Prof. Peters (right) v. Fr. Daly (wrong) on marriage and ‘annulments’

There has been some informative posts in the interwebs about the “annulment” process.

At the National Schismatic Reporter (aka Fishwrap) a priest, Fr. Peter Daly (Archd. Washington DC), after whining about a “top-down hierarchical church” and getting the concept of sensus fidelium wrong, advocates essentially the abolition of the canonical process and jettisoning of the Church’s teaching on marriage:

If I were pope, I would leave the decision about annulments and reception of the sacraments entirely up to the parish priest. It should be resolved in the internal forum of the confessional. The emphasis should be on mercy, not law. End of story. Move on.


To our faithful, the real scandal is not the fact that divorced and remarried people might receive Communion, but that sincere people who really desire the Eucharist are kept from it by a legalistic, complicated, capricious and alienating annulment process.

Let divorced and remarried people make a good confession and offer sincere contrition and a firm purpose of amendment. Then let them start again. God has forgiven us much worse.

Fr. Daly advocates jettisoning the Church’s teaching on marriage.

Canonist Ed Peters responded at his blog In The Light Of The Law:

Reform of the annulment process should not mean dumping it, let alone abandoning Christ’s teaching on marriage [Like I said.]

Fr. Peter Daly’s essay against the annulment process (and indeed, against the heart of Church teaching on the permanence of marriage) is mostly a repackaging of common historical errors, irrelevant platitudes, and bad theology. [Couldn’t have said it better myself.] But before responding to some of those (but only to some, for there are too many to address) let me acknowledge one thing Daly has right.

[… Go there and read the “one thing”…]

More substantively, Daly seems not to understand several crucial aspects of Church teaching on marriage, asserting, for example, that “The problem with the [annulment] process in the Roman Catholic [C]hurch is that it takes what ought to be a pastoral matter and turns it into a legal one.”

The annulment process does not do that.

Marriage itself, and the annulment process concerned with it, is (in part) a legal matter because of Christ’s own actions. Jesus did not invent a new human relationship and call it ‘marriage’; rather, He took an existing, partly juridicized, institution and, respecting its character, restored marriage to its natural stability and raised it for the baptized to the level of sacrament. Thus, to whatever extent marriage is, and has always been, a juridic relationship, so the annulment process is, and will always be, in part a juridic process. Complaints about the juridic aspects of marriage and annulments are ultimately complaints about Christ’s economy of salvation.

A curious comment occurs part-way thru Daly’s essay: “Over the years, I have had several couples get infuriated with me or with the [C]hurch and just walk away in anger … Sometimes, I have just taken the pastoral route. For instance, I’ve had couples in their late 70s and 80s who were married decades ago. They can hardly remember their first marriage, let alone dredge up the records. Or I’ve had people who are terminally ill and want to come into the church. There is no time or energy to get an annulment.”

What does that phrase, “I have just taken the pastoral route”, mean? [I think we know what that means.]

Daly doesn’t say, but my surmise is that Daly, though loath to admit it, simply took it upon himself to officiate at some weddings of people whom he believed were previously married, this, during the lifetime of their original spouses. If, I say if, this is what Daly means, then he (and those involved) need to know that such rites are gravely illicit (Canon 1085 § 2), possibly invalid (Canon 1085 § 1), potentially sacrilegious (Canon 1379), and would represent a repeated abuse of ecclesiastical power or function (Canon 1389). [In this case the priest’s bishop would do well to investigate what he has been up to.] Catholics should have nothing to do with such stunts.

Back to annulments, Daly seems to be calling not for the reform of the annulment process but rather for its abandonment. For example, he writes “Let divorced and remarried people make a good confession and offer sincere contrition and a firm purpose of amendment. Then let them start again.”

Umm, start again…with what? With holding oneself out as married to someone other than one’s true spouse? Is that what ‘starting over’ post-confession means? For that matter, confess what, exactly? One’s first marriage? Why? Was it a sin? Or one’s second marriage, which, however one has no intention of leaving? And what is one to be ‘sincerely contrite’ for? Getting married the first time or for (pretending to) being married the second? What a mishmash this proposal is!

Daly’s position is confusing but I think it boils down to: Divorce and remarriage is not the worst sin one can commit, and don’t make a habit of it, but, well, whatever you guys decide is fine. I for one think that would be pastorally disastrous advice to give people living in contradiction to Christ’s words on marriage. Moreover, I think that Daly’s offering such terrible advice as part of his call for reform in the annulment process only sets back the case for true reform by linking in people’s minds genuine reform with destructive approaches to marriage problems. [But his advice is fully consonant with the National Schismatic Reporter’s perennial work of undermining the Faith.]

Fr. Z kudos to Ed Peters.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. tcreek says:

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) — True pastoral charity and concern can never lead the church to grant an annulment to a Catholic whose marriage is valid according to church law, Pope Benedict XVI said.
    “One must shun pseudo-pastoral claims” that look only at the desire of divorced Catholics to return to the sacraments, the pope said Jan. 29 in his annual speech to officials of the Roman Rota, a tribunal that mainly deals with appeals filed in marriage annulment cases.

  2. Titus says:

    The problem with the annulment process is not that it treats as juridical a pastoral problem. The problem with the annulment process is that it regards the validity of marriage as so difficult to achieve and the consent of the spouses as so plastic that creates the impression that a decree of nullity can be had by anyone, so long as he navigates the byzantine procedures.

    That is scandalous. It’s scandalous first because it tells lies about what marriage is: the idea at the heart of most annulment proceedings, that the Sacrament of Matrimony is not confected because one of the spouses had butterflies when saying “I do,” is simply not compatible with what we believe about marriage or about the Sacraments. It’s a form of neo-donatism. The flip side of the same coin is that it suggests that marriage is not really indissoluble: if your marriage can be decreed null for a stupid reason, then marriage just is not permanent.

    Furthermore, if decrees of nullity are really handed out on a shall-issue basis, like drivers’ licenses, then the current system is indeed horrific. But because the grounds for obtaining annulments are so expansive and ill-defined, this is what people think: I can get an annulment, but I have to be subjected to Roman paper torture first.

    Bright line rules are easy to enforce and diminish confusion and uncertainty. You can have “open” bright-line rules (annulments for all!) or you can have “closed” bright-line rules (annulments *only* in these clearly provable cases). There should be a bright-line rule against invalid-consent annulments without evidence of actual coercion. Then, at least, everyone will know the terms of the discussion, and we will no longer have the spectacle, of which Daly complains, of people being uncertain about the status of their marriages.

    Beyond that, there’s nothing to discuss. The Church doesn’t pretend that fornicators or adulterers or other grave sinners without purpose of reform can be admitted to the sacraments of the living. Why should She pretend that fornicators or adulterers without purpose of reform can be admitted to the sacraments if they obtain a marriage license from a civil bureaucrat? What other sins can I have excused this way?

  3. wolfeken says:

    This is not the first crazy thing Father Peter Daly has written, and it won’t be the last, as this Archdiocese of Washington priest (pastor, of course) has been spewing far-left views for the (D.C.) Catholic Standard, Catholic News Service and other publications for two decades with little-to-no rebuke from the archbishops of Washington.

    Now if he were a traditionalist in the Archdiocese………….

  4. mrshopey says:

    The pastoral approach, as defined by Fr. Daly, has disastrous consequences.
    Namely this: A person who gets to decide on their own (internal forum) they are no longer married, is allowed to marry another in the Church, finds out that the decision of the tribunal was not the same as their internal forum and now they have to live as “brother and sister” (because now there is a new pastor who is trying to clean up the mess of previous one). That makes them ANGRY and they leave the Church. Fr. Daly and those who follow the “internal forum” stuff create a mess that isn’t without anger and people leaving the Church.

  5. LarryW2LJ says:

    I understand the annulment process is to determine whether or not a marriage is valid. And I know there are a lot of marriages that have occurred that aren’t. But there are a lot of marriages out there that are. When one wants to end a marriage, valid or not, you shouldn’t be able to go to your local pastor, tell him that you want out and get a “That’s OK, but don’t let it happen next time! Now go to Communion like a good little boy (or girl)”, along with a wink and a nod.

    And deciding whether or not a marriage is indeed valid (that God has indeed blessed and joined a couple), is best left up to those who are best qualified to determine that. Jesus said “What God has joined, let no man put asunder”. What is so hard to understand about that – and ……… it came right out of His own lips!

  6. Fr AJ says:

    This priest’s weekly column was in our Catholic newspaper for a while. He turned out to be too far left even for our lefty editor of the paper and it was dropped. Fr. Daly’s column is distributed to Catholic newspapers around the country by Catholic News Service which is paid for by the USCCB.

  7. Phil_NL says:

    Why should the law be changed to accommodate reality, and not reality change to accommodate the law? After all, the entire purpose of any law is to tell how things should be, so the latter is logical, while the former – making a law that says whatever suits us – isn’t. There’s no reason to jettison the annulment process, or the requirement that on account of the first marriage, the sexual relation in the second ‘marriage’ should cease..

    That doesn’t mean there’s no problem though: there may be a good case for reassesing current practice and not refusing communion on the sole fact that one has civilly remarried, as one could argue that civil marriages aren’t worth the paper their licenses are written on anyway. In that sense, I don’t see anything else than fornication and/or adultery there; this might cease without any civil paperwork.
    Of course, such a policy change – which would not be a theological change at all, but simply a de-recognition of civil marriages (which, in my opinion is where we must be headed to anyway, given what’s happening and already happened to the content of civil marriage over the past decennia) – would require father confessor to make a difficult judgement on whether there is any purpose of amendment. But is that so different from other cases where people are habitual sinners?

    Anyway, changing the idea of annulments is folly, we don’t need more of those. The question that can be legitimately asked is if a civil remarriage adds enough ‘public scandal’ to the sins that it implies to warrant a public repudiation of that second marriage before absolution can be given. Given the changed nature of civil marriage, I can see that answer change. But as so often, the ‘liberals’ want to toss out everything, including the theology, rather than trying to figure out where the real problem lies. And that’s in any case not with annulments.

  8. jhayes says:

    Francis has said that the current tribunal system is inadequate to deal with all the annulments to which people may be entitled (he had just quoted his predecessor Archbishop of Buenos Aires as saying that half of all marriages were invalid)

    “And in this also pastoral care of marriage is a factor. And also the judicial problem of the nullity of marriage, that must be revisited, because the ecclesiastical courts aren’t enough for this.”

    Moving the responsibility to the parish priest instead of tribunals would be one way of dealing with this problem. The pastoral care of marriage is on the agenda for the Synod of Bishops later this year.


  9. Joseph-Mary says:

    It is so frustrating when (borderline?) heresies are championed with impunity by priests. Like the sacrament of marriage is not under enough assault. And going to your pastor? I guarantee you can find a priest who will annul your marriage just like my “pastoral” pastor used to say about contraception—oh, its a matter of conscience. Being 19 years between confessions, my conscience was pretty much dead at the time and I was sterilized with no qualms at all. But as we know who the Cardinal is from this diocese and that Cardinal is now on the board for the selection of bishops, maybe this “pastoral” priest can hope for the episcopate? After all, that Cardinal Burke, who has a “traditional drift” was removed to make room for more “pastoral” ones. Haven’t we gone this route before? How has it worked out?

  10. AvantiBev says:

    I will really try NOT to rant on this but it will be very difficult. As a Baby Boomer – first hand witness to the Sexual Revolt — and as a woman who has worked in what is euphemistically called Family Law practice, I have pretty strong opinions on the rot taking hold on our society during my lifetime.

    Over the past 40 years I have seen Catholics and other Christians swat at the fruit of the sex revolt called “abortion” and now at the dangling nuts of “same sex marriage” (yep, pun intended). But the actual tree of Sex Revolt and ALL its evil branches and vines were basically ignored. While state after state adopted the touted “more humane” No-Fault Divorce, seldom did this Boomer ever hear a sermon about the covenant and sacrament that marriage should be.

    It may already be too late, but if we are to save Western Society that evil tree must be pulled out by the ROOTS.

