Catholic News Service reports that Pope Benedict has asked marriage tribunals not to grant annulments too easily.
“We run the risk of falling into an anthropological pessimism which, in the light of today’s cultural situation, considers it almost impossible to marry,” the pope said in a speech Jan. 29 to members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota…
Pope Benedict said there is still a need to deal with a problem Pope John Paul II pointed out in a 1987 speech to the Roman Rota, that of saving the church community from “the scandal of seeing the value of Christian marriage destroyed in practice by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity.”
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The numbers of annulments in the U.S. has significantly increased since the 1960s, and I believe marriage tribunals here grant more annulments than any others. (Somebody correct me if I’m wrong.)
However, I don’t think the numbers are the most important things here. They could indicate more lenient marriage tribunals… but they could also indicate the poor quality of many marriages.
There are surely annulments granted for less-than-compelling reasons. But what bothers me about “cracking down” on them is that I don’t hear the same emphasis being placed on marriage preparation and formation. The two must go together.
Many Catholics are not taught, formed, or prepared for lifelong sacramental marriage. It’s the responsibility of Church leaders to make sure that someone marrying in the Church should do so with a full commitment to what that means. That can be awkward, of course, and some pastors would rather see a couple marry in the Church than marry outside of it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.
I remember our marriage preparation — it was one of the better programs around, and it wasn’t very good. We knew more than the presenters, and at least half the couples didn’t have a very good grasp on what it meant to marry in the Church (many of whom already lived together). I’d bet half of them aren’t going to make it. Last I checked, divorce stats were basically the same for Catholics and the general public.
So while I agree that annulments are being given out too freely, we have to address the entire problem. If we scale back annulments without also shoring up marriage, we’ll be creating more pastoral problems for the Church in the future. And that’s the last thing we need.