Binding up the Bond: A Survey and Reflection on the Crisis in Catholic Marriage

Raphael, Marriage of the Virgin, ca. 1504

It is no longer debatable that marriage is in a state of crisis.  In the United States, it is estimated half of all marriages will “end in divorce or separation.”[1] In practical terms, this means one divorce occurs every thirteen seconds in the United States.  This rate translates into 277 divorces per hour, 6,646 divorces per day, 46,523 divorces per week, and 2,419,196 divorces per year.[2]  Sadly, this means that, in the two-minute interval required for a couple to pronounce their wedding vows, nine other marriages will have been legally terminated.[3]

Every citizen with an interest in his society should be alarmed by this state of affairs.  However, the Catholic should be still more concerned.  The cultural crisis in marriage has not stopped at the Church’s steps but has deeply affected sacramental marriages, as declarations of nullity have proliferated.[4]  This is despite the fact that the Church’s perennial teaching on the indissolubility of “validly contracted and consummated sacramental marriages” has not changed.[5]

The current status of annulments in the Church is troubling on two fronts.  First, statistics reveal the extent of the crisis in Catholic marriage.  In the United States, 338 annulments were granted in 1968.  Six years later, the annual tally had exploded to 28,918, continuing to climb until a peak was reached with 63,933 statements of nullity pronounced on American marriages in 1991.  Numbers have since declined, with 35,009 annulments issued in 2007.  This is not necessarily indicative of an improvement in the state of Catholic marriage, however.  The decline is correlated to declining practice of the Faith, with Catholics either no longer valuing the sacrament sufficiently to trouble seeking to have a failed marriage declared null before embarking on a new relationship,[6] or opting to cohabitate rather than get married at all.[7]  Further, American marriage tribunals continue to pronounce ninety-six percent of marriages presented to them null.[8]

Second, the position taken by the Church’s hierarchy toward annulments, and marriage generally, has been perplexing.  In a press conference on his return flight to Rome from World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis speculated “perhaps only 50 percent of Catholic marriages were real.”[9]  In 2015, Pope Francis released the motu proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus reforming the canonical procedures pertaining to annulments.[10]  The objective in reforming the process was to make the Church’s law more merciful and pastoral to those in marriages which have foundered, making the process more accessible, efficient, and affordable.[11]  Notable changes include that the mandatory review of the tribunal’s initial findings by a second tribunal has been dispensed; the bishop becomes the primary judge in marriage cases; and a “new, briefer process” exists for apparently clear cases of nullity, which can now be presented directly to the bishop for an expedited pronouncement.[12]

With annulments being granted with great frequency and the rigour of the canonical process for discerning the validity of marriages decreased, is the faithful Catholic to conclude that the Church has finally, tacitly accepted annulment as ‘Catholic divorce,’ just another institutional eccentricity and instance of Catholic “gobbledygook”?[13]

While the importance of empathy in passing sentence on the painful issue of whether a failed marriage was a true sacramental marriage is undeniable, the revision addresses only the symptoms of the crisis, not its root causes.  To penetrate the heart of the matter, two areas must be plumbed.  First, it must be asked: Why have declarations of nullity become so prevalent?  The question immediately poses a troubling dilemma:  Either all (or at least the majority) of marriages declared null by tribunals are null,[14] or tribunals, particularly in the developed world, are declaring struggling, valid marriages null, dismembering sacramental marriages, destroying families, and permitting the formation of new ‘marriages’ which are truly invalid and objectively sinful.  Second, and underlying the first consideration, is the question: Why is marriage in so grave a crisis, and what can be done to remedy this situation, so contrary to Christ’s command?[15]

To properly engage these questions, the underlying principles of the sacrament of matrimony must be grasped.  While marriage is one of the seven sacraments,[16] its natural basis, the natural marriage bond between man and woman, existed prior to man’s Fall as a “function of nature,” foreshadowing matrimony in the New Covenant,[17] in which it is both a natural bond and sacrament.[18]  In instituting marriage as a sacrament, Christ both perfected and elevated the natural bond, making it “an example of the mystical union between Himself and His Church,” coupling “heavenly love” to earthly love.[19]  As a sacrament, marriage fulfills the double purpose of all the sacraments:  It perfects man with respect to divine worship by being ordered to the preservation of both the physical and spiritual communities, and provides a “remedy against the defects caused by sin” by counteracting carnal concupiscence and population decrease resulting from death.[20]

