Half of marriages aren’t valid?

Roman Catholics don’t believe in divorce.  But they do allow for annulments.   These involve ecclesiastical tribunals that rule that a valid marriage never existed in the first place.  If it was determined that a couple was too young and didn’t know what they were doing or that they didn’t understand the Catholic theology of marriage, their marriage could be declared invalid.  Despite receiving the sacrament of marriage in their wedding, despite living together for decades, despite having children and raising them to adulthood, they weren’t really married, thus ratifying their civil divorce and allowing them to marry someone else.

Catholics who do get a divorce and remarry without an annulment (which is a very expensive and time-consuming process) incur automatic excommunication, meaning that they are not allowed to receive Holy Communion.  This affects lots of people, as you can imagine, and cuts seriously into church attendance.  So the church is reconsidering its practice, trying to find a way to allow remarried people to take Communion.

A leader of that effort is the retired German archbishop Cardinal Walter Kasper, who, in the course of an interview in Commonweal Magazine, dropped this bombshell that, strangely, has drawn little attention: “I’ve spoken to the pope himself about this, and he said he believes that 50 percent of marriages are not valid.” [Read more...]

Newt wasn’t married after all!

Newt Gingrich is on his third marriage, but the Roman Catholic church, which does not believe in divorce, has granted him  at least one and maybe two annulments!  According to canon law,  annulled marriages were never marriages at all.  So if there was no marriage, there was no adultery, no divorces, and Newt is a once-married paragon of family values.

From the New York Times:

In 1980, Mr. Gingrich left his wife of nearly 20 years, the former Jackie Battley, for Marianne Ginther, with whom he was having an affair. In 1981, Mr. Gingrich married Ms. Ginther, but he later left her for Callista Bisek, with whom he had been having an affair for several years. They married in 2000.

The third Ms. Gingrich is a Catholic, and in 2002, Mr. Gingrich asked the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta to annul his second marriage on the ground that the former Ms. Ginther had been previously married. “We were married 19 years, and now he wants to say it didn’t exist,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In 2009, Mr. Gingrich converted to Catholicism. It is not clear if he ever tried to have annulled his first marriage, which, if between two baptized Christians, would be considered valid by the Catholic Church. Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, R. C. Hammond, could not be reached by telephone and did not reply to e-mails.

OK, so we don’t know if Newt got an annulment for the first marriage, but apparently he is a communicant member of the church, which must be satisfied with his status.  Here is a Catholic take on the question:

To the fact that Gingrich has re-married twice, as part of his coming into the church he went through the annulment process and as a result of those findings is validly married in the eyes of the church. This may not impress those who do not like or understand the church’s annulment process, but it does give Catholics who wish to forgive Gingrich his previous infidelities some evidence that he has attempted to make right. Catholics, as often as they encounter scandal and disappointment in their elected leaders, want to hope that forgiveness and conversion is possible, too.

via The Catholic Case For Gingrich, For Now.

How a valid, legal, consummated marriage that lasted nearly two decades–with children, who thus must be considered illegitimate–can be annulled by the church staggers the mind and the moral imagination.  Surely that practice is worse than divorce, bad as that is, since divorce at least faces up to what the breaking of a marriage is and does not cover it up with a pious facade.  (In effect, annulments are divorces granted by the church, even as it (commendably) teaches against divorce!  Protestant churches may be too tolerant of divorces, but at least they don’t grant them!)

This is not a matter of simply undoing church actions.  The Gingriches were not Catholic at the time of their marriage.  I have heard that annulment simply recognizes that a marriage was not valid.  In this case because the previous Mrs. Gingrich had been married before.  But other reasons for annulment include such things as immaturity at the time of the marriage or the two not knowing what they were getting into so as to prevent proper consent.   So what I want to know is how any of us can know if we are really married.   I could go on and on citing other problems with this, but I’ll stop.  This just seems like ecclesiastical over-reaching of the sort that necessitated the Reformation.

Maybe I’m missing something.  I’d be glad to hear from a Catholic who could justify this practice.


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