    Before so-called rights of abortion and long before homosexual marriages came no fault divorce. Simultaneously women started popping pills and sleeping around, shacking up and hooking up. This availability of girls ready for extramarital “activity” further destabilized marriage and with no-fault neither partner need say anything in their Petition for Divorce other than “irreconcilable differences”.

    And, the children of divorce we were assured were more resilient than previously thought. They would bounce back. My own cousins mouthed these platitudes about my little 2nd cousins coming through unscathed as my cousins headed off to divorce courts. Some did, thanks be to God. Some were soon having little 3rd cousins out of wedlock, participating in starter marriages for brief periods, coming out as gay, lesbian or trannies, etc. I am not a sociologist but I do know that within my own family the 2nd cousins who were children of divorced spouses are now mostly divorced themselves.

    Our society removed shame, shunning and stigma from various activities during the Sexual Revolt misnaming it as “liberation”. Instead it was shackling us with a terrible and growing burden of fatherless children, faithless partnering, growing crime, poverty of soul, body, and a soulless government leviathan filling functions once reserved for family and Church.

    The last thing I want to see my fellow Catholics do is grow even more non-judgmental and tolerant of this intolerable cancer eating away the foundation of our once great Republic. The Body Politic needs shame, shunning and stigma as much as you or I need our white blood cells and the antibodies that course through our veins.

  11. anilwang says:

    WRT the extreme example given by Daly, one has to ask a simple question, was the couple married in the originally married in the Church? If so, the marriage is under the care of the Church and so if there are difficulties, the Church must be there do everything it can to bring reconciliation, and if it’s not possible, most of the information needed to the annulment process (whether it’s granted or not) should have been readily available at the time of a legal separation.

    If the Church failed the original marriage, either because the couple got married outside the Church or the Church didn’t aid the couple in its time of trial, these are the issues that need addressing. Everything else Daly says on this topic is just a smoke screen.

  12. You’ll hear critics of the Church (such as the folks at the National Heretical Reporter) say that the hierarchs, or the clergy in general, somehow wanted all this complexity, for the sake of greater power, etc.


    If the clergy–mostly parish priests–were doing what suited us, we’d do just about what Father Daly wants. Explaining the reasons for the arduous and unpleasant process of obtaining a decree of nullity is no fun; and in our society, the reasons are very hard for a lot of people to understand.

    Indeed, it’s hard to see why it would be any different for the highest echelons of the Church.

    Sometimes we have to say: the Lord laid down the law here and we’re working with it. And on this one, anyone who takes any time to look at what our Lord said, there’s no wiggle room. His answer on divorce and remarriage was shocking to all concerned. They assumed he’d allow some cases for divorce–but he slammed the door and bricked it up. And then, when the apostles complained about how tough his teaching was, he then brought up celibacy!

  13. robertchacon says:

    Fr. Z, face it, Father Daly is simply cowardly and lazy intellectually and pastorally. He comments a number of time his concern about Catholics who walk out upset at him and he Church. Too bad! I am a divorced Catholic. I did not obtain he divorce, yet I am not seeking the annulment process to grant me a “Catholic divorce” and get remarried. I am seeking an annulment for discernment. I trust in Mother Church and my pastors to tell decide if I am still truly married or not, despite what the civil law says. The annulment process and Church canon is there for a reason, and when Catholic laity or worse , priests, take it on themselves to decide what to obey or not to obey, they deny themselves the full counsel of the Church and simply fall into further sin by making themselves god, in becoming the final arbiter of Gods law. You can expect this from many nominal Catholics, but it is unacceptable when we see this attitude from “nominal” priests! Thank you once again for vigilance for TRUE pastoral care!

  14. pannw says:

    Hear hear, Father Fox!!

    Man, Jesus was so “legalistic, complicated, capricious and alienating,” wasn’t he?

    I don’t understand this whole appeal to ‘pastoral’ if it is what these dissidents seem to think it is, something to make people feel good about themselves and their sins, when Jesus, Himself, warned us that He did not come to bring peace, but the sword. The edge of this sword is sharp. How there can be so much debate over it is odd to me, when His words on marriage were so clear.

    They were very clear on the seriousness of those who lead people into scandal, too. And who can or does bring more scandal than a dissident priest? Have they no fear of the Lord who will come again to JUDGE? Do they ever consider their judgment and how they will answer to Him for defying His teaching and leading the people under their care into scandal? Honestly, I wonder if they believe in Him at all, sometimes. God help them.

  15. tcreek says:

    Pope John Paul II gave a speech to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota during each year of his pontificate, 1979 to 2005. Many portions of the 27 speeches were critical of the annulment process.
    Here are a few samples from the 27 speeches.

    29 January 2005
    2. The ethical question has always been asked very pointedly in any kind of judicial proceedings. In fact, individual or collective interests can induce the parties to resort to various kinds of duplicity and even bribery in order to attain a favorable sentence.
    Nor are canonical proceedings, in which an attempt is made to discover the truth about whether or not a marriage exists, immune from this risk.
    The unquestionable importance of this for the moral conscience of the parties involved reduces the likelihood of acquiescence to interests alien to the quest for the truth. …

    3. However, in the current circumstances there is also the threat of another risk. In the name of what they claim to be pastoral requirements, some voices have been raised proposing to declare marriages that have totally failed null and void. These persons propose that in order to obtain this result, recourse should be made to the expedient of retaining the substantial features of the proceedings, simulating the existence of an authentic judicial verdict. Such persons have been tempted to provide reasons for nullity and to prove them in comparison with the most elementary principles of the body of norms and of the Church’s Magisterium.
    The objective juridical and moral gravity of such conduct, which in no way constitutes a pastorally valid solution to the problems posed by matrimonial crises, is obvious. Thanks be to God, there is no lack of faithful people who refuse to let their consciences be deceived.

    5 February 1987
    7. For the canonist the principle must remain clear that only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent and in realizing a true community of life and love invalidates a marriage. Moreover, the breakdown of a marriage union is never in itself proof of such incapacity on the part of the contracting parties.
    8. … It is a ministry of charity towards the ecclesial community which is preserved from the scandal of seeing the value of Christian marriage being practically destroyed by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity of marriage in cases of the failure of marriage on the pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness on the part of the contracting parties. It is also a service of charity towards the parties themselves out of love of the truth if it is necessary to deny the declaration of nullity. In this way they are at least helped to avoid deceiving themselves as to the true causes of the failure of their marriage, and they are saved from the probable risk of finding themselves in the same difficulties in a new union sought as a remedy to the first failure, without having first tried all the means of overcoming the obstacles which they experienced in their valid marriage. Finally, it is a ministry of charity towards the other pastoral institutions and bodies in the Church. By preventing the ecclesiastical tribunal from becoming an easy way out for the dissolution of marriages that have failed and of irregular situations between spouses, it prevents in fact any carelessness in the preparation of young people for marriage, which is an important condition for approaching the sacrament.

    4 February 1980
    6. … Consequently no judge may pass sentence in favor of the nullity of a marriage if he has not first acquired the moral certainty of the existence of this nullity. Probability alone is not enough to decide a case.
    9. … If, owing to lack of cooperation with this divine grace, the union had remained deprived of its fruits, the spouses can and must bring back the grace of God, which the sacrament has ensured them, and renew their commitment to live a love, which is one not only of affections and emotions, but also and above all, of dedication—mutual, free, voluntary, total, and irrevocable.

  16. Andkaras says:

    As one who has undergone the annulment process, I must say that the Church is the only competent authority on earth to decide whether a marriage existed, and Catholics whether liberal or conservative in their thoughts on the matter, must allow Her the final say in the matter . It is both a humbling and a humiliating experience. And those who go through it may come out the better Catholic for it .There is a great deal of knowledge of the faith to be gained,which for the last 50 years or so was sorely missing from our formation in the understanding of this sacrament which is to represent ” the great mystery which is Christ and his Church.” as St. Paul tells us . The church is fortunate that I am not in charge of who gets married in her or not because I would impose a rigorous study of JPII’s “Love and Responsibility” and “Theology of the Body “, before I would give assent.

  17. New Sister says:

    I think Pastors need to cease, when speaking to us laity, using terms that confuse us, such as “get your marriage convalidated” (or “blessed”, or “sacramentalized” — or in this case, “annuled”). We can’t handle it – we walk away hearing what we want, and that is that we can somehow, retroactively, render holy the previous years we had been living together, however unintentionally, in sin. OR, in the case of a declaration of nullity, we continue to regard and refer to the previous union as “our first marriage”.

    If I may suggest to all Catholics reading this string, and especially to pastors: to cohabitating couples, simply tell them/us, “GET MARRIED!” and let the inevitably instructive conversation go from there, making sure we understand that the “convalidation” will be the first & only time we are married. (again, most do not understand this!) & to couples who are civilly divorced, tell them, “get this examined to see if you are in fact married”. (versus “get an annulment”) It will save us a lot of pain (the pain of offending God!).

    With the exception of ONE Catholic couple amongst the MANY I know who had first cohabitated in a sinful, though civilly-recognized-as-marriage union, ALL OF THEM celebrate the first “wedding” (invalid sinful union) as their anniversary date – NOT the date they were finally and for the first time married (i.e., sacramentally, in the Church), and even that one couple whom I know that “gets it” must exercise (IMO) heroic discipline to toss the false wedding pictures & call the “convalidation” day their anniversary.

    There is much grace just waiting to be poured forth from couples who are humble enough to do this. Each time this couple explains to other Catholics (not to mention their own family) why their eldest child is 25 but they have been married only 15 years, they witness powerfully to the truth of Catholic teaching on marriage, set a holy example of humility, and save souls!

  18. iPadre says:

    “The emphasis should be on mercy, not law.” How pathetic! Of course the emphasis should be on mercy, but mercy does not relegate the truth. True mercy is about the eternal salvation of souls, helping souls overcome their sins so they can go to heaven. Mercy is educating the ignorant in the truths of eternal salvation. If any priest wants to allow his people to live in sin, whatever that sin may be, he is cruel and derelict of his duty. It is not mercy over truth, or truth over mercy, they go hand in hand. Maybe he is a moral relativist. We are reduced to animals, like helpless swine, unable to make a free will decision to accept God’s will for our eternal salvation.

  19. New Sister says:

    @ Andkaras – amen – I sent the canon lawyer (defender of the bond, I think?) a card/ spiritual bouquet after receiving his declaration of nullity on my preivous bond. I wept with gratitude for belonging to Holy Mother Church, for her authority to teach, govern, and sanctify my soul!

  20. Andkaras says:

    As many in the past have arrogantly stated,as did my ex, “I’m not gonna let any priest tell me whether I’m married or not!” ,I would reply,”Good , Don’t tell me whether I’m married to you or not either.” heh heh

  21. Rich says:

    It is not “pastoral” to go along with whatever people feel like doing. While some priests may pride themselves in being so “pastoral”, they are offering no real solutions to the problems people are having by taking such approaches. They are only offering short-term fixes to the peoples’ present situations, which serve as mere Band-Aids until the point when the peoples’ problems build upon themselves and they come back expecting more Band-Aids, or their lives fall apart altogether.

  22. LadyMarchmain says:

    Fr Fox, yes, exactly! Thank you for reminding us of Jesus’ response to those who considered sacramental marriage too difficult.

    Rich, I agree. C. S. Lewis has written that if you care about someone, you point out to them that they are driving over a cliff. It comes down to whether the pastor believes in more than this world, whether he considers that an immortal soul is in peril.

  23. benedetta says:

    How about this idea for this priest’s proposal: allow the pastoral approach for those crazy baby boomers, who brought it on themselves, and ruined it for the successive generations, and have it stopped there. Any babies born after a certain date will be entitled under Church law to, a childhood free of sexual exploitation and commercial targeting, inordinate student loans paying for that junk that we saw yesterday from that loony prof at DePaul that can’t get anyone a job anyway nor help them learn how to think, porn made illegal, Planned Parenthood booted from the schools, Roe v. Wade overturned, and, the sanctity of marriage upheld in our laws, with a decent amount of solid sacramental formation and preparation for young people wherever situated, hence, eliminating the need for “advocates” like this one who only wants to destroy the sacrament of marriage in our midst.