Like all the sacraments, marriage’s essential sign consists of matter and form.  Matrimonial matter is the couple’s consent, as “consensus facit matrimonium.”[21]  Canon Law states, “A marriage is brought into being by the lawfully manifested consent of persons who are legally capable.”[22]  This consent cannot be manifested in words only but must be internal[23] and mutual because, as marriage is reciprocal, lack of proper consent on the part of one party invalidates marriage for both.[24]  The form is the words the man and woman use to express their consent.[25]  Because marriage is a contract as well as a covenant, consent must have been expressly stated.[26]  Once the marriage bond has been formed and consummated, it is indissoluble.  As Canon 1141 states, “A marriage which is ratified and consummated cannot be dissolved by any human power or by any cause other than death.”[27]

The question of annulments revolves around what can cause marriage not to be validly ratified, concerning which the Church has a detailed tradition.  Unlike other sacraments, matrimony has a list of impediments.[28]  Impediments are of two classes: those pertaining to the solemnity and liceity of the sacrament, called prohibitive impediments; and those pertaining to “the essentials of marriage,” the sacrament’s validity, called diriment impediments.[29]  Diriment impediments, which nullify an attempted marriage, divide into two categories: those invalidating marriage in general,[30] and those invalidating marriage with a particular person.[31]

Failure in consent can also invalidate marriage.  Thomas notes that error concerning the essentials of marriage voids consent[32] because it is an act of the will, following upon the intellect’s apprehension; if the intellect is in error, the will cannot properly consent.[33]  Coercion and fear can also undermine consent and invalidate a marriage.  While fear attendant upon entering marriage does not invalidate it, compulsion arising from fear does invalidate marriage.[34]  Concerning consent, Canon 1095 states that “those who lack sufficient use of reason,” “those who suffer from a grave lack of discretionary judgement concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted,” and “those who, because of causes of a psychological nature, are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage” are “incapable of contracting marriage.”[35]

Having surveyed the principles involved, the prevalence of annulments can be examined.  While the statistics concerning annulments in the United States are staggering at first, several factors provide context.  First, there is a chasm between the developed world and other countries with respect to the resources required for the annulment process.  Countries such as the United States and Canada are disproportionately equipped with tribunals and canon lawyers; though these remain insufficient to meet existing demand, these countries remain far ahead of other regions, helping explain why they account for such a large portion of global annulments.[36]  Second, the law-abiding tendency of Americans and, presumably, Canadians also helps account for the large number of annulments in these countries.  These people “want to be able to remarry in the Church with a good conscience,” a scruple not shared by Catholics in some other nations.[37]  Third, the high rate at which North American tribunals grant annulments partially reflects the effectiveness of the initial screening process in which it is assessed if cases have merit and are likely to be declared null.[38]

Nevertheless, justified concern remains.  The canonical process for determining the validity of a marriage is subject to fallible human judgment and can be exploited.[39]  Additionally, the canonical threshold for consent, the determining factor in so many annulment cases, is very low.  Canon 1096 §1 states, “it is necessary that the contracting parties be at least not ignorant of the fact that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman, ordered to the procreation of children through some form of sexual cooperation.”[40]  Further, the papacy has expressed grave concern over the situation of annulments, with Benedict XVI declaring it a scandal “seeing the value of Christian marriage being destroyed in practice by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity, in cases of the failure of marriage, on the pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness on the part of the contracting parties.”[41]  John Paul II was also outspoken on the issue of what constitutes valid consent in marriage cases, stating that “due discretion must generally be understood to mean that ordinary people in ordinary circumstances are capable of the high commitments to which they are called by life in Christ,”[42] and that “only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent and in realizing a true community of life and love invalidates a marriage.”[43]  Finally, in his address to the Roman Rota in 2000, he reiterated Canon 1101, which states that only a firm, definite will excluding marriage or one of its essential elements or properties invalidates marriage consent.[44]  Thus, while context exists to explain the number of annulments in the developed world, real concern remains that tribunals are overemphasising the level of freedom of consent required to validly contract marriage and granting annulments too liberally.

