Tag Archives: annulment

WHAT TO SEE: The Tribunal

Ryan Wesley Gilreath, Chris Petty, Laura E. Mock
Run time: 114 min
Rated PG-13

“It’s complicated.” Isn’t that how people often describe their relationships? The relationships in The Tribunal are precisely that. The film, a limited theatrical release now available on cable and streaming services, is a well-intended drama involving a petition for a declaration of nullity, or annulment, from a Church tribunal. The story is told largely in flashback style through testimony given at the hearings.

Tony (Ryan Wesley Gilreath), a concert promoter and local musician, is a lapsed Catholic who falls for Emily (Laura Mock), a good Catholic girl. When she refuses his advances and invites him to Mass, he begins to clean up his act and recover his faith.

Yet the couple’s indiscretions weaken them into a sexual relationship that ultimately leads to their breakup after Emily’s father (Jim Damron), a permanent deacon, confronts Emily about her sinful choices. Tony is devastated.

Tony’s best friend and bandmate, Joe (Chris Petty), falls in love with Emily, creating the expected tensions. Joe, who is not Catholic, is divorced from Jessie (Victoria McDevitt), who married Joe only because she was unhappily pregnant. As Joe and Emily seek an annulment of Joe’s previous marriage so they can be free to wed in the Church, they need the testimony of Tony, who knew Jessie didn’t believe in the permanence of marriage and never wanted children — both grounds for annulment. Tony hesitates to help Joe, hoping Emily might return to him instead. Emily’s father, by the way, is one of the tribunal officials. Complicated enough?

As with many lower-budget films, viewers might quibble with the acting and scriptwriting. Yet the film’s small production company, St. Michael Movies, sets its sights on producing solid Catholic stories for the New Evangelization. Where this film succeeds most is in illustrating the bouts of conscience experienced by the major players and in depicting the Church’s thoughtful and compassionate handling of the tribunal process — highlighting that annulment is certainly not a light matter and often a complicated one at that.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Is an annulment just a Catholic divorce?

An annulment is just the opposite of a divorce. Divorce tries to break apart what God has joined together; an annulment simply recognizes that God never joined the couple together in the first place.

For many people, it’s shocking to learn that what they believed to be a real marriage was in fact lacking in key elements. But it’s important to remember that marriage is God’s idea. He established the conditions by which we enter into the sacrament of Matrimony. Christ bestowed the powers of binding and loosing on the Church rather than the civil authorities, so it’s the Church that defines Christian marriage. But here is a little understood fact: The priest doesn’t perform the sacrament of Marriage. He only “witnesses” the marriage. The husband and wife actually administer the sacrament to one another.

When the Church issues a declaration of nullity, it is saying that it withdraws its witness because it now sees that the conditions necessary for a valid marriage were absent. Scripture says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This gives us some rough guidelines for what constitutes a valid marriage.

Consent: Mature dedication to establish a new family unit.

Permanence: Commitment to a lifelong covenantal union with one’s spouse.

Fidelity: Consummation of the union through sexual intercourse with the expectation of children.

In short, the conditions for validity are “leaving,” “cleaving,” and “becoming one flesh.” Sometimes these conditions or their corollaries are absent in a mar riage. We can find this situation at times in Scripture when God set aside invalid marriages (see Gen 21:14; Deut 7:3; Ezra 9, 10; Mal 2:10-16).

An annulment is simply the recognition by the Church that what appeared to be a valid marriage was actually not. All an annulment determines is that at the time of the wed ding one or both parties lacked the ability to give proper consent or in some way violated the Church’s requirement for marriage. A divorce dissolves a marriage; an annulment says there was no marriage.

Al Kresta is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” (Servant Publications/St. Anthony Messenger Press 2001).