Bill and Ted’s bogus annulment

March 5, 2013 § 20 Comments

It seems to be a reasonable assumption that when the number of sacramentally invalid marriages increases, the number of juridical annulments (granting priests administrative permission to preside at the wedding of someone who prima facie was already married) should also increase. I am going to make an argument that that is not the case.

Suppose we have two married couples. We’ll call them Bill & Carol and Ted & Alice.

When they were married each of their concepts of marriage was correct in the essentials, with one exception: Bill was under the impression that it was permissible to divorce if Carol ever committed adultery. Bill had been poorly catechized and/or didn’t pay much attention during his mandatory pre cana marriage preparation. So when he consented to “marriage” he genuinely didn’t mean what the Church means by marriage.

Time goes on, and things don’t go well with either couple. A few decades down the road the couples divorce and pursue annulment. Bill vaguely remembers his faulty understanding of marriage at the time of the wedding. He and Ted talk about it. Ted is highly motivated to get an annulment himself, and he convinces himself that he also had the same understanding as Bill. He isn’t being overtly dishonest; he is just being human. He convinces himself that he really did have that essentially incorrect view on his wedding day.

So what we are faced with is one valid marriage, one invalid marriage, and identical circumstances and testimony. The Church is required to give the validity of a given marriage the benefit of the doubt: validity is presumed unless proven otherwise. An annulment is not a sacrament: it is a juridical proceeding which permits a priest to preside at a “new” wedding because the original one was proven, by at least some standard which trumps the presumption of validity, to be invalid.

Therefore, annulment – permission to be remarried by a priest – should not be granted in either case by a properly functioning annulment process, even though one of the marriages is in fact invalid.

§ 20 Responses to Bill and Ted’s bogus annulment

  • […] that the annulment process should be very rigorous, and should err very strongly on the side of declining to invalidate a marriage, is that if the tribunal makes a mistake – and as a juridical institution it is certainly […]

  • Laceagate says:

    In essence the problem at hand has to do with a severe misunderstanding of what it means to be married in the Church? Not shacking up, not “we had a kid outside of wedlock but we’re like married anyway,” and not “we’re married unless you do ____”?

    If the main issue is with the understanding of marriage, why isn’t this being addressed? People often marry believing they have (as Cane said before) an “adultery clause” or whatever else clause can be conjured into existence. What changes lead to this? The Church didn’t always function this way, so clearly we have generations of poorly catechized or generations of people who found loopholes.

  • tz says:

    Baptized protestants who marry and divorce have their marriages presumed valid almost universally although in all but a small set of cases do they believe what the Roman Catholic church teaches, if you take Divorce or Contraception, and Divorce was your example. If so, no Lutheran or Anglican marriage should be presumed valid.

    (The movie was Bob and Carol…)

    Even if “Bill” didn’t understand the church teaching (maybe the material v.s. formal), one question is if he did know, would he dissent, or would he only have married Carol if he required the possibility of divorce.

    I think you set the standard so high that even Dietrich and Alice VonHildebrand could not be sure they had a valid marriage since they might have accidentally missed a lesson or some trivial point about marriage.

    The commandments down to the fine print of canon law are to serve the mission of Evangelism and Charity, not be an end in themselves.

    Overstating either Justice or Mercy are both errors although they are opposite, yet Justice requires knowledge. For most things, Natural Law holds us culpable as we should know in our hearts and heads that stealing, murder, fraud, and such are wrong, and conversely alms-giving and helping the poor and sick are right. And the holy spirit is there for believers. Baptism does make a difference.

    In Paul’s epistles he doesn’t go into any minutiae about valid or invalid marriages though the Jews believed in divorce, and the Gospels were still oral and I don’t think there were pre-cana classes back then.

    I think the question is whether a sacrament can be so easily thwarted – by ignorance or error and not intentional rejection.

    The sacrament of reconciliation comes from the Priest acting in the person of Christ, and Christ has the power to forgive (any confessed and repented of) sin. The power is in our Lord, not the priest or the penitent.

    So the sacrament of Marriage also comes from Christ (since technically a priest presides, the couple pronounce the sacrament on each other).

    I would also note that if either spouse is in mortal sin at the time of the marriage (later confessing it), the marriage is still as valid as it was before. If not being in a state of grace at the time itself does not invalidate the marriage (I’m assuming the marriage itself was not part of such sin), then why would imperfections in the understanding?

  • Zippy says:

    tz:
    The movie was Bob and Carol…

    Yes, I know. Combined with a bad Keano Reeves movie (if that isn’t redundant), you get …

  • Zippy says:

    As I understand things, contraception in itself isn’t sufficient for invalidity. A positive intention to engage in sex and never have children is necessary.

  • Hurting says:

    I do not have a firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of a U.S. tribunal, but I would put my money on nullity in both cases and in both instances if tried in the U.S.

  • Dalrock says:

    But what if Bill swore only by the temple, and Ted swore by the gold in the temple? Surely only Ted can be held to his oath.

  • Zippy says:

    Dalrock:
    Just so. The will is subjective, and only Ted can tell if he really was mistaken about the contract he was signing. And years after the fact maybe even he can’t tell. Sacramental validity does really depend on what he understood himself to be signing up for at the time, since (as St John Chrysostom, for one, tells us) the matter of the sacrament of matrimony is in the will. Sometimes people really do make a mistake about what they are signing up for.

    But from the outside, as a juridical matter, we can’t determine sacramental validity at that level. It is purely based on the say-so of the person himself. That’s why I compared it to making a bad confession, which may or may not resonate with Protestants but which ought to resonate with Catholics.

