Influences of an "Annulment Mentality
Influences of an "Annulment Mentality "
Cornelius J. van der Poel
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THE MEANING OF "ANNULMENT MENTALITY"
The "Annulment Mentality" is by its nature a vague concept. I
assume that we should understand mentality here as "a mental status or
inclination."' In this context an annulment mentality would mean that
individuals or groups of individuals express a general tendency or an
inclination toward an annulment whenever a marriage does not work out. It
is easy to recognize such a state of mind in an individual whose marriage
has failed and who is engaged in an effort to seek an annulment. It is
then a "state of mind in which an individual sees one's self already as an
unmarried person despite the past years of conjugal living."
* Adapted from an address at the Eastern Regional Conference of Canon Lawyers, Hershey,
Pennsylvania, April 11, 1978 and is reprinted with permission from 40 The Jurist 384
The American Heritage Dictionary, p. 820.
This state of mind is very common and perhaps even advisable in
persons who are either preparing for or actively involved in annulment
procedures. It would seem to me that this mentality is one of the aspects
of an emotional divorce which hopefully will take place when the conjugal
relationship is irreparably broken. However, this state of mind in an
individual is not the immediate topic of our discussion. Our immediate
concern is the mentality as it exists in the community. The individual's
annulment mentality will normally develop after the marriage has broken
up. An annulment mentality of the community may exist previous to the
breaking up of a marriage and may have its influence on the conjugal
If the actual niumber of annulments which are granted by the
Tribunals of the United States2 are any indication we must say that the
annulment mentality is strongly increasing. The total number of cases resolved
in the Tribunals of the USA in 1968 were 4,044; 442 of them were formal
cases. In 1978 the total number of cases was 29,782; 27,737 of them were
formal cases. The total number of marriages contracted within the
Church's jurisdiction in 1978 was 340,849. This means that for every 12
marriages contracted within the Church's jurisdiction there is one
marriage in which a Tribunal has given a sentence relative to annulment. We
do not know how many others have toyed with the idea of seeking an
annulment or how many would consider it as a possible solution for their
problems if they knew more about the possibilities. It is true that
between 1968 and 1978 the new procedural norms have been introduced and
have greatly simplified the task of the tribunals. However, the simple fact
that the actual number of declarations of nullity equals nearly ten
percent of the total number of marriages in a given year, may in itself be a
strong indication that within the Roman Catholic community there is a
state of mind or an inclination toward annulment when the going in
marriage gets rough.
It would seem to me, however, that although the large number of
actual annulments may be indicative of an annulment mentality, it does
not explain either its nature or its meaning. I suggest that we ccn
understand the nature of an annulment mentality only if we see it as a
dimension of a conjugal state of mind. Most of us will agree that even the term
"conjugal state of mind" is rather vague and escapes accurate description.
However, there exists a fairly general understanding of what marriage
means and what the normal expectations are for marriage.
I like to see the conjugal state of mind as a combination and
integration of the following qualities:
2 Data are screened from the Proceedings of the Annual Conventions of the CLSA for the
years 1969, 1970, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979.
a. there is an experienced need in one's own personality structure for an
intimate relationship with a person of a different sex;
b. there is an emotional and intellectual conviction that this (prospective)
partner can respond to this need for relationship in a constructive manner;
c. there is an expectation that this relationship will provide a sense of
personal fulfillment in the mutual giving as well as in the receiving from each
d. there is expectation for a general experience of happiness and satisfaction
in the relationship;
e. there is an expectation and wish that the relationship will be lasting and
developing for the rest of their lives.
This last point in particular can have one of two basic undercurrents
which can give a different flavor to the whole perspective of marriage;
namely, there can be a permanency-mentality or a dissolution-mentality.
A "permanency mentality" is not totally explained by the intention
to enter into a permanent marriage. In my limited experience I have
never met a couple who wanted to get married for only a short time. They
always wanted to make marriage a lifetime reality. Yet this does not
guarantee a permanency-mentality. A "dissolution mentality" should not be
seen as a basic intention to get out of marriage as soon as the going gets
too rough. This approach is not uncommon but it does not always suggest
a search for an easy solution.
