Pope Francis once again made headlines last week when he stated that many Catholic marriages today are null because too many couples enter marriage without a proper understanding of the permanence and lifelong commitment that the sacrament requires. The Vatican later revised his statement from “many” marriages to “a portion” of marriages.
If anything, his comments highlight the importance of making sure that couples are well prepared to enter the sacrament of marriage. This is incumbent upon those responsible for marriage preparation, priests in particular. His comments also helped to shed light upon the annulment process, which is greatly misunderstood by many.
Annulments are granted if it is determined in the canonical process that one or both of the spouses entered the marriage lacking one or more of the requirements for a valid marriage, namely, that they are entering a lifelong and exclusive union that is open to life. There are several factors that can affect a person’s suitability for marriage such as deceit, substance abuse, mental illness or attaching a future condition to the marriage.
An annulment is not simply a Catholic version of divorce, as many popularly understand it. Simply put, an annulment declares that the sacramental bond never came into existence because something was lacking in one or both of the spouses prior to the wedding.
Pope Francis knows that many marriages ultimately fail. The annulment process provides a remedy for some of those marriages, so long as they fit the criteria. More importantly, however, the Church has the remedy for all marriages to flourish in love and holiness: fidelity to Christ, fidelity to the Church, and spousal fidelity.