Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Annulment Process

“Hey Father, what’s up with annulments?” One of those dreaded questions but also something that is just another opportunity for a priest to suck it up and say to himself, “Uncomfortable – yes, but is this also an opportunity to bring healing and grace to people – definitely a yes as well!”

Let’s first of all turn to the perception of the annulment process. The Church, so it goes, has taken Jesus, a pretty cool laid back guy who talks mostly about loving everyone and bashing and breaking rules, and then along came the Church, which suddenly set up a gigantic bureaucracy and erected gigantic hurdles and unnecessary rules, laws, and regulations, all of which make Jesus seem a lot more difficult to approach. The annulment process is often viewed as the most obvious example of Church bureaucracy, and, so it goes, this could NEVER have been what Jesus intended, and so if I had a divorce and remarried, then God understands.

First of all as a response, I think it is important to read a past post on this topic by clicking here.

Secondly, let’s look at Jesus’ words on the topic in Matthew 19: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery." Notice Christ’s words – divorce and remarriage = adultery. He doesn’t blink. His Apostles follow up with basically, “wow, that’s hard.” Jesus doesn’t blink or back down.

What we need to ask ourselves is this – is the stereotype of the Church true, or is it perhaps actually the case, as G.K. Chesterton noted, that the Church actually SOFTENS the words of Jesus in certain key situations?

Often times, in order to dismiss the Church, people use the “bureaucracy” argument to justify their decision to not go through the process, but I think people need to be steered in the direction of Matthew 19:9 and spend some time really praying over that passage and asking themselves if the stereotype of the Church as the dictatorial gatekeeper to "cuddly Jesus" is based in reality.

The annulment process, contrary to perception, is actually ALL about healing. People often tell me “I’m over her or him since our divorce” but I just don’t think that is usually the case. There is a BIG difference between Saying "I'm over so and so" and actually BEING over so and so.

The process seems intimidating as well because it is often lengthy. However, it takes a lot to gather all the necessary information. Some people especially bristle at the idea of having to get written statements from exes and their families and so forth – people say that they’d just rather not go through that and open up old wounds. Sometimes, when a wound is infected and never properly healed, it must be reopened in order to be authentically healed, and that is the case with the annulment process as well.

The Church also teaches that those who have remarried without first getting an annulment are not in a state in which to receive the sacraments. That is also perceived as very harsh, but it is something that should hopefully be an impetus to couples to first get right with God.

Let us pray for all of the families out there who are wrestling with the annulment process! Also, those who are going through it should know that it is EXTREMELY inspiring to priests to see couples who have remarried but are working on an annulment stepping aside from the Sacraments for a time while they get right with Christ and His Church through the annulment process.

Catholics that have divorced and remarried prior to receiving an annulment can still work towards an annulment and, upon receiving one, can have their new marriage blessed by the Church and thus resume receiving the Sacraments.

Finally, here is a great essay from a young adult on her sometimes rocky but ultimately worthwhile experience with the annulment process. Click here to read.


  1. Your arrogance and bloviating hypocrisy is truly awesome to behold. God is imaginary. Churches are community groups unnecessarily embellished with superstition and magical beliefs. You, of course, know this and admit this inwardly but have mastered the art of bullshit to such an extent that you are trapped in this monstrosity of a life you've created for yourself. It shows in each every one of your videos. ~The Devil (or simply an intelligent human being)

  2. @ Sean...
    So what does that have anything to do with the Annulment discussion?
    You are cleary searching for some sort of God if you reading this.
    You cleary make assumetions just like calling Fr. Hollowell full of arrogance and bloviating hypocrisy?! If you have ever meet this man you would have another opinion.
    So what is your purpose? To try to make the world a better place? Nope...thats very clear. If you don't have good intentions why try to belittle others faith. The faith that makes these people better. striving for something. And you... just a perfect example of someone that has never grown up.
    Atleast you now know that you have a lot more people praying for you Sean. It is clear that you need them.

  3. You keep telling yourself that Sean. And the more you bloviate, the more obvious to all that you are crying out for God's saving grace.

  4. Thank you for writing so clearly about the Annulment process, Fr. Hollowell. It seems so confusing to most people, I think. :)

  5. Sean, I am LOL at your drivel.

  6. Thank you for posting this, Fr. Hollowell. Sometimes we NEED to hear the truth, even when we don't WANT to hear it. Also...to Sean: It sounds as if you are searching for something missing in your life. Otherwise, why, as a non-believer, would you bother to watch "each and every" video posted by Fr. Hollowell? I hope you find it. I certainly have a long way to go with my relationship with God, but the journey sure does feel good.

  7. Where is the upheaval in the RC church about divorce in the US?

    Where are the marches? Protests? Bishops fulminating on church steps? Priests and Bishops lobbying to ban divorce in the US?

    Where is the leadership? "What God has joined let no man tear asunder." (except a good lawyer)

  8. How would one go about protesting divorce?

    As far as the Bishops are concerned - they have done and written a lot about the problems of divorce - the irony here is that it is celibate men who are often the most vocal about the importance and dignity of marriage.