    Furthermore, making a false positive determination of nullity is grossly, intrinsically unjust. Contrast this to a false negative, which may be difficult for everyone involved but isn’t intrinsically unjust: it is just people facing the consequences of their own decisions.

  • Dalrock says:

    @Zippy
    Just so. The will is subjective, and only Ted can tell if he really was mistaken about the contract he was signing. And years after the fact maybe even he can’t tell. Sacramental validity does really depend on what he understood himself to be signing up for at the time, since (as St John Chrysostom, for one, tells us) the matter of the sacrament of matrimony is in the will. Sometimes people really do make a mistake about what they are signing up for.

    At a high level we are in agreement here, and from a practical level that is probably what really matters. Where I disagree with the above is the starting presumption on will. Lets stipulate for sake of argument that tomorrow science invents a reliable way to accurately determine what Bill’s and Ted’s mindframe was on their respective marriage dates. I’m saying apply the same basic premise to the question of will that you are saying to apply to nullity overall. Basically, the presumption shouldn’t be that any slight imperfection is proof that a marriage didn’t occur, especially with the passage of time. Extending your analogy of signing a contract, if 15 years into a thirty year home loan the borrower wants out and scours the loan documents and finds that one of the signature lines doesn’t include his middle initial, this shouldn’t be reason to throw out his mortgage obligation. Likewise a typo in the street address. This isn’t to say that a contract should never be thrown out, but the kind of situation where it is determined to be invalid should be a very high hurdle to pass, independent of proof of discrepancy. Ted having lived in the home for a decade and a half while paying the mortgage should make the default assumption that Ted really did buy the home in question. Ted’s confusion on the legal obligations regarding the HOA, zoning rules, eminent domain laws, or a misconception that real estate values always go up also shouldn’t entitle him to go back and be released from his obligation to pay the mortgage.

  • Zippy says:

    Dalrock:
    Where I disagree with the above is the starting presumption on will.

    I’d suggest that your disagreement isn’t as much with me as it is with the Church Fathers and a couple millennia of tradition.

    Basically, the presumption shouldn’t be that any slight imperfection is proof that a marriage didn’t occur

    I’m not talking about slight imperfections. I’m talking about those few, simple commitments – indissolubility, unity, fidelity, and openness to life – which are the basic essentials of Christian marriage. Any agreement which pretends to be sacramental marriage, but which lacks any of those basic essential things (as I’ve pointed out, pretty much anyone is capable of understanding them, whether they in fact agree that they are necessary constituents of a marriage commitment or not), is not in fact a sacramental marriage.

    I’m also not talking about “proof”, since that moves us into the juridical (practical) domain, where we seem to be in general agreement.

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    Okay, so intending to use and in fact later using contraceptraptions (ineffectively it turns out) is not grounds for invalidity. So I’m safe.

    What I would like to have is some sort of super-validation ceremony which, when entered upon after the fact of a presumptively valid marriage, makes it almost impossible for either marriage party to later argue invalidity.

    Take the case of the Catholic couple married 20 years with eight kids, pillars of the parish, NFP instructors. Then one day, one of the couple, let’s say the wife, decides she did not know what she was doing 20 years ago and bolts the marriage. Boom. Instant grounds for annulment, and if she lives in the US, a high probability of getting it. I’ve heard of cases like this.

    Why could there not have been something in those intervening 20 years to certify, based on external evidences as well as the current intent of the marriage parties, the sacramental nature of the marriage? Which would make her current boredom recovered false memories realization that she didn’t understand the true nature of Christian marriage almost impossible to believe.

  • Steve Nicoloso says:

    BTW, off topic, it looks like Larry Auster is considering entering the Catholic Church. He has some pretty strange ideas about the necessity of belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary however… i.e., that it is not necessary. I find that very hard to believe but don’t have the heart to beat him over the head with it. I figured Zippy’d be the goto guy on that one…

  • Zippy says:

    Steve:
    I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was when I saw that at VFR. I would be the last person on earth to start throwing stumbling blocks in Larry’s way right now.

  • Zippy says:

    Steve:
    What I would like to have is some sort of super-validation ceremony which, when entered upon after the fact of a presumptively valid marriage, makes it almost impossible for either marriage party to later argue invalidity.

    Convalidation serves that purpose. I’m pretty sure you can put additional statements and such in the file at that time, if you aren’t happy with how ironclad the standard documents seem.

  • […] discussion on the sacrament of marriage is being hosted over at Zippy Catholic (see here, here, here, and here). The question at hand is whether modern ideas about marriage (i.e., its indissolubility, […]

  • […] way things are run now makes material adulterers out of some unknown number of poor souls based on intrinsically faulty, question-begging appeals to subjective memories people think they might have ….  This is terribly cruel, from a pastoral point of […]

  • […] Someone who makes an invalid confession, by deliberately withholding explicit confession of acts which go against Church teaching or natural law, invalidates the confession and commits a sacrilege. Someone who receives the Eucharist unworthily commits sacrilege.  Someone who attempts sacramental marriage while in rebellion against any of the essentials of sacramental marriage commits sacrilege, fails to actually marry, and instead creates a state of ongoing moral atrocity from which recovery becomes more difficult with each passing moment. […]

  • […] needs to be reformed because the ‘internal forum’ criteria for defective consent are inherently subjective. On this view, attempting to judge the majority of ‘internal forum’ annulments is like […]

  • […] difference is that often enough (though certainly not always) parties in the proceeding unanimously want to believe that a valid marriage never occurred.  This gives rise to the idea that, whether factually accurate or not, declarations of nullity […]

  • […] makes similar points for strictness in the annulment process here and here (although he would not agree with all of my points below).  In the interest of pushing […]

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