Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Annulments and Church membership

Since when has getting an annulment from an earlier attempt at marriage become a condition for becoming a member of the Catholic Church?

I have a good friend, formerly a Methodist minister, who was received into the Church several years ago. I was his sponsor. He now lives in Atlanta with his (mostly grown) four children. His wife just passed away several months ago. His eldest child, a daughter, was married for one month in an abortive attempt at marriage when she was in her late teens. Now she has decided she wants to become a Catholic and has been involved in the RCIA program in a local parish in Atlanta since September. However, the priest of her parish has told her that in order to become a Catholic in his parish, she must first get an annulment. The way he has put it to her, as she relates it, is in flat out pedestrian terms: no annulment, no church membership.

Perhaps what's going on here is that the priest is, presumably 'wisely', trying to forestall some later problems with his converts if they happen to fall in love and want to marry after becoming Catholics and then learn they have to get an annulment, and, perhaps on the odd chance, can't get one for some canonical reason. I see that point. Yet this seems not only canonically awry, but something close to cruel and unusual punishment to require an annulment as a condition for reception into the Church. After all, what about the countless Catholics in good standing who have had to endure divorces by unfaithful spouses? The condition just strikes me as goofy. Add to that the fact that this particular young lady has, within the past few months, suffered the death of her mother and her grandmother, and it begins to look heartless.

My friend's daughter has decided to go ahead and undertake the annulment petition. She wants our family to be at her reception into the Church this Easter. I told her I was proud of her for undertaking this difficult submission, and that I trust that the Lord would grant her many graces through her willingness to take on this burden or any others she must bear for the sake of her journey into the Church.

Still, I wonder about such practices as these. Apparently the Archdiocese of Atlanta gives the local priest the authority to determine this type of question among his own parishioners. Can any of our readers shed light on the canonical and pastoral questions involved here?

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