ASK FATHER: Are there different ways to get an annulment faster?

From a reader…


Is the process for the Petrine privilege quicker than the annulment process? Is it easier to get? Thanks.

Again with the “getting.”

Let’s get those annulments and let’s get them fast!  Right?  After all, my friend Ellen’s best friend’s cousin’s hairdresser knew a guy who had a third cousin who “got an annulment” in four months because she paid a deacon on the sly. But my other friend Matt’s father’s neighbor had a plantar’s wart burned off by this guy named Lou who was treated really badly by the receptionist at the local tribunal and so he left the Church because his annulment was taking 37 years!  When is the Church finally going to be merciful?  We have to get annulments!

Let’s avoid the language of consumerism when we talk about canonical processes.
Let’s remain sober.

Marriage is brought about by an act of consent between a man and a woman capable of doing so.

A declaration of nullity (often called, imprecisely, an “annulment”) is sometimes the conclusion of a thorough, careful, just and timely review of the facts presented to an ecclesiastical court (tribunal) about a putative marriage.

A declaration of nullity states that, after prudently assessing the facts, the Judges (usually one to three at the first grade of trial and three at the second grade of trial (four judges minimum) arrived at the moral certitude needed to declare that the act of consent which appeared to initiate this putative marriage was invalidly placed, and the marriage did not truly exist in the first place.

It has nothing to do with sacramentality.  It has nothing to do with the legitimacy of children. It has nothing to do with divorce. It has nothing to do with whether one party or the other is a nice person or a real [___].

A “lack of form” case is often the solution to a situation where at least one of the parties in the putative marriage was Catholic, and the marriage took place outside of the Catholic Church, without a priest or deacon (a witness authorized by the Church) present, and without a dispensation. It is a simple declaration: Caia was Catholic, Caia attempted marriage to Sempronius without observing the Catholic form of marriage, Caia wasn’t really married to Sempronius.  Easy peasy.

On the other hand, a Pauline Privilege case is based on 1 Corinthians 7:10-15.  It allows the local bishop to dissolve the bond of a natural marriage.  It’s not an “annulment”. Nothing is declared null.  The Church dissolves a valid marriage bond between two unbaptized persons, one of whom is now baptized or seeking to be baptized, and wishes to enter into a new marriage in the Church.

A Petrine Privilege (Privilege of the Faith) case can only be invoked by the Pope himself.

In these Petrine Privilege cases, the Pope dissolves the bond of a natural marriage.  Again, it’s not a declaration of nullity, but a dissolution between a baptized person and an unbaptized person, in order to permit a subsequent marriage in the Church.

Both Petrine Privilege and Pauline Privilege cases have specific set parameters. They are privileges, not rights.

The bishop or pope is not under any obligation to grant the privilege.

The person requesting the privilege cannot have been the main reason that the marriage has broken up. They both take time. They both require evidence. Neither are “shortcut annulments”.

Everyone must understand some important things about tribunals.

All the processes require educated and trained canonists.  They can be either clergy or lay. They require administrative support and other staff. There are mailings, supplies, programs, ongoing education, not to mention salaries, healthcare, office space, heat, lights, etc.  Nearly every diocese in the world – even those which charge a fee for the process – looses money on their tribunals. But the benefit of a good tribunal by far outweighs the loss of money.   It is worth the economic loss because of the value of protecting the sacredness of the marriage bond.  It is worth the loss to stand strong on and with the Gospel, with the Lord Himself, in favor the permanence of marriage.  The cost of the tribunal is worth it to protect the rights of the parties involved.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. AGA says:

    Are Protestant marriages only natural marriages? I had thought that since two baptized persons consented to the marriage, and they did not require a Catholic Church witness since they were Protestants, that this constituted also a sacramental marriage, even though they themselves might not view marriage as a sacrament per se.

  2. Federico says:

    Great job differentiating between annulments (the marriage never happened) and privileges releasing bonds. Of these there is one more: the pope can release spouses (at his discretion for a just cause) of a marriage, even between Catholics, when it has not been consummated.

    Caia and Sempronius, both Catholic, get married validly on the military base’s chapel. As soon as the rite is over, before the spouses have any chance to be alone, Sempronius puts on his BDUs and goes to Iraq.

    Back home, Caia feels called to the religious life and mentions it to her pastor (and lets Sempronius know). After discernment, she asks the Holy Father that she and Semproius be released from the bond of marriage. The Holy Father grants it, she goes off to a Convent and Sempronius returns from Iraq and marries his high-school sweetheart, Katie, in a Catholic Church.

