Feast of the Holy Rosary
October 7, 1997
Dearly Beloved in Christ,
In recent months the news media has focused its attention on the extremely high number of marriage annulments which are annually granted by the modern “Catholic” Church, especially in the United States. An annulments is an official declaration by the Catholic Church that a marriage is invalid — that is, not a true marriage — from its very inception. There are a number of reasons that a marriage can be proved invalid. Among them are lack of canonical form, induced grave and unjust force or fear, diriment impediments, and lack of intention in regard to the primary purpose of marriage — that is, procreation of children — and to the essential properties of marriage — that is, indissolubility and unity. These will be explained later on.
One of the many reasons that this explosion in the number of annulments has been brought to public attention is the case of U.S. Congressman Joseph Kennedy. He desired to received from the Archdiocese of Boston an annulment of his marriage to Sheila Rauch Kennedy, wife of twelve years and two children, under the grounds of a “lack of due discretion.” This annulment was eventually granted even though the congressman and his wife met during her senior year of college and knew each other for nine years before their marriage.
How can “lack of due discretion” be exaggerated to the extent that it annuls the marriage contract? Does not the form for the sacrament of matrimony: “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; till death do us part” express future consequences that are willingly accepted?
Since the advent of Vatican Council II, the number of annulments in the United States has escalated to a phenomenal proportion. Why, may we ask, has this taken place? Joseph P. Zwach, modern “Catholic” author and civil lawyer, in his well-circulated book Annulment: Your Chance to Remarry within the Catholic Church states:
“Ever since the Church began recognizing psychological grounds for annulments in 1970, there’s been an absolute explosion in their number. In 1968, for example, only 338 annulments were granted in this country. In 1978, more than 27,000 were granted — an increase of 8000%. Last year, I estimate more than 52,000 were granted.”
Prior to Vatican II, the only psychological grounds accepted for annulments were those in which one of the parties to the marriage did not possess the use of reason. Be that as it may, it had to be established with certainty that the one party so lacked the use of reason as to be incapable of a human act of the will to consent to the marriage contract.
The official numbers of annulments in the United States since the Second Vatican Council are as follows:
1984 - 36,461
1985 - 53,320
1987 - 60,570
1988 - 50,000
1989 - 61,416
1990 - 62,824
Let us compare the numbers above with the 392 annulments granted by the Catholic Church world-wide for all the years between 1952 and 1956.
There can be no doubt that this situation in the modern Conciliar Church of Vatican II has been and continues to be a grave scandal, and that, once again, the true Church of Christ, the Catholic Church, is publicly discredited by this Conciliar Church. Although some may attempt to make a distinction between the annulments granted in the United States and the supposed “disapproval” of the Vatican, what has the modern hierarchy effectively done to stop these scandalous and dubious annulments?
In this pastoral letter, let us consider the holy Sacrament of Matrimony, its primary purpose and its essential properties, in order to better understand what an annulment actually is and under what circumstances it can be granted by the Catholic Church.
In the book of Genesis, we read that Almighty God is the Author of matrimony:
“And God created man to His Own image: to the image of God He created him: male and female He created them...
“And God blessed them saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth...” (Gen. 1:27-28).
God established matrimony with the primary purpose to propagate the human race by the procreation of children.
When our Divine Savior Jesus Christ came into this world, He raised matrimony between a baptized man and woman to a holy sacrament. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians assures us of this when he concludes his chapter on the duties of husbands and wives with the following teaching:
“This is a great Sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the Church” (Eph. 2:32).
Furthermore, Jesus Christ emphatically taught, on several occasions, the indissoluble nature of matrimony.
In the Gospel of St. Mark, Our Lord made it amply clear:
“From the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mark 10:6-9).
Again, in the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus taught:
“Everyone that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (Luke 16:18).
Furthermore, we can add to these quotes of Christ the teaching of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
“To them that are married, not I, but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband: And if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband” (Cor. 7:10-11).
Matrimony is, then, by its very nature an exclusive union between one man and one woman, the bond of which lasts for the couple’s entire earthly life.
