“Ask a Priest: What If My Friend’s Family Doesn’t Accept My Annulment?”

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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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  1. Good answer Father. It is not mentioned if this Catholic woman is marrying a Catholic Christian man or what the faint in practice is of himself and his birth family. The verse she says the family uses is ‘if a man divorces his wife and marries another, HE commits adultery.’ It’s not stated by the questioner, but is the man this woman who has been granted an annulment from her first invalid marriage, is the man she now wants to marry single and never married, or… was he divorced? If he is getting married for first time and this woman had her first marriage annulled, then AS YOU SAY Father, she and he can be married in the Catholic Church.

    Sometimes, when stumbling blocks come along such as family members who are not approving of this woman, who went to the great lengths to get an annulment so she can remain a good Catholic (ie: loves her church and that’s good) When there comes stumbling blocks, sometimes GOD is also speaking to ‘slow down a bit’ . . . as the saying goes, one doesn’t just marry a person but ‘the whole family.’ So, it is time to sit down as a family, with a Catholic priest, who can explain to the groom to be’s family that their never married Catholic son or other Christian denomination son, can legitimately marry this woman who loves her faith and church so much that she had an invalid marriage annulled.

    I THINK Father ‘hit on something’ that this literal Bible reading family is not Catholic. They don’t want their son to marry a Catholic. They may have something ‘against’ the Catholic Church and faith. IF THIS is the case, it is good to ‘slow down’ . . . continue to just see one another and go on dates, and consider if they can have a healthy marriage if there will be difficulties when his family comes for holidays (if they come) If the man is not Catholic or a ‘so so’ Catholic… can there be compatibility? Might be God is saying to this woman, STOP. SLOW. Don’t rush into anything. (not mentioned is how long its been since the divorce and annulment) It’s good to pray over whether one is marrying for love of this man or just to get back to a relationship with another man? She should PRAY MORE and perhaps … amicably not see him or him her… for a set period of time. If its real love (God love) they both will know it.

  2. If the woman is marrying a non Catholic Christian of another denomination, did she discuss the difference of her faith practice and his? If she is still young and of child bearing years, discussion of the faith practice the children will be raised up in, must be. Or there will be problems later. Also, does this woman have other children from her first marriage? Could that be one practical reason for marriage again? The family of he man, may be concerned that the motive for marriage is not actually love. Does the man she loves go to Mass with her? If love of her is there, he will also love ‘the faith practice she is of.’ BE CAREFUL.

  3. If there are children from a previous marriage now annulled, how old are they? Does the woman have daughters from a previous marriage? If so. . . how old are these daughters? very young or teenagers. The practicality of bringing a ‘step father’ into the home of her young female daughters needs to prayed about.
    As stated, when one marries, one marries into a family. How long has the ‘courtship’ been? How much does this woman know the man she will vow to love, honor, obey til death does one part? If there are no children involved and it is just the woman (annulled) and the man, never married . . . they are certainly able to marry again at altar. BUT in this question, there’s a a lot to think about for this man and this woman. Think and talk about…and discuss with a Catholic priest in private, as a couple and also as individuals. AND to pray about,
    to ensure the marriage is ’til death parts the marital union’ . . .

    . . . DON’T JUMP too quickly. It’s possible those future in laws are God’s graced intervention to think about all facets of marriage. (man and woman)

  4. Also to be considered is that ‘other’ that is now the annulled spouse. Is that one fully ‘out of the picture?’
    or will he be coming for visitation custodial arrangement with children? Obviously he did agree to the annulment… but will he be ‘around the same neighborhood?’ . . . Is there a maturity of acceptance of ‘moving on’ with regards the annulment?

    Talk with a priest . . . of all aspects of what maturity of love is about. (it is a serious commitment for better or worse, sickness and health, richer or poorer) Be sure it is not just a ‘puppy love’ … ‘need another’ thing.
    (in both this woman or the man)

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