While it is admittedly difficult to discern to what degree the number of annulments is inflated, several practical measures exist to remedy the situation.  First, more excellent canon lawyers are required.[45]  This would relieve the pressure on the tribunal system which led to calls for reform for increased efficiency.[46]   However, far more important is a return to the principles guiding the work of marriage tribunals.  It must be remembered that the process involving a marriage tribunal in discerning the validity of a marriage is a last resort, to be pursued when all other options to help a marriage are exhausted.[47]  Further, it is crucially important to recall that Canon Law presumes a marriage valid until proven otherwise – neither tribunals nor spouses should approach the process with the a priori belief that the process exists to prove a marriage invalid so the spouses may remarry in good conscience.[48]  Strict adherence to and respect for Canon Law are also invaluable for the process to be conducted properly, as “Canon law is one of the least understood but most important elements necessary for the efficient, fair, and just functioning of the institutional Church.”[49]  Finally, tribunals and couples discerning the validity of a marriage must remember their purpose must be to seek the truth so as to live in accordance with God’s Law, rather than using the process to obtain ‘freedom’ to remarry.  As Benedict XVI notes, the process is “essentially a means of ascertaining the truth about the conjugal bond” in order “to render a service to the truth.”[50]  Wherever possible, those involved must strive to save the good in existing, troubled relationships and help couples regularise their situation, as in the case where an impediment likely exists but the couple can be guided to convalidate their marriage and elevate it to the dignity of a sacramental bond.[51]

Having surveyed the annulment crisis, the root cause, the crisis in marriage, remains to be investigated.  While it is impossible to comprehensively map the troubled state of marriage in contemporary culture, it is possible to briefly sketch of some of the contributing factors.  Marriage is in crisis because it is no longer valued and is instead viewed negatively.  This is the result of broad shifts in cultural thought since the Enlightenment, with three notable threads running through the crisis being Existentialism, Utilitarianism, and Technologism.  Existentialism, with its emphasis on the self-creating, radically autonomous ego, has led modern man to a view of freedom as “not…a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being.” [52]  Utilitarianism, which values things only insofar as they are useful in producing goods, especially pleasure, is a materialist philosophy which lacks any concept of transcendence in human existence and relationships.  Finally, Technologism, emphasising the inexorable march of human ‘progress’ through technology, has added the idea that novelty and superiority are synonymous,[53] influencing cultural attitudes broadly.[54]

These strands of thought, along with others, were brought to bear on society following the Sexual Revolution, corrupting the societal view of marriage.  The radically autonomous individual came to view his sexuality as something to be exercised for the maximisation of selfish pleasure, something clearly incompatible with a lifelong, monogamous relationship.  Further, fulfillment has progressively come to be sought in novelty.  Here, technology has contributed through the widespread use of contraception, which ruptures the “inseparable connection” between the procreative and unitive ends of both the marital act and marriage itself,[55] and the mainstreaming of pornography, which allows constant indulgence in novelty divorced from apparent ‘real world’ consequences, dealing a death blow to both conjugal chastity and marital fidelity.

The collapse in man’s view of the sacramentality of reality has also contributed.  As noted by Cardinal Ratzinger, modern, materialist man sees things only as things, not signs pointing to a deeper, transcendent reality.  This limits him to the temporal and material, running counter to his innate sense of the transcendence of human experience, which has historically been particularly appreciated at the liminal moments of life, such as marriage. This has naturally extended from the sacramental foundations of human reality to the sacraments given the Church directly by Christ, objective guarantees of receiving His gift of grace and the preeminent sources of strength in living the Christian vocation.  Many Catholics have moved away from living full sacramental lives, neglecting the Church’s sacraments, particularly Confession and the reception of the Eucharist, but also through failing to use sacramentals, those things given the faithful by the Church which contribute to and support a rich, supernatural life.  In this context, the marriage bond is no longer seen as a sacred, transcendent reality, and it is left unsupported, since abandoning the other sacraments leaves marriage without its strongest sources of strength.[56]

To these contributing factors must be added the Church’s failure to respond to this monstrous cultural challenge through educating her children.  Leaving individual heroism and influence aside, the Catholic faithful have been left largely unprepared for the cultural assault on marriage and family life, and Catholic young people, seeking to enter married life, are generally unprepared.  As Dr. Timothy O’Donnell notes, those seeking to marry lack maturity, as contemporary society has “the most prolonged period of adolescence in all of human history,” and they lack an understanding of the importance of the sacrament because of “a real failure in catechesis.”[57]