For nineteen centuries, the Catholic Church has uncompromisingly held strong and fast to these teachings of Christ in regard to the indissoluble nature of matrimony. As we well know from ecclesiastical history, Pope Clement VII refused to annul the marriage of Henry VIII, King of England, with Queen Catherine of Aragon, and as a result, most of England fell into schism with the Catholic Church.
The sacrament of matrimony is a sacred contract between a baptized man and a baptized woman and their words “until death do us part” mean exactly what they express. The concept of an annulment, a declaration of an invalid marriage, enters into the consideration of the Catholic Church only when there exists matters which are in opposition to the marriage contract itself.
To understand this, we must review the very nature of the sacrament of matrimony. Marriage is a contract (Canon 1012). The agreement between the baptized man and the baptized woman to live as husband and wife constitutes the matter of the sacrament; their marriage vows to each other constitute the form of the sacrament. For Catholics, this contract must, for validity, be made in the presence of a Catholic priest and two witnesses (Canon 1095, 1096, 1099) unless it can be prudently foreseen that a priest will not be available for one month, in which case, then, two witnesses would suffice (Canon 1098). If a Catholic marries outside the Catholic Church — that is, before a justice of the peace, or far worse, before a non-Catholic minister — the marriage contract is invalid.
The primary end of matrimony is the procreation of children (Canon 1013.1). It was for this reason that Almighty God instituted marriage from the very beginning: “increase and multiply.” If either of the parties to a marriage has expressed at the time of marriage the intention to absolutely exclude children entirely from the marriage, there are grounds for an annulment.
Another consideration in regard to the marriage contract is when one of the parties to the marriage is induced to enter matrimony under grave and unjust force or fear; this also is grounds for an annulment.
Furthermore, there are properties essential to marriage which by their very nature are inseparable from it. These essential properties are indissolubility and unity (Canon 1013.2). By indissolubility is meant that the couple entering marriage must intend to marry for life. By unity is meant that the couple intend to enter an exclusive union with each other to the exclusion of all others. If it can be demonstrated by external proof that either of the parties to the marriage has expressed the intention at the time of the marriage to exclude either of these essential properties, then there are grounds for an annulment.
Lastly, there are certain circumstances that hinder the marriage contract and render it invalid; these are called diriment impediments. Many of these impediments are found in Sacred Scripture and are legislated by the Church.
Such diriment impediments are impotency (Canon 1068), which is the antecedent and perpetual inability to perform the act by which procreation takes place; lack of proper age (Canon 1067), which is sixteen years of age for the male and fourteen years of age for the female; consanguinity (Canon 1076), which is marriage between close relatives; major orders (Canon 1072) or solemn religious vows (Canon 1073), which is marriage with one who has received major orders or who has taken solemn perpetual vows; and disparity of cult (Canon 1070), which is marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person.
Disparity of cult is an impediment which for grave reasons can be dispensed as long as the unbaptized party promises to allow the Catholic party to practice his or her Faith and to raise the children as Catholics (Canon 1061). Consanguinity can be dispensed for grave reasons, but only in the case of distant blood relatives.
In regard to all of these matters for an annulment, we use the word “grounds,” for it is necessary that these matters be juridically proven. Witnesses who are not interested parties to the annulment must swear under oath to their testimony in regard to the facts which surrounded the particular marriage at the time it was contracted.
The first and foremost principle that the Catholic Church follows in any annulment case is this:
“Marriage enjoys the favor of law; hence in doubt the validity of the marriage is to be upheld until the contrary is proved” (Canon 1042).
What does this mean? It means that once a marriage is contracted, it is considered valid by the Church until it has been proven invalid. The reason for this law is found in the absolute respect that the Catholic Church has for this holy sacrament. If a doubt arises about the validity of the marriage, the presumption is that it is valid until proven otherwise.
Since the infestation of modernism and liberalism into the Conciliar Church, the sweeping number of annulments, many granted under dubious grounds, such as “lack of due discretion,” destroys the respect and dignity due to the holy sacrament of matrimony. It gives the appearance that the sacrament of matrimony is not a permanent institution and that the bond of matrimony can be broken. All this is just one more “bad fruit” of the modern Conciliar Church by which we may know, as Our Lord has told us, “a bad tree” (Matthew 7:18).
In Christo Jesu et Maria Immaculata,
Most Rev. Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI