Annulments, Justice, and Marital Healing

Given all the recent talk about divorce, remarriage, and reception of Communion in Rome, it’s urgent to think once more about annulments. Marriage tribunals provide a valuable service for the Church and the sacrament of marriage.  However, a radical change occurred in the Catholic diocesan tribunal work from evaluating a few dozens cases per year in the 1960s to struggling with hundreds of petitions per year in the 1990s.  In 1969, 338 annulments were given in the Church in the US, in 1974 28,918 and in the 1990s roughly 40,000 per year were granted.

Some believe that this severe stress upon marriage tribunals led to a “rubber stamp” approach, as tribunals tried to clear the cases quickly without attending to the demands of law and justice. John Paul II regularly expressed concern about the granting of annulments, particularly in the United States, where 6 percent of the world’s Catholic population accounted for 80 percent of annulments.

My experience with Catholic couples suggests a failure of justice toward many spouses, children, and the marriage sacrament in annulment decisions.  A typical example: a spouse with young children, low levels of marital conflict, severe family of origin conflicts in the petitioner, and financial stresses who left the marriage for an adulterous relationship.  This spouse refused counseling with a priest or with a marital therapist primary because of the relationship.  In spite of the Tribunal’s knowledge of all this, it granted an annulment.

This might have been fully resolved had the Tribunal taken a different approach.  Dr. Howard Markham, a marriage scholar at the University of Denver, believes most divorces and most marital unhappiness can be prevented, which is also my clinical experience over the past thirty-five years.

Several steps need to be taken so that justice is done and the sacrament of marriage, spouses, children, and the culture are protected.  Most importantly, the spouse who seeks an annulment should not be permitted to enter into the process until there is clear knowledge as to how this person’s emotional weaknesses and conflicts contributed to the marital stress and the divorce.  In addition, the petitioner should be required to demonstrate that at least two years of effort and hard work have occurred in addressing the petitioner’s weaknesses and those in the other spouse. 

Ideally, a parish priest would be involved in the divorce prevention process and require that the couple attend a Retrouvaille program.  Also, a couple could be referred to a marital therapist who is loyal to the Church’s teachings.  Trustworthy therapists can be found at and .

Such requirements are essential if justice is to be served: too often, the petitioner presents himself/herself as a victim of the other spouse’s purported psychological or spiritual conflicts. In fact, conflicts emerge at every stage of marriage in varying degrees and can be resolved if each spouse is willing to work on growth in self-knowledge and in virtues and grace – and if the couple has support within the Catholic community.

In our narcissistic culture, many spouses who wounded their marriages and spouses severely by their controlling, angry, emotionally distant, disrespectful, and selfish behaviors nevertheless feel entitled to an annulment. Unfortunately, we have clinical experience with many spouses who refused to address such conflicts and were, nonetheless, granted annulments. 

Such actions by tribunals are a grave offense against justice and the sacrament of marriage. Tribunal staffs need an appreciation for psychological science, which demonstrates that marital conflicts can be resolved, even if a divorce has already occurred. 

One faithful, loyal spouse whose husband gave in to blind, selfish ambition recently wrote:

I have very deep concerns about the Church’s granting of annulments in long-term marriages, and the message that it sends to the world on how the sanctity of marriage is viewed by the Church.  Something is seriously wrong when the very ones who grant such annulments, at the same time, believe it is a sacrament and gift from Christ. . . .Those in the Tribunal reminded me of the first Catholic marital therapist we saw who was more like a divorce therapist and who never challenged my husband on his selfishness and failure to respect and honor me as his vowed to God on our wedding day.  They did not seem to be pro-marriage and also seemed to be divorce enablers as was the Catholic psychologist we saw.

Her husband refused to explore why he gave selfish ambition in his career and failed to value and give himself to the sacrament of marriage and their children.  It is no surprise that this man feels entitled to an annulment.  Sadly, it may well be granted to him without digging into causes. His two children have serious psychological conflicts because of their father’s infidelity.

