Faith/Spirituality Forum: Annullments - I don't get the concept !!

Annullments - I don't get the concept !! QUESTION from William Alexander on July 30, 2002 Hi! I have read a lot about the annullment of a marriage by a tribunal and I have to admit, after reading articles on the net, I still do not fully understand the concept of annullment. I hope that you can make it clear for me. Here are thing I am not so clear about.
1. I understand that a Protestant marriage between two baptized Protestants in a Protestant Church is a valid, sacramental marriage, and a valid sacramental marriage cannot be broken by anyone. So, assumming that the Protestant couple divorces and one of them wants to marry a Catholic, it would be impossible ? This is assumming that the Protestant marriage is 'perfect', as in according to law, consent etc etc, and therefore impossible to be declared null ?
2. What does it mean by 'annullment'. A valid non-sacramental marriage can be declared null. Why ? Why can it be 'recognised' as valid, yet dissoluble ?Also, I've already read that a declaration of annullment is not a 'church divorce'. What does it mean ? Does it mean that a marriage declared null is actually a marriage that never happened in the first place, or should have never happened in the first place? If so, how can a VALID but non sacramental marriage 'never happened' in the first place ? What is VALID and what is SACRAMENTAL ?
3. If a Catholic wants to marry a Protestant in a Protestant church ( both baptized ), what does he/she need to do to make it a valid sacramental marriage ?
4. If a marriage is declared null, does it mean that the children are conceived outside the marriage, since it was actually invalid. Does it also mean that the couple were living in sin ?
You may have detect some misconceptions in my questions, and I apologize for it as I honestly have trouble understanding. I also hope that you would give your answer with examples to facilitate my understanding.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on August 14, 2002 Dear Mr. Alexander:
Thank you for your question. The issue of marriage and annulment is one of the biggest questions Catholics and non-catholics have. I will do my best to try to explain.
First let us begin with the concept of marriage from a civil point-of-view. Every country in the world has some sort of marriage laws. In order for a marriage to be valid certain things must be true. For example, the age of the individuals to be married must be proper. If one of the persons getting married is underage then the marriage is not valid.
A shotgun marriage is generally considered invalid because it was a forced marriage. A marriage to a person who is so retarded that they cannot understand the most basic meaning of marriage is generally considered invalid.
In other words, for a marriage to be valid there are certain requirements and certain conditions that must be met by the couple getting married.
If those conditions are NOT met, then the marriage is invalid.
A annulment is merely a legal proclamation recognizing and affirming what is already true -- that the marriage was not valid in the first place and was not really a marriage.
If your 12 year old somehow gets married, that marriage is invalid and is not really a marriage. An annulment just formally states what is already true -- the marriage of the 12 year old was not real, it did not really happen even though the 12 year old went through a wedding ceremony and a wedding night.
Are you with me so far?
It is the same thing in the Church. There are certain requirements and conditions required in order for a marriage to be considered a Sacramental marriage in the eyes of God.
EVEN IF the marriage is valid in the eyes of Civil Law (the State), it must be valid Sacramentally in the eyes of God according to the Marriage laws of the Church to be valid in the Church.
If a marraige does not met the requirements and conditions necessary for a Sacramental marriage in the Church (even if okay in civil law) then the marriage never happened -- just like in my explanation at the beginning of this post.
Because the State and the Church have different requirements and conditions for a valid marriage it is possible to be valid according to the State and invalid according to the Church.
A church annulment only states that there is no Sacramental marriage. It does not affect the legal status of the marriage in civil law.
Hopefully that is understandable.... Now to your questions...

1. I understand that a Protestant marriage between two baptized Protestants in a Protestant Church is a valid, sacramental marriage, and a valid sacramental marriage cannot be broken by anyone. So, assumming that the Protestant couple divorces and one of them wants to marry a Catholic, it would be impossible ? This is assumming that the Protestant marriage is 'perfect', as in according to law, consent etc etc, and therefore impossible to be declared null ?
The Protestant would have to apply to the Catholic Church for an annulment. If the Church determines that the Protestant had a Sacramental Marriage, then that Protestant CANNOT validly marry the Catholic in the Church.

2. What does it mean by 'annullment'. A valid non-sacramental marriage can be declared null. Why ? Why can it be 'recognised' as valid, yet dissoluble ?Also, I've already read that a declaration of annullment is not a 'church divorce'. What does it mean ? Does it mean that a marriage declared null is actually a marriage that never happened in the first place, or should have never happened in the first place? If so, how can a VALID but non sacramental marriage 'never happened' in the first place ? What is VALID and what is SACRAMENTAL ?
See my remarks at the beginning.
A valid NON-sacramental marriage is valid in the eyes of the State ONLY. It does not meet the requirements of Church law.
Remember there is CIVIL LAW requirements and CHURCH LAW requirements.
To be valid in the Church the marriage must met BOTH CIVIL LAW requirements AND CHURCH LAW requirements.
A valid civil marriage cannot be recognized as a valid sacramental marriage if it does not met the conditions of CHURCH LAW.
As explained in the beginning, an annulment is merely a statement that declares what is already true -- that the marriage never happened.
I think that you are confused because there are two sets of rules. CIVIL and CHURCH.
Just remember, in order to have a valid marriage in the Church the marriage must meet all the rules of BOTH civil and church rules.
In order to be valid in the secular state the marriage does not have to follow Church rules, only civil rules. This is why it is possible to have a VALID CIVIL MARRIAGE and an NON-VALID CHURCH MARRIAGE.

3. If a Catholic wants to marry a Protestant in a Protestant church ( both baptized ), what does he/she need to do to make it a valid sacramental marriage ?
A Catholic cannot marry a Protestant in a Protestant Church according to Church law UNLESS they have permission from the bishop. If the bishop gives permission, then it is possible to have the ceremony in a Protestant Church.
BUT, consent of the couple getting married must be given to the Catholic Minister. One cannot have a Catholic wedding and a Protestant wedding. The Protestant Minister can be present at the wedding and offer a blessing and such, but the affirmation of consent of the couple is accepted in the name of the Church by the Catholic Minister alone.

4. If a marriage is declared null, does it mean that the children are conceived outside the marriage, since it was actually invalid. Does it also mean that the couple were living in sin ?
There is no effect on the children if the Church declares a marriage null. The reason for this is that the couple IS VALIDLY married in the eyes of the STATE. Legitimacy is an issue of CIVIL LAW, not church law.
A marriage is presumed in church law to be sacramental until a declaration says otherwise. Thus the couple has not been living in sin. First off, to be sacramental the couple must have gotten validly married under civil law. Second, their marriage is presumed sacramental until the Church declares otherwise. Thus the intent of the couple was to be validly married. Therefore they were no living in sin during that time.
If the couple were to continue to live as husband and wife AFTER an annulment without benifit of formal marriage, THEN they would be living in sin as they would not be married.
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