ASK FATHER: Annulment after an SSPX wedding

From a reader…


I understand the position of the Church is the SSPX has no jurisdiction.  However, I just recently became aware of a friend from college who was “married” in front of a SSPX Priest (without permission or jurisdiction), and yet, there was an annulment that went through the full Court of Second Instance. It was granted on the basis of inability to consummate.

The funny thing is, this was treated as if it were a putative marriage, and accepted that way by the Church.  There was no sanatio associated with it at any point.

Again … we have to be careful with the language we use about declarations of nullity.

The Church does not “grant” an annulment as if it’s something positive that’s either given or withheld based on some list of circumstances. A declaration of nullity is more like a medical diagnosis: the facts are examined by experts, who, to the best of their ability, make a determination of the situation.

Like a medical diagnosis, there can be a number of possible explanations. Those examples might not be mutually exclusive.

For example, you are coughing up blood.  People who have TB cough up blood and, on that basis diagnosis could be that you have TB.  On the other hand, people who have typhus cough up blood too.  But wait!  What’s this?  You also have a sucking gunshot wound in your chest? Maybe that’s it!

However, it’s possible that all three diagnoses were correct, you have TB and typhus and a gunshot wound in the chest.

Similarly, a marriage might be null and void because one of the parties withheld an essential element of marriage at the time of consent (e.g., she simulated consent about exclusive fidelity), or because the other party was incapable of true consent (e.g., because of a seriously abusive childhood, he was simply not mature in the area of relationships to make a free choice for marriage), or because the priest who officiated at the wedding lacked the necessary faculties to marry them.

It’s quite possible that all three things, each of which would result in a declaration of nullity, are true.

Without knowing all the details of the case you provide, there may have been a number of reasons why the Tribunal proceeded the way it did. Since we are looking at this from the outside, it’s probably best not to speculate too much.

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  1. wmeyer says:

    My own experience has been that the tribunal errs on the side of caution. My wife had been married in China. She and her husband were both then atheists. Moreover, she felt pressured by her family to wed. To me, that seems a fairly obvious setting for a non-sacramental marriage. But the tribunal disagreed, and pondered the whole thing for 36 months.

  2. JesusFreak84 says:

    As I understand it, annulment tribunals will also look at cases of a person who used to be Protestant and was married (or “married,” as the case may be,) in a Protestant ceremony, say later on the person becomes Catholic and wants to know if he or she is free to marry in the Church, say the Protestant spouse left rather than stay married to a Catholic… If annulment tribunals will look at Orthodox and Protestant situations, I don’t see why they wouldn’t look at the SSPX; someone who avails herself to an annulment tribunal is specifically appealing to the Church, not to the SSPX.

    And if none of this rambling made sense, I think I still have residual NyQuil in my blood….

  3. Papabile says:

    Protestants are assumed to have sacramental marriages by virtue of their Baptism. Orthodox also have Sacramental marriages.

    With that said, the Church maintains that the SSPX lacks jurisdiction, and therefore, their marriages are not sacramental. If they aren’t sacramental, why the need for a decree of nullity?

    It makes absolutely no sense to me.

  4. gheg says:

    Perhaps one of the parties still believes the SSPX’s “supplied jurisdiction” argument, and the tribunal wanted to make it clear that the marriage is also invalid for other reasons.

  5. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    Papabile – a declaration of nullity has nothing to do with the sacramentality of a marriage. The Church regularly declares non-sacramental marriages to be null (for instance, in a case where a Buddhist, who had been married to a fellow Buddhist, now wants to marry a Catholic, but cannot do so because he is not free to marry – his putative marriage to his first wife, though absolutely non-sacramental, is still endowed with the permanence that is a characteristic of all marriages, sacramental and non-sacramental. The only way he would be permitted to marry his current Catholic girlfriend is if he can present to the Church evidence proving that his marriage was invalid at the start).

    With regards to the status of SSPX marriages – the Church binds Catholics to the obligation of exchanging their matrimonial consent before an authorized (delegated) witness – generally a priest or deacon, ideally their pastor. Catholics who choose to ignore this requirement, and who marry instead before a judge, or a Protestant minister, or an SSPX priest who lacks delegation – or in fact ANY priest who lacks delegation – do not marry. They are not wed. Their troth has not been pledged. They remain single.

    But, when a situation like this arises, the Church still needs to do a little investigating – there was an exchange of consent that, on the surface, looks like it may have been a marriage. We need to examine it, weigh the evidence, and, through an authorized process make a determination that no marriage had been truly established.

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