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“Ask a Priest: What If My Friend’s Family Doesn’t Accept My Annulment?”
Q: I received an annulment from the Catholic Church. Since then, I met someone and we have fallen in love. His family, however, doesn’t believe that the annulment is correct, and that the Church has no power to provide an annulment, as it is not stated anywhere in the Bible. They keep citing the verse, “Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery’” [Matthew 19:8-9]. So, they state that if he marries me, he is committing adultery and will break the commandment. They are asking for biblical verses as they state the Church is making this rule up. Is there anything you can provide me? – L.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: There are a few issues worth noting.
First, the Church doesn’t believe in divorce in the sense that Jesus meant it — that is, the breaking of a legitimate marital bond.
A declaration of nullity (an “annulment”) is not a divorce. It is a prudential judgment by the Church, after an investigation, that there was an impediment or something faulty in the marital consent that prevented the couple from entering a valid marriage in the first place.
The problem might not have been obvious to one or both partners at the time of the wedding, but rather came to the surface later.
You will notice that Jesus mentions an exception. The translation you cite uses the words “sexual immorality.” The word in Greek is porneia, and scholars still debate what exactly Our Lord had in mind.
One interpretation is that it might refer to cases where the man and woman were too closely related; that is, they weren’t eligible to enter marriage in the first place. That would imply a kind of impediment, and so might be seen as something of a biblical support for annulments.
Another issue is where and how the Church came up with its teaching about annulments. It bases its teaching both on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the latter being the instructions of Christ and the apostles passed down orally.
Your friend’s family is mistaken to think that every Church teaching has to be based on something explicit in Scripture. But not everything Jesus taught is explicitly stated in Scripture.
The Bible itself acknowledges this. “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Elsewhere, St. Paul writes, “Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Perhaps your friend’s family members are non-Catholics. That would explain their skepticism about Church authority. It could also explain their skepticism, given the lack of an explicit mention of annulments in Scripture.
If your friend’s family members are Catholic, they should be confident in accepting ecclesial authority on this issue, since it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately guides the Church on matters of faith and morals.
The Church also has the authority to decide how certain moral principles can be applied. For Jesus declared, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).
It might be good to share some resources with your friend’s family to help them understand what annulments are (and aren’t). A few suggestions would be a U.S. bishops’ conference post and this Catholic Answers article.
This could be a teaching moment all around. Count on my prayers.
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