Annulment: You Have Two Choices

The following is the most recently written SOS Webpage. It has evolved after twenty years working with Respondents.
For most of those two decades our perspective has been entirely on working with Respondents to defend their sacrament in the annulment process. But more recently we have been talking with Respondents who have been sick with Cancer or the sole caretaker for a dying young adult child. The week before I started writing this Page a woman contacted me who had just been through a nervous breakdown and wanted to AGAIN take up the battle in defense against the tribunal’s annulment process. And while writing this Page, I was contacted by a Respondent who had just two years left to live and felt she had no recourse but to obey the tribunal. In each case my sense was that these women were Saints, literally not figuratively. And in each case their local tribunal insisted the Questionnaire material be in “on time”.
This is why you may hear pangs of anger in some of the following thoughts.

Please take what is helpful to you from this Page. Whatever may not be helpful, leave aside.
Questions / feedback welcomed.
Jan

The Marriage Sacrament and God's Grace/ Divine Presence
The Roman Catholic Church official definition states that sacraments are "visible, efficacious signs" of God's Grace. "Signs" of God's Grace have been integral to your married life. Precious examples are your Love, your children, all the joys experienced over the years of married life. Andalso infused with Divine Presence and Grace are all the experiences of pain and anguish such as childbirth and nursing young ones. Mothers, and fathers, sense that there is sacramental Grace in each of these experiences.
It is also true that Divine Presence and Grace are with and in you during times of anguish such as divorce and the annulment process. The wedding vow states that God's Grace permeates your love "in sickness" (the not so positive) and "in health" (the positive times).

SOS is here to help
After nearly two decades of advising Respondents and listening to hundreds upon hundreds of marriage experiences, we agree with Michael Morwood's concept that God's Grace / Divine Presence is permanent, and for us, integral to our marriage sacrament.
God's Grace cannot be 'nullified' by any human institution. In marriage, living through the less than positive is a normal aspect of life; it is NOT a reason to nullify the marriage sacrament.
The sacrament of each Respondent who find their way to SOS is regarded by us as valid.

The petitioner has two choices: either annulment process also known as the External Forum process, or a second choice- the "Internal Forum process", based on an individual's "primacy of conscience". The ’primacy of conscience’ is a central concept in Catholic moral thinking. In this case no witnesses are needed, no Questionnaire Responses to write. This process happens with one priest listening to the petitioner speaking from his informed conscience.(See our SOS "Internal Forum" webpage)

The Respondent also has Two Choices: when a letter arrives from a RCChurch tribunal, stating that an annulment Petition by an ex-spouse has been accepted by that tribunal, know that your ex, along with the tribunal, is attempting to say that your sacrament is invalid. You now have two choices: the right to defend your sacrament via the "External Forum process". Or you can choose not to participate, using your own “primacy of conscience”.

Two Important Questions
Ask yourself, which of those two choices do you wish to make? Your decision whether or not to accept the tribunal's annulment process may be easier if you answer the two following questions for discernment. Choose for yourself which decision is best for you:

  1. If you were to choose to enter into the process to challenge/ fight the tribunal process, what are your reasons WHY that would benefit you? (*External Forum)
  2. If you were to choose NOT to enter into the tribunal process, what are your reasons WHY that would benefit you? (**Internal Forum)

*1. "External Forum": Challenge the tribunal directly
In this case, you know your marriage sacrament is valid and choose to defend it by diligently challenging the Petition in order to validate your sacrament.
There are many reasons for defending your sacrament in the 'External Forum'. Three examples are:
You know that both you and your spouse truly loved one another on the day of the wedding vows, and that there were no grave impediments in that Love.
You know your children are worthy of validation that they were born into a sanctified marriage.
And in this age of easy access to ALL information, direct or leaked, you do not want the lies that are most often contained in the Petition to be left unaddressed and later potentially accessed by your Grandchildren (!).
So there is a reasonable purpose for you to enter into the annulment process. Reply to the tribunal that you accept their invitation to do so.

Making this choice will involve precious time and energy; oftentimes an inordinate amount of time and energy. We know of two Respondents who mortgaged their homes to employ 'outside' Canon Lawyer advocates who they trusted far more than the person assigned to them by the tribunal. And midway through the annulment process the Respondent usually finds that trying to work with the local tribunal personnel can be a devastatingly humiliating experience.

1a) There is a "midway point" in this first choice, you can 'test' the annulment process: by requesting a meeting with someone in the tribunal where YOU ask all the questions before you make a decision to enter into the annulment process. Make an appointment with whoever at the local tribunal meets with Respondents (either an ‘advocate’ or the "defender" of the marriage Bond. Both of these titles are misleading, as the ‘advocate’s salary is paid by the tribunal that is biased against the Respondent, as is the “defender” of the Bond.).

If they do make an appointment, go in prepared with many questions and expect straight answers. (SOS can provide you with sample questions to ask the tribunal person). By being open to an 'inquiry meeting' with them, you can feel assured you allowed them the opportunity to say why their process could benefit you.
Decide if you are being treated fairly in this meeting or if their information is not to your satisfaction. And if they don't allow you the opportunity to be the one to ask all the questions, that should indicate immediately that the process is 'rigged' against you. Then as the bible says- "brush their dust from your feet" and step away from the process.

**2. "Primacy of Conscience": You Know in your Conscience that your Sacrament is valid
Because you know your sacrament is valid, you may choose not to enter into the daunting tribunal annulment process; knowing that dealing with a tribunal is just not beneficial and necessary to you. Follow what you believe in your conscience. If you believe that your sacrament is already 'saved' then after receiving the first letter from the tribunal, you are free to reply that you choose not to engage in the annulment process. This 'second choice' depends on whether or not you think that God's Grace can be "annulled" by any human institution.

The annulment process is a flawed process, devised by human flawed men (who have never been married!). Can any legalistic (Canon) law process determine that Love and God's Grace were (not) integral to your marriage? Is there any reasonable purpose for you to engage in a legalistic Canon Law process other than a civil court process?

But If you do choose to step away from the annulment process and move on with your life, you must be prepared to accept that, without your input, the tribunal will declare the sacrament null, with no further investigation.
Does the tribunal have any real power, unless you give it to them? The tribunal's final decision in this situation is only worth the paper it is written on.And do you really want to enable another abusive process devised by the Catholic Church?
It is important to keep in mind that the choice is yours, NOT the tribunal's.

SOS is here to help with either choice. The choice is yours.

Jan
Jan@SaveOurSacrament.org