We were now attending Mass each week as a family. Our faith life began to grow. I found myself missing the Eucharist more and more each week. As the patriarch of Clan Collins I needed to get our family into a right relationship with God. How does a Catholic, civilly divorced and remarried outside of the Church go about reconciling this relationship?
According to Catholic teaching there are only three ways this can be done:
1: Your original spouse dies. Once your spouse dies you are no longer bound by the sacrament of marriage and are free then to marry again (until death do us part…remember?).
2: You and your current spouse take a vow to live as brother and sister. You see, it’s all about the sex. Sex is reserved to one man and one woman bound together in a covenantal marriage. Notice that I did not say a sacramental marriage. It is possible to have a Church blessed wedding that is not sacramental. This is often the case between interfaith marriages (a Catholic and a Buddhist) or in the case where one of the spouses is not baptized. The marriage is recognized but it is not a sacrament and you do not receive the sacramental grace that goes along with it.
Couples in my situation can take a vow to live as brother and sister, that is, live in a sexless relationship. Once done I could receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then be able to start receiving the Eucharist again.
3: You can seek an annulment.
Seeing my original wife was not dead and that there was little chance of this new marriage going sexless seeking an annulment was my only choice if I wanted to right this relationship with God. An annulment is not a Catholic divorce. If a person can show where there was something not correct with the first marriage then that marriage can be declared void – it wasn’t a marriage from the start.
So what constitutes a valid marriage, which can never be annulled?
There are three basic requirements for two people to wed in the Catholic Church:
1: The couple must be capable and free to marry – they must be a man and a woman of proper maturity who are free from any impediment to marry.
2: The couple must be freely giving their consent to marry one another. No arranged or shotgun marriages allowed.
3: They must follow the canonical matter and form required by the church.
An annulment in the Catholic Church is a very serious matter. The Church is basically ruling that a conferred sacrament was never really conferred in the first place. This is something they have to be absolutely sure about. If your first marriage was indeed a validly sacramental marriage and they allow you to remarry the sin is on the person who allowed it. I am sure there is no honest priest who wishes his soul be damned to hell just to let a couple he will likely never see again unknowingly commit adultery.
Because of this the Church has a very arduous, thorough and legalistic process that must be completed. Each spouse is appointed an advocate. Something a kin to a deposition must be completed by the person seeking the annulment as well as at least four witnesses who knew the couple before and after the marriage. The other spouse is given a chance to give their side of the story and contest the annulment if they so desire. The couple must also be civilly divorced before starting this process.
Once all of the paperwork is complete the advocates go over it and it is brought before a tribunal for review. If the tribunal feels that there are grounds to proceed the petition for annulment is then sent to a judge for a ruling. If the judge finds just cause to issue the annulment it is automatically sent to the court of second chance. There everything is reviewed once again and a final decree is then issued. If both judges come to the same conclusion a decree of nullity is issued and both parties are free to marry again.
Like I said, this is serious stuff. The Church has to make sure that it gets this right.
But all the thoroughness comes with a price. My annulment was pretty straight forward. It still took the better part of ten months to complete. This is the process the recent synod on the family has been discussing. How can we be thorough and correctly review each petition yet speed things up and make it an easier process?
I thought my annulment was pretty cut and dried. I was surprised at the amount of time it took. My ex had hidden the fact that she was gay from me so I did not have the knowledge I needed in the beginning to make an informed choice. The grounds on which my annulment was filed was indeed deception on her part even though it was not a wanton or malicious act. She was struggling with that issue at the time we were dating so neither of us were “free” to marry when we made the decision to do so.
As for me they ruled that I lacked the proper maturity to be able to marry. My ex was the first person I honestly dated and therefore they felt that I jumped into marriage far too quickly. In retrospect they were right. In the end they granted me the annulment which made it possible for me to remarry.
My wife was also married before. Her husband was “Catholic” although he didn’t actively practice, if he believed any of it at all. She also had to have her first marriage reviewed for validity although she did not have to petition for an annulment. Her review was much simpler than mine. First, she wasn’t baptized. Second, her ex had been married several times without ever seeking an annulment. Third their marriage lacked the proper form and matter to be considered a valid marriage. Form and matter is a topic of another discussion and another time. It was ruled that she was also free to marry.
That was the largest hurdle in getting this relationship right with God. We were both now free to marry and we could get our marriage blessed by the Church. Seeing my wife was not baptized we could have a blessed marriage but not a sacramental one. If we had a blessed marriage and she were to get baptized it would instantly become a sacramental marriage and we would receive all the grace the sacrament brings with it.
We were taking big steps forward and God had many more blessings in store for us.