Permanency-mentalityand dissolution-mentality are rather the
opposite ends of the spectrum that indicates the amount of effort a couple
wants to put into a marriage in order to keep it viable. The decision to
marry is a human decision, and I suspect that most of us will agree with
Charles Curran when he says:
No particular human choice even the commitment to marriage or to
religious life is totally identical with the reality of the person making such a
decision. In such a choice a mistake is always possible, and it may only
become apparent in the future. . . . Every decision of magnitude such as that
of embracing marriage or religious life must be made with great reflection
and prudence because in such a decision one is trying to discover the
meaning and direction of one's entire life. However, the fact that no one act can
be totally identical with the person means that one cannot demand
irrevocability in this matter.'
The fact that the decision to be married to a specific individual is not
irrevocable does not by itself signify an annulment mentality.
I would like to point to two different aspects of irrevocability. There
is a legal irrevocability which means that once a contract or an agreement
has been accepted its legal consequences cannot be revoked. There is also
3 Charles E. Curran, "Divorce from the Perspective of Moral Theology," CLSA Proceedings
36 (1974): 16.
an interhuman irrevocability which would mean that the interhuman
responsibilities which are the object of the agreement could never be
discontinued. The precise balance between these two aspects has never been
The Church has always accepted the possibility of the
discontinuation of the conjugal communion of life in exceptional circumstances (cf.
canons 1128 and following). However, even if the conjugal communion of
life is discontinued another marriage is not accepted. The doctrine of
indissolubility of marriage has been understood by the Church as a basis
for legal irrevocability but not necessarily for interhuman irrevocability.
Thus it would seem that the permanency mentality which has existed in
the Church for many years included at the same time the possibility of
the breaking up of conjugal relationships.
The condition of legal irrevocability has undoubtedly contributed to
keep the actual number of separations low. We may rightly assume that
sometimes couples stayed together to the detriment of themselves and of
their children. By and large; however, we may also assume that the strong
mentality against separation has been for many people a profound
encouragement to search for ways to make the marriage viable.
On the other end of the spectrum is the dissolution-mentality. This
does not mean the acceptance of trial marriages. It is rather a mentality
that intends marriage to be lasting a lifetime, yet simultaneously it
excludes from the conjugal agreement the necessity of accepting a long and
painful growth process as a normal dimension of marriage.
Somewhat on purpose, I have substituted dissolution-mentality for
annulment mentality. In my understanding there is a difference. As I see
it, an annulment mentality accepts the theory of indissolubility but when
the relationship fails it tries to search for defects in the personality or in
the matrimonial consent. A dissolution-mentality disregards the fact
whether there is such a thing as indissolubility. It simply wants the
marriage to be discontinued and to be disregarded when the relationship
becomes dissatisfactory for whatever reason. The common denominator is
that both mentalities are reluctant to see the full perspective of growth
values in the conjugal relationship, and both mentalities are hesitant to
consider the viability of marriage as a value to be obtained at the cost of
great sacrifice. I used the term easy solution mentality to point to a
psychological dimension which is usually part of this human approach,
namely, the hesitancy or the fear to cope with difficult personal problems.
In an effort to describe the term "annulment mentality" we may
perhaps say that it is a state of mind which in theory accepts the
permanency of marriage but which also believes that marriage is a state of life
which brings happiness with a minimum amount of personal effort and
The above descriptive definition is very incomplete because it
considers almost exclusively the psychological dimensions of the conjugal
relationship. Annulment mentality touches also the understanding of the
sacramentality of marriage. One of the arguments for the indissolubility
of marriage is its sacramentality, the Christ-Church relationship. The
redemptive Christ-Church relationship is understood as grace-giving,
lifegiving, constructive and sanctifying filled with infinite love. When love
has disappeared from marriage, it becomes difficult to see how a loveless
relationship can reflect the self-giving of God's infinite love. In an effort
to see the sacrament of marriage as a life and love-giving relationship one
may be inclined to forget that suffering and sacrifice belong to the essence
of love. We may never become punitive, masochistic or sadistic, but it
would be unrealistic to exclude hardship and pain from love and
marriage. I do not say that an annulment mentality tries to exclude these
properties altogether from the conjugal and sacramental meaning of
marriage, but it does seem to make an effort to keep these properties to a
minimum. Thus the annulment mentality seems to reflect an approach to
Christianity which understands human as satisfying or providing
satisfaction without incorporating the total reality of growth and development
with its necessary pains and problems.