While the depth of the crisis engulfing marriage can be overwhelming, it is vital not to lose hope.  Certainly, Catholics are not immune from the toxic influence of the culture, traditional cultural supports for marriage have been removed, and society now poses many obstacles to forming a vibrant Catholic marriage and family.  However, Christ remains with His Church.[58]  The current crisis is partially imputable to shifts in cultural thought – effort must now be expended to intentionally re-shift perspectives, both individually and societally, to return to the truth about marriage and family life.  While the Church has failed, both institutionally and individually, responsibility must be taken for rejecting and counteracting the evils of a culture which “rejects the indissolubility of marriage and openly mocks the couple’s commitment to fidelity.”[59]

To this end, preparation for marriage, which is really preparation for life as a Catholic in the world, must be bolstered.  This preparation occurs in three phases.  The first, remote preparation, encompasses childhood and upbringing and must include a strong human formation, as well as a faith formation which emphasises marriage as “a true vocation and mission.”  The second, proximate formation, involves broad preparation for a vocation, introducing young Catholics to both the rights and duties of marriage, as well as the practical concerns associated with family life.  Finally, immediate preparation, occurring in the final period before marriage, must build on the foundation already laid, increasing the couple’s appreciation and depth of understanding of the mystery of the sacrament.[60]

While immediate preparation for marriage must not be neglected, greater importance needs to be given to early formation.  In preparing Catholic young people to enter the world and embark on the vocation of marriage and family life, simply teaching the truth is no longer sufficient:  It must now be taught with emphasis on engaging the errors and highlighting the dangers of contemporary culture, equipping young members of the Church militant for success in a hostile world.  While covering the essentials of Catholic belief, particularly as it pertains to the sacraments and marriage, this education should go beyond the basics and include formation through the witness of faithful Catholic spouses, particularly parents, and should draw on recent rich theological developments in the areas of human sexuality and marriage.[61]  Most vitally, a strong sacramental life, embracing both frequent reception of the sacraments and the appropriate use of sacramentals, must be fostered at the level of both the family and the individual.[62]

While preparation for marriage should clearly be a focus, this formation should not cease after marriage.  In a culture which provides so many challenges to Catholic marriages, ongoing support is needed.  Catholic couples must have (or create if it does not exist) the opportunity to continue to grow in their understanding and love of the Truth together, particularly in their appreciation for the sacramental bond uniting them.  They must also have means available to help them overcome the difficulties which will inevitably arise in their life together, addressing problems before they precipitate a breakdown, providing support while avoiding a “false opposition between law and pastoral ministry.”[63]

As in preparation for marriage, so too in married life: The greatest means of support a Catholic couple has is a strong, shared sacramental life, the cornerstone of which must be frequent Confession and reception of the Eucharist, which cannot fail to strengthen both spouses, helping them overcome their failings and grow in virtue together.  To this should be allied the use of sacramentals, as these support and enhance the reception of the sacraments.[64]  Summing up the importance of a full, vibrant, integrated sacramental life, Sacrosanctum Concilium states,

Thus, for well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power.  There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.[65]

The benefits this life offers for the marriage of Catholic husband and wife are clearly incalculable.

Finally, as with the life of every Catholic, the Eucharist should be the focal point of the Catholic couple’s shared life.  The Eucharist, the most powerful sacrament,[66] “not only produces grace, but contains in a permanent manner the Author of grace Himself.”[67]  It is the preeminent source of grace in the Christian life, “the fountain-head of genuine Christian devotion,”[68] “the culmination and center…of the Christian religion,”[69] and the “elixir of immortality.”[70]  If the Catholic couple, prepared for their vocation from their earliest days, embracing a rich sacramental life together, and externally supported in their continued formation together through struggles, truly make their marriage Eucharistic, Catholic marriages will be strengthened by Christ’s grace and will become a conduit of grace for others.  Though the renewal of marriage appears a daunting task, it is one that cannot be neglected, for marriage is the foundation on which the family, society’s cornerstone, is built.  Catholics must “be of good cheer,” knowing that Christ has “overcome the world,”[71] and each must pray, struggle, and do his part to help renew this great sacrament in the Church and the world.


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[1] “Divorce Statistics,” Wilkinson & Finkbeiner Family Law Attorneys, accessed April 17, 2020,

[2] “Divorce Statistics.”