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    People who weren’t Catholic when they married civilly or in another faith/Christian group, who then get their natural marriages convalidated to become sacramental marriages, are not getting married for the first time. They are upgrading what already existed.

    People who were already Catholic when they married civilly — that’s another thing.

  25. The Masked Chicken says:

    “(he had just quoted his predecessor Archbishop of Buenos Aires as saying that half of all marriages were invalid)”

    What was his evidence? If you really want to end the epidemic of sham-relatioships, it is important to realize that many of the marriages that are being dissolved or annulled are being done so on the (in my opinion) questionable basis of difficulty in forming the bond rather than the inability to form the bond. So much bad science psychology is spouted by experts to claim that certain people did not have the maturity to form a bond that it has muddied the water. I can see a person who thinks they are a horse being unable to get married, but a psychologist, even ten years ago, was (incorrectly) likely to say that someone who has a personality disorder cannot form a bond, when we know, now, that that is not always correct (it depends on environmental factors as much as anything else). So, should rank-and-file psychologists be used by Tribunals? I know experts in the personality disorder filed and they have told me how hard it is to get valid test subjects because of all of the misdiagnoses being made by everyday psychologists. Other things like depression or OCD are even more questionable. I would be really careful about taking the judgment of psychologists at face value as a reason for granting an annulment. If the bishop wants to claim this large a number of marriages are invalid and he is basing it on questionable psychological personality theories, then he is very much likely to be wrong.

    That is one major problem with current annulment practices: the use of theories of personhood that are very transitory and likely to be replaced. In the 1800’s, before the advent of psychology and some aspects of personalist philosophy, these sorts of questions were very rare and so were annulments. Adding psychology, when the theory is not very strong, is really unsupportable. It may make annulments easier, but, if the science changes, does the annulment?

    In fact, I don’t think half of all marriages are invalid. If a person can understand the marriage vow, then there is little to indicate they don’t know what they are getting into. If fornicators were jailed and no one could get an annulment except for the most obvious reasons (prior existing marriage, inability to consummate), in other words, if people’s feet were held to the fire, marriage would be reformed within a generation. People would be forced to think about the important questions before they got married: am I willing and can I live with this person for the rest of my life.

    Fr. Daly doesn’t seem to realize that God’s justice is His mercy. It wasn’t the Pill that made marriage go away. It was the spineless legislators both of laws and morals that made using the Pill legitimate. If the Supreme Court had ruled that the Pill was illegal because it allowed for illegal behavior (fornication) and the breach of marriage (frustrating the end of having children) and if psychologists hadn’t been busy spouting nonsense about self-actualization and if the bishops hadn’t bought into the nonsense, none of this would be happening. In order for any argument to be successful, it needs a warrant. The doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and religious who supplied cover for the use of the Pill and even abortion are the true enablers of the downfall of Western civilization, for we will not recover from this in any way recognizable as continuity with the past.

    Every priest should be required to preach from the pulpit that contraception is a mortal sin and then pain a proper picture of Hell. That the bishop’s committee does not do this speaks volumes about their lack of commitment to really changing society to a properly moral one. Yeah, this world will go down with a whimper, baring the conversions of millions.

    The Chicken

  26. Uxixu says:

    Andkaras nails it perfectly. Ultimately consent for marriage, especially in the Church is just too easy. And THEN exiting a marriage (no fault) is way too easy as well and has horrible long term consequences on their families.

  27. robtbrown says:

    I’m not from a Catholic family, and I had an uncle who made use of the tactic proposed by Fr Daly. My uncle was married and had two children. No doubt via Internal Forum, he dumped his wife and denied that the children were his (even though they looked like him). Then he never paid a penny in child support–a dead beat dad before anyone used the phrase.

  28. Johnno says:

    “The emphasis should be on mercy, not law.”

    If only SNAP and all those people trying to punish the Church for sex abuse also felt the same way… Everything would be rainbows and sunshine!

    We need a new word to describe this kind of ‘pastoral’ attitude.

    From now on I’m going to call it patsy-ral. As in the ‘patsy-ral approach.’

    The patsy-ral approach> Def: Where cover is given to one accused of sin to continue commiting sin by deflecting the blame to someone/thing else instead or deferring judgment to another authority that is incompetent in such matters.

    Any other suggestions? Otherwise we can conclude that Fr. Daly is the perfect example of a patsy-ral priest.

  29. wmeyer says:

    My issues with the annulment process are all with its being up to the diocese how to implement it, and how to apply standards. In my limited experience, these dioceses are all over map in implementation, fees, and processing time. The best I have hear of was just under a year (not in my diocese); my wife’s annulment took 36 months, and mine took 33. And the diocese claims an average of one year. I am doubtful of that as the dozen or so cases in my former parish with which I was familiar ranged from 1 to 4 years. And most of them were over 2. You would need quite a few rather speedy cases to bring the average back down. Unless they are counting in the figures the cases denied, as well.

  30. Charles E Flynn says:

    Canon Law Clash Alert!, by Carl E. Olson, for the Catholic World Report.

  31. robtbrown says:

    Chicken says,

    Fr. Daly doesn’t seem to realize that God’s justice is His mercy.

    I prefer St Thomas’ phrase: Mercy is in a certain sense the perfection of Justice. At any rate, they are not contradictory, and I think distinguished only ad extra.

  32. RJHighland says:

    I wonder how long it will be before our Lord asks for an annulment from his Bride the Church? I think my might have a good case. If Rome doesn’t get its act together pretty soon it could soon look like the Temple in Jerusalem.

  33. RJHighland says:

    Correction “I think He might have a good case.”

  34. Bedens says:

    My father was granted an annulment of his marriage to my mother on the grounds that the marriage was invalid because she was pregnant (by my father) at the time it took place. The Catholic priest who married them in a Catholic Church knew the circumstances before the ceremony took place. My parents ended up being married for 24 years and had five children together. How in the world can their marriage have been “invalid?” I hate the term “annulment.”

  35. If Fr. Daly wants a pastoral solution at the parish level he should write about implementing intervention at the time of original separation. Seek the Church’s involvement, and direction to reconciliation, before making separation permanent with divorce and annulment… We could avoid many of these annulments, and the accompanying concern about people with legitimate claims to an annulment being unable to receive communion, if the the proper order of things was put back in place! There is such a thing as an unjust separation. You don’t have to be an adulterer to violate Church law on marriage.

    Expedient processing of annulments is an idea similar to what helped give birth to no fault divorce. The Catholic Church is already too much of a referral service for no-fault divorce, why would any one want to join forces with it.

  36. RJHighland says:

    I have heard stories like yours too many to count. Several have left the Church because of the anger they have carried for the Church annuling their parents marriage with no apparent valid reason. But then again my mother and natural father were married in a Baptist Church, divorsed with-in a year and my mother later married a wonderful man who was a good father for me, I often refer to him as my Joseph my natural father is more of an anti-Christ figure for me (literally). I don’t know but I am pretty sure my mother’s first marriage would be considered annulled but it is a hurdle, one of the many, that we have trying to over come to bring them into the Church. My prayers are with you, divorce is very difficult for the children no matter what age and I pray for your healing. To over come my rage against my natural father I had to give it to God, I could not bare it it was tearing me apart, by the grace of God and thanks to good shepherds in His Church I have peace about the whole ordeal.

  37. CrimsonCatholic says:

    @RJHighland, I am not sure what you mean by “how long it will be before our Lord asks for an annulment from his Bride the Church?” Will the Truth no longer be the Truth anymore?

  38. Pingback: Heated Conversation Over Annulment Article | Blogger Priest

  39. slainewe says:


    It is a mystery to me how any good parent could rob their children of the gift of their birth within a sacramental marriage for ANY personal happiness.

  40. Justalurkingfool says:

    CrimsonCatholic says:
    17 January 2014 at 10:31 am
    @RJHighland, I am not sure what you mean by “how long it will be before our Lord asks for an annulment from his Bride the Church?” Will the Truth no longer be the Truth anymore?

    I have not read much of this article or the commentary. I scanned it days ago.

    I would gladly be willing to speak before the upcoming Synod to personally testify to the destruction of our marriage that has occurred with the annulment process and the pastoral practices of the Catholic Church.

    I know that my wife is confused as to the truth, in significant part, through her personal observation of what has transpired in the Catholic Church. I know countless people who are completely lost respecting the permanence of marriage……

    The hierarchy is responsible for marital devastation, I believe, more so than some of the spouses, but to the exact degree I am quite willing to negotiate on a case by case basis.

    Abandoned spouses get virtually no support while their adulterous partners are fawned over and accepted as, virtually married. We must face off against the Catholic Church as our spouses are, with full civil support in the vast majority of cases, shredding our lives and the lives of our children.

    ANY PRIEST OR CANONIST who disagrees with my statement should lose their job, immediately. There ARE exceptions to this reality which I have seen but they are the exceptions, the RULE is as I stated it. I am living it.

    Francis should shut the world’s tribunal system down, immediately, ban canon lawyers from that synod, even the few good ones that I know exist, and beg those of us who are annulment respondents to come to Rome to open the eyes of the Catholic Church. I doubt Pope Francis has that kind of courage or wisdom.

    Likely for the first time in their lives, the hierarchy would hear some actual truth. I bet some of my adult children would like to add their two cents as well. They have seen the faithfulness of their father, juxstaposed against the Church-supported more than two decades of unrepentant adultery of my wife and her lover. I would welcome my wife testifying, too, so that I could begin to understand how she has done what she has done and why? You see, for this whole time of her adultery, I have asked, repeatedly, the Catholic Church to work to heal this marriage but I have been ignored. One might find that understandable(I still think in a strange way) if she had been granted nullity but the case was denied from the start and was returned to a corrupt Judicail Vicar, in violation of Canon Law, when I was not consulted, which resulted in his issuing a fake nullity, which was dissected immediately upon it arriving at the Roman Rota in 1993. Our case should never have been accepted. The Catholic Church knew, from the start that this marriage was a valid sacrament but has forced me, now a second time to defend it before tribunals.

    It has never apologized or taken remedial action to heal our marriage. That is what should be done. However, wherever my wife and her lover have gone, they have been fully accepted as a Catholic married couple.


    I am angry of course. But, I was raised to forgive. That includes my wife, her lover and the hierarchy. But, I was also raised that those who do wrong, like my wife, her lover and the hierarchy, are supposed to repent and to work to undo the wrongs they have done, as is humanly possible and to work to heal all the brokenness involved.

    That is what I have asked for for more than two decades. Pope Francis, are you listening? Please?

    Thank you.

  41. frjim4321 says:

    Fr. Daly is indeed correct with respect to the special difficulties entailed by those who are not Catholic but nevertheless get caught up a complicated judicial process that seems irrelevant to them. But Fr. Daly is correct about little more.

    Removing the annulment process from its juridical context would be a disaster. Great unfairness and unevenness would result. Ask any Tribunal official about the differences between various procurators, which ones are methodical and conscientious and some who are careless and sloppy.

    The author Peters and I agree for the most part here.

  42. slainewe says:

    Has not the granting of “psychological annulments” already removed the annulment process from its juridical context? Already their exists great unfairness and unevenness between tribunals of different dioceses because the decision is often based on fickle human judgement rather than clear law.

    I do not understand how a diocesan annulment can be overturned by Rome. Does not the same power of the keys apply to both? Is every diocesan annulment suspect: that is, locally annulled Catholics may discover on their Day of Judgement that they were not really annulled in the Eyes of God, even though their wronged spouses did not have the means to officially challenge the decision to Rome?

  43. Justalurkingfool says:


    I wrote a very long reply to you but have destroyed it.

    Every case can be appealed to Rome. I advise people to do just that. Two concurrent decisions are needed to adjudicate a case to “normal” completion. I do not trust the American Tribunals, although, I found the New York Archdiocesan Tribunal headed by the Judicial Vicar, Father Welch, to be fair in its recent first instance judgment of our second nullity case. The appeals court, is another story, however. But, I will not get into that. I know nothing of the Rota, these days.