Completing my descriptive definition of annulment mentality I
suggest that it includes the following convictions:
a. the permanency of marriage;
b. marriage is meant for happiness which must be obtained without serious
c. the sacramentality of marriage is the love relationship between Christ and
the Church which creates self-fulfillment and happiness;
d. when pain enters into marriage or when love-response dwindles the
reflection of Christ's self-giving is absent or lost;
e. in the growth process the essential pains are to be reduced to a minimum.
INFLUENCES OF AN "ANNULMENT MENTALITY"
The influences of an annulment mentality can be studied from many
different angles. One can look at the origin of such a mentality, at its
impact upon the matrimonial consent, or at its influence upon the effort a
couple will make in difficult circumstances of their marriage relationship;
or perhaps most importantly, one can study the influence of an
annulment mentality upon the understanding of the Christ-Church
relationship. The scope of this paper does not allow to treat these aspects in great
detail. I want to restrict myself to some reflections on certain influences
that contribute to the origin of an annulment mentality and its influence
upon the conjugal relationship because these two aspects touch closest on
the emotional stability of the community and on the values of the
sacrament of marriage.
The Origin of an Annulment Mentality
A mentality is closely related to a state of mind, an inclination, an
attitude. In this perspective we may apply what Erik Erikson says:
Attitudes are caught, not taught. To a certain degree attitudes may be
compared to a fundamental option which is neither produced nor radically
altered by an individual decision. An attitude is the result of a slow
growing process under influence of earlier experiences at home or in one's
immediate surroundings. When one's home-life and one's immediate social
contacts support the permanency of marriage, the individual's and the
couple's thoughts and desires will be much less inclined toward the
discontinuation of the conjugal relationship than when the immediate
surroundings would support a separation.
It would be unfair to doubt the importance of a personal decision on
the part of individuals who seek an annulment. On the other hand, we
may not overlook Geraldine Spark's observation:
To observe and treat the marital relationship as a unit totally independent
of or isolated from families of origin would be to ignore the major
significance and value of these interlocking relationships. It would also be treating
the marital relationship as if it were a closed system. To concentrate only
on the need of each spouse would be to ignore the primary loyality ties,
indebtedness and obligations that exist with each one's family of origin.'
Thus we may say that an annulment mentality is more likely to arise
when in the home setting, in the Church surroundings, and in the social
contacts annulment or divorce has become a common or accepted reality.
We do not have to prove that the social surrounding is often more
supportive of divorce than of permanence of marriage. From this point of
view an annulment mentality is certainly fostered.
Another aspect of an annulment mentality is the attitude that
marriage is for personal happiness with the minimal amount of pain and
effort in the process of growth and development. It would seem to me that
this perspective too is greatly supported by today's society. One of the
major thrusts in contemporary behavioral sciences is the emphasis on the
value of the individual. Frequently this emphasis becomes so strong that
it reaches the point of individualism if not egotism. I am trying to say
that the emphasis lies on the individual vis & vis the community rather
than on the individual as a member of the community. One of the
dangers of this approach is the concern for a selfish-fulfillment rather than
for the fulfillment of one's integrated self.
Obviously, the development of the individual is extremely important.
Perhaps in the past the importance of the community has been
overemphasized at the cost of the individual; but to place the community at the
service of the individual includes the danger of making other people
objects for the fulfillment of one's own desires. It is not hard to imagine
what such an attitude will mean for the marriage relationship. Often the
central question in marriage becomes "What can our relationship do for
the development of my personality?" instead of "How can my personality
grow and develop by contributing to your growth and to our
relationship?" In such an approach the tables have been turned and the stage is
set for insurmountable marital difficulties. The concentration on the first
question: "What can our relationship do for the development of my
personality?" has an individualistic focus which in the course of time will
weaken any intimate relationship.
