I am wholeheartedly in favour of the changes that will make the Catholic Church’s annulment process faster, more affordable and allow for a local bishop to declare that the “marriage” never existed as a sacrament.
Previously a declaration that a marriage was invalid had to come from two tribunals. Now that the annulment process will be speeded up, it will benefit women especially. If a young woman has the misfortune of entering a facade of a marriage, she may have wasted years that could have been spent in a true marriage bond where she would have borne children. Having the sham marriage annulled all the faster means that the years she would have spent trying to prove her case may be better spent finding a proper husband and bearing children before her biological clock runs out of time.
What I fear is that over time this may lead to Catholic singletons adopting a laissez-faire mindset to choosing their spouse, maybe even rushing into a bad marriage thinking, “well annulments are easy to get now. If it doesn’t work out the local bishop can issue a type of Catholic divorce.”
Urgently and in tandem with the new changes, there has to be more thorough, detailed and honest marriage preparation so that singletons are saved from these sham marriages in the first place. As anyone who has been trapped in a sham marriage knows, prevention is a million times better than cure.
The specifics of thorough marriage preparation are different for every couple. So, will priests be encouraged to take a fresh look at each couple? Will the Vatican issue new directives for priests that require them to ask hard questions of engaged couples such as if they are open to having children and if so, can they provide adequately for the little ones? Will priests be encouraged to be more honest with couples and for example, if one or both of them have a history of mental illness, will the priest ask for a letter from their doctor to get an objective medical opinion on whether or not the person is of sound enough mind to make the decision to marry?
If the local bishop can now declare marriages to be invalid – will His Grace also hold priests to account for ‘marrying’ a couple who entered a sham marriage? In the new system, it cannot be the way that priests are accountable to no one.
As part of marriage preparation courses, I suggest that a platform be given to people who have had their marriages annulled to talk to engaged couples. Outside of these courses, there has to be more genuine charity towards people who have mistakenly gotten ‘married’ and have realised painfully that they are living a lie. I am a single woman and I have never been married. But it pains me when I see Catholics who have gotten annulments being picked on by high and mighty Catholics with the accusations that they, ‘should have stayed married’, and that their circumstances did not merit an annulment. Not only is this an invasion of someone’s conscience, but it feeds a toxic cycle of shame and silence where people are afraid to talk about the torture of a fake marriage and the grounds on which they got an annulment. Maybe a wife discovered her husband was homosexual and had married her to obscure this fact. Or, maybe a man and woman had resolved never to have kids and entered a ‘marriage’ not knowing that this had invalidated their vows. Young people need to hear honest accounts of marriage annulments, so that they can learn from the mistakes of others.