[3] “Divorce Statistics.”  This data pertains to the United States.  Data for Canada is more difficult to obtain, yet it is estimated forty percent of marriages in Canada will end in divorce before reaching thirty years of marriage (Brian Galbraith, “The Divorce Rate in Canada,” Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation, accessed April 17, 2020,

[4] To clarify, a divorce terminates a marriage legally without pronouncing on its validity, while a declaration of nullity states that “despite outward appearances and their good faith, a couple has not entered into a union which has all of the content necessary for marriage, and thus each of them remains free to get married” [Fr. W. Becket Soule, Preserving the Sanctity of Marriage: The Catholic Teaching on Annulment (New Have, CT: Catholic Information Service, 2009),, 6.]

[5] Peter Day-Milne, “Compassion is not Cynical: A Reply to David Bentley Hart on Annulment and Divorce,”  Catholic Insight, March 3, 2020,  The Church’s most famous historical defence of this principle was when Pope Clement VII would not dissolve the sacramental marriage of King Henry VIII of England to Queen Catherine of Aragon.  In defiance, Henry declared himself head of the Church in England, divorced his queen, and ‘married’ his mistress, Anne Boleyn (Henry went on to be married four more times before dying in 1547) [Thomas F. X. Noble et al., Western Civilization: Beyond Boundaries, 7th ed. (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2014), 420].

[6] J.J. Ziegler, “Annulment Nation,” The Catholic World Report, April 28, 2011,  This insight was provided by Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Illinois.

[7] Ziegler, “Annulment Nation.”  This insight was provided by Amy Strickland, a canonist formerly employed by the Archdiocese of Boston’s marriage tribunal.

[8] All the information in this paragraph was taken from Ziegler, “Annulment Nation.” While these numbers reflect the American situation, they are illustrative of the problem in the developed world, including Canada.  Ziegler also notes that “[m]ost of the world’s nations with high numbers of annulments decide 93-97 percent of sentences in favor of nullity, with Canada (at 99.5 percent) and Australia (at 98 percent) having particularly high affirmative sentence rates and Germany (at 82 percent) and Poland (at 79.5 percent) relatively low ones.” (Ziegler, “Annulment Nation.”)

[9] Matthew Schmitz, “Anthropological Pessimism and Theological Hope,” First Things, September 16, 2015, Schmitz notes the troubling implication that, should the Pope be correct, many Catholic marriages which do not break down are in fact not marriages either.

[10] Jimmy Akin, “Pope Francis Reforms Annulment Process: 9 things to know and share,” Catholic Answers, September 8, 2015, This document followed the Synod on the Family held the preceding October.

[11] Akin, “Pope Francis Reforms Annulment Process.”

[12] Akin, “Pope Francis Reforms Annulment Process.”  Previously, only two processes existed: the formal process (which involved the gathering of evidence from concerned parties, hearings, etc.) and the documentary process (used in cases where producing documentation to prove invalidity was sufficient).  These two processes remain, but with this additional, ‘middle’ process now available (Akin, “Pope Francis Reforms Annulment Process”).

[13] Robert Royal, “Catholic Gobbledygook,” First Things, October 1997, This is how Rep. Joe Kennedy elegantly put it to his divorced wife, Sheila Rauch Kennedy, when he filed for an annulment – a formality in which “nobody actually believes” anymore, if they ever did.

[14] This consideration deliberately leaves aside the added consideration of Catholics who do not even bother applying for an annulment but instead simply file for a civil divorce.

[15] Matthew 19:6.

[16] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1981), III.65.1 co.  It should be noted that marriage is a sacrament if “celebrated between two baptized Christians,” while it is a “natural, non-sacramental marriage” when “at least one party in the marriage is not baptized,” though in both instances “the marriage bond is indissoluble” (“A Guide to Annulments: Frequently Asked Questions,” Diocese of Hamilton, last modified June 3, 2016.  However, a distinction must be made here.  While both sacramental and non-sacramental marriage bonds are intrinsically indissoluble (it is outside the spouses’ power to terminate the bond uniting them), in certain circumstances, non-sacramental marriage bonds may be dissolved by the Holy See.  These cases fall under the Pauline Privilege and the Petrine Privilege.  The Pauline Privilege, based on the teaching of St. Paul (I Corinthians 7:12-15), governs the consummated marriages of two unbaptised spouses after one spouse receives baptism.  Should the unbaptised spouse refuse to live in peace with the baptised spouse, the marriage bond may be dissolved, leaving the baptised spouse free to contract a valid marriage with another believer.  The Petrine Privilege governs consummated marriages between the baptised and unbaptised.  Under certain conditions, these marriage bonds can be dissolved by the Holy See, leaving the baptised party free to marry again.  In both these cases, it must be remembered that the Church teaches that sacramental, consummated marriages are indissoluble by any earthly power.  Neither privilege contravenes this teaching because the marriages dissolved are not sacramental marriages and both types of cases in which the privileges are invoked are governed by the principle that, “In a doubtful matter the privilege of faith possesses the favor of the law” (CIC 1150) (Edward N. Peters, “Is the ‘Petrine Privilege’ an exception to Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage?”, The Catholic World Report, January 16, 2018,