I would like to balance this call for justice with mercy.  There are legitimate cases for annulment by petitioners who have suffered gravely because of a spouse who did not understand marriage or act properly.  These petitioners should be given pastoral care along with the legal proceedings because of their emotional “wounds” which may have been occurring for years.

Tribunal staffs and priests would benefit from ongoing educational programs on the profound wisdom on John Paul II on the sacrament, and the psychological science that demonstrates marital healing can occur.

As the pope told the Roman Rota in 2002:  “Whenever a couple is going through difficulties, the sympathy of Pastors, and of the other faithful must be combined with clarity and fortitude in remembering that conjugal love is the way to work out a positive solution to their crisis. Given that God has united them by means of an indissoluble bond, the husband and wife by utilizing all their human resources, together with good will, and by, above all, confiding in the assistance of divine grace, can and should emerge from their moments of crisis renewed and strengthened.”

Rick Fitzgibbons, M.D.

Rick Fitzgibbons, M.D.

Rick Fitzgibbons, M.D. is a psychiatrist in Conshohocken, PA who has treated youth and adults with gender dysphoria, and written on the topic. He is the co-author of Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope .

  • Dave Heath

    Great article and follows a theme I’ve written of in the past – pastoral care/healing to preserve marriages BEFORE an annulment is granted. And you are right – the Church appears ever so willing to break the same marital bond they ever so willingly ratified those many years before. There is something inherently wrong ,in such cases, that needs to be readily and speedily addressed. And watering down the Sacrament is not the answer…

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Canon 1095 provides, “The following are incapable of contracting marriage:… 3) those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.”

    Now this refers to the time of the marriage. Subsequent events may assist in determining this question, that is all.

    It is a curious fact, though true, that there must always be a considerable number of people who could not say off-hand whether they were married or not. It is only when the question has been decided by a marriage tribunal that their doubts can be removed. But although they do not know if they are married, and no one could tell them with certainty till the proof is led, it is nevertheless true that they must be either one or the other. There is no half-way house.

  • Ben

    There are more annulments coming. The easiest “pastoral solution” in the upcoming synod on the families that gives relief but doesn’t directly compromise the historical understanding of divorce is for the rest of the world to catch up to the US in annulments.

  • Sue

    ” In 1969, 338 annulments were given in the Church in the US, in 1974 28,918 and in the 1990s roughly 40,000 per year were granted.”

    “John Paul II regularly expressed concern about the granting of annulments, particularly in the United States, where 6 percent of the world’s Catholic population accounted for 80 percent of annulments.”

    This sums up the article’s important information in two sentences. Who can doubt that the annulment crisis is part and parcel of the sexual revolution?

    As with the sex-abusers, the Church must rid its ranks of the professional annulment-leeches who suck the blood out of foundering marriages, and by extension out of the lives of the abused-by-annulment offspring of these marriages. The truly pastoral solution, as envisioned in JPII’s Jeweler’s Shop, should be to hate divorce for its long tentacles which squeeze one’s own children.

    Not to slight Dr Fitzgibbons, but the psychology industry which generates the science he touts, also bears much responsibility for the oiling of the “star-on, star-off” divorce machinery he decries.

    One important solution should be to require the annulment of priesthoods whose marriage officiations generated high rates of annulment, for priestly malpractice. Maybe that would make the annulment-industrial complex be more careful before granting annulments.

  • Manfred

    For an incredible letter on this very subject, one must go to a site which has reproduced the letter from Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S. to Robert Moynihan, the editor of Inside the Vatican. Fr. Harrison cites the German bishops who have openly stated that they will allow divorced catholics who remarry without having their first marriages annulled, access to Holy Communion. Fr. Harrison describes this as “…a massive looming threat that bids fair to pierce, penetrate and rend in twain Peter’s barque… “. Roberto de Mattei just recently warned that the collapse of the Church has been accelerated in no small part by the current pontificate, and that we are finally moving into an end game. As Harrison points out, if the Roman Catholic Church is finally prepared to concede to what the Protestant and Orthodox churches have allowed for centuries, how could the Church EVER state again that it was the true Church? The words of Christ in the New Testament are abundantly clear on this subject.