  9. I understand the annulment process and the reasons for it. However, sometimes a spouse leaves for reasons out of your control. The church and especially married Catholics seem satisfied with that abandoned spouse paying fot the sins of the spouse that left. I found married Catholics to very judgmental on this subject when they have no experience with it. I have experienced parents not attending remariages because of the annulment. Also, I have heard and read the most evil, judgmental comments on the subject. The Catholic church doesn't seem to have a place in its heart for divorced individuals. I say this with great sadness. I attended Catholic schools all the way through College and will remain a Catholic

  10. I am sorry you've heard people say nasty stuff about divorce and those who go through it. Those who divorce certainly always have a place in the Catholic Church and are able to receive the sacraments. Again, as Christ said, the problem is those who get divorced AND remarry. Those are not the Church's words, they are Christ's, and the Church and Her priests are at the service of people in difficulty to help them through their difficult times and to be a support for them.

  11. It does seem that the church is condemning you to a life of celibacy that you never chose. I feel that I have to choose between my church or a life alone. Why would God make me the way I am & then want me to live alone? I have prayed a lot in the last 8 years. I have made my peace with God. However, everyone wants to condemn me to hell. I am not asking for any one’s permission, the hostility on the subject is amazing. You would think that you did it to people personally. I can kill someone and be truly repentant and still save my sole. However, if I am abandoned by a spouse and meet someone special and bring love and stability to another family, I am doomed to hell. It truly makes no sense.

  12. The Catholic Church has the strictest grip on marriage in Christianity. Jesus said specifically that what God has joined together, let no man separate. Then comes Saint Paul who was supposedly committed to Jesus and said "The Lord Commands not let the wife depart from her husband. BUT I SAY if an unbelieving spouse departs, let him or her depart. A brother or sister isn't under bondage in such cases. Generally the Catholic Church does not allow divorce followed by re-marriage but it makes this exception described by Paul when one of the divorcees is a non christian. That's called the Paulline Privlidge. There is another exception called the Privlidge of the Faith. Many Catholics do divorce and do re-marry and most Catholics are willing to do so under particular circumstances. Catholics profess to follow Jesus 100%, but by what they do and what they are willing to do, Catholics routinely go against these reported words of Jesus. Probably most Catholics would not come out and say that they disagree with Jesus, but by their actions, they do disagree with him, while nevertheless professing total allegiance to him.

    This is called hypocrisy at its finest within the Catholic Church. It's compounded when it comes to gay rights and gay marriage. John Shore, the gay rights activist has said, "You Christians(AND CATHOLICS ESPECIALLY) want to condemn a homosexual to a life devoid of love. Be alone you're demanding. Live alone. Don't hold anyones hand. Don't snuggle on your couch with anyone, don't cuddle up with anyone before you fall asleep at night, do not bind your life to that of another, live your whole life without knowing that joy, that sharing, that peace. Just say NO to love. Be alone live alone, die alone.
    Now, in effect, the Heterosexual Catholics are saying to gays "WE can have these rights of love even when we go against what Jesus has said, that's because we are straight. But you cant't because you are gay."
    I left the Catholic Church for reasons of that and then some more. And what is the attitude of the Catholic Church toward me now? I will be lit on FIRE and TORTURED FOREVER by our meek and humble, kind and gentle, loving and merciful Jesus Christ......

  13. Ben,

    You are obviously working through some pain here, and I respect that. The Church doesn't say you will be burned and tortured forever - the Church doesn't make a statement on the state of anyone's soul. The Church says there are sins that are grave matter - but in order for the sin to be mortal (damning unless confessed) there have to be present two other elements which only God can judge on
    1) full knowledge that the sin was grave
    2) deliberate consent has to be given to commit the sin

    I can't, nor can anyone else, judge on those issues, only God knows the answers to those questions, which is why the Church doesn't judge on any specific person. The Church constantly calls out to people "you are standing near the edge of the cliff - step back, come home, go to confession, turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" - but it doesn't say a person IS going to Hell.

    With regards to snuggling - I don't snuggle with someone at night either, snuggling or any other sexual activity can be extremely pleasurable, and, in the proper context, one of God's greatest gifts to a person, but not all people experience that gift. I think it is odd how many in the homosexual community focus solely on the pleasure of sex as a right that God intended for all people when he quite clearly did not.

    I guess it is all in how you look at it - I see my celibacy as part of God's mysterious plan for me - others see God's plan for them sexually as a curse. I hope you'll come to see what God has laid on your heart as a mysterious invitation to love.

  14. Father, what about this situation?

    Groom has been married and divorced twice before, both times in the Catholic Church. His first marriage was annulled. His second marriage was not.

    Groom went to his parish priest (in the Indianapolis Archdiocese) for counseling about getting a second annulment, as he was already living with Bride #3 and they wanted to wed.