[17] ST III.61.2 ad. 3.

[18] ST III.65.1 co.  Thomas argues it is the lowest of the sacraments because it “has less participation in the nature of the spiritual life, to which the sacraments are ordained” (ST III.65.2 co.).

[19] Leo XIII, Arcanum, Vatican, February 10, 1880,, 9.

[20] ST III.65.1 co.  Both concupiscence and death are effects of Original Sin.

[21] Royal, “Catholic Gobbledygook.”

[22] Code of Canon Law, Vatican City: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, 1983,, Canon 1057 §1; cf ST Supplement 45.1 co.

[23] ST Supplement 45.4 co. Thomas concisely notes that “expression of words without inward consent makes no marriage.”

[24] ST Supplement 45.4 ad. 2; cf ST Supplement 47.6 co. Thomas adds that a spouse with a good intention can presume the sincerity of a ‘spouse’ who is fraudulent and does not participate in the sin of the other (ST Supplement 45.4 ad. 2).

[25] ST Supplement 45.2 co.  It would seem that based on Thomas’ principles, an expression of consent in sign language or writing by a person unable to speak would satisfy the requirement for the sacramental form.

[26] ST Supplement 45.2 co.

[27] CIC 1141. In his encyclical Arcanum, Pope Leo XIII reiterates this point and notes that this is divinely willed (Leo XIII, Arcanum, 7).

[28] Thomas teaches that marriage, unlike other sacraments, has impediments for three reasons: 1) because it involves two recipients, it “can be impeded in more ways than the other sacraments which refer to one person taken individually,” 2) matrimony’s cause lies in man and God, not God alone, like the other sacraments, and 3) “because other sacraments are objects of command or counsel, as being more perfect goods, whereas marriage is a matter of indulgence, as being a less perfect good.” Consequently, in order to help man to a higher good, “more impediments are assigned to matrimony than to the other sacraments” (ST Supplement 50.1 co.).

[29] ST Supplement 50.1 co.

[30] According to Thomas, these include: impotence, slavery, and being bound to continence by either Holy Orders or a vow.

[31] ST Supplement 50.1 co. According to Thomas, these include: a pre-existing marriage bond binding the other party, difference of worship, prohibited closeness of blood relation, previous engagement to someone closely connected to either party, and previous adultery between the parties.

[32] ST Supplement 51.2 co.  Thomas holds that only error concerning the person and/or his condition (ie if he is free or a slave) invalidates marriage.

[33] ST Supplement 51.1 co.

[34] ST Supplement 47.3 co.  Thomas explains that consent can be compulsory in the sense that, under certain circumstances, someone may do something which he normally would not.  The example he gives is of a merchant who jettisons his cargo out of fear for his life during a storm.  His act is, in a sense, voluntary, but this kind of voluntariness is insufficient to create the marriage bond (ST Supplement 47.1 co.)  Basically, someone can marry validly if marriage is contracted in fear (in metu), but he cannot marry validly out of fear (ex metu).

[35] CIC 1095.

[36] Ziegler, “Annulment Nation.” This information comes from Bishops Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona, and Bishop Conlon.

[37] Royal, “Catholic Gobbledygook.”

[38] Royal, “Catholic Gobbledygook.” This point is reiterated in Ziegler, “Annulment Nation,” which cites Fr. Andres Ligot, judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of San Jose.  Also in this article, Bishop Olmsted adds an interesting additional point explaining America’s abnormally high annulment rate.  He notes that a lack of societal struggles “has led to some extent to a kind of laziness about marriage commitments and a kind of boredom with traditional marriage, prompting Americans to lose sight of the crucial impact and importance of committed and loving marriages” (Ziegler, “Annulment Nation”).