  3. David in T.O. says:

    As one who has been through it, I am extremely frustrated by those who whine about it and can’t have what they want. They complain of how long, and how much money and how demeaning it was.

    I can tell you it was none of these.

    It took under two years and could have been sooner had I not dragged out the paperwork part. It was a charitable donation of under $1000 which was not a condition of the process but a request for which I received a charitable tax receipt. I found nothing demeaning in the process.

    Who are these manipulators?

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Utinam sciam Patres quam scias canones.

  5. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thank you very much! This is a welcome sort of informative catechetical and New Evangelization apologetic!

    I wonder what the history of that mode of expression – ‘get an annulment’ ( and, presumably, ‘get a declaration of nullity’) – is? And, what terminology was used historically when there appears to have been an aspiration of ‘getting’. As, when Henry VIII pursued a declaration of nullity on the grounds of a canonical impediment to marriage. Or when he sought, and was granted by Clement VII in December 1527, a dispensation “from the first degree of affinity arising from whatever licit or illicit intercourse […] as long as she is not the widow of the aforesaid brother” – which eliminated any problems of having fornicated with Mary Boleyn should he be able to marry Anne Boleyn.

    Federico makes a valuable addition. But what of affinity? For example, with the approval of the Blessed Eugene III, Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Louis VII were declared within prohibited degrees of affinity – after 14 years of putative marriage and the birth of two children. (More apparent aspiration of ‘getting’ in that particular case, as Eleanor married Henry II within 8 weeks after nullity was declared.)

  6. madisoncanonist says:

    This is a rather nitpicky correction to a wonderful post, but it’s not exactly correct that the local bishop dissolves the natural bond of marriage in the Pauline Privilege. The prevailing opinion is that the new bond of marriage (sacramental or even natural) dissolves the existing bond, while the bishop’s role is simply to verify that the conditions for the privilege exist and, if so, permit the new marriage to take place.

  7. John of Chicago says:

    So… The Petrine Privilege is based on Jesus authorizing Peter in the Gospel (and the Church thereafter?) “to bind and to loose”? What and how the binding and the loosing entails is not laid out in Scripture, however but, rather, developed over time to include marriage (hence, the law regarding the “form” of marriage etc.?). So…. over time, the Petrine Privilege comes into being in which a marriage, that is recognized as valid, may be dissolved (presumably for what is judged to be a more important reason?); and the conditions for such a dissolution of the marriage are according to parameters that are set by the applicable Canon Laws of the time? If I’ve got that straight, that’s very interesting.

  8. dans0622 says:

    As to the question of which is “quicker”: it depends. “Easier”: it depends.

  9. dans0622 says:

    John of Chicago: you may be informed by the preface to the recent norms for the process for dissolution in favor of the faith. It covers, in brief, the history behind the process.

  10. Maltese says:

    Here’s a question on the same topic, Father:

    My non-Catholic friend was married in Jamaica by a protestant minister to a Catholic woman. He became a Catholic, had kids, and wanted to regularize his marriage so he could receive communion. He knew a Priest, who was also a canon lawyer, this Priest drafted a document that the local Bishop signed, saying the marriage was valid. However, at no time did my friend and his civilly married wife stand before a priest to say their vows, and my friend–when he was married in Jamaica, says he thought, “well, I know I can divorce and remarry if this one doesn’t work out”.

    Would such a case require a formal annulment?

  11. Imrahil says:

    Dear John of Chicago,

    it is interesting, yes.

    It is also interesting that the Church never even thought about applying it to any other marriages than those considered, by at least common theology, merely natural and not sacramental.

    (Not even Cardinal Kasper does – if I get him correctly, he is only questioning the sinfulness of sexual relations after what is really a sort of “civil union” has been entered in spite of the existing marriage bond; not, though, dissolution of this bond.)

  12. StWinefride says:

    Madisoncanonist says: The prevailing opinion is that the new bond of marriage (sacramental or even natural) dissolves the existing bond…

    Is this also true for the Petrine Privilege and does “prevailing opinion” mean that canonists are not in agreement on this? If, for instance, the Pope grants the favour of dissolution of a marriage, but for umpteen reasons no new marriage takes place, does that mean that the original marriage bond is still valid?

  13. Marc M says:

    As much trouble as the annulment process is, it was one of the things that prompted my wife’s conversion. The Catholic Church is the last remaining bastion of fidelity to Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage. The fact that these things are (or at least, are meant to be) undertaken with such seriousness and sobriety motivated her further investigation–if the Catholics have stood firm on this when every Protestant group has compromised in some way, maybe some of these other Catholic ideas deserve a look too, right?

