This series of ti morceaux is explaining the Church’s annulment processes, which is the ministry of the Diocesan Tribunal, which I head as judicial vicar. After describing the initial petition and then the notifications and questionnaires that are sent out, I thought I’d spend some time describing some of the possible “grounds” that can, if proven to be true, result in a declaration of invalidity for the marital union-in-question.
Last time I mentioned the rather easy-to-prove grounds, whether rare or fairly common. The ministers of the Tribunal will always try to identify these if at all possible. No one looks for more work to do, after all! But the more easily-proven grounds also tend to evoke fewer negative emotional responses on the part of the spouses whom we are trying to help, too.
So what are the most typical grounds in an annulment case? Well, they fall into generally two categories. Some people marry invalidly because they’re personally – usually psychologically – incapable of making a true marital commitment and living out marriage properly. More often people marry invalidly because honestly they don’t want to: instead of committing to the fullness of marriage as God defines it, they exclude something essential, usually thinking that they’ll be happier in so doing.
Let’s look at that first category in this morceau. Some people really are incapable of marriage. If a marriage breaks down and it comes to the Tribunal for study, one of the possibilities we almost always look at is this one. (The legal reference is found in canon 1095 of the Code of Canon Law.)
Marital incapacity usually falls into two subcategories, either an inability to understand the profundity of marital commitment, or an inability to actually live out the lifelong demands of marriage.
While ordinarily the commitment of matrimony is not beyond the ability of most people to comprehend, every now and then circumstances can be different. A pregnant teenager can be so overwhelmed emotionally that she can’t think straight, for example. Or sometimes an as-yet undiagnosed illness such as clinical depression or bi-polar disorder can interfere with a person’s judgment. Just making a mistake about the advisability of a wedding or spouse doesn’t invalidate consent, but when it’s truly not possible for a person to appreciate what they’re getting into, then the attempted consent fails.
In my next morceau we’ll look at more pervasive incapacities for marriage.