[39] Tom Hoopes, “Why Faithful Catholics Get Divorced,” Crisis Magazine, February 27, 2020,

[40] CIC 1096 §1.

[41] Ziegler, “Annulment Nation.”

[42] Ziegler, “Annulment Nation.”

[43] Ziegler, “Annulment Nation.”

[44] John Paul II, “Address of the Holy Father John Paul II to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.” Vatican, January 21, 2000,, 4. John Paul II clarifies that not just “a habitual general will, an interpretive wish, a mistaken opinion about the goodness of divorce in some cases, or a simple intention not to respect the obligations one has really assumed.”

[45] As one source notes, “What we desperately need, rather than a change in the fundamental norms of the Church, are larger numbers of well-trained, pastorally experienced canon lawyers to staff diocesan tribunals around the country so that cases can be decided prudently, with pastoral sensitivity to the difficulties of the situation, and above all in accord with a sincere search for the truth” (Randall B. Smith, “Why We Need More Canon Lawyers,” Crisis Magazine, April 1, 2014,

[46] Increased procedural efficiency, it would seem, cannot be obtained without a trade-off in rigour.  When the issue at stake is a sacramental marriage, it seems prudent to always favour rigour over efficiency.

[47] Jim Russell, “Annulments: A Concession to Human Weakness,” Crisis Magazine, July 5, 2017, The 1983 Code of Canon Law Canon 1676 “noted that it was the judge’s responsibility to, ‘whenever there is hope for a favorable outcome,’ use pastoral means to ‘induce the spouses if possible’ to convalidate their marriage and resume their married life together.” However, in the revisions of Mitis Iudex in 2015, the “revised canon (Canon 1675) reads: ‘The judge, before he accepts a case, must be informed that the marriage has irreparably failed, such that conjugal living cannot be restored.’”  This significantly reduces the weight of the decision on the judge – rather than actively seeing if the marriage can be saved, “he merely must be told there’s no hope to repair the marriage” – a troubling shift (Jim Russel, “How to Fix the ‘Annulment Mentality,’” Crisis Magazine, July 14, 2017,

[48] CIC 1060.

[49] Smith, “Why We Need More Canon Lawyers.”  Smith includes an interesting excursus on how failure to follow Canon Law contributed to the Church’s systemic failure in the area of sexual abuse.

[50] Smith, “Why We Need More Canon Lawyers.”

[51] Russell, “Annulments: A Concession to Human Weakness.”  Convalidation refers to the re-exchange of vows by a couple who have not previously entered into a full sacramental marriage in the presence of one of the Church’s ministers.

[52] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, Vatican, November 22, 1981,           aul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio.html, 6.

[53] In terms of technology, this is often the case – that which is new is usually somehow superior.  However, this idea has influenced cultural thinking in areas where it is clearly not true.

[54] C.S. Lewis, “De Descriptione Temporum,” in C.S. Lewis: Selected Literary Essays, ed. Walter Hooper, 1-14 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 10-11.

[55] Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, Vatican, July 25, 1968, vi/it/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html, 12; Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Citta del Vaticano: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, 1997, par. 2363.

[56] The content of this paragraph is largely based on Cardinal Ratzinger’s insights in Typos–Mysterium–Sacramentum. [Joseph Ratzinger, Typos-Mysterium-Sacramentum, in Theology of the Liturgy, ed. Michael J. Miller and trans. John Saward, Kenneth Baker, S.J., Henry Taylor, et al., 153-84, vol. 2 of Joseph Ratzinger: Collected Works (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2008)].

[57] Ziegler, “Annulment Nation.”

[58] Matthew 28:20

[59] John Paul II, “Address of the Holy Father,” 3.

[60] The information in this paragraph is taken from John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, Vatican, November 22, 1981., 66.

[61] Particularly noteworthy are John Paul II’s ground-breaking Theology of the Body and the work of Catholic philosophers Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand.

[62] A sacramental practice particularly worth highlighting in this context is spiritual direction.

[63] While clerical and religious means of support would clearly be beneficial, greater mutual support among the laity would doubtless also greatly benefit Catholic couples.

[64] Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican, December 4, 1963,, 61.

[65] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 61.

[66] ST III.65.3 co.

[67] Pius XII, Mediator Dei. Vatican, November 20, 1947,, 131.

[68] Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 5.

[69] Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 66.

[70] Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 120.

[71] John 16:33