Catholics say annulment easier, still serious

May 27, 1997


Staff Writer

Nine years ago, when Donna Acquaviva and Bob Naylor sought annulments for each of their first marriages, it wasn't a popular thing to do.

But these days, as the process has become less taboo, more Tri-State area Catholics are seeking annulments in order to have new marriages recognized by the Catholic Church.

"It was very cleansing," said Acquaviva, who lives near Hedgesville, W.Va.

The morning after the couple got their annulments, six years into their 15-year marriage, Naylor said to her, "I don't feel any more married, but I sure feel blessed."


Before the annulment, they didn't feel comfortable hiding their previous marriages, which began at young ages and produced 11 children. Divorced Catholics who remarry also are not supposed to take part in the ritual of communion.

As divorce has become more common, the church has been granting more annulments, said Bill Nairn, who, as a deacon at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Hagerstown, volunteers to help people through the process.

"People now are not discouraged from seeking them," said Nairn, a Hagerstown lawyer who also handles divorces.

Annulments are in the news lately with the book "Shattered Faith" by Sheila Rauch. In it, Rauch describes her fight against an annulment from Joseph P. Kennedy II.

But Tri-State area Catholics say the book propagates some common myths about annulment.

Some people wrongly think it makes the children illegitimate.

Most people don't realize that when someone gets married in the Catholic Church, they have made two commitments, said the Rev. Joseph Orr of St. Stephen Catholic Church in McConnellsburg, Pa.

The civil marriage, which legitimizes the children, can be dissolved by the state. But the Catholic marriage can never be broken, he said.

It can only be annulled if the person proves that it was never a sacramental marriage to begin with - for instance, if one person was too immature to make the commitment or a couple got married only because they were expecting a baby.

There are other myths about the process itself.

Some Catholics complain that the process has become too easy while others say it is too complicated, lengthy and personal, said Bill Blaul, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The church tries to be somewhere in between, he said.

Annulments are not rubber-stamped. People will be asked difficult questions.

"If the marriage failed, you should be asked personal questions, if not by the church then at least by a counselor because it's a serious gosh darn thing," Blaul said.

Acquaviva agreed that it wasn't easy to fill out the questionnaire that asked detailed questions about her first marriage.

"It was miserable, hard, difficult. It makes you look at yourself," she said.

But after it was over, she felt better off having asked those tough questions.

Some people drop an annulment when they see the questionnaire, said Nairn, who has handled more than 200 cases since he started about 1980.

Other common myths are that annulments take five years and cost $5,000.

Nairn said it usually takes seven months to a year and costs $475 to reimburse church officials for the time it takes to interview witnesses. The church is open to flexible payment plans, he said.

Acquaviva said she and Naylor paid less than that after they told the church they didn't have the money.

Rauch fought her annulment from Kennedy, but that is rare, Nairn said.

Only three or four of the cases he has handled were opposed by the ex-spouse, he said. Even then, the cases were handled through the mail to the marriage tribunal of the diocese where the marriage took place.

Most annulments are not contested because there is no advantage except spite because the civil marriage has already ended in divorce, he said.

"If they want to resume their life and remarry they need the annulment as much as the person seeking it," he said.

For Catholics, an increase in annulments doesn't necessarily mean a loss of faith. In fact, it may signal the opposite because those who aren't faithful would not be concerned about getting an annulment, Orr said.

"People are thinking more seriously about their lives and their families," Orr said.

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