The Annulment Problem
The problem with annulments is deeper than the corruption of the tribunal system in the United States. A profound lack of formation and even courage is at the root of it all.
Substantially more annulments are granted in the United States than in any other country of the world. The numbers are so high that some time ago the Roman Rota established a special low price for anyone who will make a “second instance” appeal to Rome from the United States. This discount is not available anywhere else.
The reasons for the high annulment rate are many, and they include the incompetence characteristic of the entire canonical establishment in America, which frequently relies on badly-trained volunteers to serve as advocates and procurators, and is ultimately managed by those who know very little about canonical process. The Roman Rota overturns roughly two-thirds of the appeals brought before it, often because of incompetent counsel or improper procedure.
But the larger issue is that almost nobody appeals a declaration of nullity. After all, nullity is usually what both parties really want. It is precisely for this reason that the Church has always appointed a defender of the marriage bond.
Now it used to be that the defender of the bond had a real interest in fostering and protecting sacramental marriage. But the extreme secularization which has infected even the Church over the past fifty years has substantially eroded this desire to uphold the Church’s teaching on marriage. The situation is so bad that cases are often overturned on appeal because procurators fail to proceed according to the wishes of their clients. The client wants to contest the annulment, but the procurator recommends annulment anyway.
Under Canon Law (and in basic morality), this is a horrendous abuse. It undermines the holy desire of a client to defend his own marriage; it places an undue burden on those who wish to defend the marriage bond; and it ultimately devastates anyone who does not know that appeal is possible.
The information on which these comments are based comes from the St. Joseph Foundation, an organization dedicated to upholding the rights of the faithful through canonical action. What the data reveals is that, while easy annulments contribute to the erosion of marriage, the erosion of marriage also contributes mightily to easy annulments.
Marriages are made stronger by a deep interior conviction on the part of the spouses that there is no way out. It is amazing how this conviction can change both the way marriages are contracted, and the way marital discontents are approached and resolved. For this reason, a good marriage, like charity, begins at home. We must form our children to truly believe that marriage is for life, and also to believe that they can find happiness in courageous obedience to God’s will, even under the scourge of civil divorce.
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