The Catholic Church’s “Hang Up” About Annulments

Q: Why is the Catholic Church so hung up about annulments? No other Church makes divorced people go through such a process before they can marry again.

A: To the extent that is true, it is because no other Church is doing its job. It is not, however, entirely true as the Eastern Orthodox have a parallel procedure when it comes to their totally unbiblical practice of “ecclesiastical divorces” (not the same as annulments).

You are right that no Protestant group has such a process, and this is sad because historically Protestant churches have taught that there are some situations in which one cannot biblically remarry and thus that Jesus’ command about remarriage in these circumstances being adulterous really means something (Mark 10:11-12).

Therefore, they should be conducting their own objective investigations of marriages and whether a given church member can remarry. However, in no Protestant denomination is there any mechanism to do this.

Instead, the decision of whether or not to marry a couple is left up to the pastor whom they approach and ask to do the service, and of course there is immense pressure on the pastor to not refuse a marriage request from members of his congregation. This creates a situation that would parallel one in which each and every Catholic priest were permitted to grant annulments if it seemed like a good idea to him personally. That, of course, would involve grave pastoral irresponsibility–someone who personally knows the parties must not be deciding such a case as his affection for and desire to receive the affection of his parishioners would strip him of his objectivity.

One must therefore conclude that all the Protestant denominations are engaged in something that is gravely pastorally irresponsible in this area by not putting in place a mechanism to objectively evaluate whether given members are or are not biblically free to marry.

The situation is compounded by the fact that, so long as a couple has been married by someone, somewhere, almost every Protestant church will accept the marriage as valid, even if it is in violation of Jesus’ warning about adulterous marriages. This is simply pastorally unacceptable as it confirms to the couple in such a marriage that their union is valid and wholesome in the sight of God, which in fact it is not.

Jesus’ warning that some marriages are adulterous means something, and Protestant churches need to think through the pastoral implications of that and not simply take the easy way out by telling everyone their marriage is valid so long as they were able to find someone somewhere who was willing to marry them.

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