Everyone knows that the Catholic Church does not permit divorce. In these modern times though it is not hard to find many who are Catholic and are divorced. Some have even re-married. Many will tell you that they have gotten a "Catholic divorce" i.e. an annulment.
Since the changes of the Vatican Council II, the new church and religion (Novus Ordo) that was created at that time, seems to be handing out "annulments" like candy. This has led to a lot of confusion as to what an annulment really is.
First of all an annulment is not a divorce, even though many who obtain annulments do go through with a divorce for civil reasons. A divorce is the dissolution of the marriage contract, so that the individuals are now free to marry again.
No human power can dissolve the bond of marriage when ratified and consummated between baptized persons. But,
1. The marriage bond may be dissolved, even between baptized persons, by Papal authority, if the marriage has not been consummated. Such at least is the common doctrine of canonists and theologians.
2. It may be dissolved in similar circumstances by the solemn religious profession of either party. This point was defined at Trent (sess. xxiv. Can. 6); the principle had been already laid down by Innocent III., who professed to follow the example of his predecessors, and it is justified by the example of ancient saints, who left their brides before consummation of marriage to lead a life of perpetual continence. The engagement by which they bound themselves to continence may be considered equivalent to a solemn religious profession in later times.
3. If two unbaptized persons have contracted marriage, this marriage, even if consummated may be dissolved, supposing one of the parties embraces the Christian religion and the other refuses to live peaceably and without insult to the Christian religion in the married state. This principle is laid down by Innocent III., and is founded on the "dispensation of the Apostle," as it is called, in 1 Cor. Vii, 12-15.
In all other cases the marriage bond is indissoluble, and, besides this, married persons are bound to live together, as man and wife. They may, however, separate by mutual consent; and, again, if one party exposes the other to grave danger of body or soul, or commits adultery, the innocent partner may obtain a judicial separation, or even refuse to cohabit without waiting for the sentence of the judge, provided always that the offense is clearly proved. If the innocent party has condoned the adultery, the right of separation on that ground is forfeited _ unless, of course the offense is repeated. (From Billuart, St. Liguori, Gury, "De Matrimonio.")
Our Lord when questioned says: "For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Because Moses, by reason of the hardness of your heart, permitted you to put away your wives; but it was not so from the beginning. And I say to you, that whoever puts away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a woman who has been put away commits adultery." (Matt. 19, 4-9).
It has been said that in the time of Moses, it became customary for a man who was not permitted to divorce to kill his own wife, and often even his own children, so that he would be free to marry someone else. Moses because of this hardness of their hearts permitted them to divorce. Our Lord tells us this is no longer acceptable, and He reinstates the more primitive law, that was given to Adam and Eve.
What then is an annulment? As stated above an annulment is not a divorce. An annulment is a declaration that there never was a marriage to begin with. It states that the two individuals for whatever reason did not contract a valid marriage, and for this reason were not married, are not married, and are therefore free to separate and contract a valid marriage.
What then are the conditions necessary for the validity of a marriage?
In general for Roman Catholics it is necessary that: They be married before a priest and two or more witnesses; That they be of sufficient maturity, physical as well as mental; That they give mutual, voluntary, deliberate consent; And that the consent be manifested by external signs.
It would be difficult and perhaps imprudent to go into specific details. If there is a question about a certain marriage it is always best to consult your pastor first. Marriage is looked upon as a contract. If the contract is a valid contract it is binding. Anything that would impede a civil contract, will generally impede a marriage contract. The marriage contract is always given the benefit of the doubt. The burden of proof then, always lies with those who say that the contract is invalid.
If the marriage contract can be proven to be invalid, then there never was a marriage to begin with, and the Church simply declares that the marriage is null and void and an annulment is granted.
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