A critical look at the issue of Catholic marriage annulments

In a November 1996 article in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, the San Diego diocese’s director of canonical affairs, Dr. Edward Peters, defended Church tribunals in this country, where annulments have soared from about 600 per year in 1968 to well over 60,000 in some recent years. (The article, slightly modified, was reprinted as chapter XII of Peters’s book, 100 Answers to Your Questions on Annulments, Simon & Schuster/Basilica Press, 1997).

According to Peters, who is a judge on the diocesan tribunal, the increase can be attributed not to a relaxation of the Church’s teachings on the permanence of marriage, but to other factors, among them that heterodox, pro-contraceptive marriage preparation courses are “legion” and that psychological factors render large numbers of people truly incapable of contracting valid marriages. With many spouses ignorant of the fact that marriage is ordered to the procreation of children, true matrimonial consent cannot be present, and the granting of later decrees of nullity for such marriages is a slam dunk for a church tribunal.

Peters defended the Code of Canon Law (Canon 1095), which declares incapable of entering a true marriage: “1) those who lack sufficient use of reason; 2) those who suffer from a grave lack of discretionary judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted; and 3) those who, because of causes of a psychological nature, are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage.”

This canon is “the best tool for addressing cases in which drug and alcohol abuse, physical or sexual abuse, psychological and psychiatric anomalies, and a variety of other mental and emotional conditions have seriously impacted parties prior to marriage,” wrote Peters.

He called citing the fact that Americans, who compose only five percent of the world’s Catholics, are granted 80 percent of the world’s annulments the “shallowest of all tribunal criticisms. Americans make up 6% of the world’s population, but they account for 100% of the men on the moon. So what? America functions. Much of the rest of the world does not.”

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