Through Christianity, particularly through the revelation of Jesus in
the Gospels, we know that the human relationship is meant to be the
expression of God's creative self-manifestation. This means a reaching
out in order that life may grow and develop. This also means a
development of oneself precisely through reaching out to others. This is a form of
Christ's love for the Church. Christ's redemptive love does not ask "What
can the Church do for me?" but, rather "How can the Church (the
community of the faithful) be filled with the life of the Father?" In the
Christian concept of personality growth an essential other-directedness is not
an obstacle for the development of an individual. On the contrary, the
individual can fully develop only to the extent that there is an ability to
reach out to others. In the Christian concept of love the aspects of love of
self, love of neighbor, and love of God are not three distinct steps but an
integrated wholeness of three complementary aspects.
In this perspective an annulment mentality is not merely an attitude
that expects an annulment when the couple experience serious marital
problems. It also includes a basic self-orientation. We must be careful not
to fall too easily into accusations. I do not want to suggest that
underneath most of the petitions for annulment is a tendency toward
selfishness or a lack of generosity. An annulment mentality belongs to the signs
of the times and is a result of contemporary individual and community
development. It has its roots in the civil society as well as in the Church's
The deeper understanding of human growth and development,
contemporary insight in the integration of material and spiritual dimensions
of human existence, the growing awareness of basic human goodness have
created in the Church itself a leaning toward the fulfillment of human
desires. The religious value of physical existence as a locus theologicus for
the understanding of the human and Christian vocation has led to such
an emphasis on the doctrine of the resurrection that we sometimes forget
the resurrection came after suffering and death.
Consequences of an Annulment Mentality
I do not want to overstate the tendency toward individual
self-fulfillment, nor do I want to make accusations, but we may not close our eyes
to the reality that commitment has today a different meaning and
strength than a few decades ago. In the past a commitment may
sometimes have been pursued at the cost of personal happiness and growth,
but at the present time personal happiness and growth is sometimes
pursued at the cost of commitment. Undoubtedly there is much good in the
quest for growth and happiness, but there is much evil in the loss of
commitment. Vatican Council II warns against this tendency where it says:
When the scale of values is disturbed and evil becomes mixed with good,
individuals and groups consider only their own interests, not those of
It is at this point that an annulment mentality touches closely on the
sacramentality of marriage. I do not suggest that accepting the possibility
of divorce or annulment makes a marriage invalid, but the decline of faith
and the weakening of commitment could place the validity of the
sacrament on unstable grounds. The Second Vatican Council has placed the
covenantal relationship in marriage at the center of its sacramentality
when it says that an "intimate partnership of life and love constitutes the
married state of life."' The same Vatican document also says that once
this state of life has been accepted the bond between the couple does not
depend any longer on the human decision alone.
The sacrament of matrimony is a participation in the redemptive
mystery of Christ's total self-giving to humanity. A sacrament, however,
is not only the celebration of the mystery of the risen Christ. It is a
participation in the mystery of the redeeming Christ. Redemptive love
means a total gift of personal life in order that life may be communicated.
The gift of personal life demands a living faith in the believer as well as a
commitment which is ready to accept self-giving without self-seeking.
Total self-giving is not contrary to personal growth, but it means growth
through commitment rather than growth by appropriation.
The difference between growth through commitment and growth by
appropriation is succinctly stated by Harvey Aronson:
Commitment involves giving. But that does not mean that you're not free. I
can realize myself and be committed to someone who can realize herself.
And we can have the guts and faith to create a one-to-one relationship that
enriches our lives. These singles-world people have cut themselves off from
that choice. They are prisoners of what they call freedom. From my
per" Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, no. 37.
6 Ibid., no. 48.
spective they are building fences to protect themselves from their own
feelings. They are, over the long haul, takers-not givers.'
Obviously, Harvey Aronson does not speak about the sacramentality
of marriage. He is concerned about human relationships that are proper
to marriage and which form the basis of marriage. If there is a mentality
of "taking" rather than "giving," a lasting relationship is not possible.
