Marriage, divorce and annulments focus of apologetics forum

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

“Consent makes marriage,” Msgr. Victor Finelli said presenting “Marriage, Divorce and Annulments: What Does the Church Really Teach?” the latest session in the diocesan Office of Adult Formation’s series “Apologetics Forum: The Catholic Faith Explained.”

“Through the lens of canon law, love does not make marriage, consent does. And that’s where the whole annulment process takes form,” Msgr. Finelli, a judge on the diocesan tribunal, said during the evening session April 25 at St. Francis Center for Renewal, Monocacy Manor, Bethlehem.

“If the consent is not valid, the marriage never took place,” Msgr. Finelli said. “As a judge, I don’t have to have 100 percent certainty in determining whether or not a marriage is invalid, I have to have moral certitude that the consent given was invalid based on the law of the church.”

Mary Fran Hartigan, secretary of the diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization, welcomed those gathered.

Those attending included Robert Olney, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Marriage and Natural Family Planning; and Rick Dooley, assistant director of the Office of Adult Formation.

“In the Catholic Church, we believe marriage is forever as long as the consent that was given at the time of marriage was in fact a valid consent,” Msgr. Finelli said.

In his presentation, Msgr. Finelli cited biblical passages which give the framework for marriage and which much of the law on marriage is also based.

“Children are a blessing in a marriage. Couples should be open to them,” he said.

Msgr. Finelli said Canon 1055 states, in part, that marriage is “a matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership for the whole life.”

“It’s a sacrament between the baptized – it’s not just about Catholics. That’s why a lot of the annulments we do in the tribunal are not necessarily from Catholic marriages, they are often non-Catholic, but Christian marriages, that are valid in the Catholic Church.”

For example, if two Protestants marry and divorce, and one wants to marry a Catholic, that Protestant marriage has to be annulled, Msgr. Finelli said.

“Catholics who marry civilly are invalid because they are bound by the laws of the Catholic Church. For Protestants who marry civilly it is valid because they are not bound by the laws of the Catholic Church,” he said.

“You can’t have two baptized people enter into marriage, as long as the consent is valid, and have it not be a sacrament.”

Msgr. Finelli said the annulment process always goes back to the time of consent, and matrimonial consent is an act of the will.

“The law of the Catholic Church has a presumption that marriage is valid unless proven otherwise,” he said. “In order for a marriage to be proven invalid a canonical process must occur. We don’t go around thinking that marriages are invalid, there must be proof of that, and that’s what the annulment process is about.”

Of the divorced, Msgr. Finelli said, “The church says you are still validly married unless you have an annulment decree or a death certificate of one of the spouses in the union.”

“A valid marriage is perpetual and exclusive – just between those two people and it is forever.”

Msgr. Finelli said the church defines an invalid marriage as a union that was never a valid marriage before God because the consent was faulty or they didn’t make consent of will. If a couple is still in such a union, they need to have a convalidation to validate the union. “The convalidation is the marriage, there was no marriage before that.”

“Priests often refer to a convalidation as ‘blessing a marriage,’ but in actuality, since there was no marriage before that the convalidation is actually the marriage between the two parties.”

To be valid by church law, the marriage must, in part, be between a single man and woman, and the people must be of proper age, free to marry, capable of intercourse, intend to live together, intend to be faithful until death and intend to have a family.

Some impediments that can block people from entering into valid consent include impotence if known before the marriage, you can’t marry your first cousin and one party is not baptized and does nothing about it, though there may be a dispensation granted for the latter.

“The law of the church is for all people because if a Protestant wants to marry a Catholic, they have to abide by the laws,” Msgr. Finelli said.

“The state cannot change God’s law even if it tries – we’ve seen this recently with gay marriage. God’s law is that marriage is between a male and female.”

“An annulment does not affect the validity of children – they are legitimate as legitimacy is based in civil law,” Msgr. Finelli said.


Annulment process

Explaining the annulment process, Msgr. Finelli said it begins with the petitioner getting a form from his or her parish priest or deacon. The completed form is given to the tribunal for review to see if there are grounds for a formal decree of nullity. If so, the tribunal sends a more lengthy form to the petitioner, which is “the nuts and bolts of the case.”

“The tribunal is not looking to place blame on any of the parties,, it’s looking to see if the consent given was in fact valid or is there proof that it was invalid,” he said.

The completed second form is returned to the tribunal for a judge to review for the possibility of a decree of nullity. The next step is for the petitioner to come in to be interviewed by an advocate, “who helps flesh out the case for the judge,” Msgr. Finelli said.

The petitioner then gives the names of three witnesses to be contacted by the tribunal. The respondent (not the person who originally petitioned for the annulment) is contacted according to the law of the church. The person may or may not participate, but they cannot stop the process necessarily. “If there is proof for invalidity, there’s proof for invalidity.”

“The process of obtaining an annulment is actually quite simple,” Msgr. Finelli said. “The difficulty that we find that people have is in the actual talking about their failed marriage – it brings up emotions people would rather not talk about.”

In the Allentown Diocese, the cost for an annulment is $300. “But no one has ever been denied because of the fee. If someone can prove a hardship, the fee is partially or totally waived.”

Msgr. Finelli said Pope Francis recently got rid of what was called “ratification” to assist in expediting the process. This means cases in the Diocese of Allentown no longer need to be reviewed in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

He noted that any of the parities may always appeal the decision of an annulment if not granted or if it’s granted and they feel it should not have been.

After speaking about the biblical foundations of marriage, the canon law on marriage and the annulment process, Msgr. Finelli then spoke on why divorced and remarried Catholics, who married outside of the Catholic Church, cannot receive Holy Communion.

He touched on seven different rational points that demonstrated that, “Although it may sound nice to say that a divorced and remarried Catholic who is presently in an invalid marriage should be able to receive because they want to, it simply is not in conformity with church teaching or basic common sense.”

“Apologetics,” derived from the Latin adjective “apologeticus,” is a theological science for the explanation and defense of the Christian religion.

This free series discusses topics within the faith that many of our contemporaries disagree with or don’t ascribe to. Many of us believe the church’s teachings, but don’t know how to speak about them with our neighbors, co-workers and children.

This series of forums is changing that. It is preparing lay Catholics with the tools of how to discuss the challenging teachings of our great faith.

There is no charge for attending. For those in need of continuing education credits for a master catechist certificate, attending this event counts.

For more information on this series, contact the Office of Adult Formation, or 610-289-8900, ext. 21.