The annulment process showed itself to be an actual, pastoral gift of real healing and self-discovery
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Of all the places I thought I would travel in my lifetime, never in a million years did I think one of them would be a “Catholic court” — the Roman Catholic Tribunal. Even the word “tribunal” sounded scary.
But after I made it through the extreme pain of getting out of a long marriage, I had to think about the possibilities for the rest of my life. I knew that no matter the outcome of the tribunal’s findings, I needed to deal with the past and then close the door on it, for good. It was time to move on and discover the rest of the plan God had for my life.
Looking back now I am so glad I did this sooner rather than later.
I won’t tell you much about my marriage in order to respect the privacy of the man with whom I journeyed for over a quarter of a century. In pursing an annulment I wasn’t trying to take revenge on him, or looking for a stamp of approval from the church, saying that I was “right.” My intention was simply to tell the truth about both of us, examine what was real, gather a bit of understanding so as to not repeat past errors, and get closure — so we could both heal, and move forward.
When I found out that the majority of the annulment work was to be done by a Deacon I was thrilled. A person who knew what it was like to wake up next to someone every day, what it was like to have in-laws and the difficulties of sharing a checkbook!
I took a deep breath and asked two people who were around for most of our marriage to fill out the witness questionnaire and mail it in. Both obliged. Before I met with the Deacon I sat down and put my hands to the keyboard – in order for me not to speak like a crazy woman going off in all directions I felt I needed to write down my history, so I did. Part of it was to tell about my childhood, then to talk about dating and the courtship, and finally about my marriage, because it all mattered.
The meetings with my Deacon were extremely helpful. He respectfully asked me questions, we filled out papers with more questions and he gave me a general idea of what would happen next. Our meetings were wholly enjoyable. He was a very understanding man — not judgmental at all – and little-by-little I felt like a weight was being lifted. I was relieved to hear that if my ex did want to tell his side of the story we would not be together in court; each one would come separately on different days.
It’s amazing how many simply false things people said to me after my divorce. Some said I could no longer receive Holy Communion without obtaining an annulment. Wrong! Others said that if I did get an annulment, I would have to revert to my maiden name. Also wrong, though I have chosen to.
The day I addressed the tribunal, I was full of fear: I had visions of a Perry Masonesque canon lawyer trying to get me to fall apart on the witness stand. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I was met by a very sweet religious sister and brought into what looked like a corporate library. As I sat down at the table I was introduced to another Deacon, very friendly, who would tape record the session and also notarize my signed statement.
I put my hand on the Bible and swore that everything I said was the truth. We said a prayer, and began.
READ MORE: Everything you ever wanted to know about marriage and annulments but were afraid to ask
The nun who had greeted me took the lead. She had my paperwork and the notes from the Deacon. She asked me quite a few questions and while she was thorough, she was not intimidating — which was good as I would have broken out in tears. A little over an hour passed and we were finished.
It was explained to me that if my ex had provided a statement or paperwork (he hadn’t) I would be able to come back and read what he wrote, and vice versa. The sister led me to the door and said she would say a prayer for me – I felt her sincerity.
After a while I received a letter saying that the tribunal accepted my testimony, were finding for the annulment, and that my ex would have 15 days to appeal. He did not do so, and a short time later, I received my notice of nullity. The tribunal, once finding for nullity, contacts the church where we were married and our names get erased from the book, because no sacrament had been bestowed.
I wish I could take the hand of every person fretting over whether they should pursue an annulment, and walk them to the door of their rectory, because I would. I know the experience would be slightly different for each of us, but for me the annulment process showed itself to be an actual, pastoral gift of real healing and self-discovery. I learned so much, and if I can do this, you can.
I sought an annulment right away, as a means of putting my past firmly in the past, but even if your divorce happened long ago, this process is very healing; it can help whoever honestly seeks it.
It’s so much better when you can live in the present moment, in wholeness, than with one part of yourself still stuck in the past.
[This piece is offered in order to facilitate dialogue, and Aleteia welcomes thoughtful responses and conversation in the combox below. Non-anonymous commenting is especially welcome. Be advised, however, that the denigration of others, whether churchfolk or lay, by name-calling or slanderous remarks, or snide judgments on the state of another’s soul and similar uncharitable nonsense will be deleted. – Editor]