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Michelle wrote:

Hi, guys —

After reading this post:

I still have questions about annulments.

  • What criteria are used to determine if a marriage is null and void?
  • Once the marriage is determined null and void, how does the Church explain the
    "non-wedlock" nature of the children of that marriage?

The above post that I have referred to seems like circular logic to me. Like the concept of the Protestant:

"Once saved always saved, unless they were not actually saved in the first place."

As one of four children of an annulled Catholic couple, I am curious as to how it is OK for them to divorce, get an annulment, remarry, and continue on with their lives.

I am in the process of returning to Catholicism. I have many questions myself, and many that my Protestant friends are asking me. This is a question that I am having a hard time getting a handle on and explaining to Protestants who are saying this is just the Church 's way of keeping parishioners.

I feel like I am a child of a union between two people who:

  • loved each other as well as they could.
  • raised four children in a healthy home.
  • tried to teach us the Catholic faith, and
  • do not feel like I am an "orphan born out of wedlock".

If a marriage is to bring about new life and the marriage is nullified, then it theoretically seems that the children of that marriage are now illegitimate.

Thanks for your time and your answers on many other topics!!


  { I'd like to understand the criteria used to discern an annulment and nature of the "non-wedlock". }

Mary Ann replied:

Good question, Michele!

Basically, the Church makes sure that the parties were free to marry, able to marry, and knew what marriage was.

Mary Ann

Paul replied:

Hi, Michelle —

Reasons for annulment relate to:

Most annulments are granted due to defective consent, and I assume your parent's annulment is also due to this.

In Matthew, Jesus does state that once you are in a valid marriage it is permanent. Sexual relations with another would objectively be adultery, even after a civil divorce but notice the parenthetical phrase in Matthew 19:9, which is interpreted in some newer translations as "unless the marriage is unlawful." Whoever divorces (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.

For the ancients, Mosaic law allowed for the dissolution of marriage for several reasons, some of which would be reasons for an annulment today, such as a marriage of close relatives (incest). Unlawful marriage, as Jesus may be referring to in Matthew 19:9, is another way of saying invalid marriage.

The Catholic Church sees that marriage is made with the mutual consent of the parties
(the "I do's") to a permanent, faithful, life-giving union, and is made unbreakable with sexual consummation. When someone applies for an annulment, an investigation occurs in order to figure out if both parties truly gave their full consent to the marriage vows, which at their essence includes:

  • the vow to fidelity
  • permanence (until death), and
  • openness to children.

If one party held back internally on any of these essential goods of marriage, they were not saying "I do" to what marriage really is; there would be no real consent to marriage. Also, it may be investigated as to whether one party was unable to make such vows. Again, this would make the vows invalid because of their psychological inability to hold them.

The term "illegitimate" is one the civil law uses, not the canon law of the Church. The Church recognizes that God infinitely loves every child born, regardless of how they were conceived or in what setting. Legitimacy has meaning if there is property or money to inherit, none of which is the concern of the Church, hence there is no reason for Her to use the term.

A putative marriage is a union, in good faith, thought to be a marriage, even if it was later determined to be invalid. For those who enter a putative marriage in good faith or were a part of one, there is no sin involved.

One can legitimately wonder, though, if the Church is awarding too many annulments. The Vatican allegedly has not been too happy with the amount of annulments granted in the U.S. by legitimate marriage tribunals. If one party in the union still believes their marriage is valid after being declared null and void, they may petition to Rome for it to be reviewed. It is not uncommon for the Holy See in Rome to override the judgment of a tribunal is the U.S.

Hope this helps a little.


Fr. Jonathan, our priest/canon lawyer contact replied to me:

Hi, Mike —

Michelle requires more than an e-mail answer. I recommend:

"Annulment: the wedding that was" by Michael Foster.

Fr. Jonathan

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