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Synod Talk on Making Annulments Easier

Ian MacKenzie

Rick Fitzgibbons, MD - published on 10/13/14

But in September 2014, in a surprise move, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had established a special commission to examine possibilities for streamlining the annulment process. Many had assumed that such a decision would depend on the recommendations of the Synod of Bishops meeting in 2015. The Vatican stated that the goal of the new body, which will begin work as soon as possible, “is to prepare a proposal to reform the matrimonial process, with the objective of simplifying its procedure, rendering it more streamlined, and safeguarding the indissolubility of marriage.”

Causes of Divorce

A 2010 study of 886 Minnesotans who filed for divorce revealed that the most common reasons given for seeking divorce are capable of being resolved: 53% identified “not being able to talk together” as a major contributing factor to the decision to divorce; “growing apart” was cited by 55 percent; and insufficient attention and infidelity by 34 percent. (Alan J. Hawkins, Brian J. Willoughby & William Doherty, "Reasons for Divorce and Openness to Marital Reconciliation," Journal of Divorce & Remarriage 53, no.6 (2012): 453-463.) These common conflicts can arise due to modeling after a similar weakness in a parent – from unresolved anger and the loss of trust, from giving in to selfishness, from controlling behaviors or from a weakness in faith and failure to rely upon the Lord’s love and grace.

In our experience, and in that of many Christian mental health professionals who work with married couples, these conflicts can be resolved and divorce can be prevented. At a time when we are witnessing a doubling of the divorce rate in the past two decades among adults over 35, the Church should have as its major focus the strengthening of marriages rather than focusing on making annulments easier to obtain.

Greater knowledge of marital and family of origin conflicts

Improvements should be made in the annulment process, for example, requiring that husband and wife individually identify the following: his/her primary weakness in self-giving; which parent disappointed him/her the most; and who had the greatest weakness in self-giving in the family of origin history, which disappointed him/her the most. This background information is critical in the annulment process because psychological research has demonstrated that approximately 70 percent of adult psychological conflicts arise from unresolved childhood and adolescent conflicts. In other words, many spouses are unhappy, mistrustful, unfulfilled and angry because they lack self-knowledge about the weaknesses they brought into their marriages from their family background or from a previous loving relationship.

These weaknesses can be identified by reviewing the “secure attachment relationship” with each parent in regard to the degree of warmth, love, trust and affection experienced in those relationships. The relationship in which unresolved emotional pain emerges most frequently is in the father relationship. Deep emotional wounds of sadness, anger, mistrust and insecurity are unconsciously misdirected toward one’s spouse. A recommendation to work on a process of forgiveness can free the spouse from being under the control of past emotional pain. ("Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope") As Pope St. John Paul II wisely wrote, “without forgiveness one remains a prisoner of the past.”

Recommended Changes to the Annulment Process

To secure justice and protect spouses, children, the sacrament of marriage and the culture, several steps should be taken. Most importantly, the spouse who seeks an annulment should not be permitted to begin the process until there is clear knowledge of how this person’s emotional weaknesses and conflicts contributed to the marital stress and the divorce.

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MarriageSynod on the Family
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