The contemporary jurisprudence of the Rota as well as of most
diocesan tribunals points to the fact that when a lasting relationship is not
intended or possible between the spouses, a marriage cannot be a
sacrament. Where sacramentality is lacking, a declaration of nullity is the only
Christian approach. On the other hand, the more easily an annulment is
granted the more deeply an annulment mentality (or a
dissolutionmentality) will enter into the human relationship. It is almost a vicious
circle, but we may not close our eyes to the reality. Sociological research
points out that one of the important stimuli for divorce is the attitude
toward divorce in the family of origin and in the immediate
This constitutes a special problem for tribunals.*On the one hand,
they must uphold the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage and
convey the stability of marriage to the Christian community. On the
other hand, they may not declare a broken relationship indissoluble when
it is not sacramental. However, when annulments are more easily
obtained, the message of indissolubility becomes weaker.
During the years 1974-1978 the number of formal cases "decided in
the tribunals of the United States has jumped by nearly 4,000 every year.
If this trend has continued the number of formal cases decided in 1980
may reach 35,000. That this increasing number of annulments has an
influence upon the understanding of the stability of marriage among
Catholics cannot be doubted.
Again, this creates a problem for many tribunals. Tribunals are a
court of law which must uphold the validity of marriage as well as declare
the absence of a truly sacramental unity. However, tribunals also belong
to the pastoral dimension of the Church and in this perspective they are
called to contribute to the proper understanding of the sacramentality of
matrimony. The pastoral concern to which they are called pulls them in
opposite directions. Out of concern for those whose marriages were
invalid they are called to give a declaration of nullity; but this declaration of
nullity weakens the belief of many faithful in the permanence of
ANNULMENT MENTALITY AND PASTORAL MINISTRY
In this third section of my reflections on the influences of an
annulment mentality I want to focus briefly on two dimensions of ministry
which are closely connected with the annulment mentality. First there is
the pastoral ministry to families; second there is the pastoral task of
tribunals in this perspective.
Influences of an Annulment Mentality on PastoralMinistry to Families
In the context of an annulment mentality one would expect to pay
special attention to the preparation for marriage. I acknowledge and
support wholeheartedly the importance of this aspect of pastoral concerns.
Yet I prefer to focus more explicitly on the pastoral ministry to families.
The reason for this approach is that in the past we have paid
considerably more attention to marriage than to family. Too often the family has
been taken for granted as a natural consequence of marriage. It was fairly
generally accepted that family relationships would fall into place if the
marriage relationships were alright. We begin to discover that this is not
always true. In the field of theology we begin to discover that the
relationships within the family include the marriage relationships, but that
they also have a nature and value of their own. This direction came
strongly to the surface in the studies and recommendations of the USCC
Ad Hoc Commission on Marriage and Family. 10
Earlier in this paper I indicated another reason for this special focus
on the family. The individual partner may not be taken as totally
separated from the family of origin. Attitudes and mentalities are more
effectively communicated through a sharing of life than through any form of
It is in the communication of attitudes that pastoral ministry to
families becomes of the utmost importance. Archbishop Jadot said in his
address to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in November, 1977:
With the best of intentions, some marriage and family life programs have
perhaps overly emphasized the psychological and sociological findings in
determining a course of action. This has precipitated a cascading trend to
secularism. It is only when our doctrinal principles, in concert with other
sciences, are asserted intelligently, clearly and strongly, that married people
See D. THOMAS, Sacramentalityand Spirituality of Family Life, and C. VAN DER POEL,
Family: Communion of Life, Love and Grace. Toward a Theology of the Family, in
CURRICULUM OUTLINE AND RESOURCES FOR DEVELOPING A PASTORAL MINISTRY COURSE ON FAMILY
LIFE AND A CONTINUING EDUCATION PROGRAM FOR CLERGY, (Washington, D.C.: U.S.C.C.
