Annulments: The Good News

by Michael Sean Winters

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My colleague John Allen has an important article on a conference in Rome that seemed to be advocating for a more restrictive understanding of canon law regarding annulments. I am not a canonist, and I know every field has considerations proper to itself that may be unclear to the rest of us. But, all the canon laws of the Church serve the pastoral ministry of the Church, not the other way round. And, I fear that the large number of annulments, most of them coming from the U.S., may be seen in the wrong light by officials in the Vatican.

The state of marriage has been in free-fall for decades. Divorce rates for Catholics are similar to those in the ambient culture. And, someone who comes to the Church to seek an annulment is doing so because their marriage has already failed. But, they are coming for another reason to - they want to remain practising Catholics. Going through an annulment is not an easy process. Many people just walk away from the Church as well as their marriage. Those who come to the Church to seek an annulment do so because, at some level, they agree with the Church's teachings on marriage and want to abide by those teachings.

I know I am a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I hope the officials in the Holy See who are looking at this issue will see that restricting the number of annulments will not somehow give birth to a new Catholic consciousness about marriage. It will not repair a marriage that is already broken. It will simply serve to drive away people who, at considerable expense of time and money, are willing to subject themselves to a challenging canonical process because they want to remain in the good graces of the Church. They are the last people before whom we should be seeking to erect new hurdles.

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