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Routine annulment as ‘cynical duplicity’—a non-Catholic’s perspective

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 29, 2019

David Bentley Hart begins his Commonweal article by stating that he is not a Catholic, and he proceeds to give “traditionalist” Catholics a drubbing. But if you persevere to the end of the piece, you find some refreshingly blunt analysis of the prevailing Catholic approach to marriage and annulment, which he characterizes as “cynical duplicity.”

Hart asserts unapologetically what most Catholics already recognize: that the annulment process is regularly used to justify what is, by any normal reckoning, divorce. Since he does not accept the Catholic understanding of sacramental marriage, he is not bothered so much by the availability of divorce and church-sanctioned remarriage—now made still more prevalent in the wake of Amoris Laetitia—as by the flimsy rationalization:

It is terrible enough when a marriage—something on which a man and a woman, at what is usually a fairly innocent moment in their lives, have staked their futures and their hopes for happiness—falls apart. It is somehow all the more terrible when, solely for the sake of avoiding institutional embarrassment, we are asked to indulge in the fiction that it was never a real marriage to begin with.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Aug. 31, 2019 3:03 PM ET USA

    In his article, Hart, an Orthodox theologian who because of this probably has an axe to grind with the Catholic Church, cites a number of Church Fathers who he claims provide no evidence that Matrimony is a sacrament. However, Catholic dogmatic theology (e.g., Ott) makes it clear that St. Ignatius, Tertullian, St. Augustine, and others upheld the dignity and sanctity of Matrimony as requiring the cooperation of the Church. Further development came later, but the patristic kernel remains evident.

  • Posted by: philtech2465 - Aug. 31, 2019 2:18 PM ET USA

    Mr. Hart has a valid point. The nullity process is overused and I strongly suspect too many nullity degrees are granted for valid marriages. This is a scandal that undermines Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.