  • Sheryl Temaat

    This is a good article. Unjust declarations of nullity have devastated rejected spouses and ruined the lives of children even more than divorce.

    Dr. Fitzgibbon’s comments on legitimate reasons for nullity, however, bother me. He mentions not understanding what marriage is and acting improperly. Msgr. Edward Egan describes who understands what marriage is: those who are not insane, etc. in his excellent articles as a Rotal judge.

    And acting improperly? There is no one among us who can escape a tribunal’s use of that one to declare nullity for personality disorders and we will never overcome the annulment scandal.

    My two cents.

  • Jim

    I was mightily surprised to learn a few years ago from a priest studying canon law that there are many dioceses that have NO marriage tribunal. How is that possible? Where do Catholics in those dioceses seek an annulment? This is a probem of justice even if there would only be one annulment granted every 10 years in such a place.

  • Davin

    I’ve been a part of the Retrouvaille Marriage Ministry since 2007. I have seen couples come on weekends without any hope for their marriages, and be the end of the weekend they express the hope that has been rekindled. The Holy Spirit moves in a mighty way. I encourage all couples to consider going on a Retrouvaille Weekend.

  • Sue

    Explain please, Dr Fitzgibbons, why a paid-for committee of people forty years and 8 children after the wedding ceremony can find it null but the priest who officiated AT THE TIME OF couldn’t figure this out? And this happens over and over again at an obscene rate?

    Walk me down this path, please. Enough about justice and mercy. It looks like 2+2=5 to me.

    Forget the divorce-remarried (note that use of that term gives away an acknowledgement of the FACT of a first marriage, hence the FACT of adultery). Look instead at the annulment mushroom cloud to find what undergirds the marriage crisis. NOONE can feel safely married with the tribunals of mass destruction.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    I would direct all readers to comments from the eminent canon lawyer, Ed Peters, regarding this article: Here we go again: more bad advice for tribunals He sums up my thoughts quite well.

  • Tom

    This article displays an egregious ignorance as to both what an annulment is and what a marriage tribunal does. It would be refreshing if the people who wrote pieces like this would bother to first acquire a basic understanding of the topic; if they did so they’d write very diferently.

  • Fr. J

    Tribunals must follow the law. If a party is narcissistic in the manner described at the time of the wedding it may well be that the person was incapable of consent. Given the sickness in our society is it any wonder that so many enter what turn out to be invalid marriages?

    I work in a tribunal. We don’t give away annulments or just rubber stamp the cases. The problem with marriage today is the tribunal, but what leads people to the tribunal.

  • RCsndelaria

    Everyday the civil courts determine whether a purported marriage met the requirements of the law or not, and whether either spouse wants to dissolve it badly enough to say under oath that it is irretrievably broken. So much for the law.
    The sacrament of Holy Matrimony, it seems to me, is within the Church’s competence to permit or nullify. The same goes for her competence to recognize or not recognize, any status recognized by the state. Many people, Catholics included, don’t know the difference between marriage before the law (a contract) and Holy Matrimony, a God-graced vocation. Why not?

    Whose job is it to teach that? Do we the church take advantage of every “teaching moment” that presents itself?

  • wineinthewater

    “My experience with Catholic couples suggests a failure of justice toward many spouses, children, and the marriage sacrament in annulment decisions. A typical example: a spouse with young children, low levels of marital conflict, severe family of origin conflicts in the petitioner, and financial stresses who left the marriage for an adulterous relationship. This spouse refused counseling with a priest or with a marital therapist primary because of the relationship. In spite of the Tribunal’s knowledge of all this, it granted an annulment.”

