Unfortunately I’ve received quite a few unpleasant comments over the last few days, none of which I have been prepared to publish, due to the fact that I have an annulled marriage. My stat-counter has also brought up some rather disturbing searches regarding my name, my children and attempts to discover details pertaining to personal circumstances. The implication is that it is highly hypocritical of me to defend marriage, given that due to having a previous marriage behind me I have a part to play in the undermining of the institution. Furthermore there have been allegations that annulments are only available to the rich and well-connected who are able to twist arms and pay for expensive canon lawyers to employ Jesuitical arguments. There are demands for me to disclose the circumstances of my previous attempted marriage – something that is frankly none of anyone’s business.

I’m not going to disclose my private life, not least for the fact that a child resulted from my previous relationship – there are real human beings and relationships at stake, which are far more important than my standing in the eyes of hostile internet commentators. With that in mind, I am aware that I am a (very minor) representative of Catholicism and therefore it might be necessary to put a few bare facts of the matter out there as a matter of record.

Firstly – mea culpa. I did attempt to contract a marriage, but what is also clear is that I didn’t have any understanding of what that involved. Perhaps providentially, I had made enquiries as to getting married in the Catholic church that was the place of my baptism, though the community involved were happy to facilitate, they insisted that some form of marriage preparation was undertaken first. My then fiance refused as he did not wish to be instructed in how to be married by a bunch of celibate Catholics – it was none of their business. So we were ‘married’ instead in an Anglican church with no dispensation from the Catholic church as is required by canon law.

Secondly – one of the basic tenets of a valid sacramental marriage is that it must be open to life or children. Before we got ‘married’ my ex had been explicit on multiple occasions that he did not ever want children and had in fact sought a sterilisation at the age of 22. I was ambivalent on the matter, I certainly had no intention of having any children, but hadn’t ruled it out either. On our wedding day, my former father-in-law was witnessed telling everybody that his son did not want to have any children. When I unexpectedly fell pregnant there was a divergence of opinion as to what the best course of action should be and the relationship was put under enormous pressure, which resulted in my then partner going off to Marie Stopes in Reading for a sterilisation when the baby was 6 weeks old. A process in which I had no involvement – personal bodily autonomy and wishes being of paramount import. As an aside Marie Stopes did not once ask for joint couple counselling and the offer of individual counselling was refused. I don’t know whether or not this may have changed minds, certainly he was adamant that this situation was not going to reoccur.

There are other canonical and legal issues, but that is more than enough information for the public domain. Needless to say, when I married a vicar who usually refused to perform re-marriages, the Church of England having no formal annulment process, it was necessary not only to be very public and open about my situation not only with our parish, but with the then Bishop of Chichester whose formal permission was sought as a matter of courtesy.

What I can testify is that no matter how cordial, friendly and open one keeps relations, divorce is absolutely horrible for children and not something that I could recommend as being the ideal.

My hope is that my children can learn from my example, that they take care to ensure that they marry someone else whose faith and values matches theirs, that they don’t succumb to outside pressures but can prayerfully discern in their choice of spouse and vocation. There is a whole world of difference between being sacramentally married and not. I appreciate every day the graces and blessings that we receive from the sacrament – something that gives us both enormous comfort and strength when times are tough.

Life hasn’t always been plain sailing for me, but I count myself extremely fortunate and blessed in not only having a wonderful spouse who shares my faith, but in being able to have a sacramental marriage. That the church has absolutely no issue with my circumstances was demonstrated by the fact that we were able to have a nuptial Mass and received an apostolic blessing as a gift from the parish.

Annulment isn’t a Catholic divorce or a fudge for those with recourse to huge funds. When applying to a marriage tribunal one has to throw the whole affair into the hands of God and trust in the judgement of Holy Mother church and accept the ruling, whichever way it falls. In my case, no tribunal was needed, it was a very straightforward process which cost me £18 in total!