    Unless working to heal broken marriages becomes a high priority of this Papacy and an integral part of this whole process, which needs to be retooled from the ground up, the Catholic Church will continue its rapid decay. I do not anticipate any such initiative from Rome or from the ranks of the bishops in any significant way. I see only decay on the horizon. I hope that I am wrong.

  44. slainewe says:


    I agree with your assessment of what I call “The War on Matrimony” within the Church. I find it preposterous to call for a synod on the Family when the foundation of the Family, the Sacrament of Matrimony, is cracked to the bedrock. Would priests stand for their Sacrament, Ordination, being so devalued? Is the expectation of one keeping vows only for an elite class of Catholics called to the priesthood or religious life?

    My present dilemma is understanding when a faithful Catholic should believe the judgement of a tribunal as the Word of God. You were compelled (and I assume by a good Spirit) to challenge your tribunal. Others in similar circumstances, thinking the decision came from God, just went home heartbroken and confused, perhaps even filled with additional guilt that they were so sinful at the time of their marriage that they did not even recognize it was contrary to God’s will.

    If local Tribunals can be wrong, how does one trust ANY decision they make? Does the power of keys extend to them or not? If not, should not EVERY annulment be reviewed by Rome? If it does, how does a faithful Catholic dare challenge their decision?

    How does anyone with an annulment know if they are really free to marry?

  45. Justalurkingfool says:

    Dear Slainewe,

    You stated:

    “My present dilemma is understanding when a faithful Catholic should believe the judgement of a tribunal as the Word of God. You were compelled (and I assume by a good Spirit) to challenge your tribunal. Others in similar circumstances, thinking the decision came from God, just went home heartbroken and confused, perhaps even filled with additional guilt that they were so sinful at the time of their marriage that they did not even recognize it was contrary to God’s will.

    If local Tribunals can be wrong, how does one trust ANY decision they make? Does the power of keys extend to them or not? If not, should not EVERY annulment be reviewed by Rome? If it does, how does a faithful Catholic dare challenge their decision?

    How does anyone with an annulment know if they are really free to marry?”

    This process is not infallible. Mistakes are made. I trust, with certainty, no tribunal, including the Roman Rota. But, I trust the Roman Rota, thus far, much more then I trust American Tribunals. I think the damage done with mistakes, far outweighs the justification for the process. This is particularly true when someone like myself has been asking for the issues I have raised of the past two decades to be addressed, comprehensively. I have never received a positive response. Overwhelmingly, I have been ignored, priest after priest and bishop after bishop until I have come to consider all of the hierarchy an almost malignant waste of my time in the pursuit of anything resembling justice in our case. God really is going to have to sort out this mess. The Catholic Church is virtually unwilling to address its wrongs regarding the marital violation that happens, alot, in its pastoral practices and in its tribunal activity and their interactions. There may be very specific cases where something has been done to address these wrongs but I know numerous cases where what I have described is true.

    When one is “served” with a libellus/petition for nullity and becomes a respondent, the process is not avoidable. It will continue with or without the cooperation of a respondent, if the powers that be have determined there is “theoretical” merit to the “allegation(s)”.

    In our case, I presented three witnesses to the Judicail Vicar in Iowa and their contact information, having spoken with them and learned that my wife had made demonstrably false statements on her libellus/petition, some of which I have reason to suspect the priest/sponsor knew and withheld, as well, which each of these witnesses were, then, willing to testify about.

    He refused, outright, to even address whether or not my wife had perjured herself, from the start. I am not a canonist but, logic tells me that the testimony of the petitioner, if it can be demonstrated that they have committed perjury, becomes entirely questionable and unreliable. If this is the case, then upon what basis could a libellus/petition stand from a “demonstrated perjurer”?

    This charge has been know to the legal system of the Catholic Church since 1993 or 1994. Nothing has ever been done. I have no contact with two of the three witnesses I presented and barely any with the last of them. I have no idea if they even remember or care to try to remember the perjury.

    This is reality. I knew the Judicial Vicar was corrupted, then and there. Consequently, I sought a change of venue for the case which was granted, immediately, but I kept the very ugly reasons to myself, at the request of a solidly Catholic advisor who was concerned that such an accusation could be judged as “inflammatory” and work against my defense, so I used only the straight forward reasons clearly deliniated in the canons that were appropriate. The libellus was found to be unsubstantiated during a review of it in New York, in late 1991 and my wife was served with, as was I, written notification and clear reasons why the libellus was going nowhwere. The case was, essentially over and all of our children’s godparents, my local pastor and every priest involved knew that I was seeking the intercession of the Church to work to heal our marriage.

    No one raised a finger. no one.

    Instead, my wife verbally assaulted the Judicial Vicar in New York, severely enough to move him to return the case to the corrupted Judicial Vicar in Iowa. He did this without consulting me, which he was supposed to do, so that my reasons for wanting the jurisdictional change in the first place could have been made clear to him.

    This transfer, in violation of canon law, precipitated my wife’s civil marriage to her lover, as she had told me she was informed that she would get her annulment, now.

    None of this, although well known in the documentation in the possession of the Church has ever been addressed to my knowledge.

    I am writing this here to let you know and whomever reads this know that real mistakes, with very serious consequences are made and NEVER addressed. This is at the heart of my discontent over this process. My wife lied on her petition. This was as much as stated in the first Rotal decision issued in 1994 by Cormac Burke, et al. The false assertion on her libellus/petition was directly refuted is that decision, but the falsehood of the petition was not directly cited. I do not know why this juxtaposition of outright falsehood and legally proven fact, has never resulted in canonical consequences for my wife. This seems to be a profound injustice, when true mercy should have required a Church response for her perjury.

    I am also writing this because I am certain that with the involvement of the proper authority and authorities in the Catholic Church, this marriage can be healed. I am also certain that this is exactly what is the will of God and that this set of nightmarish circumstances has been allowed by God, to, specifically, correct and teach His Church what to do, because it is not doing it. My wife and her lover need to have their long standing behaviors and choices addressed, fully with the complete certainty that if they fail to commit to ending their relationship and both working to heal all the mess that their choices have made, that they will be formally excommunicated, immediatly upon their refusal to accept and confront their decades long wrong behaviors and work, as best is humanly possible, to right their wrongs.

    That being said, I stated before that “every case can be appealed to Rome”. I think every single “positively determined” one should be required to go there, even if it generates impossible numbers. The system is broken. Really, it needs to be shutdown, immediately, until it can be retooled with the very heavy input from annulment respondents, much more so then canon lawyers or clergy, except for very technical questions of law and some administrative issues.

    Every respondent should be informed, up front, that they have the right to a second instance case in Rome, by canon law. If this is not done, careers should be ended. Respondents should be told that it will be sent, gladly, at the full expense of the local diocese or the petitioner. If joy in sending it is not expressed and meant, sincerely, careers should be ended. Much more “successful respondent” oversight of this entire process is needed with significant authority yielded to them. Every tribunal should be required to have one member who was a successful respondent as a judge in every non-form case. If this cannot be done, no cases should be heard, period, that are non-form cases.

    Respecting this question:

    “If it does, how does a faithful Catholic dare challenge their decision?”

    By this, do you mean questioning the Rota? Or, questioning an American Tribunal?

    I have mentioned the appeal to Rome with respect to the latter. Regarding the former, I believe an appeal may be requested to the Signatura, but of that I am not sure.

    Remember, neither spouse “owns” their marriage. It is their exchanged vows which bind them before God to be faithful to each other, to have kids, to raise them as Catholics, to be an example of living a Catholic life before them and to work for the other spouses’ salvation, for better or for worse. Right now, this process does not place the priority on healing wounded marriages or what is really good for children. This must be changed.

    Books can be written about this subject.

    I do not believe that any person, as well meaning and trained as they could be, can honestly determine with sufficient certainty the validity of a marriage many years after it occurred. This process it flawed and very detrimental, even changed as I would like it to be. It is a disaster in progress. Of course people are happy when they can have a new person to sleep with. That, to me, is what this is all about. I do not think most people are objective, or are willing to really work to heal the mess they have made. The Catholic Church has softened way too much for people who want another bed to sleep in. There should be much more, almost routine use of formal excommunications, when such behaviors are manifest.

    Much work needs to be done. But I do not see this happening. No, rather, the easy way will be followed. The scandal of the crossed fingers, behind the back, orthodox style, penitential marriages, are much easier.

    For me, I want my marriage to be healed. I will wait till death for that possibility, which I know will never happen unless there are big changes, the right way, in the Catholic Church. May God have mercy on the Catholic Church it is a huge mess.

  46. MarkJ5621 says:

    Some excellent comments here. I haven’t gotten a chance to read them all but I just did a search for the word “cross” and came up with no matches. I thought a comment about the Cross of Christ as it relates to marriage might bring a new perspective to the conversation.

    Sacrifice is a bedrock of marriage. The Catechism tells us we can become partners in the Paschal Mystery (ccc 618) and that marriage is sanctifying (ccc 1661). Every marriage has times when we must love through gritted teeth. Every time we hold our tongue from some unkind comment, fold that horrible old shirt again, or take out the garbage again we are one small step closer to Our Redeemer in the intimate way He desires for us. If we carry our crosses as partners with Christ, after a time, they may not seem so bad and we may eventually come to be so intimate with the Cross of Christ that we begin to see it as a gift. Many saints spoke of their suffering this way.

    If, by some act of mercy by God, we manage to suffer enough in this life to “cover our own sins” then any additional suffering does not go in vain. Our suffering is then redemptive for those whom we love. In this case, our spouse–but sacrifice out of love for our fellow man has the same effect in the greater family, the community and the workplace.

    If the church is ever going to fix the annulment scandal, they must start by teaching the truth of the cross as it relates to marriage. Where else will spouses hear the truth? They are bombarded with lies from today’s culture. They are SUPPOSED to hear the truth (ALL the truth–not just the nice truth) from the pulpit but we see fewer and fewer priests willing to say “Divorce is a grave offense” (ccc 2384) and explain why.

    Aside from the pulpit, the tribunals seem like an excellent place to turn this around. When a spouse comes to them with a petition for annulment, both spouses should be asked to participate in sessions to determine the validity of the petition. During the sessions they should be taught the TRUTH about marriage and its effect on their eternal soul from tribunal staff who are PROPERLY TRAINED so they don’t make the situation worse. Then they should be strongly encouraged to take steps to ensure their marriage is valid instead of trying to find out if it is invalid. The tribunals should help them every step of the way by identifying any issues that may render the marriage invalid (they are EXPERTS at that!!!) and then working with the spouses to form a plan to resolve the issues to ensure the marriage becomes truly valid.

    Our bishops must be willing to step up and become the first martyrs in the battle to regain marriage. The church has allowed the scandal to become so pervasive that there will be MANY casualties but the longer they wait the worse it will be.

    Pray for our bishops!!!

  47. Justalurkingfool says:


    My Bishop is Cardinal Dolan, my wife’s Bishop is Bishop Burbidge. Both of their tribunals are familiar with this case, particularly in New York. Bishop Burbidge, I believe, knows our son, who will be getting married in the cathedral in Raleigh in the end of May. What better “wedding present” could the Church give this couple then show them an example of Christ’s mercy by working to restore the groom’s parents marital union, in time for his wedding? Contact information and all the “particulars” are in Church records.

    Right here, right now, I am asking both bishops, in public, to get involved to work to heal this marriage. There simply must be priests, deacons or other Catholic officials who know one, or both of them, who read this blog and who have access to them, far more readily then I do. I await their response. It is time to put some elbow grease into this nightmare. One of us is willing, the other seems lost or deceived.

    This is a good place for them to start, in anticipation of the upcoming Synod. This is a classic case. I am sure some of our children would be willing to give the bishops their input and I would welcome it.


  48. MarkJ5621 says:


    Like I said, this is going to be a battle–and it will be EPIC!!! Many good men will fall prey. The first bishop to realize their eternal soul is more important than their job will be the first martyr in this battle . . . and will be the one to start an angelic chorus of praise so loud it will rattle every corner of the world! When I hear that trumpet sound I will put on the Armor of God, pick up the Sword of the Spirit and charge to the front of the battlefield!! I would be honored to lose my life for this holy cause!!!