" Final Report of the USCC Ad Hoc Commission on Marriage and Family, USCC
Department of Education (Washington, D.C.: U.S.C.C. Publications, 1977).
will find in them a satisfactory meaning of their lives and those of their
This statement speaks about communication of attitudes and makes
a distinction between two kinds of attitudes which ought to be
complementary in the human being, but which often are separated to the
detriment of couples and families. The attitudes of concern relate to the
psychological/sociological structure of marriage and family as one factor, and
to their spiritual meaning as the other factor. Neither of these two may
be neglected. Both of them belong to the pastoral concern of the Church's
Sociological and pyschological studies point to the increasing
isolation of individuals and families. They also point to the need for the
development and strengthening of personal values and dignity. Psychological
findings suggest that in our technological age there is a higher degree of
intellectual/factual knowledge in many individuals but also a greater
uncertainty about the direction of their lives because circumstances are
constantly changing. The sociological conditions which provide greater
freedom and mobility also offer choices which were unknown at earlier times.
This combination of increased freedom, mobility, and choice and of
decreased stability, direction, and personal security creates a human
condition for which pastoral ministry must become very sensitive. It is
particularly within the family setting that young people learn to cope with these
conditions by developing a sense of deep personal value and dignity.
Family ministry must enter into this development and must thereby rely
heavily on the findings of psychological and sociological research.
At the same time there is a need for a deepening of the spiritual
meaning of daily life. Our doctrinal principles must be asserted
intelligently, clearly, and strongly in order to find in human existence the
meaning revealed to us in the Gospel. The revelation of the Gospel and
the faith experience of the earlier centuries of Christianity have taught us
much about the basic meaning of the sacrament of matrimony. Centuries
of doctrinal development, culminating for us in Vatican Council II, give a
vision of marriage as a covenant of grace. This means an unreserved
selfgiving in its most primitive but most basic and most essential form is
experienced in acceptance within the family. The family is the place
where people learn that love is a degree of commitment, and that
commitment is the courage to become vulnerable for the growth and
development of other persons. Since the sacrament of marriage is a celebration of
Christ's self-giving, sacramentality is as much an attitude as a doctrine.
Perhaps we may say that sacramentality is intrinsic to the conjugal
relationship from the moment of creation but that its full meaning is revealed
" Origins 7/24 (Dec. 1, 1977): 374.
by Christ. Sacramentality does not only refer to marriage; it embraces the
reality of the family as well. Perhaps we may say that in the
sacramentality of the family the grasp of the sacramental value and of the
permanence of marriage is communicated.
If this last statement is anywhere near accurate then the annulment
mentality places a heavy burden on pastoral ministry. It is the burden of
creating and maintaining within the sacredness of the family a conviction
or attitude in which freedom, security, and direction are combined with
mobility, choice, and stability and where all these qualities are united in
the one love of Christ. Pastoral ministry seeks the creation of a human
being who is truly the image of God, totally human and deeply spiritual,
never static but always well directed and secure.
The International Theological Commission, in 'a meeting held
December 1-6, 1977, came to the conclusion that "among the baptized there
can be no sacrament of marriage unless there is an actual faith." For
Christian marriage to be truly a Christian marriage supposes in the
spouses a real bond with Christ.12 Undoubtedly, this real bond with
Christ is a personal responsibility but this personal development cannot
take place in isolation. The Jesuit sociologist John Thomas puts it this
Under conditions of pluralism and rapid change, modern Catholic couples
can be expected to retain their distinctive family values only on the
condition that they clearly understand the religious foundations of their values,
are adequately motivated, and enjoy some measure of group support from
their co-religionists. 2
The clear understanding, the adequate motivation, and the
groupsupport that John Thomas mentions form an integral part of pastoral
ministry to families. Limitations of space, however, do not allow us to go
into details on the development of various forms of this family ministry.
The PastoralTask of Tribunals Regarding an Annulment Mentality
One of the tasks of the tribunals is to render judgment about the
presence or absence of a sacramental bond in marriages that failed. This
judgment, however, needs to be pastoral.14 This means it must guide
individuals and the community to a deeper love of Christ. The immediate
concerns of tribunals deal with legal or canonical realities. It is not their
task to be involved with dogmatic aspects, although their judgments must
be a pastoral application of doctrinal understandings. Legal/canonical
12 Origins 7/27 (Dec. 22, 1977): 418.
3 Quoted from paper presented at U.S.C.C. Ad Hoc Commission on Marriage and Family,
October 1976, p. 6.