    This one paragraph demonstrates that Rick Fitzgibbons does not really understand what an annulment actually is and that he shouldn’t be weighing in on annulment reform. An annulment is a judicial statement that when the two people tried to get married, they didn’t actually get married. Some element required for a valid sacrament was missing. If the marriage was valid, nothing that happens afterward can invalidate it. All these things he mentions are only relevant to an annulment tribunal if they offer insight into the person’s ability to actually enter into the Sacrament.

    There is plenty the Church could do to better serve married couples. She could do more to better prepare people so that they would be more likely to only attempt to marry if they were capable of entering into a valid sacrament. She could do more to prevent divorce and give support to struggling couples. She could do more to make the annulment process more just and less painful. She could do more to support spouses who had been abandoned.

    But advice that is grounded in ignorance of the very subject has very little value. Dr. Fitzgibbons would do well to learn what an annulment actually is before he lectures the Church about how to improve the process.

  • Sue

    If a tribunal can make a declaration of nullity 40 years later, why can it not render an opinion before the wedding takes place, so that the trauma of marital abortion is avoided? To those who say this would be too costly, I as the parent of a wedding couple would consider it a valuable insurance, buying lifelong sanity for a relatively small amount of money.

  • KARL

    I was led here by a link at Dr. Ed Peters’ blog, In The Light Of The Law. He made his comments there.

    As someone who has been through the annulment process, as a respondent, which took 12 years to resolve in our marriage not being found null, I have learned and seen many aspects, directly and indirectly, of this process both good and bad. Once again, however, more than 22 years after my wife filed her first petition, I have been, honestly, compelled to participate again. After the first decision in this second round, which, to my liking and I hold clearly in accord with the known facts of our lives, decided that nullity was not proven, I have decided that I will participate in this process only if the second court, which currently has the case, decides in favor of nullity. But, I have decided that my participation would occur only if the case were to be heard by the Pope himself and only if I can meet with him, face to face, by ourselves, unless an interpreter would be needed, or, I would meet with the Pope, along with my wife. But, under no other circumstances.

    Enough is enough. If Francis is serious, I think it is time he faced the music and I want to tell him what this process has been like and how it has devastated my life and what it has forced our children to go through, what my family has gone through and what our marriage has gone through. If he does not care enough to open his schedule, roll up his sleeves and practice what he seems to preach, then it is about time he shows his hand, to the entire world.

    I have sought the intercession of the Catholic Church from before I was divorced against my will. No one in any official capacity has raised a finger to try to heal this marriage but every single Catholic Church they have attended has been “open” to my wife and her publically adulterous partner for their entire life together.

    To our friends, to my family, to myself and most importantly to all of our children, our five and the two, now adult, children of this adultery this whole nightmare has been a continuous scandal!

    I am openly challenging Pope Francis to “put up or shut up!”

    Shut your mouth Francis! You are doing tremendous harm. Either hear our case and learn, first hand, how unloving, corrupted and abusive the pastoral practices and some of the Tribunal practices are or resign your Papacy!

    It is time to face some real music Francis. Let the world see how serious you are about accompanying this marriage, in all its terrible pain and injustice. Help us heal everyone involved. No vengeance. Healing. It is your call, Holy Father.

    I am awaiting your personal, handwritten letter; not a call. Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Burbidge, both, have my contact information and for my wife as well.

    I have lived more than twenty three years, respecting the vows my wife and I spoke, since she forced me from our home and took up with her lover. Please take this request to your heart. I am imploring you for the sake of the souls of each of our grandchildren, our children, my wife, myself and her lover.

    The buck stops with you. You do not need a Synod to decide to be a Good Shepherd. This husband and father is asking for your help.

  • cermak_rd

    What percentage of annulments are for the simple procedural reason of lack of form? These are pretty simple to determine. The wedding either was or was not witnessed by a priest or was dispensed by a Bishop.