    The PRIEST told him to not waste his time getting a second annulment. The priest then offered his residence (which belongs to the parish) as a site for the wedding. So, the wedding was preformed in the priest's residence, by a justice of the peace. Afterwards, Bride and Groom went next door to the parish where the priest blessed their marriage.

    Is that even allowed?!

    Now Bride is going through RCIA classes. Can she even enter the Church since she has an invalid (in the eyes of the Church) marriage?

    1. First of all, if this is a real life scenario, I am sorry you are in this, and I'm sorry your priest told you these lies...if it is real this priest will have MUCH to answer for.

      Your scenario is not allowed, nor is said person able to enter the Church.

      Even in my young priesthood I've run into this on SEVERAL occasions - cool hippy priest decides to do it his way and make up his own rules, and then, much further down the line, the couple, who was told everything was okay, receives some kind of devastating news about their marriage.

      PRIESTS: Man up! Lying to people only makes YOUR life easier in the short term, and so often damages people's relationships with God and the Church down the line.

      KCellie - my hope and prayer is that you will find it in your heart to forgive this priest, find a good, solid, compassionate priest who actually does what the Church says, and then work with that priest to start undoing the damage done by this priest. There is a light at the end of this tunnel. I can say that as a priest myself, and also in witnessing other Catholics in parishes, seeing people willing to work out their marriage status within the Church and not leave, people who abstain from the sacraments until things are righted is a HUGE HUGE HUGE witness to everyone else. I had a guy in my Church who came up every Sunday, but didn't receive the Eucharist, and I'm not kidding I almost cried every time because it was such a powerful witness. I hope you and your wife have it in you to do the same. How amazing it will all be when it can all be cleared up and your wife does finally enter into the Church and you can start receiving the sacraments again!

      God bless!

    2. It is absolutely a real-life scenario. I can offer the name of the priest privately, if you wish to know.

      Thankfully, it is not me who is in the relationship! However, it is my godfather/uncle who is "Groom". Unfortunately, I'm doubtful that he even knows that what his priest told him is incorrect. :-(

      I have heard that the priest is retiring soon. I pray that is the case. While he does have good qualities, other things he does seem SO wrong. I had to attend one of his Masses a few Sundays ago. When he went to distribute the Eucharist to the servers and EMs, he just grabbed a handful of consecrated hosts and walked with them (Jesus!) in his hand over to the servers and EMs. He didn't carry the hosts in a paten or chalice or anything. That's just one of the things that happened during that Mass that made my jaw drop.

      Thank you for replying and confirming what I already thought was the case.

  15. Fr. Hollowell, thank you for joining the fray and writing about annulments. I have a question please:

    Does the Catholic Church allow for divorce (approaching the civil forum) under one’s own authority in all cases? Is it rightly between me-n-God only, or does Canon Law require the Church (local ordinary) to be involved with decisions to bring the family to the man in the black robe to be ministered to?
    John Farrell

    1. John, I'm not sure exactly of your question. If you could clarify it a little, I can try and offer an answer. Thanks for your question!

  16. To an abandoned spouse, with a knowledge of the actual annulment process, this article, though probably well intended from a pastoral perspective, is filled with naivete. To Jesus there was no such thing as annulments; and he was very much against divorce (actually it was only legal separation at that time). Remarriage, to Him invariably constituted adultery. God is compassionate but he is also extremely just.

    It would be much more inspiring to see couples that are living in adultery stop living in adultery, and be sorry for their sin, not merely sidestep the Eucharist. Also, to see priests, without blinking and eye, tell these adulterers to stop and live apart and that divorcing your spouse for no just cause, is sinful. In other words, do much more to stop divorce and adultery and keep families intact. The bishops and priests are in fact doing very very little about this major crisis in the Church.

    Annulments from US Tribunals, in most cases, are phoney, usually based on erroneous application of canon 1095.2 and a pompous "judicial" process. For hard evidence see (1) "What God Has Joined Together: The Annulment Crisis in American Catholicism" - Robert H. Vasoli. (2) "Lack of Internal Freedom on Matrimonial Consent: An Analysis of Rotal Jurisprudence and American Decisions, Rome 2012." - Fr Jaimes Ponce, JCD.

    Therefore such annulments, doled out for the asking and a payment of ~$500, after a couple is divorced (usually only one of them wants out), do not result in ANY healing for the abandoned spouse and the destroyed family; in fact it simply rubs more salt in their wounds and renders the children illegitimate and encourages even more such adultery by endorsing scandal. This apparent "magical healing" of the adulterous spouse is false teaching and only servers to encourage more Catholics to commit the sins of divorce and adultery.

    Instead, let us humbly pray that (1) priests and bishops open their eyes and lead the church in the true teachings of Christ, with compassion as well as justice. (2) people living in adultery change their hearts and get rid of their illicit partners (3) the Church invest a LOT more in marriage preparation, healing troubled marriages and keeping families together (4) that the Holy Spirit guide a young, strong, new Pope to reform the Annulment Tribunals, particularly in the United States, to follow Christ's true teaching on marriage and the correct application of Canon Law.