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Synod Talk on Making Annulments Easier

Ian MacKenzie

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

In addition, the petitioner should be required to demonstrate that he/she has made at least two years of effort in addressing the petitioner’s weaknesses and those of his/her spouse.

Too often the petitioning spouse presents himself or herself as the victim of insensitive treatment by the other spouse without ever discussing his/her weaknesses in self-giving that contributed to the marital conflicts. In fact, many spouses who wounded their marriages by their emotionally distant, controlling, angry, and selfish behaviors nevertheless feel entitled to an annulment and are often granted them.

In the experience of many Catholic marital therapists, spouses and family members, annulments are being granted in marriages in which the conflicts can be resolved. One of the major reasons for failing to work to resolve the conflicts is selfishness, often described as the major enemy of marital love.

A more rigorous process of annulment is needed that requires applicants to prove that they have addressed their own psychological weaknesses, rather than allowing them to blame solely their spouse for the marital stress.

A critical issue that needs to be evaluated is whether the applicant’s unhappiness and emotional pain is primarily the result of marital conflicts or primarily due to unresolved family of origin issues. Qualified mental health professionals can assist those who serve on tribunals in creating such an evaluation process.

Applicants for annulments can also be helped by reviewing the Church’s teaching on marriage and its indissolubility. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: ‘so they are no longer two, but one flesh.’ They ‘are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.’ This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together (no. 1644).

The new Saint of the Family, Pope St. John Paul II has written that 

The Catholic Church is the only institution in the world who continues to defend the indissolubility of marriage; it holds marriage to be a sacrament that through Christ’s grace present to us in the Holy Spirit should last a lifetime as it was meant to from the beginning.” (“Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body,” 99:6; 100:4).

The Church needs to work to support and strengthen marriages and to encourage growth in total mutual self-giving and in resolving the weaknesses in spouses that interfere with such giving rather than attempting to make it easier to obtain annulments.

Rick Fitzgibbons, MD is the director of the Institute for Marital Healing outside Philadelphia and has worked with several thousand couples over the past 38 years. Trained in psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center, he participated in cognitive therapy research with Aaron T. Beck. In 1986 he wrote a seminal paper on the psychotherapeutic uses of forgiveness in the treatment of excessive anger and in 2000 coauthoredHelping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hopewith Dr. Robert D. Enright, University of Wisconsin, Madison, for American Psychological Association Books. The second edition of this book is in press.

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MarriageSynod on the Family
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