something to be purchased at great fiscal cost from the correct diocese – even if the grounds for the annulment were solid. This impression must be combated with all vigor – as it brings scandal on the Church. The idea of further decentralization to increase volume and limit review is fraught with greater issues – not the least of which is inconsistent applications of standards and scandal in the Church. With proper Pre-Cana counseling, the ability of a couple to get an annulment should be extremely limited (all but non-existent without fraud being committed) – all because Pre-Cana properly documented that all steps were taken to ensure the validity of the sacrament up front.
An annulment is not a divorce – an annulment means that the marriage was invalid on it’s face. Invalid because it did not meet the requirements specified in the CCC 1625-1632. Annulment means that sacramental marriage never happened because of some impediment to sacramental marriage in place at the time of the original marriage. The idea of claiming youth as an impediment I personally view as a cop-out. Young people do stupid things, but an annulment is not a vehicle to undo a choice you regret. An annulment is supposed to be based on whether you understood the Catholic Teaching on Sacramental Marriage and had no impediments when you entered into it – nothing more.
Marriage is very hard work, you are essentially committing to serve your spouse (husband or wife) in union and fidelity no matter what happens in the future. People will change over time, this is not a reason for an annulment. People will be unfaithful, once again not a reason for an annulment. People will complain they do not “love” their spouse anymore. Love is a choice we make every day . The feeling we so often mistake for love is the hormonal rush that is a result of the hormones released when we successfully make that choice – but it is just a feeling, not love itself. Marriage is not about being in love – it is about service to God through the service to one’s spouse. Sacramental Marriage is about consecrating one’s words, actions, body, and heart to God and their spouse every single morning and then working together with a single purpose to achieve your shared goals.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have an answer people will like regarding this teaching of Jesus Christ himself on Marriage, but I will also be one the first to admit that it is through Sacramental Marriage that I maintain God in my daily life. I would remind people that even the Apostles were shocked and made Jesus repeat for clarity his statement on the indissolubility of Marriage. Jesus did not promise us the path would be wide, or pleasant – just that it would be worth it, nothing more. As for those claiming compassion as an excuse to contradict Christ himself – I would ask them if giving an alcoholic another bottle is true compassion. I would ask them if Christ himself made such a teaching crystal clear from his own lips; Then whom do they really serve that would propose to change it in His name, under the banner of “compassion”?
The indissolubility of sacramental marriage is a continual reminder of the indissolubility of God’s love for us, and serves as my compass and my shield. Take these from Matrimony and what you have left is no longer something precious and priceless which is beyond any earthly power to purchase, and instead it becomes something common, base, worldly, and pedestrian that can be bought and sold – and given and taken by mere men. Sacramental Marriage is a great gift from God – we should treat it accordingly with the respect and reverence it is due. In my humble opinion – Until the Church solidifies this teaching by requiring strict observance of the grounds for invalidity, the faithful will continue to waiver. Only when the magisterium takes a hard stance, will the faithful will start to take the teaching very seriously once again.