Every year, Pope Benedict XVI gives a speech to the judges of the Roman Rota, a Vatican court that mainly handles marriage cases. He usually includes a warning about handing out annulments too easily, and Americans invariably assume that he’s talking about them. On this matter they may have a point: Vatican statistics say that more than 60% of annulments come from the United States.
Official Catholic teaching holds that marriage is for life, and hence divorce is not tolerated. Yet church law provides for an “annulment,” meaning a formal declaration that a marriage never existed, usually on the grounds that at least one of the parties lacked the capacity to give true consent. To secure an annulment, Catholics have to turn to church courts, which can be time-consuming and expensive.
Annulment has drawn a variety of criticisms over the years….