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Annulment In The Catholic Church

Born and raised Catholic, as an adult I would consider myself "Catholic light." I feel strongly about my beliefs and my relationship with God. I attend mass on a fairly regular basis, but like many, I have some problems with the business of the Catholic Church and how they have conducted themselves in recent years. However, I refuse to let those problems hinder my relationship with God and I continue to go to Mass.

The process for an annulment is not for the faint hearted. It takes a lot of time, careful thought, and $750. The year I applied was during the same time the priest abuse scandals were erupting. The cost of an annulment jumped from $350 to $750.

I was one of those people who got married and truly believed that I would be married for life. I felt strongly about the love and the relationship with my husband. I also believed in the sacrament of marriage and believed whole heartedly that making that sacrament meant there was the presence of God. We were blessed and our sacrament of marriage was an ongoing living experience.

To be clear, getting your marriage annulled doesn't mean it didn't exist or if you had children that they don't exist. It simply means the sacrament of marriage was not made. It means that one or both people were not capable or had hidden issues that kept them from truly making the sacrament of marriage.

After several years of being unhappily married and trying to work it out, and five months of intense marriage counseling, we were at a dead end. I had not gone to confession in several years but as I stood on the doorstep of my marriage breaking up, I went to confession and sobbed to the priest. I felt guilty and was so devastated at the loss of my husband and marriage. The priest told me something I will never forget. "God wants you to be happy and he doesn't want you to stay married if you are in a bad situation." I was deeply moved. God wants me to be happy? This was big news. No stigma, it was if I got a green light to be happy and move on.

Within a month I moved out and by the end of the year I was legally divorced. Still, I had the need for bigger--more divine--approval. After a lot of thought and research I started the annulment process.

The main reason was that I wanted something bigger than myself, bigger than my friends and family, bigger than my shrink to say THAT WAS NOT A MARRIAGE. I had no desire to remarry again in the Catholic Church anytime soon, nor was I wallowing in my misery. I simply wanted approval from the Big guns that what I had wasn't right.

The process began: I had to submit careful detailed testimony on my childhood, his childhood, our Dating life and pre-marriage and events in our marriage. In addition, I had to provide the tribunal with three witnesses to write their testimonies/reflections on my marriage and their interactions with us. I would liken it to writing a thesis on your life and marriage. I took it seriously and was thorough in my examination of my husband and myself. For me it was a highly emotional process. It was not cathartic as many had suggested--it was a big purge. From start to finish it took about a year.

In the end, it was a single man, a theologian, and an expert in canon law from South America, who sat across from me when I had my hearing. This expert in canon law was not a priest, nor any type of official with the church. We went over all of my documents. He spoke very broken English and suggested I go to Mass more often, read the letters to St. Paul and pray. Period end of story. Really?

Weeks later I received t he letter that my annulment was approved. I felt little vindication. I did feel some relief but in the end, I realized I didn't need to go through this process. I didn't need anyone; not even the Catholic Church to tell me what I already knew all along inside. I put so much value into this getting done. When what I really needed to was to value my own judgment and own it.

I don't regret getting my marriage annulled. But the initial reasons for going through the process had clearly faded. It may not have resulted in the feelings I had anticipated for me, but if you choose to follow this path for your own reasons it is a good idea to do complete an annulment soon after your divorce. It will be out of the way and allow you to make way for your new life.

For more information go to: www.bostoncatholic.org

By Joyce Bethoney - Joyce Bethoney is a freelance writer in Boston.  

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