    In the meantime, souls are lost. Spouses are abandoned with no help from the church. Church law is ignored. Families are destroyed. Children are forced to walk away from (GOOD) parents by force of law. Evil forces stand by and cackle with delight at the destruction of the family. The world laughs at the bride of Christ. So called “Catholics” leave the church because our priests no longer have the courage or strength to gird their loins in truth.

    What is the leadership of the church–the Bride of Christ we love so dearly–waiting for? When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on Earth–or a just steaming pile of luke-warm leaders not strong enough to pick up the shield of faith? Let the battle cry be WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER!!! Watch how quickly the holy army grows when truth is on their side and watch how fast evil runs away from the power of the Holy Spirit!

    Now THAT’S evangelization!!!

  49. ConstantlyConverting says:

    Interestingly enough, someone mentioned the clergy and their reaction to a devaluation of their roles. The reality is a devaluation of marriage is a devaluation of every vocation. A temporal marriage is a visible sign of the reality of Trinitarian unity. A marriage of Holy Orders is the marriage we are all called to as Christians. Marriage is the smallest unit of reality. We need to be reading Three to Get Married, 1 Cor and Ephesians in any pre-Cana class and at any inquiry into nullity. Thoroughly and thoughtfully. What follows the devaluation of marriage is endless schism (see Protestantism.)

    The real answer is Eucharist. We are one body in the Eucharist. If we want to fix things we need to offer right worship. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Joshua, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, etc… Liturgy is the answer. Liturgy. Fixing it is God’s deal. The Pope, bishops, priests, those are God’s deal. Our job is to pray for them and to offer right worship. We are a package deal, they cannot offer right worship without us and we cannot offer right worship without them. The only power we have is to offer it in worship.

  50. The crux of the problem is that while individual decisions of tribunals might make some sense, the sum total of canonical practice over the last 50 years or so is that contracting a valid marriage is almost impossible. That becomes the real question– what marriage is actually valid if no one can considered to be competent enough to exchange vows? If vast numbers of people are truly so immature in one way or another as to be incapable of contracting a valid marriage, what are we going to do about that? What are we going to do to make people competent to contract valid marriages? Or perhaps contracting a valid marriage isn’t that hard after all, and the problem is with the tribunals that haven’t seen a valid marriage since Adam?

    God did not intend the sacraments to be museum pieces, as a priest I respect once said– they are meant to be used, and I will extend that to mean that they are meant to be used validly, and valid marriages are indeed possible, not just in theory but also in fact. It is long past time to overhaul the theology of marriage and the associated canonical practice to bring it more in line with what Jesus taught very clearly.

  51. Justalurkingfool says:


    But what can be done when people like myself and, Bai Macfarlane, as another clear example, are ignored by our bishops and clergy? We face an almost entire hierarchy that simply does not care, regardless of their rhetoric otherwise. It has been this way for decades.

    My daughter, God bless her, tells me that I do not trust God enough, which make me think that, from the top of the Catholic Church down, the same must be said. Our clergy and our canonists, do not trust God and their actions are destroying faith. But, if that trust is not the real problem, then the only conceivable answer(s) for the lack of support for our marriages is/are far, far worse.

    My personal belief, from my decades of being ignored, is that the lack of trust is NOT the problem. I believe it is far, far worse.


  52. slainewe says:

    The devaluation of the Sacrament of Matrimony also devalues the other Sacraments. The uninformed Catholic wonders: if a 22 year old is too immature to give consent to Marriage, how can a 12 year old consent to Confirmation? Or a newborn to Baptism?

    I know a Catholic father who justified attending his daughter’s Unitarian marriage because “she had been too young to give consent to being a Catholic.”

  53. slainewe says:

    “If the church is ever going to fix the annulment scandal, they must start by teaching the truth of the cross as it relates to marriage.”

    I would never last in a tribunal office. I would place a life-size Crucifix outside the door with a sign that read, “All who enter this office know that you have rejected Me.”

  54. Giuseppe says:

    The annulment concept and process both look good on paper, and they can be a mess in real life. A colleague got an annulment because he was too anxious and naive when he married his first wife. He’s on the verge of marrying wife #3 now. (Still waiting for annulment #2.) I have resisted the urge to jokingly call him Newt. With $ and persistence, all things are possible in America, and American Catholicism. (I trust things are more kosher in Rome.)

    Christ, God love him, opened up a can of worms in clarifying marriage laws. Although, annulments are marginally better than orthodox Judiasm’s “getting a ‘get’.”

  55. Giuseppe said, “With $ and persistence, all things are possible in America…” If it took money, the problem wouldn’t be nearly as bad. I’m not even sure that persistence is required. Catholics, including priests, today have been trained that the annulment process is a “pastoral healing process,” meaning that the conclusion is almost foregone. If it were a juridical process (as it ought to be) it in fact might not heal anything (at least not the way people want) and people who were turned down might not see it as “pastoral” at all (the way people abuse that word these days)– but at least the process might have some integrity, which is more important.

  56. The Masked Chicken says:

    “My present dilemma is understanding when a faithful Catholic should believe the judgement of a tribunal as the Word of God. You were compelled (and I assume by a good Spirit) to challenge your tribunal. Others in similar circumstances, thinking the decision came from God, just went home heartbroken and confused, perhaps even filled with additional guilt that they were so sinful at the time of their marriage that they did not even recognize it was contrary to God’s will.”

    This is a very difficult issue involving the real possibility of accidental spiritual abuse by Tribunals. Unfortunately, not much is understood about the mechanisms of spiritual abuse, although there are sort-of case studies that have been done in the Protestant Sheperding Movement. I keep meaning to write an article on spiritual abuse for the Homiletics and Pastoral Review, but it is one more thing I haven’t gotten to, yet. Essentially, the decision by a Tribunal is not an act of God, but of man. Men can fail and the Cross is very real. The criteria for the Tribunal member regarding nullity is Moral Certainty, which basically, says that the judge is certain enough to stand before God on the matter. It does not, however, mean that they are right, nor that their word is the Word from on high. History is too replete with human errors in making ecclesiastical judgments to think otherwise. That does not mean that such judgments should not be accorded respect – God knows we will all be accounted for our mistakes and mercy is the most important necessity for being human.

    Spiritual abuse, real spiritual abuse, takes a specific set of criteria: 1) the person being abused must be in an averse emotional arousal state, meaning that their sense of personal identity is destabilized, with associated anxiety, 2) while this person is in this unbalanced state a command decision (usually negative) of which they feel they have no ability to influence must be made against them from an unappealable source (usually, speaking in God’s name), 3) causing the anxiety and destabilized sense of self to turn inward with the decision or judgment being a cap holding the anxiety in so that it cannot escape or dissipate causing a feeling of being trapped, 4) trying to appeal to God in prayer becomes impossible because God as expressed in the decision is at odds with God as the person has known and trusted Him, 5) the result is a an unresolvable paradox that cycles back-and-forth internally, cutting the person off from the truth of who God is, since they either have to deny god as they know Him (and, thus their very personhood) or God as spoken from the outside authority, 6) the feedback loop cannot be broken without either the oppressive decision bring rescinded or the dehumanization of the person into madness.

    Unfortunately, if the authority does not recognize the conditions for abuse, they often cannot be convinced of their part in it. Most authorities simply cannot get past themselves and their positions to see the harm they are doing even while they believe they are doing their duties. The pain of spiritual abuse is like none other. Unlike other suffering, one cannot offer it up, since it is God’s will (or believed to be) and one cannot appeal it to a higher authority, because one believes the command to be from God and final. Spiritual abuse is exactly the criteria that destroys faith. If faith is a miracle of good, spiritual abuse is a prodigy of evil.

    Fortunately, most of the grudging, anger-inducing disagreements with authority are not genuine spiritual abuse, but Crosses to be borne. There can be cases, however, (hopefully, not that common) where true damage is (usually) unintentionally inflicted on the soul of another by someone who does not really have a proper understanding of how authority can be used, but is sometimes abused. I can see the possibility of rare instances where the judgments of a Tribunal, acting on a sensitive soul thrown off-kilter by self-introspection during the proceedings can destroy not only the marriage, but the person, as well.

    In this regard, Fr. Daly’s suggestion is no better (and far worse) than the actions of a Tribunal, because Tribunals, by virtue of their training, bring actual graces to the judgment process, so they have more tools from which to work than a parish priest or (God forbid) the private judgment of an individual (except in the rarest of cases).

    I cannot see that the use of psychology, replacing a 2000 year old Common Sense, can be said to make the judgments of nullity more certain, today, than in the past. Judges know the law. They do not know the psychological sciences. It might do them some good the really look behind the curtain at how psychological science develops. It might disabuse them of a lot of trust in it. I say that as someone who is heavily involved in developing some of those theories. As an expert in the neurobiology of humor, I get to see the work of psychologists up close. These are good men working hard to understand an aspect of the human person and, yet, if it is so hard to get a consistent theory worked out for something so simple, ought we to be staking people’s lives on judgments based on theories of even more complex personal phenomena?

    Black-and-white annulments almost never cause spiritual problems. It is the annulments based on aspects that touch on the ineffable nature of the human person that keep me awake at night.

    The Chicken

  57. slainewe says:

    @Masked Chicken

    Thank you. This is very helpful to me. Especially the description of spiritual abuse.

    But how does a faithful Catholic presume to decide oneself (with no authority) whether a tribunal decision made by a judge (appointed by the Holy Spirit) is a cross to be borne or spiritual abuse to be challenged?

    Especially when spiritual abuse can also be accepted as a cross; living the dereliction of Our Lord on the Cross crying, “My God, My God… ” – unable to pray; seemingly unable to live; but faithfully continuing to go through the motions with one’s spirit in the Hands of Abba.

    I guess I can understand it by believing that if the spouse committed to the marriage has the grace to accept the decision, then the marriage was, in fact, invalid. And if the spouse committed to the marriage does not have the grace to accept the decision, then the marriage MAY be valid.

    I do not know how else to deal with the fact that for every marriage that is psychologically annulled, there is another marriage with the exact same circumstances that is thriving under the Cross. And, for every psychological annulment that is challenged, there is another annulment with the exact same circumstances that has nailed a spouse to the Cross in total dereliction.

  58. The Masked Chicken says:

    “But how does a faithful Catholic presume to decide oneself (with no authority) whether a tribunal decision made by a judge (appointed by the Holy Spirit) is a cross to be borne or spiritual abuse to be challenged?”

    A judge is not appointed by the Holy Spirit. A judge is appointed by a bishop, who is not infallible. The Holy Spirit, within His permissive will, allows the appointment. Christ was abused by spirits on the Cross, but he was not spiritually abused. The perfect man cannot be spiritually abused because he cannot meet the first criteria – being unsure of his identity. Also, Christ is God and there is no one who can have power over him and there is no one who can tell Him what God thinks other than Himself. His cry from the Cross, “My God, My God…,” (psalm 22), far from being a cry of desolation, is the ultimate prayer of trust. It starts with, “why have you forsaken me,” but ends with,

    “Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it.”

    It is a sad fact that persons 1 and 2 may get a divorce on the grounds of psychology while persons 3 and 4 thrive under the challenge. I do believe that there is inconsistency in how these aspects of the state of the vows are judged and the blame is largely due to accepting the purported findings of a very limited psychological science as if they were comparable to physics.

    Now, some people (moreso, today) are immature in their understanding of marriage, but this is not grounds for more annulments, but, rather, better education. We will have to have one generation suffer before these changes are made. In general, though, if a person cannot understand what a vow is, this should be tested before the marriage, not after. Most people know what a vow is, they just don’t believe that it applies to them. This is not a developmental immaturity, but a learned one and is the fault of the Bishops, plain and simple. Make it understood what it means to get married and if the couple balks, tell them about Hell. When St. Paul said that it is better to marry than to burn, he meant it. If Bishops could use such language, marriages would improve, overnight. The real problem, the central problem why marriages are contracted among immature individuals is because they have not been made scared by the thought of sin. Joe may love Sally, but if he has to realize that she is a deadly poison to the flesh and the only effective antidote is marriage.

    The Chicken

  59. slainewe says:

    “Now, some people (moreso, today) are immature in their understanding of marriage, but this is not grounds for more annulments, but, rather, better education.”

