Father Paul Beach, pastor of St. Martin of Tours Church and a judge in the archdiocese’s Metropolitan Tribunal, discussed the nature of annulments and marriage at his office July 26. His copy of the Code of Canon Law sat next to him atop a stack of other books. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)
By MARNIE McALLISTER Record Assistant Editor
Father Paul Beach, pastor of St. Martin of Tours Church and a judge for the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Metropolitan Tribunal, said recently that when it comes to annulments, there’s a lot of misinformation, even among Catholics.
The Tribunal, which handles annulments, recently revised the process for those seeking a declaration of nullity — the pro-per name for an annulment.
Deacon Stephan Phelps, who spearheaded the revision, said in a story in the July 12 edition of The Record that the Tribunal wanted to make it an easier and more pastoral process for the 120 or so couples who seek the declaration each year.
Father Beach said that notion may come as a surprise to many Catholics because the nature of marriage is often misunderstood.
“A lot of people see an annulment as a favor the church is granting,” he noted. “They think it’s a Catholic divorce.”
In reality, he said, an annulment is the church’s way of declaring that at the time of the wedding, a marriage — the way the church defines marriage — never took place.
To understand that idea, Father Beach said, one must understand the sacrament of marriage.
The Metropolitan Tribunal has published a list of top 10 myths associated with annulments. Following is a list of these misconceptions and information to debunk the myths.
1. Once people divorce they are no longer part of the church. Divorced people are excommunicated and are no longer able to receive the sacraments.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This is an old carry-over from the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Those who divorce and have not remarried are in full communion and may approach all sacraments. For those divorced and remarried, the church requests they not approach the sacrament of Eucharist until they have secured a valid marriage in the eyes of the church.
2. If your marriage is annulled by the church, it means you never had a marriage and your children are illegitimate.
The legitimacy of children is never in question. A marriage is also a civil, legal reality and every child born into that legal union is legitimate and nothing the church does in an annulment would ever change that fact.
3. Annulments are expensive and the more you pay the quicker your annulment will go through. Tribunals are just a way for the church to make money.
In this archdiocese, money is NEVER attached to the processing of an annulment case. We do request a $400 fee to help defray expenses (the total cost of processing a case is now over $1,500) but no one is ever asked to pay if they cannot afford it. The case proceeds on the same track and time frame no matter whether the person has paid the request or not. This is mandated by church law and no preferential treatment is ever given for any reason.
4. If you are married for a long time and have children, there is no way you can get an annulment.
While long-term marriages are reviewed by a panel of three judges rather than a single judge, all annulments follow the same exact procedure no matter the length of the marriage.
5. It helps to know somebody in the Tribunal.
Everyone in the Tribunal takes an oath of office. Included in this oath is a conflict of interest statement. One is restricted from working on a case involving someone they know. This includes the judge(s) deciding the case.
6. Annulments can take years to be decided.
The Holy See has decreed that all marriage cases must be completed within an eighteen month period. In our archdiocese most all cases are completed before this required time. Some cases take longer due to the collection of witness testimony or other factors but once filed, the case will be finalized before this eighteen-month period has elapsed.
7. I can shop around dioceses to get an annulment.
The law determines where a case is to be heard. The first Tribunal is the diocese where the marriage occurred, followed by the place where the respondent (the former spouse of the person seeking the annulment) resides, the place where the majority of proofs are and lastly, the place where the petitioner (person seeking annulment) resides. Only in extreme and very rare circumstances may this be changed. In many cases the Holy See must make the decision.
8. The former spouse has to cooperate and has to be contacted, even is he/she has been abusive and is dangerous.
The law requires the former spouse be notified for the sole reason of protecting his or her rights but that person has the sole decision whether to participate in the process. If they do not, the process moves forward uninterrupted. In cases of proven abuse or other dangerous situations, there are provisions in the law where the respondent’s rights can be protected. This decision is made by the Judicial Vicar.
9. Every priest or parish church minister knows exactly what to do about my marriage situation in terms of an annulment.
While these individuals are professionals with many, many responsibilities, they may not have the time necessary to follow all the canonical issues on marriage. This is why there are a number of auditors and advocates available in our archdiocese to help explain the process and work with the individual to complete their case for filing.
10. If the person I want to marry is not Catholic or if he/she is not Catholic and was married by a justice of the peace, no annulment is necessary.
If someone is not Catholic and their marriage is recognized as valid in that church, we consider it valid as well. If a person wishes to marry a Catholic or become Catholic, they come into our domain. According to our teaching, if that first union was valid, then they need to pursue an annulment before marrying in the Catholic Church.