Declarations of Nullity (Annulments)
Marriages sometimes fail and we recognize our obligation to assist and help parties to failed marriages find healing and strength in their faith. Catholic Christians understand marriage as both a contract and a covenant. Contracts are legal agreements governed by civil authorities. Covenants are spiritual relationships rooted in persons. Contracts can be broken and entered into anew. Covenants entered into with proper discretion, freedom, maturity, and with the psychological capacity to understand and live the essential aspects of marriage are forever. All attempted marriages (even those between people who are not Catholic), enjoy the favour of the bond. In other words, all marriages are presumed to be valid covenants. When Catholics enter into a marriage, they are required to be married before a Catholic deacon, priest or bishop. This requirement is referred to as canonical form.
Sometimes individuals enter into what is presumed to be a marital covenant but in spite of valiant efforts to preserve the marriage, the relationship fails over time. Individuals have recourse to the Church to investigate whether the marriage was, in fact, a valid covenant. The difference between divorce and an annulment is that divorce is a civil process whereby what was a valid contract is dissolved so a person is free to enter into another contract. An annulment states that what was thought to be a valid covenant from the beginning was never a covenant, due to a serious defect in the consent itself or in a person’s ability to assume and maintain the duties of marriage in mutual and lasting fidelity. If an attempted marriage is deemed invalid, the parties to the failed attempt are usually declared free to enter into a new covenant.
The investigation into the validity of an attempted marriage is a thorough process and declarations of nullity are not granted lightly. This process fits into the healing component of the Church’s pastoral care. Those who are divorced and are not in subsequent relationships are members in good standing in the Church and are in full communion. Persons divorced and remarried (or are in common law relatiionships) and who wish to receive communion in the Catholic Church are required to rectify the situation before receiving holy communion. This is usually a sensitive topic and should be discussed with your parish priest so he can explain it properly. Those who are divorced and remarried or divorced and seek to marry in the Church always have recourse to the Church to have their prior marriage investigated as to its validity. The pastor of the parish is highly committed to “walking with” those who find themselves in a failed marriage and remarried, to try to resolve the issue wherever this is possible.
All persons who are divorced and wish to remarry in the Church should speak to their parish priest about the possibility of a declaration of nullity. In many cases this is a simple process and in others more complex. It is important, however, not to jump to conclusions based on “advice” or information from relatives and coworkers. There is much misinformation about this process circulating among Catholics and other Christians alike. Usually the resolution is simpler than you may think.
For complete and accurate information on Declarations of Nullity please use the following link to the Marriage Tribunal of the Diocese of Hamilton: Declarations of Nullity
Anyone finding themselves in the situation should make an appointment with the parish priest to determine how you can practice your faith with integrity. You have nothing to lose by being properly informed. We are committed to assisting those who find themselves in the painful situation of a failed marriage and are committed to assisting people to return to full communion where this may be compromised. Take courage and begin the process. We will lead you one step at a time, provide you with the information you need and guide you through this process of healing and restoration.