    With the decline in the rate of Church marriages, I would imagine lack of form annulments will increase in the future.

  • Sandra Lipari

    THANK YOU @ WINEINTHEWATER!!! Dr. Fitzgibbons lashes out at couple’s selfish motives and cites get a Catholic Therapist or Psychologist, this will be the cure all! Number One Dr. Fitzgibbons IF Holy Mother Church grants an annulment, is not about how the two behaved within the marriage, pertains to what they were when they got married preventing it from being a full and valid marriage! Number two, what is the criteria for Catholic Therapist or Psychologist? How are they held accountable to formulate a plan, offer exercises for improvement, etc. Very grateful for the truly “Catholic” out there… accountability needs to be clear to those who purchase, buy into this product.

  • Matt

    The debate of the failings of the annulment process is far behind the curve. The horse has already fled the barn and is now in the next state! The Pope and the Synod are not seeking the needed reform of a judicial process; a process that should seek, first and foremost, justice regarding the Sacrament of Matrimony. This Pope and the Synod are looking at moving the “problems” of divorce from the judicial channel (tribunal) to the pastoral channel (individual priests or local pastoral teams). Justice may likely be shelved for a false, yet worldly, charity. As one who has witnessed the pain of the current flawed judicial system, I will state plainly that a future pastoral approach will inflict severe damage to the Church far beyond the scope of individual marriages that the judicial process has failed.

  • Missy F

    I learned of this article from Dr. Edward Peters’ blog. He described accurately its shallowness and ignorance of how the validity of a marriage is investigated. Just to take one example, adultery is not a grounds for nullity and the author does not appear to know that.

    This article is quite self-promoting, too, isn’t it?

    I’ve run across this author’s name on a tribunal website that has a link advertising his business. Dodgy, that.

  • Leah

    Say what you may, supporters of divorce and annulment because you have freedom of speech. A marriage either is or never was, a sacramental marriage does not become invalid. If it was valid at the time of the wedding, it can not become invalid after that whatever happens. If one of the spouses loses their mind after the wedding, and the sane spouse would like to dump the nut one and go find himself or herself a sane one, too bad, the crazy one is your rightful spouse. The priest and the Institutional Catholic Church need to get down from their high horses and figure out what they are doing wrong. If the Catholic church were a business it would be bankrupt and out of business with endless law-suit for malpractice. The priest prepares the couple for marriage, if they have an inkling the couple is not ready they should not perform the wedding and save not only the couple, but the possible children they may procreate and their families the agony of divorce and annulment. They perform weddings left and right and then the tribunals grant annulments left and right devastating families and most painfully the innocent children of these couples.

    Take your blinders off, why is any one surprised that the great majority of “milenials” do not believe in marriage, these are the children, the victims of divorce and annulment, the poor ones misguided by the popular “blended families”. True that Dr. Fitzgibons article could have been written better by not being so general in some points because obviously giving “divorce & annulment” supporters ammunition.
    My two cents.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    I have a Ph.D. in Counseling and a Masters in Clinical Psychology. With over 40 years of experience under my belt, I have seen my fair share of couples for marriage counseling.

    Because I am a deacon, priests routinely refer couples to me since they know that my Catholicism is of the orthodox variety. My stance has always been to preserve the integrity of marriage. If there are direct threats on the part of one spouse toward the other, there might need to be separation but this does not mean the marriage is over.

    Apart from nullities that might be granted because of lack of form and on account of what I have witnessed on the part of tribunals as an abuse of the marriage covenant, I no longer agree to offer my professional assessment to those applications based on psychological factors that pre-dated the marriage. In these cases I am hard-put to discern if the emotional and psychological upheaval I see in my office existed prior to the marriage and to have created an impediment of will so that a true marriage could not have taken place. I have come to the conclusion that most of these processes of annulments are perversions of the sacrament and simply choose not to participate. When diocesan tribunals take their show on the road and go out to individual parishes to explain the annulment process, this furthers the notion that the Catholic Church is all too willing to assist with the termination of a marriage. It is simply not at all helpful to marriages in distress. How many parishes have an active ‘Marriage Support Group?’ Parishes host Mah Jong (?sp) but do little to support troubled marriages. In the end, annulments do little good for troubled marriages.

