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Marriage, entanglements, and Declarations of Nullity

There’s a perception about “getting an annulment” that the Judicial Vicar wants people to move away from–you just have to visit the Marriage Tribunal “thinking it’s as easy as requesting an ID card” and you will get it in seven working days.

“Even using the word ‘annulment’ is a misnomer,” said Fr Roger Paponette.

It’s a Declaration of Nullity, a decree from a judge that declares the marriage is invalid based on testimonies. The decision is taken on “proper solid ground” after gathering information which takes time, he said.

Fr Paponette was speaking during ‘The Sacrament of Marriage – Entanglement and Declaration of Nullity’, a virtual session on July 29 hosted by the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission for married and single persons.

Fr Paponette dealt with what makes a marriage valid, and grounds for a Declaration of Nullity.

He began explaining that the tribunal uses Canon Law, which he described as one of the sacred disciplines of the Church. He said just as theology is the science that tries to understand the word of God, Canon Law puts that understanding into action. For example, “If God is love, what are the structures that we need to put in place to show God is love?”

Fr Paponette said there is one Canon Law that speaks of marriage–‘Marriage is the matrimonial covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership for the whole of life and which is ordered by its very nature to the good of the spouse, and the procreation and education of offspring…’

He examined the language of the law, clarifying that ‘education of offspring’ is not only in the academic sense but to “seek the healthy, human, holistic education of children”.

What makes a marriage valid? “Proper, free, mature consent”. He spoke of ‘freedom’ meaning both parties having “the psychological ability to understand relationship” and face issues and “not run away”. He advised engaged couples not to “fool ourselves into thinking when I marry ‘X’ or ‘Y’, he or she will change.”

Beside consent, there are impediments like psychological capacity, explaining “you just don’t have the psychological strength to be there for the other”.

Overall, a marriage will be invalid if there is “deliberate intention” not to live out the marriage vows.


Marriage and entanglement

The session’s other presenters were clinical psychologist Claire Peters, and counselling psychologist Nicholas Voisin.

Peters, who is married for 26 years and involved in the Couples for Christ ministry, spoke on the sacramentality of marriage.

She said everyone has a desire to be loved and nurtured, and that love is hardwired into our DNA. She said the definition of love was different from that of the secular world, going on to use the well-known scripture from 1 Corinthians 13, (love is patient and kind).

Peters defined marriage as a sacrament, clarifying that each sacrament had matter, form and minister. Marriage was instituted by God and proven in the Bible. She said the matter and the minister is the couple, and the form is the exchange of marriage vows. God’s grace is given to the couple to help them live out these vows.

In his presentation, Voisin outlined the four pillars of a healthy Catholic marriage–free, total, faithful, and fruitful. The Original Pain Therapy counsellor said being fruitful does not only apply in terms of having children but “individual growth and growth in the community”.

Voisin tackled the hot topic of entanglements. An entanglement is a co-dependency. He explained that humans need love, not only to receive but to give. Attraction is there to help choose someone, and courtship is there to help us choose if that someone has the right qualities for a lifelong relationship.

Voisin said an ‘entanglement’ is an unhealthy relationship, and there may be incidents of “repetition compulsion”, when the family of origin “does not do for us what should have been done…we come in carrying some baggage”.

There are many reasons why there are challenges, one of them is unmet expectations. “These can be fixed but it takes work.”

Infidelity can be described as one type of entanglement, when somebody’s needs are not being met. Voisin said it may not be of a sexual nature all the time, but eventually it ends there.

He closed sharing a few signs of an entanglement–one or both partners are immature; the relationship is short, turbulent, unhealthy; there is a communication breakdown and distancing; a possibility of victimisation; one or both partners unable to set boundaries; there is not a total giving of self; and there are more negative than positive feelings.

The session included breakout group discussion for the 70-odd participants and a Question and Answer period.

There were two other testimonies. A couple from Teams of Our Lady, Jeffrey and Pasqualina Hoford, married for over three decades, shared on married life and maintaining the relational bond; and Albertina Rudulfo, who presents with her husband Selwyn in the Joy Filled Marriage programme in Arima, spoke of her experience of her first marriage receiving a Declaration of Nullity. –RS