Annulment

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.

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