    Using the criteria of most tribunals to declare a marriage as null, one would only have to conclude that the majority of marriages witnessed by the Church these days are potentially annullable. Now the question remains, what’s going to be done by those called to witness Catholic marriages to ensure sure that ALL conditions required for a valid marriage are met? Better to do this before the ceremony rather than afterwards when devastated children lie in the wake of this turmoil.

  • nady

    The US Catholic Church should just stay away from performing the sacrament of Matrimony.Annulments should have never been permitted by the church in the first place.No matter how we spin and rationalize it,it is still and will be the same as divorce.Now if the church with the coming synod of bishop will further relax the annulment process,then what is the use of staying Catholic.

  • Robert

    Providing the impediments are thoroughly eliminated and the marriage is legitimate in the eyes of the Church, there should be no reason for an annulment. Of course an annulment means that there was no marriage in the first place due to a previously existing impediment.

    “For better or worse”, “for richer or poor”, in sickness or health”. If you make a “wrong” choice because one did not heed the warnings and instructions of the faith, then you live with the consequences.

    Although the Church permits separation if either the faith or the physical health of one of the parties is in serious jeopardy or for adultery, the marriage remains valid and licit, and the parties are obligated to forgive and to attempt reconciliation over time.

    I have personally known couples who have by a “gift” of thousands of dollars, obtained annulments, of priests suggesting birth control to the parties and other violations of both the annulment process and of priestly “advice”.

    There is a thing called “original sin”, whereby we are tempted by world, the flesh and the devil. Given the overwhelming flood of filth and degradation in the world today in the media, education, and social functions, its quite understanding that many have given over to sin and as a consequence, in order to maintain that sin or lifestyle, one turns to the annulment process. In the case of bodily harm in a marriage or a serious danger to the faith – it would be well if couples received more instruction in the faith prior to marriage, which is sorely lacking. Most Catholics I know are near illiterate in the fundamentals and basic teachings of the Catholic faith period, never mind on marriage. One area so much ignored is to marry a person who is not Catholic and think that later things will be ok; how can you be “one” if you are not one in the faith.

    With Rome sending out the message that “who am I to judge”, the we must have compassion on sinners, not in the confessional but in allowing them to continue their life of sin, that all are going to heaven, that there is no hell or purgatory, why be Catholic, why care.

    And then we have dozens of Catholic mystics of unquestioned reputation warning that both the Church and the World are soon to be punished for the abandonment of the faith.

  • Gregory Alexander

    My wife Julie and I founded The Alexander House 14 years ago in gratitude to God for healing and restoring our marriage when we were on the brink of divorce. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit we have been proclaiming the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of God’s plan for Marriage

    Our Marriage Disciples can aid you in strengthening, restoring and healing your relationship.
    Our faith centered process is effective in helping couples live God’s plan for a joy-filled marriage while developing practical skills to keep their marital relationship strong.

  • Dan

    I’d point out that if a badly treated spouse petitions for a decree of nullity and it is granted, the badly behaving party is free to marry just as much as if he petitioned for the decree himself. Tribunals can’t be concerned with who is good or bad, deserving of rights or not. Everyone has the same right to petition and is treated according to the same procedural law.

  • Rick Fitzgbibbons

    In view of the comments, that I appreciate, I want to clarify that the reasons for my writing this article were in response to a recommendation at the February 2014 extraordinary consistory of Cardinals that the Church. The recommendation was for the Church to consider addressing annulment petitions in a non-juridical, more simplified manner by perhaps one priest. I have an obligation to respond because of the severe psychological and spiritual damage in the children of divorce and in spouses whom I see weekly in my office.

