Many marriages, both Catholic and non-Catholic, break down every year. If a Catholic couple decide that their marriage has no future, what can they do about it?
If after taking advice, for example from the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, the couple, or one of the partners, decide that the marriage cannot be salvaged, they could approach one of the 15 marriage tribunals throughout the country to see if they have grounds for an annulment. The tribunal would help the person to formulate a petition with the grounds alleged and would then set a case in hand. These grounds would then have to be proved by witnesses. This is not because we think the person is lying, but when someone has been through such a traumatic experience they may present only a subjective view of the events.
If the tribunal decides that the grounds have been proved
then it will reach the decision that the marriage is null and void. The case then has to go to a second tribunal which acts as an appeal tribunal.
In the case of Westminster it would go to Birmingham. The appeal tribunal re-examines the case and if they agree a decree of nullity is granted. After such a decree is issued both partners are free to re-marry.
What are the grounds for annulment?
Annulment indicates that the marriage did not exist because there was a fault of consent. What makes a manage is the consent of the couple — consent to a union which is permanent, faithful and open to children.
Any mental reservation formed by one of the partners at the time of marriage which excludes any one of these three would invalidate the marriage.
For example, if an individual goes to the altar intending not to have children for the next 10 years and, regardless of her partner's wishes, refuses to have children, the marriage would not he valid.
Similarly, if a person decides at the time of marriage that he or she will get a divorce if things do not work out, then they have formed a hypothetical intention against permanence which is equally invalidating.
What about a "shotgun wedding" where one of the partners is forced into a marriage they do not really want?
Such a person might have a case for annulment on the grounds of force and fear. If a person can prove they have been subjected to force and fear is external, grave, and unjust, and from which they cannot escape without getting married, they would be granted a nullity decree.
Two further grounds are called error and ignorance. Error arises traditionally where you happen to marry the wrong person, for example where a proxy marriage takes place.
Although not allowed under English law, proxy marriages still take place in other countries and are recognised by the Church. For example, an Italian working in England may have a fiancée in Italy who cannot get an entry visa to England until she is married.
As he cannot afford to go to Italy he nominates his brother as a proxy. His brother will then go through the wedding ceremony for him. Under such circumstances it is easy to see how you might marry the wrong person.
One hears of tragic cases where a husband or wife has been certified insane some time after the marriage. Are there any grounds for annulment in such circumstances?
What counts is the person's condition at the time of marriage: you would have to have evidence to show that the person's consent was affected at the time of marriage.
If the partner became insane after the marriage the couple would be in the same position as, say, where the husband had an accident and became paraplegic and unable to fulfil his marital obligations. In such a case there would be no grounds for annulment.
If on the other hand it could be proved that the person showed symptoms of mental imbalance before marriage, then it would be a case for annulment on the grounds of amentia. Amentia is badly translated as insanity but in fact it covers temporary as well as permanent states.
A person who was drunk, hypnotised or under the influence of drugs to the extent that this affected his consent at the time of marriage would also be considered to be amens. We often hear the term dispensation used in connection with marriage annulment. What does this mean?
A dispensation is granted on the basis of the union not having been consummated. Wilful refusal to consummate by one of the partnerS would be under the heading of nullity on the grounds that the person has refused the right to children. Inability to consummate would be dealt with on the basis of impotence, which is another string of grounds for nullity.
In the case of a dispensation the procedure is slightly different in that the intial work is done in England and then details are sent to the Congregation of the Sacraments in Rome. Do such rulings apply only to Catholics or to all Christians married in church?
The Church recognises the marriage of two Christians as equally sacramental as that of two Catholics. If, for example, a divorced Anglican was converted to Catholicism and wished to marry a Catholic, then he would have to approach a marriage tribunal as would a Catholic.
What happens in the case of two non-Christians whose marriage breaks down and one of whom is converted and who subsequently wishes to marry in the Catholic Church?
This would be dealt with by a
dissolution based on the Pauline privilege. The 'Pauline privilege involves two unbaptised people at the time of marriage, when subsequently one of them becomes a Christian and they cannot live in peace as a result and they separate. Going back to 1 Corinthians, St Paul said that the Christian partner could remarry.
Such a dissolution is not granted; the first marriage is regarded as being dissolved by the act of re-marriage.
Would this be the case where a marriage between a Christian and Jew had broken down?
A case like that might he dealt with by an extension of the Pauline privilege which is known as the Petrine privilege.
