Catholics/Anullment

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QUESTION: I was raised Catholic and when my mother found out that my boyfriend and I had been sexually active she forced us to marry. Well we were first married by a judge but when I became pregnant my parent and his insisted we marry in the Church. Neither of us wanted that in fact we were not at all happy in our marriage and had not been living as man and wife for several months and were considering a divorce and/or an annulment. Well with the news of the impending birth of our daughter we agreed to marry in the Church because our parents told us we had to or our child could not be baptized . I have always regretted this decision to marry. When I divorced only 3 months after our Church wedding I again looked into getting an annulment but I could not locate my husband. I looked for him using his social security number but was unable to find him I tried for many years but there were not even tax records. I was told I could not get an annulment and I should try to have him declared dead after 7 years. To make a long story short Father now after nearly 30 years I find that after I and everyone presumed him dead he has recently contacted my daughter who is now 31. I feel so lost and I am not sure if after all this time I can get an annulment . It is not that I wish to marry again now but I have returned to the church 5 years ago after many years and decided  to live a celibate life dedicated to God.  I feel I must at least try to obtain an annulment to be at peace with God . Please advise. PAX

ANSWER: First:  It is NOT a fact that a couple HAS to be married in order to have their child baptized.  I have no idea where your mother got that idea.  I agree it is certainly IDEAL, and certainly marriage is something that should be encouraged, but it is not necessary for Baptism.

Second: You can seek an annulment.  Simply contact your parish priest and he can help you get the paper work started.  It will be an involved process---you will have to give as much information about your marriage, the circumstances, etc, as you can, but you can apply for an annulment.  All you have to do is contact your parish priest.  It is not necessary to have your husband participate or even be helpful.  His participation may make things easier, but it is not necessary.

Third: If you feel called to a celibate life, etc, that is fine.  However that is not necessary either. If you can successfully receive the annulment you are free to purse another relationship if you wish.  If you want to be celibate and feel called to it, fine---but don't think you HAVE to live celibate to be at peace with God, and do not think you need a piece of paper that says your marriage was invalid (an annulment) to have piece with God. An annulment is only necessary if someone wants to pursue another relationship. I would suggest you apply for the annulment, not because it will give you peace with God, but simply for your OWN piece of mind and your OWN inner healing. God loves you whether you have the annulment or not.

Fourth:  Your former marriage is NOT, I repeat NOT your fault.  You married it seems to me for no other reason then to please your parents.  Your parents had the best of intentions I realize, nevertheless they should never have pressured you into marriage. Everyone makes mistakes.  People have relations outside of marriage all the time.  I don't think modern times are any different then the "glory" days of the 1950's.  The only difference between now and then is that today pre-marital relations is no longer considered sinful. It is sinful, but people do not see this today.  Obviously your child was conceived outside of marriage, but your child was not a mistake, your child is a life willed by God and loved by God.  You choose life despite the unexpected and for that you are to be commended.  

Fifth: if you have gone to Confession and made a good Confession you are already at peace with God.  If you have not been to Confession in a while, I suggest you go.  Confession is the Sacrament which brings healing and forgiveness. If it is peace with God you are looking for, Confession is what achieves that. The annulment will bring about psychological healing and enable you to pursue other relationships.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: First thank you you prompt answer and yes I do and feel called to a celibate life, yet because of the circumstances of me marriage I never hoped for a religious life I simply give all I thought I could give and have been living a celibate life and doing what I can to live in the service of others. Would it be possible for me to pursue a vocation to religious life if I were to get an annulment.

Answer
I am not certain of that.  You are certainly free to consult whatever religious communities you feel called to and see what they say.  This is a conversation you should have with your parish priest and or spiritual director.

I think it is possible for you to pursue a religious vocation, but I do think with a previous marriage you may face an uphill battle. A previous marriage would not necessarily rule out a vocation.

All I can say is pursue the annulment, talk to your parish priest, seek out some religious communities you feel called to and converse with the vocations directors and go from there.  

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

Experience

I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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