Annulment presumes that every marriage is valid, until proven otherwise. It is very clear in my situation that no marriage existed, which goes quite a long way to explain many of the difficulties. Like many Catholics, I found the process incredibly healing. Here is a page that dispels some of the common myths, such as illegitimacy of children – an accusation that comes my way fairly often, or that the process is only for rich, famous or well-connected members of the faithful.

The Pope has recently reiterated the need for the annulment process to be rigorous and warned about the danger of contrasting charity with justice. If we as Catholics wish to reinforce the strength of the marriage bond, it causes great scandal if we collude with secular authorities and dissolve marriages for spurious or flimsy reasons. Furthermore it does a great disservice to those of us who indisputably had no previous sacramental bond. Fr Dwight Longnecker also has some very harsh words for those Catholics who collude in the undermining of marriage.

Though I admittedly haven’t always upheld marriage in my past actions – all of us are sinners, I did what I could to remedy what was a heartbreaking and impossible situation whereby convalidation or sanation were unavailable as options. I can also appreciate that though our divorce laws are in urgent need of reform, some civil recourse is often necessary not least for the protection of women and children.

‘Gay marriage’ is the inevitable result in a society that seeks to put individual needs and wants first and seeks to redefine marriage as simply being all about love and commitment. My ex, passionately believed that when he said those vows (despite the fact that children are mentioned in the Anglican marriage service) that children had nothing to do with it and are entirely separate to marriage. I didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other at that time, despite having been nominally brought up as a Catholic and having attended Catholic school.

The New Evangelisation must include a reclamation of marriage – what it constitutes and what it most definitely isn’t. We have much to remedy.

(Comment moderation is on)

21 thoughts on “Annulment

  1. Having gone through the process myself I quite understand your situation, Caroline – but I got my ‘nullment’ from the Catholic Church even more cheaply, than your princely £18, as I was advised that the marriage in the Anglican Church was not recognised in the first place!

    As fir those who are having a go – People can be awfully picky, can’t they? I’m continually surprised at the number of people who know better than the Pope and the Curia. They are clearly much holier than thou – or e, come to that! It’s such a shame their knowledge and wisdom has not been recognised and they have not been invited into the higher reaches of he Church, eh? I’m sure the responsibility would suit them so well, and they clearly have so much to offer, beyond the everyday drudgery of humdrum existence! The sooner the full value of their wisdom is recognised, the better, I say!

    I agree with Richard, btw.

  2. I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now and you’ve never concealed the annulment. But this still must have been a hard post to write.

    There can’t be many Catholics who have totally escaped the evil effects of society’s increasingly ‘permissive’ attitudes to sex and relationships (quite apart from that natural stain from original sin). That’s why we need God’s grace and forgiveness as mediated by the Church (including the marriage tribunals). And that’s also why we need good positive (ie state) laws.

    1. I am not only passionate about the joys and freedoms of an authentic marital relationship but also aggrieved that all of this knowledge was denied to me as a teenager and young adult.

      Though I have to take responsibility for my past actions I also believe that like so many people today I was sleepwalking in blissful ignorance. I had absolutely no idea about the real meaning of marriage, it was a wholly selfish and idealised concept that revolved around self indulgence. Hardly surprising that things came a cropper!

      It’s clear that the church does have a lot of work to do and must connect with young people, not in a way that seeks to validate or dismiss sin, but in a way that teaches the goodness and fruits of marriage and the importance of God within the relationship.

      1. Really empathize with your being being aggrieved at the denial of this knowledge! It’s easily forgotten that the primary point of Catholic moral teaching is to be helpful: by presenting a correct view of human flourishing, it saves each generation having to start from scratch. I too wish that I’d known about it when I was a teenager…

  3. I’ve been in a similar position, one that led me into a condition of mortal sin. Not the Church’s fault but mine and my family’s. I too defend what I know is right and acknowledge my own failings. So the detractors’ argument is once we have failed there is no chance of forgiveness and reparation? The childish view that ‘those Cathokics think they’re better than us’? I’m sick of the playground bullying on Twitter and wasn’t aware of Caroline’s past but it doesn’t make me think any differently about her. Her cogent blogs are a delight and her goodness shines through them. I’m proud to call you a friend and defender of the faith Caroline

  4. You should not have had to write about this in this way, but in so doing you have shown both your courage, and how this can be done; you’ve also helped others. Those who have criticised you should be, but won’t bem ashamed of themselves.