14 Pope Paul VI, Address to Roman Rota, Feb. 2, 1977; Origins 6/38 (March 10, 1977): 602ff.
practices are not by themselves a source of doctrine. However, the
experience of the tribunals with regard to the grounds for invalidity of
marriages provides a rich source for understanding as to which human
conditions prevent the formation of a conjugal communion of life. Thus the
findings of a tribunal surface human conditions which effectively prevent
the sacramentality of marriage in individual couples.
Serious theologians have in recent years begun to question the
necessity of the coincidence of sacramentality of marriage and the marriage
between two baptized. 5 This question goes beyond the reach of tribunals.
But tribunals come in touch with people who did have the sincere intent
to enter into a lasting communion of life, but who because of certain
personality structures could not reach this goal. In one diocese in the
Midwest which granted an affirmative decision in 100 cases during 1977 there
were 56 decisions given on grounds of some form of psychological
incapacity or immaturity, 22 decisions were cases contra bonum sacramenti,
19 contra bonum fidei, and 8 contra bonum prolis.'6 It will not be
unreasonable to assume that the break-down will run along the same general
lines in most dioceses of the United States.
The data and information collected by tribunals are by their nature
highly confidential and must be treated with due reverence. However,
tribunal personnel themselves or family life personnel in collaboration with
tribunals can study the grounds which have a direct bearing on
personality structures, on basic attitudes, and on mentalities which invalidate
marriages among Christians.
A deeper understanding of these grounds would not in the first place
indicate areas in which pastors should provide better marriage
preparation. Such an understanding would be overly simplistic and would betray
little pastoral experience. The deeper understanding of these grounds
could, however, assist the Church in at least two very important ways.
1. It could help us to understand that human personalities need a
close intimate relationship with another person for their own personal
growth and development. This statement is not a compromise with the
disintegration of moral values in a materialistic world. In former social
structures there were many conditions of life which contributed to a
healthy and undisturbed maturation process in the personalities. The
earlier-family relationships and human interdependence contributed greatly
to the development of the persons. Our present isolated family and our
15 Among the more recent studies I want to refer to William LaDue, "The Sacrament of
Marriage," C.L.S.A. Proceedings36 (1974): 25-35; Cornelius J. van der Poel, "Marriage and
Family as Expression of Communion in the Church," THE JURIST (1976): 59-89; William
Maravee, "Is Marriage 'in the Church' a Marriage 'in the Lord?'" Eglise et Theologie 1977:
" Kindness of the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.
dependence on technology does not provide such circumstances; yet
psychological maturation cannot take place without intimate human
interchange. Such interchange is not readily available for the majority of
people except in close living conditions. Moreover, many baptized persons
who are quite sincere about their religion do not grasp the deepest
Christian meaning of the sacramental value of marriage.
I am not advocating trial marriage. What I am trying to say is that
many persons to whom a close interhuman relationship cannot justly be
denied and who cannot fiud such interhuman relationships except by
living together are not ready for a sacramental union. Perhaps the
coincidence of baptism in both partners and the sacramentality of marriage is
not a doctrinal necessity. The experience and insights of pastoral
tribunals can be a significant contribution.
2. The second point in which a tribunal can be pastoral is that it
provides to the personnel of family life offices invaluable information
about the areas where pastoral guidance is most needed. When pastors in
the field become more deeply aware of the psychological and religious
needs of those who enter into marriage, they can develop a basic direction
for their pastoral care of families. It opens the way for them to bring
depth of personal growth and Christian development to those aspects of
family living which otherwise would contribute to the growth of an
annulment mentality. Thus, a pastoral concern in tribunals combined with
actual pastoral involvement can counterbalance the tendency toward an
annulment mentality to which the growing number of affirmative decisions
seem to contribute.
In summary it seems to me that an annulment mentality touches at
the heart of the Christian family. To counterbalance this growing
mentality we do not need to decrease the number of declarations of nullity. We
must, however, find ways to utilize the tribunals' experience and insights
for a deeper understanding of the doctrine of the sacrament of marriage,
and for the development of an effective pastoral ministry to families.