ARCC spot LIGHT (analysis of Church issues offered by the ARCC Publications Committee, L. Arceneaux, R. Schutzius, eds.)
ANNULMENT: External Forum and Internal Forum
Baptized couples bestow the sacrament of Marriage on each other by a commitment of life-time fidelity. If two capable people freely commit, a sacramental marriage is achieved. They become instruments of God's grace for each other. As many as half of Catholic marriages now end. What explains this? Two possibilities are: 1) An essential element was missing from the beginning of the marriage, or 2) it was lost along the way. Either way, the sacramental element (conferring grace on each other) does not exist. While divorce/remarriage, like contraception, has become more a matter of individual conscience, it is a much more serious matter with profound consequences.
Every human effort should be made to avoid the tragedy of a failed marriage. Human failures occur. Mistakes are made. But life goes on and so does one's spiritual life. God continues to love us in spite of our failures. The Church offers two options to those in failed unions.
The External Forum Annulment (EFA) is a process whereby the Catholic Church judges that a failed marriage never reached a sacramental level even though one or both of the parties thought they were doing all necessary. The judgment is based on external evidence. Once an annulment is granted, the parties may attempt another marriage in the Church. Annulments do not nullify civil marriages nor render illegitimate children born of failed unions. The Internal Forum Annulment (IFA) process is a self-help alternative whereby one judges in conscience that a failed marriage is no longer sacramental. The judgment is an internal, conscience-based conclusion made with or without objective evidence.
Both processes attempt to resolve the status of a failed marriage. Respect for the authority of the Church and for the integrity of a well-formed conscience to judge the validity of a marriage are involved. Both are human judgments with these same conditions of circumstances and conscience.
1) The firm conviction in conscience that a previous marriage does not have sacramental status due to a lack of an essential condition in one or both parties.* 2) The sacramentality of the current marriage is judged valid in the eyes of God and Christian community
Where possible, annulment should be sought through the External Forum process. When this is not possible (too costly or for lack of objective evidence) the Internal Forum Annulment process is an alternative way to affirm the judgment made in conscience that a marriage never was or is not now a valid sacramental marriage.
The Church does not provide much information about the IFA since no official external verification is involved. The IFA remains an internal process between the individual and an objective advisor/guide/spiritual director/parish priest. Beginning about 1000 years ago the Church began to assert judgment over the sacramental marriage of Christians. It established and maintains tribunals to do this based on external evidence. It cannot and does not judge the internal decision made by an individual since this is a conscience matter.
Catholics are free to use ALL the legitimate processes of the Church. Following a well informed conscience is one of these processes. Faced with this judgment, always give due respect to the authority and process of the Church, while mindful that the right to enter into the difficult IFA process, following the conclusion of your own conscience, is a legitimate alternative recognized by the Church.
Guidance through the IFA process serves as an unbiased assessment of this very personal decision based on prayer (conversation with God) and trust in God's mercy. See "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church" by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson (Chapter 8), for a more complete treatment and guidance on the formation of conscience and IFA.
# All Catholics have the right to follow their informed conscience in all matters. (ARCC Charter of Rights, No 1)
# All married Catholics have the right to withdraw from a marriage which has irretrievably broken down. All such Catholics retain the radical right to remarry. (ARCC Charter of Rts.No.30)
# All Catholics who are divorced and remarried and who are in conscience reconciled to the Church have the right to the same ministries, including all sacraments, as do other Catholics. (ARCC Charter of Rts., No. 31)
* Common defects of decision
1. Inability to fulfill the obligation because of sexual identity confusion
2. Inability to communicate-emotional paralysis, one way communication
3. Pro forma action i.e. marriage to gain immigration/citizenship, pretending
4. Against one's will - forced to marry, fear of displeasing someone
5. Excessive self centeredness, narcissism
6. Hidden details about the 'other' - something that would have been a 'deal breaker' but kept hidden
7. Psychological dysfunction to abuse the 'other'
Remembering the Women Sunday Readings (Review the Book)
Sunday Feb 22, 7th Sunday, Genesis 19:15-26
Ash Wednesday Feb. 25, Exodus 21:7-11, Deuter. 15:12-17, 21:10-14, Oroverbs 4:3-13, Luke 1:45-55, Ester 14:3-14
Sunday March 1, 1st Lent, Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7.
Sunday March 15, 2nd Lent, Genesis 11:27-32, 12:10-20
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