What Is Required

While getting into a liturgical tussle here earlier today, I noticed a post describing a candidate for full communion:


I have a good friend, formerly a Methodist minister, who was received into the Church several years ago. His eldest child, a daughter, was married for one month in an abortive attempt at marriage when she was in her late teens. Now she has decided she wants to become a Catholic and has been involved in the RCIA program in a local parish in Atlanta since September. However, the priest of her parish has told her that in order to become a Catholic in his parish, she must first get an annulment. The way he has put it to her, as she relates it, is in flat out pedestrian terms: no annulment, no church membership.

Many bloggers and our commentariats know this is wrong, unless …

Unless the woman is currently married.

Here’s how it works:

If you are divorced, you may continue to participate in the sacramental life of the Church. If you are a divorced non-Catholic, you may become a Catholic, annulment or no. However, if you are divorced and remarried, you will need to attend to the Church’s respect for marriage, not only as a sacrament, but as an institution. The earlier marriage(s) will need to be annulled before you can continue as both a married person and a Catholic.

This is one of the most difficult hurdles for incoming Catholics: if there is a previous marriage and neither party was ever a Catholic. Strangely enough, if a Roman Catholic marries outside of the Church, it is a relatively easy matter to declare the form of marriage insufficient. A Catholic could theoretically get married to ten spouses in front of a JP, a Moonie, or whatever. And then validly marry number eleven with a relative minimum of red tape and fuss.

Since when has getting an annulment from an earlier attempt at marriage become a condition for becoming a member of the Catholic Church?

Canonically, no person can impose such a condition. This is the Catholic Church, however, and sometimes fringey ideas get more mileage that they should.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to What Is Required

  1. Cantor says:

    I really wish we could solve the marriage problem – this really seems the biggest theological stumbling block in the Church today. I mean, “SOL” is a pretty awful thing to be told.

    Of course, the problem is that it is so complicated – you rightly point out the seeming absurdity of the situation, that I could tie the knot legally to 10 wives in front of a JP, divorce them all, then on the 11th one decide to have the Church recognize it, and all is well. But if I marry a woman in the Church, and the relationship fails, we are both tied to celibacy (or to working things out) for life?

    I grew up with no memory of my parents ever being together – they separated (“divorced”) when I was 2, and the “marriage” was declared invalid. I sometimes wonder if I would have preferred them to marry, but I almost certainly would not have taken kindly to a stepmother (I lived with my dad).

  2. Liam says:

    WOTLP: Way Out There, Like Pluto

  3. Tony says:

    But if I marry a woman in the Church, and the relationship fails, we are both tied to celibacy (or to working things out) for life?

    Holy cow. That’s what “’till death do us part” means. Why in the heck to people make vows they don’t mean. I think this is a huge part of the root problem, at least in the U.S.

  4. Brian says:

    I’m an “incoming Catholic” and am currently in the Annulment process because I’m remarried (to a non-Catholic). It does appear ironic that someone already a Catholic can pretty much get the “rubber stamp” Lack of Canonical form Annulment if they married “outside the Church”. And, that those of us who received woefully inadequate preparation for marriage (marriages that that ultimately failed) AND understood little-to-nothing about the Catholic defintion of “Sacramental Marriage” seem to be held to a higher standard.

    Nevertheless, the Annulment process can be a real opportunity for healing -if it’s pursued with real honesty and soul-searching.

    Tony, to answer the question “Why in the heck to people make vows they don’t mean?” one has to dig deeper, into the abysmal lack of formation most young people receive prior to getting married (including for many of us, coming from broken homes where remarriage has been commonplace for the past 40 years or so).

    The Church and those who are already married, MUST work harder and do better at setting a clear moral example and forming the conscience of future generations for marriage. People often say vows they don’t mean because their conscience is so ill-formed that they have no real idea of the consequences of what they are doing.

  5. Karl says:

    Just to put in my dollars worth:

    I recently formally left the Catholic Church over this issue.

    Our marriage was broken through the intercession and encouragement of the Catholic Church by both clergy and layity. My wife’s annulment petition was perjured with the knowledge and approval of the priest who signed it and sponsored it, who also criticized me for wanting to save our marriage.

    The perjury was deliberately ignored by the court of the first instance, which gave my wife the annulment decision she had been all but promised.
    The Roman court of second instance decided in favor of the sacrament and against nullity citing the evidence which proved the perjury and openly
    stating that my wife began an adulterous relationship simultaneously while ending our relationship. The third instance court agreed with the second instance court and upheld our marriage, but this means nothing as the Catholic Church in practice has, from before our divorce, encouraged and supported and remains doing so, adultery, divorce, civil remarriage, bearing children with a lover, teaching that the abandoned father is wrong and encouraging our children to accept the lover as their father in practice and in name and chastizening me when I have protested and cited the annulment decisions of THE PAPAL COURT!

    My wife’s lover converted to Catholicism as he was sleeping with and impregnating my wife with the knowledge and support of every single cleric and bishop in the four states/dioceses they have lived in.

    These are facts which I would be happy to testify to before a Church inquiry, but I have been denied justice from the beginning, in 1989, and have finally accepted that the corruption will never stop and so I have, brokenheartedly left the Catholic Church of my infant baptism and I will remain alone, as I also remain faithful to the vows I spoke with my wife in 1980.

    Karl

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