    There is an urgent need for more justice for these victims of the plague of divorce.

    In most of these marriages major weaknesses in self-giving to the marriage existed which resulted in the decision to divorce. Most of these conflicts could have been resolved with an effective pastoral approach. This would not necessarily involve treatment by a mental health professional. One excellent new program that could be helpful to such spouses is the Marriage Disciples apostolate of the Alexander House that is now in over 100 parishes, Also, family members, friends and clergy could do more to encourage spouses to work on healing their marriage, regardless of how long the problems have existed. Hope can be drawn from the Lord’s first miracle which was for a marriage at Cana through Our Lady’s intercession.

    Research demonstrates that 80% of adult psychological conflicts begin during childhood and adolescence (Kim-Cohen, J., 2003) and continue into adult life. When such conflicts are brought to the Tribunal’s attention, they should be addressed and not ignored by granting the annulment and then permitting marriage (to a new partner by the person who initiates the divorce/annulment) one year later which has been my most disappointing clinical experience.

    Newer pastoral approaches are urgently needed to help couples who experience severe stress and for their children, not a more simplified annulment process. Such a simplified process can deny justice for the victim-spouse and the children.

  • Marty M

    I love this article but it isn’t based on today’s reality. Not that for one minute I don’t find that deeply sad… but the truth is nothing keeps someone from just leaving the church. My own spouse was a ministry leader an if they (pastors) had said you must step down and work on saving your marriage – he’d have just gone elsewhere. On the other hand I’ll never know because while they did encourage working it out at first, it was never demanded so to speak… or made mandatory to at least try while maintaining the ministry leader post. The ‘death’ of divorce causes untold pain – not just to the spouse who doesn’t wish for it, but also there is much lost to the children, grandchildren, community and family members as well.

  • Adam D

    When I went to choose a topic for a thesis in canon law, I wanted to write on the canon that says the first job of the judge is to be the minister of reconiciliation. I was surprised at how little commentary I could find in English on that canon… so little that I chose a different thesis topic (but I admit that may simply be my lack of knowledge in canonical resources!). In either case, it is my understanding that Tribunals require a decree of divorce before the annulment process begins because that is an indication to the Judge that at least one party believes the marriage to be irreconcilable. If even one of the parties has said “we cannot reconcile” or “I do not want to reconcile” then it would seem that requiring or mandating efforts at reconciliation would be fruitless. Of course a plan for counseling and reconciliation would be most beneficial if both parties are open to working on their marriage. Parish priests ought to have these resources at their finger tips since they are often the first point of contact in the Church when a couple experiences marital difficulties. When both parties are open to counseling then to counseling they should be directed! Often times the Tribunal only meets the couple when one of the parties has already checked out of the relationship. The divorce has been finalized. While a civil divorce decree does not guarantee a Church annulment, my only point is that the Tribunal is meeting the couple where the opportunity for fruitful counseling regarding the marriage in question seems to have passed. However, should the narcissistic person seek a future marriage in the Church, then definitely counseling should be required and in fact the Tribunal can, and often times does, require such counseling between the narcissistic person and his future wife.

  • Rick Fitzgibbons

    The basic premise of my article is that Tribunals should consider establishing different procedures to protect the sacrament of marriage, spouses and children, particularly given the empirically proven severe damage to children and to innocent spouses from divorce. Individuals who apply for annulments should have to prove that they have worked for at least two years in uncovering and addressing their major family of origin weaknesses or possibly narcissism that harmed the marriage. In my clinical experience over the last 38 years, few individuals who apply for annulment have the self-knowledge of their own psychological weaknesses that played a major role unconsciously in their decision to divorce. Justice requires that more be done to protect the sacrament of marriage, innocent children, spouses and the culture from the divorce plague.