The much talked about Synod of Bishops on the family has just concluded in Rome. Many issues were brought forward including a discussion of pastoral ministry to those who are divorced and then subsequently married outside of the Church. Part of this discussion included thoughts about the marriage nullity process (in common parlance “Annulments”).
On the one hand, the Church has the duty to teach and to uphold the teaching of Jesus on marriage. In the Gospel of Mark, we read “(Jesus) set out from there and went into the district of Judea (and) across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around Him and, as was His custom, He again taught them. The Pharisees approached and asked, ‘Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?’ They were testing Him. He said to them in reply, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They replied, ‘Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.’ But Jesus told them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.’” — Mark 10:1-9. Thus, when two people marry, a spiritual bond is created between them, and this bond is perpetual. In the case of a sacramental marriage bond (which is created between two baptized people), it is indissoluble except by the death of one of the spouses. When two people enter into marriage, the Church presumes that a valid marriage has occurred.
On the other hand, after marital life has broken down, Catholics can approach a Church Tribunal to examine their marriage asking the question: even though a true and valid marriage seemed to have occurred, is there a reason to suspect that in actuality a valid marriage did not occur? If it can be proved that a valid marriage did not actually occur, then indeed no marriage bond was ever actually created, and thus the persons would be free to marry. When it is proved before a Church Tribunal that a valid marriage actually never occurred, the Tribunal issues a decree of nullity.
Regarding this process of determining marriage nullity, there have been many misconceptions. One misconception, for example, is that children of an annulled marriage become illegitimate. This simply is not true. The Church states clearly in canon law that children, which come from a union which might later be declared null, are in no way illegitimate.
Another frequent misconception is that engagement in the marriage nullity process costs a great deal of money. Related to this is the common misconception that if you pay enough money, the annulment will “go through.” These also are falsehoods. Up to this point in our diocese, those who petition for nullity of marriage were asked to offer $400 to defray some of the administrative costs of processing the case.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades has decided that the Tribunal of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend will no longer charge any administrative fees effective immediately for the processing of annulment cases. It is the hope of Bishop Rhoades that this change will encourage those who have been hesitant, because of financial reasons, to approach the Tribunal, although they believe that their marriage may have been null.
For more information on pursuing a declaration on marriage nullity, please call the Fort Wayne Tribunal at 260-422-4611 or the South Bend Tribunal at 574-287-6531. More information is also available on the diocesan website at: www.diocesefwsb.org/Tribunal.
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