Annulments and American Catholics

Weekend Book Pick: Annulment: 100 Questions and Answers

Pete Vere and Jacqui Rapp, both experienced canon lawyers, have managed to write a positive book on what most would think a negative subject: annulment.

But the word “annulment,” Vere and Rapp point out in Annulment: 100 Questions and Answers for Catholics, is a misnomer, for “the Church does not annul marriages; she declares them to be invalid.”

“A declaration of invalidity is a statement of fact issued by the Catholic Church,” they write. “After carefully examining a couple’s broken relationship, the Church states that a marriage, as the Church defines marriage, never truly existed between them. The relationship may have enjoyed some of the external trappings of marriage: There may have been a big wedding followed by a common address and the birth of children. However, not all weddings bring about a marriage.”

And to understand this, one needs to understand what a marriage is in the eyes of the Church. Vere and Rapp, in the first half of the book, explore the teaching of the Church on marriage. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, they write, the Church viewed marriage more as a contract but after the Council, the Church understood marriage more as a covenant between a man and a woman, the goal of which is twofold: “the mutual welfare of the spouses (physical, emotional and spiritual) as well as openness to the procreation, welfare and education of children.”

Vere and Rapp also include a good discussion of how marriages should be prepared for and what a couple should do if their preparation lacks orthodox teaching.

Following this are chapters on impediments to marriage, questions about consent, and then two more chapters that examine the nitty-gritty of the annulment process. These are, for a layman, the hardest chapters to read because of all the technical terms involved, but the authors intersperse the legalese with stories of annulment cases, and these stories enliven the discussion, linking the legal terms and roles with real people.

At times, however, the authors trivialize the subject matter by attempts at humor that miss the mark. I, for one, found this distasteful, having grown up in a divorced household with a single mother.

Though it was outside the scope of the book, a brief discussion of the abuse of the annulment process in dioceses in the United States would also have been welcomed.

The authors end their book with a solid chapter on keeping your marriage together. They seem to me to be wise and true: Pray together, eat together, talk together, be kind, work with your differences, play together, hold hands, and practice Natural Family Planning.

All of which is common sense but hard to remember in what Vere and Rapp rightly call “today’s anti-family culture.”

Franklin Freeman writes from Saco, Maine.

Annulment: 100 Questions and Answers for Catholics

By Pete Vere and Jacqui Rapp

Servant Books, 2009

118 pages, $11.99

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