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I was divorced before I entered RCIA and did not at all wish to undergo the annulment process. I had no strict need to: I had not married again; I was not even dating; I saw no chance that I ever would.
“But,” Father said to me, “we still like to see a person pursue an annulment. It helps the healing process. Divorce always causes wounds.”
I decided to go for it. So it was off to try to explain all this to my ex-wife.
K. and I had a reasonably amicable dissolution of our marriage, and we had kept in touch and remained friends. Part of it was because we had a daughter together who was stillborn. We shared that loss; we shared love for our child. I suspected that if I pursued an annulment it would hurt her, but I also did not want her to be surprised one day when she got a letter from the Tribunal. I needed to tell her I was going to do this.
She was not pleased—she even called the waitress over to our table to cross-examine her about her opinion of it—mostly because she felt it would mean Caitlyn was illegitimate.
“Well, that’s not true,” I said, and tried to explain that a decision of nullity had no effect on the legitimacy of children.
“Yes it is,” K. said. “I don’t care what those Catholics say.”
She called me on the phone later that night, mostly to complain that Catholics worship Mary and she didn’t care what I said to deny it. (She was hurt and lashing out in any way she could.) But she also said: “If you go through with this, I will have a new headstone put up with Caitlyn’s last name changed to mine.”
So I went through all that ugliness, and K. and I almost never talk now, which is too bad because I still love her.
Filling out all the paperwork to petition the Tribunal was an emotional ordeal of its own, because the questions (at least on the long form I used) feel very invasive. I didn’t want to say all that. Still less did I want to receive the editing directions from the procurator and re-say all that. Why read that mess again? There was this sin, there was that sin, we did and said this while we were dating, there was much stupidness: It’s more detailed than the confessional. It was a great pain to remember what I meant to forget.
But out of all that I noted a curious thing: In what I wrote, I talked a great deal more about my sins than K’s. I said what I needed to, but see this here that I did — I am the wretched and awful person in this.
It was an examination of all the ways I had failed that I have never forgotten because, more than showing me my failures, it showed me how I could change. And it showed me that I could change. And I stopped even remembering how K. had wronged me. I learned to forgive.
I may or I may not ever date or marry again. But having the annulment gives me the peace of knowing I can and not have to worry about the validity of the former marriage. I wish Pope Francis had said more in Amoris Laetitia about this, but it is good he reformed the process. Making it easier makes people less scared to attempt it, and it always acquaints a wounded person with grace.
[For more information on annulments (including the legitimacy of children), see: “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Marriage and Annulments But Were Afraid to Ask.”]
Scott Eric Alt is a freelance writer and Catholic convert who has been writing about apologetics and the Church for the past three years. He blogs at Patheos and also contributes to the National Catholic Register, Catholic Stand and Epic Pew.