  5. To those who criticized you: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”(Jn.8:7) We’re all sinners; we’re not all as courageous as you. Thank you for writing this post. In so doing, you have defended sacramental marriage.

  6. The Roman Catechism states that someone who remarries after divorce (absent an annulment) is living in public and permanent adultery.
    Suppose an Anglican is divorced. The Church of England has no annulment procedure. Because of the circumstances of the divorce, the local vicar or rector, and/or the bishop, allows a church wedding, using the marriage service. Are the couple living in public and permanent adultery? (This is a genuine request for information).

  7. One is simply foolish to trust in justice from the Catholic Church.

    I am passing through, unwillingly, a tribunal process for the second time.
    Truth is not what is being sought. Nor is there the slightest real respect
    for marriage.

    Anyone who says there is, is deceived.

    1. Karl – that certainly was not my experience but I am sorry that you seem to be experiencing difficulties. The process is about getting to the objective truth of the matter and the facts of any given situation. It sounds as if you are going through the process as a result of someone else, which is always tough, especially if one doesn’t accept the teaching of the Catholic Church in these matters. Prayers that things resolve.

      John – in response to your comment, without knowing the facts of any given situation it is difficult to judge. I think where an Anglican Church has remarried a person, it certainly mitigates some personal culpability.

      There are some guidelines here:

      1. Caroline, thank you. I believe you have in effect answered my question. If as you say it depends on the facts of the particular case, then marriages are valid or invalid from their beginning. In legal terms, they are void if they are invalid, and not merely voidable. All that the Roman Catholic annulment procedure does is declare which they are. Even if there is no declaration of nullity (as in my Anglican example), the earlier marriage may be invalid, and if so the remarried Anglican is not living in public and permanent adultery.

      2. That’s right John, although if the Anglican later converted to Catholicism, the first marriage would still need to be investigated and the second regulated either by convalidation or sanation.

        The Catholic Church would assume validity until proven otherwise, something which is often very straightforward.

      3. Caroline, I want to add something, I hope in a spirit of helpfulness, as to why people who are not Roman Catholics may be suspicious of the annulment procedure.
        First, I understand that the great majority of annulment applications succeed; I have read nine out of ten in this country in one recent year. This may prompt cynicism on the part of non-Catholics.
        Secondly, although many annulments, like yours if I may say so, seem unobjectionable, it is not difficult to think of ones that are repellent, if they are granted. An example might be one where a husband with children deserted his loyal wife and, wishing to marry his new love in a Roman Catholic church (perhaps it is her and/or her family’s wish), alleges that there was something wrong with his marriage at its inception.
        Thirdly, although an annulment does not make the children illegitimate, it is a finding that their parents were not truly married. Not nice for teenage children, who are being hurt quite enough by the divorce anyway!

  8. A brave past and hopefully that will be enough to satisfy your curious searcher. I would associate myself with the comments of Anna, Richard and others.

    The points you make on this blog stand up on their own merits as do those on other sites. They are no less valid because none of us are examples of perfect Christian living (though we are blessed with wonderful family of saintly brothers and sisters who have gone before us and whose examples encourage and fortify us). So we’re not perfect but the Truth is.

    Ad hominem attacks such as those directed at you are the last desperate recourse of the intellectually bankrupt.

    1. Thanks Richard, but in hindsight I deleted that comment in order to not give Peter the audience he craves. I’ve decided not to clog up the blog with nasties 🙂

  9. Hey, NW – post your full name, send me your address and maybe we can meet in person and discuss our philosophical differences!

    I’m not a very good Catholic, btw, but I am more than prepared to defend those who are. Hope you’re located in the south of England, which would make a meeting so much more convenient. But I am prepared to travel!

    Looking forward to it


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