    In my mind, it is the easiest thing in the world for Rome to put together a core marriage preparation course which provides a couple with all the information, and requires them to answer and signature all the questions necessary to render a marriage unannulable with complete moral certainty. (I am sure there are many good priests out there who already have such a course.)

    Then it is simply a matter of universally implementing this course by the end of the year and announcing that no marriage celebrated in the Catholic Church after December 31, 2014 may be annulled on psychological grounds.

    The fact that this simple fix is not applied seems to me purely diabolical. It shows complete indifference to the dignity of women to whom the Sacrament of Matrimony particularly belongs; and the Family, whose existence depends on the integrity of this Sacrament.

  60. LadyMarchmain says:

    Masked Chicken: I hope you will write that article and publish it soon. Your description of spiritual abuse immediately made me think of the FFI, and indeed, of all traditionalists (note smaller case t) in recent decades.

    slainewe: From your mouth to God’s ear. The conclusion you draw, of indifference to the plight of the family and the damage to the children, is part of the diabolical disorientation. The resultant suffering, born heroically by Justalurkingfool and many others who share a similar experience, is a dry martrydom.

    Holy Family, pray for us!

  61. The Cobbler says:

    @slainewe, if I may throw in my two cents’ worth…

    1) Human reason — which was given us by God — is on the one hand capable of erring in factual matters, and on the other hand capable of detecting such errors. Thus, it is entirely possible for a person to find that, say, the alleged facts used to determine whether a couple really did what is necessary to have married included some falsehoods (as in @Justalurkingfool’s case with his wife’s purjury) or that the laws concerning how such investigations are to be carried out were not followed (as in his case with the appeal sent back without consultation). Spiritual abuse need not be involved, although it can be, which compounds some cases. On the other hand, it is possible for our own judgements on such a matter to err, and I suspect there are other reasons why Church authority is needed to make such judgement morally binding (even though any tribunal is, still, capable of erring since it is up to their reason as well — they have been given authority, not attained it by somehow freeing their own reasoning from fallibility).

    2) The beautiful thing about the appeals process, the good thing it brings to such a mess, is that laypeople’s judgements in the matter don’t need to be the final, morally binding say-so even if a tribunal does err, for we will be bound instead by the judgment of… well, the last and highest tribunal we are given and willing to appeal to. It gives us room to say, “But see, this here appears, through reason, to have been an error,” while still leaving the matter ultimately in the hands of the Church’s judges. Thus our frail but not incapable human reason is allowed its place without ceding authority to us to overrule those the Church has given authority to make the binding judgements on the matter. Of course, since the judges in the tribunals must themselves use reason to assess the facts and alleged facts of the matter, it is still possible for all the tribunals appealed to to err — or even to mete out the gross injustice of refusing to give the appeal the attention the Church’s law requires — but this should be less likely than any single tribunal doing so, especially since an appeal can direct the tribunal to the specific point where we, with our reason, see a problem.

    In all, I wish the system was as clear for more exercise of authority in the Church, such as some of the debates people get into over interpretation of doctrine these days; but I suppose the annulment process has the advantage that whether a couple really did what is necessary for them to marry is a much more factual matter, or at least involves more factual matters and fewer intellectual interpretations.

    And of course, on the other hand, none of that makes the situation much less strenuous to endure, especially if there is real injustice. Though the strain itself doesn’t make the matter just or unjust, and whether injustice is inflicted by intellectual error or legal negligence (I mean legal in reference to the Church’s laws), to be unable to receive just judgement in so intimate a matter is truly harrowing even if no spiritual abuse occurs. As @LadyMarchmain points out, it is one way to endure the bloodless martyrdom of faithful, virtuous life in Christ amid the wrongs of this world; and yet, for all that may be said about the capabilities and frailties of human reason or the importance of authority or the helpfulness of opportunity to ask an authority to review another authority’s judgement, perhaps at the end of the day that is the truly beautiful thing: that when injustice weighs us down despite our best attempts we can walk alongside God Himself in that. It’s worth praying for each other, imploring God to give our brothers and sisters in Christ the strength to do so, as well as imploring him to give the Church’s shepherds the courage to do the right thing even when it’s difficult and the clarity to make the right judgement even when it’s inobvious.

  62. Justalurkingfool says:

    Dear Ladymarchmain,

    Were I truly heroic I would not, likely, be in the position I am in today. However, I do not want to insult your generosity either. I have simply chosen to abide by the promises I made on our wedding day. Somedays, I bear this circumstance better then others. But I made my bed, so I’ll lie in it.

    I thank you, very kindly, for mentioning me in such a light. Thank you, also, for caring. You have, like Simon helped Jesus, made my journey blessed by your presence. I mean this sincerely.

  63. Justalurkingfool says:

    Dear Cobbler,

    Your intellect leaves me wanting, however, it is a mercy beyond compare that God would allow us to bear our crosses in union with His. As long as I, willing bear, even what I have significantly wrought, which seems an exquisite mercy for me to be able to shoulder, when I have no “right” to anything and all of this is a wondrous gift, He allows me to approach His Crucifixion “beside” the few who had the courage to stand there in witness to the Salvation of mankind and “beside” Him.

    I am nothing, yet He blesses me so!

  64. Supertradmum says:

    The rules for getting an annulment are very strict. The entire procedure is judicial, not pastoral. The pastoral should come before couples get to the divorce and annulment procedure. Here are some succinct points.

    1) There are no or few communities in the Catholic Church where men could approach men or women could approach women as in the early Church and sit the people down for discussions and resolutions. The laity have not supported marriages even in the parishes. Therefore, couples in trouble are on their own, which is wrong.

    2) Society conspires against marriage and has for a long time, since at least the Roaring Twenties. It is difficult to fight the pressures of society regarding marriage without community.

    3) The entire dating process is geared to failure as it is seen as entertainment not as courting. If the Church as a whole encouraged real courting, which means that people do not date until they have decided to find a mate and settle down, many problems based on a false “romanticism” would be solved

    4) Parents have abdicated their roles as guides for marriage partners. As parents know their children well, they should guide them to correct and appropriate mates.

    5) The Catholic culture has broken down so much that people who want to get married are thrown out on their own to find mates-good luck. In the old days, all the parents knew all the other parents and all the families knew all the other families. The cohesiveness of the Catholic culture helped make good marriages.

    6) The number of annulments is not the problem-the lack of pre-marriage prep is. Pastors refuse to talk about the really hard stuff, like contraception and money and prayer. Too many Catholic marriages start without the couples actually agreeing on the basics.

    7) The number of annulments is absolutely understandable considering the huge attacks on marriage. Why expect good marriages, based on Christ and His Church when most Catholics do not know their own faith, have had zero catechesis and do not know how to pray?

    8) There are always real reasons for annulments-chronic promiscuity, mental illness which cannot be handled by either party in the marriage, lying as to life before marriage, lying yet making the vows and therefore not intending to keep those vows and so on. One example, an excellent Catholic man got an annulment as his wife announced on the honeymoon that she had lied and had no intention of having children. Slam dunk.

    9) Marriages reflect the chaos in the Church as we are members of the Church how can we all be protected from the smoke within? Annulments are a sign of the times and the weakening of the Church.

    10) People are not all guilty or lax who pursue annulments, which may truly reflect the fact that on the day of the marriage, the couple did not experience the sacrament. One should never, never judge. That these marriages were deemed as not being sacramental is not necessarily just a failure for the couple but for the entire community.

  65. slainewe says:

    Sometimes, with all the grasping of “rights” within the Church, I want to ask, “Is it okay to just be a saint?”

    If a woman discovers after 20 years of marriage and 5 children that her husband had lied and was previously validly married, she MUST accept, with no recourse, the ensuing legal annulment of what she believed to be a sacramental marriage. She must accept the fact that she has been living in adultery and all her children were conceived in adultery. If she is not already conformed to the Cross, she must suffer through this as she finds a way to rebuild her life and re-establish her relationship with the God Who allowed her to be duped. If she is conformed to the Cross, she will first confess that, because of her sins, she deserves this injustice, and then rejoice in the magnitude of this injustice that allows her to offer something truly precious to the Lord for the conversion of sinners and the needs of Holy Mother Church.

    I have always believed that a saint would react to a tribunal decision that granted a psychological annulment in the same way. She would accept the decision at face value with trust in God and those He allowed to make the decision; first confessing her role in entering an invalid marriage and conceiving children in fornication; and then offering any injustice that may have been committed against her for her own, her spouse’s and the tribunal’s conversion.

    The Chicken’s introduction of the possibility of the abuse of power gave me pause. Does a Catholic have a responsibility to expose possible abuse of power (by challenging a decision)? Then there is the question of the children’s birth right. Must a mother defend the honor of her child’s conception?

    The Cobbler gives me an answer: laypeople do not have to depend on their own fallible judgements. I saw that she could simply pray for guidance, ask her confessor what to do, and follow that advice as God’s will. Then she is not depending on her own fallible human reason. And, if told to do so, she can enter the tribunal process, under obedience, with no stake in their decision one way or the other.

    (Of course, this will probably entail greater suffering on her part than if she had simply been allowed to accept the decision. But she will rejoice in this also. After all, that is why we are called “Soldiers of Christ!”)

  66. The Masked Chicken says:

    “If a woman discovers after 20 years of marriage and 5 children that her husband had lied and was previously validly married, she MUST accept, with no recourse, the ensuing legal annulment of what she believed to be a sacramental marriage. She must accept the fact that she has been living in adultery and all her children were conceived in adultery. ”

    She was not living in adultery. To sin requires knowledge, which you, explicitly, said she did not have. She was living in error, nothing more. This is a Cross, but the woman has a claim to justice on her side in supporting her Cross. She was, objectively, wronged. She does not sin if she seeks justice. It is a prudential judgment whether or not she might decide to let things go. This may be a higher form of charity or it may be imprudent because of the existence of children. In either case, I see no sin on the part of the wife.

    “I have always believed that a saint would react to a tribunal decision that granted a psychological annulment in the same way. She would accept the decision at face value with trust in God and those He allowed to make the decision; first confessing her role in entering an invalid marriage and conceiving children in fornication; and then offering any injustice that may have been committed against her for her own, her spouse’s and the tribunal’s conversion.”

    If the psychology was false, I do not see any heroic virtue in accepting a lie to be the truth. One may tolerate the lie, for a time, but one has a right to a good name and these sorts of psychological annulments can color one’s entire view of one’s life and moreso, evilly, if they are incorrect (have you ever met someone who has been in a mental hospital – that judgment of mental incapacity can change their entire life. Society, for all of its claim to tolerance, still considers most mental illnesses and those who suffer the to be icky. Heaven help you if it gets to the Internet – it will be almost impossible to get a job from that point, on). God is on the side of truth and, sometimes, in humility, one must be willing to suffer evil and a bad reputation without defense, knowing that, in His time, God will send someone to defend you, but, and this is an important but, according to St. Teresa of Avila, the one case one ought not to simply suffer the evil is if it would cause dissension or anger among those with whom one associates if the judgment is known. This would be to cause scandal.

    The sad fact is that psychology is an infant science. In my opinion, it is not nearly developed enough or stable enough to be able to be of much assistance in deciding questions of marriage capability at this point in history. Heck, modern psychology would have locked up Christ before he could have gone to the Cross, claiming he had a persecution complex tinged with latent sadism! You do know that the Crucifixion was a marriage ceremony in disguise, right?

    “Does a Catholic have a responsibility to expose possible abuse of power (by challenging a decision)?”

    Yes. absolutely, because it could happen to someone, else, but I don’t know if I made myself clear enough about the particular abuse that occurs in spiritual abuse – it is not an abuse of power – the person, often, clearly, has the power to do what they do – it is, most often, a mistake of prudence in the use of power.

    “Then there is the question of the children’s birth right. Must a mother defend the honor of her child’s conception?”

    No. God will do that at the Last Judgment, although, see my answer, above, quoting St. Teresa.

    “laypeople do not have to depend on their own fallible judgements. I saw that she could simply pray for guidance, ask her confessor what to do, and follow that advice as God’s will. Then she is not depending on her own fallible human reason. And, if told to do so, she can enter the tribunal process, under obedience, with no stake in their decision one way or the other.”