    This was such an important issue that a deacon’s attempt to be “pastoral” by dismissing the details of the case and assuring her without investigation that she would “get her annulment” almost totally derailed her movement. Because if the Church says she takes the issue seriously but fails to actually do so in practice, it’s meaningless. I hope this isn’t overlooked at the Synod. Compromising the truth is not ecumenical and will impede, rather than advance, the new evangelization.

  14. John of Chicago says:

    Thanks, danso622 . You’re right, this preface is very interesting. It makes me wonder how broadly the Church might exercise the Petrine authority to bind and to loose. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “Convinced that the Church enjoys the power to dissolve marriages between non-catholics, of whom at least one is unbaptised, the Roman Pontiff did not hesitate to meet the new pastoral conditions by introducing the practice of exercising this power of the Church in individual instances if it appeared to him, after an examination of all the aspects of each case, that it was duly in favour of the faith and the good of souls.” Does Cardinal Ratzinger imply that the Church only “enjoys the power to dissolve marriages between non-catholics, of whom one is unbaptized,” or is he he saying that, up to now and for purposes of these new Canons, that is the simply the extent of the current exercise of the Petrine authority “in favor of the faith and the good of souls”? In other words, “new pastoral conditions” in the future, could recommend additional circumstances when dissolution of a valid marriage by Petrine authority may be exercised?

  15. Magash says:

    Protestant marriages may be natural marriages or they may be sacramental marriages. The point of importance is whether or not the persons involved are validly baptized or not. So, for example, a marriage between two Methodists is a sacramental marriage. However a marriage between two Quakers (who do not conduct valid Baptisms according to the Trinitarian formula recognized by the Church) is a natural marriage. Which Protestant groups have valid baptisms and which do not is determined by the Office or Worship.

  16. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear Maltese,

    maybe your friend may had a radical sanation?

  17. VexillaRegis says:

    Edit: no may!

  18. JuliB says:

    This whole discussion irks me. I’m a revert and married while away from the Church for 25 years. I am going through the “short form” paperwork (lack of form) to allow me to marry in the Church.

    My BF is in the process of going through the standard paperwork. It’s a bear, and it’s been rough going through it. It’s his second attempt at completing the paperwork.

    A Facebook acquaintance asked that if his annulment is denied, would we get married anyway. (She’s a cafeteria Catholic.) I replied that we would not.

    My perspective is that Jesus in Mt 19 CLEARLY states that divorce/remarriage is unacceptable. All of this work on annulments is the Church going “all in” to find a merciful solution for her errant children. She investigates the various situations to see if there was a problem with the initial marriage. How can anyone in good conscience throw that away if the decision doesn’t go in one’s favor? How can anyone continue to receive the Sacraments (due to one’s “conscience” of all things) while remarried without an finding of annulment.

    Let’s say that the finding is wrong. I think that God would prefer for us to defer to the inaccurate finding than to ignore the decision (and we can always try again with additional information).

    All of the talk of accommodation bothers me because the Church is already expending time and energy in being merciful yet no one seems to recognize it.

  19. Aspie says:

    Right. A valid marriage between a baptized person and a non-baptized person is not a sacrament. It’s just a natural marriage. A valid marriage between two non-baptized people is also just a natural marriage and not a sacrament. A valid marriage between two baptized people is a sacrament and cannot be dissolved.

  20. Aspie says:

    John of Chicago: The Pauline Privilege and the Petrine Privilege only apply to natural marriages (those are marriages that aren’t a sacrament). Natural marriages are between a unbaptized person and a baptized person, or between 2 unbaptized persons.

  21. John of Chicago says:

    Thanks, Aspie. Just to be excruciatingly/painfully clear: We know that it is certain and has been settled by the Church that its “bind and loose” authority from the Gospel clearly does extend to things like the “form” for the valid marriage of a Catholic but that “bind and loose” clearly does not extend to the dissolution of a sacramental marriage? No open questions left to be determined?

  22. All of the talk of accommodation bothers me because the Church is already expending time and energy in being merciful yet no one seems to recognize it.

    JuliB, you win the Internet for today. A beautiful summary.

    This is what I think too, about the divorced men I’ve turned down. OK, so I thought at the time they would be just right, but time and perspective have taught me things about myself that say, ‘No, they weren’t right for you at all’.

    And this is God’s mercy, and if I were feeling melodramatic I’d say it was ‘A Severe Mercy’, but actually it’s not severe at all, and I have such a good life now that I can’t and won’t complain.

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  24. dans0622 says:

    John of Chicago: check this link, nos. 6-8, for an answer.
    You’ll note the added component of consummation (in addition to sacramentality).

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