Theologically speaking, you require two baptised people to contract the one sacrament of mariage. You cannot have half a sacrament; it is a whole sacrament or no sacrament.
Now if one of the people who contracts the marriage is not baptised, the marriage might be quite valid but it would not be sacramental. It might therefore be dissolved under the Petrine privilege.
In such a case the intial work would be done in England and then the details sent to the Sacred Congregation for the Faith in Rome. They would examine the case and make a recommendation to the Holy Father who would himself grant the dissolution.
If baptised Christians validly married get a civil divorce and subsequently remarry outside the Church, what penalties would they incur so far as the Church is concerned?
The person concerned would not be able to receive the sacraments with the exception of the sacraments of the sick, It is important to note that this is not the same as excommunication, which is a formal penalty imposed either automatically or by a court.
Excommunication prevents ecclesiastical burial and imposes a series of other restrictions, which exclusion from the sacraments does not.
If such people wished to return to the sacraments, what should they do?
First, they should approach a marriage tribunal to see if they have any grounds for annulment. If a decree was granted then they would go through a church ceremony with their new spouses and would be free to receive the sacraments.
If they cannot be helped in this way there is much talk today about an internal forum solution. What I say now is the view of some moral theologians; and by no means .common in the church. The internal forum is confession, a person may sometimes be absolved and go to communion although ostensibly living in an invalid union.
This has not been introduced as a formal procedure in the Church and if it happens at all legitimately, moral theologians insist it would have to be only with the knowledge and approval of the bishop under very special circumstances.
Could you give an example of where such an internal forum solution might be possible?
The kind of case some moral theologians would cite would be a marriage of two nonCatholics which took place 25 years ago. The husband deserted the wife, she has remarried and has no idea where her original partner is living. Subsequent to the re-marriage she wishes to become a Catholic.
At the time of the marriage she knew that her husband did not want to have children, but as he has disappeared and she has no living relatives there are no witnesses to provide the independent evidence necessary for a marriage tribunal to grant a decree of nullity.
In the internal forum the woman's credibility might be such that it is obvious that she is asking to be readmitted to the sacraments for no other reason than the good of her soul.
Some moral theologians would hold that it might be possible in certain very restricted circumstances for the bishop to know that the marriage was invalid even though it cannot be proved to have been su. If the marriage was invalid then there may be special reasons for the Bishop allowing the woman to be received into the Church privately and to go to the sacraments.
Are there many cases where such solutions have been applied?
It is important to stress that this is a very risky procedure and we have evidence of several cases where this has happened in the past without anywhere near the kind of care of permission this requires, and with disastrous consequences.
In one particular case, for example, a Catholic girl, married, was deserted by her husband whom she subsequently divorced. She then re-married.
Some time later she went to confession and a priest told her not to worry and told her to go to communion. She was a very happy, active Catholic until something said during a parish mission made her feel that she was committing sacrilege.
She is now under psychiatric care in a deep depression which nothing can shake; Now that is the result of bad pastoral care by the priest concerned.
Are there any other options open to someone living in an invalid second union who wishes to return to the sacraments?
There is another possibility. If the couple agree, and they are given permission by their bishop through their confessor, they may receive the sacraments on the basis that they are not sleeping together as husband and wife, provided that there is a reasonable possibility that they will be able to carry out their resolve.
What about people who cannot be helped either by a marriage tribunal or through the confessional. Is there any way they can participate in the life of the Church?
In the past we may have tended to over-sacramentalise the Church and say that the sacraments are the only way to receive grace. But God is not bound by the sacraments, and He loves all sorts of people who do not go to the sacraments,
Christ is present in the Eucharist but he is also present when two or three are gathered together and in the Word. Although people may not be able to receive the sacraments they still have contact with Christ and therefore receive support and grace freely given through prayer and the word.
There have been a number of cases recently where a Catholic who has married in a register office has subsequently divorced his wife and remarried in a Catholic church. Why does the Church permit this?
A Catholic is bound to the form of marriage, He must he married before a priest and two witnesses unless the form is dispensed. If the form is not dispensed and he marries without a priest and two witnesses, then the Church does not regard it as a marriage.
As the Church does not recognise the person as married then there can he no technical objection to him marrying in church. Canon lawyers do not like this procedure as they feel it is rather dishonest, especially in the case of a man who has been with his partner for, say, 25 years and of whom it would he nonsense to say that he did not intend his marriage to be for life.