    No, no, no! You can never enter or not enter a tribunal process under obedience (at least in this case). Never. That is external coersion. You have to have, must have, a right to defend yourself. No obedience of any kind from someone purporting to speak for God can ever take that possibility away, otherwise, the process is no longer a freely entered act of justice (which must be fair and open to the truth). The confessor cannot be responsible before God for what happens in the Tribunal. That responsibility falls on you and you, alone. You must defend yourself (or not) of your own volition. You might seek counsel from a spiritual director or confessor, but he cannot place you under obedience to do anything about going to the Tribunal under any theory of Catholic obedience of which I am aware. In fact, if he told you to go, but your gut told you not to, i would call this very close to true spiritual abuse. The priest could not command Louise and Zellie Martin to have children (they wanted to have a Josephite marriage, originally), but they accepted his counsel and a saint was born (St. Therese of Liseaux). By all means, seek counsel (heck, seek two counsels, both are supported in Scripture), but take the responsibility for your own actions in this matter. This has to be understood in the context of engaging in juridical actions. There are other areas where obedience to a spiritual director is perfectly proper and can be an act of religion, but in a contentious legal battle, unless he is quoting Divine (or Ecclesiastical) Law (such as, you must not lie on the stand), he cannot command you to do what he does not have a right to expect to be obeyed.

    It is really painful to be discussing all of these things and I, sincerely, hope that I have not caused pain to anyone because of my remarks. I have the utmost compassion on the suffering of so many good people who simply want to follow Christ within the vocation of marriage. Every marriage that goes bad causes Christ to groan and the angels to weep.

    The Chicken

  67. The Cobbler says:

    @slainewe, if I may clarify one thing, the point I hoped to make was that our reasoning, though fallible and though not authoritative in judging the case, should lead us to make the decision to appeal or not to appeal based on our knowledge of the facts of the matter and our knowledge of what is at stake (and hopefully informed by the sort of counsel you mention), since an appeal need not be a challenge to the tribunal’s authority to judge our case. Or, rather, appeals have been given to us precisely so we can make our contribution in seeking a just judgement; the Chicken has it exactly right, our part in an appeal must be our own. Contrast it rather with ignoring (or not waiting for) a tribunal’s judgement and doing as one pleases despite it, which is actually rejecting the authority the Church has delegated to them and sinning against marriage and the family. Since in these tribunals as in most things in the Church authority is present even where infallibility is not — it is, after all, also reasoning and not special revelation that the tribunal’s judges themselves rely upon! — the Church has made sure we have a means to seek correction of errors without rejecting the authority of her ministers.

    If I’m not mistaken, canon law actually goes into more detail on these things than I can (and is significantly less likely to misrepresent anything about it than I am, for that matter). How to submit an appeal, what a tribunal is required to do if we appeal, what we can do if they don’t — these are all questions I’d ask a canon lawyer if they’re personally relevant and not just hypothetically concerning. The Church’s law, after all, is designed both to reflect the truth and to (at least try to) help us (two things that should never be mutually exclusive!).

    I am also with the Chicken on another point — this is indeed a painful subject, and one unfortunate that it should need to be talked about at all; I hope that I have written both truthfully and prudently, and apologize if I have failed at all in either.

  68. Justalurkingfool says:

    The stark reality is that neither the pastoral practices of the Catholic Church, nor the tribunal process is oriented toward working to heal wounded marriages. There are canons which allude to this, but they are openly ignored, with no consequence to those who ignore them.

    In a conversation I once had with a Judicial Vicar, who shall remain nameless, I was told outright and I believe completely honestly, that he did not see it as the legitimate job of the tribunalist to have anything to do with taking remedial action to bring parties in a marriage, even a valid, sacramental marriage upheld as so by Catholic Tribunals, together to attempt to heal marital discord. He, specifically, cited that action as belonging to the local ordinary, the bishop. He indicated that he could not “make” a bishop do that but that it was the responsibity of the bishop. He viewed his position as being a person who must decide validity but not the person with the right or the authority to take pastoral action to facilitate or to attempt to facilitate a reconciliation.

    To me, I care little about the “division of responsibilities” pastorally or legally.

    It is simply indefensible that no one in a position of authority in Rome, in a diocese, be it the bishop, an auxiliary bishop, the local pastor or the Judicial Vicar or another functionary that I am not aware of or whom I have not named, has, does or will “step up”, when in the “face” of a valid, sacramental marriage, which has been canonically upheld to be a valid, sacrament and when one of the parties to that marriage, specifically, emphatically and publically, as I have for two decades and counting, seeks the assistance of the Catholic Church to work to heal that valid, sacramental marriage, to take both pastoral and canonical action to foster reconciliation. There is no need to have a synod to discuss circumstance such as ours. The time to act was in 1989, when this Catholic husband and father was already knocking at the doors of the Catholic Church, before there was any divorce but my pastor and the Judicial Vicar refused my pleas. The time to act has been current for every moment since then and is current now.

    To take the time to wait to act by way of a synod, on the part of the Holy Father, is little different then a qualified medical doctor seeing a suffering, living aborted child and concluding he must wait to discuss this circumstance with his colleagues before he can act, so he allows the baby to die.

    We are being murdered, no differently then in the abortuaries. However, we are being murdered by the Catholic Church.

    Our Catholic Bishops are our abortionists. Francis is Chief-of-Staff and Head of the Hospital Medical Ethics Board. He wants a meeting, months from now, to discuss our rotting flesh with hsi colleagues, that has been going on for decades.

    I am sure, Jesus, wholeheartedly approves of Francis deep concern for our well being.

    Thank you, Holy Father!

    My wife is lying on the abortuary table, right now, Francis. I am begging you to intervene, but I am simply the Father, I am not allowed in the abortuary to beg you. I am doing so from the sidewalk outside your clinic. I am on my knees, pleading with you to try to save our marriage. I do not know what else to do. Your collegues have ignored me.

    OMG, why do you not listen to me, Francis?

  69. slainewe says:

    “She was not living in adultery. To sin requires knowledge, which you, explicitly, said she did not have. She was living in error, nothing more. … I see no sin on the part of the wife.”

    But she WAS objectively living in adultery. (Her subjective guilt is another issue and known only to God.) That is the truth of the situation to which she must conform her understanding if she desires to advance in the spiritual life, which will start when she takes responsibility for her part in this tragedy. We are all sinners.

    How many of us begin the journey to the Sacrament of Marriage (a decision which will determine with whom we work out our ETERNAL SALVATION) by first praying for a year as to whether we are even called to Marriage. Then, if we do so discern that we are, spend a year praying for the Lord to choose a suitable mate. Then, once we find a possible mate, spend a chaste year praying together whether we should become engaged. Then, once engaged, spend another chaste year imploring the Lord to stop the upcoming nuptials if they are contrary to His Will.

    None of us are innocent when we contract what turns out to be an invalid marriage. Never mind those couples who do not even consider God until they pound on the rectory door, steeped in fornication, announcing, “Hey Padre, we want to rent the church on June 25th.”

    It is an easy thing for the Lord to stop an invalid marriage from taking place. (My mother did not discover that the man she initially felt called to marry was already married until someone with that information happened to see the published banns and informed the priest.) If we did not even involve the Lord in the decision to marry, why should He intervene? And if He does not, whose fault is it?

    Also, I understand that abuse of power can be an objective fact, while the one responsible can be ignorant of his part in it. (Hey, these days he thinks he is doing us a favor!)

    “In fact, if he told you to go, but your gut told you not to, i would call this very close to true spiritual abuse.”

    How can most souls trust their guts when, due to human frailty, most our guts have a default position of “No crosses for me”?

    When I say to consult a confessor I mean after prayer in which I implore the Lord to make known to me His Will through him in this particular decision. So my obedience is to the Lord, not the confessor per se. (Although in this instance I see no difference.)

    [Is it not silly to consult a priest if we go in only wanting him to confirm our gut feeling? A gut is only as good as the holiness of the individual. Mine has been wrong plenty of times. And it has been when I have trusted my director and gone against it that I have gained the most. Horrible suffering sometimes, yes, but the ensuing rewards, priceless. (Of course, a director may never ask one to do something objectively sinful.)]

    I would say the Martins accepted the counsel of their director because they understood it to be the word of God. It may very well have been totally against their “guts” which had already personally consecrated their virginity to God. It may have been the cross of accepting this word that bore so much good fruit in their children.

    And I do find it very human that saints, like Teresa, seem to complain about the suffering caused them by obeying directors, and sometimes tell us how to avoid it, but we must keep in mind that that very suffering made them saints.

  70. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear slainwe,

    Is it alright if I argue with you about some of the points in your last comment?

    After writing a long reply, I am content not to post it if this topic has pasted its time.

    The Chicken

  71. Justalurkingfool says:

    Are you kidding Chicken? Post on, if other input matters.

  72. slainewe says:

    Chicken, sure thing. I’m still following this thread.

  73. Justalurkingfool says:


    Would I be too forward were I to inquire as to your “interest” in this particular subject? I could never have imagined any interest on my part in any of this until I was served with my wife’s annulment petition. Then my world changed, even more than it did with our divorce. Do not reply if that is not a place you want to visit. I am just curious. My curiosity is not worth bothering you, however.

  74. slainewe says:


    I was thrown into the issue when I was still a VERY uninformed Catholic in my twenties. I was courting a non-Catholic man who had been divorced by his wife, which I thought was okay because he had been only civilly married. (I did not know that civil marriages were valid in the Eyes of God.) So imagine my surprise when we go to the priest and he tells me my fiance needed an annulment. My objective reaction was that I had made a big mistake: he was married and my job now (if I truly loved him) was to pray for the healing of his marriage. But, opposed to this was my subjective conviction that Our Lady wanted me to marry this man. It began a war within my soul.

    Since I had been wrong about civil marriages being valid (even though the parties enter them knowing they may divorce at will), I questioned my prejudice against psychological annulments. So I went and obtained the necessary forms from the priest. When I read them, they made me sick. The whole gist of the document was that they wanted me to go out and find friends of my fiance who were willing to witness against the marriage. Basically, I was to dig up calumny against his wife. I made one attempt at it, but simply could not do it. It seemed evil to me.

    So the war continued. I could not apply for the annulment, and I could not stop believing Our Lady willed me to marry this man. This went on for two years. Then, out of the blue, I remembered that my fiance’s wife had previously been married. The priest had never asked about her history. We researched it and found it had even been a Sacramental Protestant marriage. One trip to the diocesan office for an Act of Nullity and my trial was over.

    After the fact, I think Our Lady put me through this trial, not only for my sins and my further conversion, but to make me aware of this problem in the Church so I could better pray for our leaders to obtain Wisdom to order this chaos.

    As much as I try, I cannot understand a psychological annulment as any more than a Church approved divorce. And, even if I could understand that, I cannot understand how a tribunal can issue them without interviewing the man, his wife, and the priest who prepared them for the marriage. The Church says I am wrong and I accept that. I am missing some bit of information that will make it clear, like I was missing that one bit of information about my fiance’s civil wife that ended that trial for me. In the meantime, this interior spiritual battle gives me something to offer up for the healing of the SACRAMENT of Marriage in the Church, and in spiritual support of those on the front lines, like yourself.

  75. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear slainwe,

    I have spent most of the afternoon typing a reply to your points, but it is turning into a research paper and not a comment. As there are only a few people reading the comments for this post, anymore, I don’t want to post something that covers the entire length of the browser and more. I was going into the distinctions between objective vs. subjective, formal vs. material sin to explain why one can be in adultery without being guilty of the adultery (the woman, while objectively committing adultery is, nevertheless, invincibly ignorant, arguendo, and, therefore, in fact, not guilty of the sin). I was looking at the notion of innocent suffering (which is what the invincibly ignorant wife will be going through when the marriage falls apart) vs. the idea that we suffer for our sins in this life. Finally, I was trying to explain discernment and obedience, since many Catholics have inherited some bad ideas from Protestant examples.

