Tag Archives: divorce

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.

God intends permanence for marriage

In 1969, Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, passed the first state law allowing for no-fault divorce. Instead of having to prove one partner committed a fault such as adultery or abuse, a marriage could be ended simply because the couple had “irreconcilable differences.” But what have been the consequences of this redefinition of marriage?

Trent Horn

After hitting a high point in the 1980s, the divorce rate has returned to the level it was at prior to no-fault divorce. But that’s only because more people are choosing not to marry—11 percent more people, to be precise. But that doesn’t mean an increased number of people have stopped engaging in the marital act.

In 1963, only 7 percent of children were born out of wedlock. Today, that number is 40 percent, and in some socioeconomic communities it’s as high as 71 percent. On average, one out of four children in the U.S. lives apart from his or her biological father. Research has found that children from divorced or unmarried households are more likely to live in poverty and more likely to be abused than children from stable marriages.

The best gift for a child

Child Trends, a nonpartisan research group that has studied the family for the past four decades, says that children in households with married parents have “in general, better health, greater access to health care, and fewer emotional or behavioral problems than children living in other types of families.” In contrast, a child whose parents cohabit but who aren’t married is four times more likely to be abused. A child whose mother has a live-in boyfriend is 11 times more likely to be abused. The best gift you can give your child isn’t the latest toy or game; it’s married parents who are willing to resolve their problems in a healthy way.

Aside from the evidence social science provides for the goodness of lifelong marriage, the Bible reveals that God’s plan for marriage always involved permanence. Jesus said that when a man and woman marry, “they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:8-9). To make his point even clearer he said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12) .

The Catholic Church allows for legal separation and even civil divorce if there are circumstances like spousal abuse. However, if the couple are baptized Christians, then, following what Jesus taught, they are still validly married and so the Church prohibits either person from getting remarried. Even if the marriage fell apart because of infidelity or abuse, sin cannot undo what God has joined together. But grace can overcome sin.

It gives divorced spouses the strength to bear the crimes committed against them, and it gives spouses whose marriages are in trouble the humility to seek spiritual and professional help. Marriage is not easy, but as St. Paul said, “I can do all things in [Christ] who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

This excerpt is printed with permission from Chapter 23, “Til Death Do Us Part,” of the newly published book Why We’re Catholic: Our Reasons for Faith, Hope, and Love, by Trent Horn (Catholic Answers Press, 2017).

TRENT HORN is a convert to Catholicism and staff apologist for Catholic Answers, specializing in teaching Catholics to graciously and persuasively engage those who disagree with them. He is featured weekly on a radio program where he talks with atheists, pro-choice advocates and other non-Catholic callers. He travels worldwide speaking about the Catholic faith, and has authored several books.


Catechism 101

Thus the marriage bond has been established by God Himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1640

Can the divorced receive communion?

Karl Keating: A valid Catholic marriage is binding, even if the couple is divorced . . .

Karl Keating

God’s law isn’t invalidated by sloppy theology or hearts in the wrong place. The Church (as did Christ) doesn’t recognize divorce in the ecclesiastical sense. A valid marriage, once made, can’t be undone by a divorce, even if the spouses lose all love for one another.

Although marriage is permanent, the Church also recognizes that at times spouses can’t and shouldn’t live together, perhaps for the good of the children, perhaps for the safety of one of the spouses. In such cases the Church permits spouses to separate or seek civil divorce. But divorce only dissolves the marriage so far as the civil law is concerned. Marriage is a sacrament and is unaffected by a civil determination. Some may speak loosely of Catholic marriages being dissolved by civil divorce proceedings, but that’s sloppy theology. Only death ends a truly sacramental marriage.

Although civil divorce is always undesirable, living together may be even more undesirable. Consider the case of a drunken, abusive husband. The spouses separate, custody and support are fixed by a court — and the marriage continues. Neither spouse is free to marry again.

In the case of an annulment, however, the Church has determined there was no valid marriage in the first place because no valid consent had been given by one party. For a valid, sacramental marriage to take place, both parties must be capable of giving consent — and both then must consent to a life-long commitment and openness to children. If one party participates in the wedding ceremony with no intention to have a lasting marriage or with a refusal to have children, the marriage is invalid from the start, even if the intention is kept secret and the ceremony goes off (excuse the phrase) without a hitch.

No ecclesiastical penalty, such as excommunication, applies to divorced people. If they don’t attempt to remarry and if they are otherwise in a state of grace, they may continue to receive Communion. But if one spouse remarries while the other spouse is still living, the remarrying spouse has actually entered into an adulterous relationship. Since adultery is a grave sin, such a person is barred from Communion. In our society, in which many Catholics know their faith poorly and find themselves in what they may have thought were valid second marriages, the results can be especially difficult to deal with. But we do not deal with tough situations by abandoning God’s sacramental law.

Karl Keating is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith,” pages 54 and 61 (Ignatius Press, 1995).

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).