    However, I cannot, in good conscience, post so much in a comment box. I learn a lot researching what I write and I am happy for the experience, but I have the fault of not minding my surrounding when I write on the Internet and, sometimes (okay, many times) turn a short answer into a graduate homework assignment. It is a drawback of being an academic.

    If you stay tuned to this blog, I am sure, over time, enough short answers will be written to take the place of my long-winded answer and all of my points will be made by others, many of whom are more qualified than I.

    The only question I will leave is this: if forensic psychology has to be performed, sometimes, to obtain an annulment, does this not imply that everyone should be psychologically screened during the engagement process before they are married, while their psychological states are still fresh? That would eliminate the need for a psychologist to try and guess at the psychology, years later. Of course, it would also, expose why the use of psychological methodology is a bad idea in the first place – you see, secretly, I think they really have no idea what makes a marriage work, so, why are they being consulted? It might seem that I am anti-psychology. I am not. Rather, I am pro-truth and much of modern psychology is still, merely, the invention of man, in my opinion. Some in the Church trusted the psychologists when they said that pedophile priests could be reformed and were burned. If that hasn’t woken them up to the limitations of the predictive power of psychology, then, what will?

    The Chicken

  76. Justalurkingfool says:


    “In the meantime, this interior spiritual battle gives me something to offer up for the healing of the SACRAMENT of Marriage in the Church, and in spiritual support of those on the front lines, like yourself.”

    This above ^^^^^, is much appreciated. But I have come to “know”, via the internet some real heroes, whose walks make mine seem like an afternoon stroll. There are those, who objectively hold, after serious deliberation and Catholic formation of their consciences, that their marriages are valid and sacramental, in spite of Tribunal rulings otherwise, even at the level of the Rota. These are people who I, who at least thus far has a decison of the Church to fall back on regarding validity, admire. These men and woman, according to the Catholic Church are perfectly free to marry with no known impediments, yet they remain faithful to the vows they spoke in which their position is in opposition to the Church Tribunal ruling!

    Wow! It is the feet of these folks that Francis should wash. I know I would. That is a disciplined and challenging position to take and to persist in.

    To a person, at least those I know, this decision is based deeply in prayer, serious thought, with consideration of the tribunal decision and evidence cited and then, objectively decided with a conclusion in opposition to the moral certainty of the Tribunal judges. They are following their consciences in complete aggreement and submission to the teachings of the Catholic Church. These are not “ne’er-do-wells” or those who take lightly the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    “As much as I try, I cannot understand a psychological annulment as any more than a Church approved divorce. And, even if I could understand that, I cannot understand how a tribunal can issue them without interviewing the man, his wife, and the priest who prepared them for the marriage.”

    I am not opposed to annulments, I simple do not conclude that moral certainty is a sufficient standard for nullity. Nor do I conclude that psychology is accurate and reproducible enough to even be a serious tool in such a process. We know that the respondent and the petitioner are the husband and wife, so part of the problem you listed above is not part of the problem, unless of course a respondent chooses not to participate. No one can be forced to participate, although I do feel, possibly as you do, that the near certain likelyhood of nullity from this process, for all intents and purposes is little different than coercion. The big joke for me is that such coercion involving marital consent, in American Tribunals, provides adequate substance for findings of nullity due to interference with due discretion but, suddenly, this level of coercion is ok to force a person to participate and this is NOT seen as a serious problem by Catholic authorities? For me, if a respondent does not want to testify, the burden should shift to the petitioner(particularly since there is this thing called the presumption of validity, which I also think is a big joke) to force them to demonstrate that this choice is specifically intended to prevent the elucidation of factual evidence that, without its discover, would prevent learning of said evidence. Without such proof, no trial should be allowed to proceed and the petition for nullity should be denied. From my personal experience having been married back in 1980, interviewing the priest who witnessed our marriage would not have provided much information as our “instruction” was minimal. Formal instruction is too much, too little, too late. I learned about truth, lies, deceit, honor, integrity…as I grew up; in my family and outside my family. I was ready to marry and capable of the obligations of marriage when I married, as was my wife. This whole boondoggle is a bunch of ready excuses, justified by pop psychology and supported by weak-moraled clerics who swoon with the aftermath of the plunder that ravaged the Catholic Church and western society when I was a kid. Now we have their proteges and people who are the programmed fruit of that laxity of morals, worldwide, whose cries for ever worsening behaviors to be accepted and normalized, as those same hollow people grow increasingly intolerant of those with traditional morals(read many of the posts on this blog!) are an ever increasing cacophony of what is basically anarchy, and these same lost souls are being welcomed without being called to repent and change their lives, by our bishops? And these men are to govern the Catholic Church and to administer the pastoral practices and the Tribunals of the Church?

    There is the problem. The more experienced inmates are now running the institution and allowing more of their progeny in as they persecute and eliminate their competition. It is a perfect storm. This is all quite familiar.


    When this annulment journey began for me in 1991, I consulted an old Canon Lawyer in a neighboring state(I did not know him) who questioned me regarding all the usual(but brand new to me then) circumstances in my life and that I could recall in my wife’s life. He told me, up front, that truth was what he sought and told me that if I lied, his conclusion would be meaningless. he intimated that he would rather have also spoken to my wife, independently from me, but since that could not be arranged, this would, likely suffice provided I was truthful. A week or two later he spoke to me, again in person, and advised me that his opinion as a priest and a canon lawyer was that our marriage was valid and a sacrament. He advised me to participate, as I was obliged to do as the Catholic Church asked. But, he made it known to me that I was likely to lose this case due to changes in the canon laws from when he was trained and differences in the way these canons were applied in America. He added that were I to conclude in good conscience that our marriage was valid(yes we spoke about what that meant, authentically) then I was obliged to remain faithful to our vows, unto death of one of the spouses, even if the Catholic Church ruled that our marriage was never valid and never a sacrament. He said that if after consideration of the decision of the Church Tribunals that I was unable to reach moral certainty in favor of the validity of our marriage, then I was free to accept the decision of the Church Tribunals and free to marry, unless there were further conditions related to the Tribunal decision(s). But, if I was morally certain, otherwise, I was obliged in conscience to observe the vows I spoke with my wife.

    Of course I consulted with a few other solid Catholics and then I chose to oppose the nullity that my wife sought. What I have wanted from before we were divorced was to work to heal our wounded marriage. That remains my desire. I have never seen any interest whatsoever, on the part of the Catholic Church, in an official manner, to assist in that. This I cannot understand. I remain faithful to our vows but no action by the Church is forthcoming to try to restore a valid marriage. I am trapped between an adulterous and unrepentant Catholic Church and an adulterous and unrepentant wife.

    Simply put, the Catholic Church is in massive trouble. The spirit it seems to be heeding is not the Holy Spirit.

    As a final thought, for now, if this is the price that I must pay for the souls of all of the parties to this tragedy to be, somehow in God’s economy, able to find salvation, then let it be done unto me as is His will. This is what the Church needs to make people in Pre-Cana acutely aware of, that circumstances like this and more unjust are included, not optional, in the latter part of “for better or for worse”. It is an injustice not to inform those preparing for marriage that there are living people in positions such as I. I think this case and others like it must be presented in every single marriage preparation class/course or these, mostly kids, are being ill prepared!

  77. Justalurkingfool says:

    “I am trapped between an adulterous and unrepentant Catholic Church and an adulterous and unrepentant wife.”

    Father Z, could you please replace the sentence above with,
    “I am trapped between an adulterous and unrepentant Catholic hierarchy and an adulterous and unrepentant wife.”

    Thank you.

  78. slainewe says:

    “if forensic psychology has to be performed, sometimes, to obtain an annulment, does this not imply that everyone should be psychologically screened during the engagement process before they are married, while their psychological states are still fresh?”

    One would this this would be an obvious reaction to the scandal of the annulment plague. But there is no call in the Church (that I know of) to even TRY to insure that marriages are annulment proof. Which seems to imply that “the powers that be” reject the idea that Catholic Marriage should be any different from marriage outside the Church. The same heresy that says an unborn child is only a child if the mother WANTS him, has infiltrated Catholic Marriage; that is, the marriage is only a marriage if both parties WANT to be married.

    Thanks, Chicken.

  79. Justalurkingfool says:


    Forgive me for asking but what do you mean by this statement? Was it hastily posted? Please, take no offense.

    “The same heresy that says an unborn child is only a child if the mother WANTS him, has infiltrated Catholic Marriage; that is, the marriage is only a marriage if both parties WANT to be married.”

    The specific reason I ask is that, at least to me, the question as you posted it seems to imply that a marriage can exist, based upon your understanding, if one or both of the parties to the marriage, DON’T WANT to be married? Thus, I am puzzled.

    Perhaps, did you really mean : The marriage is a marriage only if the Tribunalists want it to be?

    Or are you referring to spousal desire for the existance of a marriage at a time of dispute, different from the time of their wedding? Now that I think about it, I am guessing this is what you mean. If it is, I see your analogy and appreciate it, which earlier I could not understand as my point of reference was at the time of the wedding, not at the time of the dispute.

    Sorry to be such a stickler, but clarity is important in all of this, just as it is in marital disputes and in tribunal inquiries or misinterpretations can be rampant…….

    Thank you.

  80. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Justalurkingfool,

    without interrupting your conversation with the dear @slainewe, may I kindly mention one instance where you contradicted yourself?

    I am not opposed to annulments, I simple do not conclude that moral certainty is a sufficient standard for nullity.

    This is self-contradictory. The only standard above moral certainty is absolute certainty. We get absolute certainty in matters of faith and in matters of math. That’s it. Maybe also in abstract philosophy, meaning the philosophia perennis. There is not even absolute certainty in chemistry.

    To demand for something that involves personal action absolute certainty is to demand a special revelation from God, or to demand that it should not happen at all.

    (Though, where the thing gets complicated, there seems to be stricter and less strict interpretations of moral certainty. I wonder if there is still a difference felt between “moral certainty of the thing itself” and “moral certainty that there is a overwhelming probability of the thing”. The latter should not by itself constitute moral certainty.)

  81. slainewe says:


    Sorry, I should have worded the heresy as, “the marriage is only a marriage if both parties want to REMAIN married.”

    In your previous post, if what the Canon lawyer told you is true, then there is no objective reality to the status of the validity of a marriage because well-intentioned spouses can have contrary “moral certitude.” I could never place my feelings of moral certitude above the decision of the Church because I can never be sure I am correct even if an “angel of light” appeared and told me.

    Why would I risk making an idol of my “moral certainty” (in which I may be mistaken), when I am perfectly safe obeying the Church, even if Her members are wrong? TRUST in the Church is TRUST in Jesus Christ.

    Saints, time and again, have related how the Lord told them to do something; then their superiors forbade it; so they obeyed their superior rather than the Lord; then the Lord approved this act of humility, and (because they passed the test of choosing their superior’s opinion over their private revelation) defended them Himself to their superior.

  82. Justalurkingfool says:


    “To demand for something that involves personal action absolute certainty is to demand a special revelation from God, or to demand that it should not happen at all.”

    I think you are very close to the problem with the “varying degrees of moral certainty” that you suggest. Consequently, until a reproducible, unchallengeable, unchanging standard can be reached, no nullities should be allowed.

    I am not trying to be obstreperous, simply it is the fact that justice MUST be done. If there is any chance that a decision could be wrong, the marriage should stand, period, always, until death.

    I am not a philosopher, nor am I an attorney and I certainly continue to make many mistakes with varying consequences. But, I will never believe that I have seen what I have seen in this process, by chance. No. I was shown this to learn to be a better follower of Christ but I was also shown this to be a living witness to the very serious errors in this process, which have been, ongoing for many decades or perhaps even longer?

    What it comes down to is a can of worm that is badly broken has been opened and I doubt anyone has adequate solutions, except God.

    So, in theory, I do believe that some marriages are invalid, but arriving at an unchallengeable conclusion, is the only just answer, except to presume validity. I am stuck there. I know the consequences when errors are made.

    Thank you for your post and its thoughfulness.


    I understand how you feel. I do not have that kind of faith, nor the education/background to go further with this impasse. I am grateful for the time you have taken in this. It matters to both of us, that is clear.

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