A Catholic marriage can be annulled

Marriage annulmentThe Catholic emergency exit from a failed marriage

The Protestant Ina Meyer zu Uptrup received mail from the Catholic Church. Her ex-husband wanted to get married again as a Catholic. Therefore a church court should decide whether the first marriage - according to the Catholic understanding - can be annulled.

"Which I find absolutely absurd. What does the Catholic Church have to say about whether we were married right or wrong? What is that supposed to mean?"

Ina Meyer zu Uptrup felt like she was playing a part in an absurd play. For Christian Wirtz, marriage annulment proceedings are neither absurd nor theater. The 41-year-old priest is officially the highest church judge in the Diocese of Hildesheim and is therefore primarily responsible for the Catholic way of getting divorced.

"Anyone can come to us whose marriage has failed and who wants to get ahead in the interests of the Church and who wants to marry a new partner. So there is no one who I would say that it is useless to come to us."

The decisive factor for annulment of the marriage is how it came about. For example, the question of whether the will to marry was sincere in the Catholic sense?

"We have the classic lack of will: the most common of these is the exclusion of indissolubility. The Church assumes that everyone who gets married wants to enter into an indissoluble marriage. Those who exclude marrying indissolubly - and say for themselves: if it doesn't work out "I'm getting a divorce, according to the church's opinion he would be married illegally. You have to say, of course, that under today's social conditions this is the case in most marriages."

Wolfgang Hussmann also had his first marriage declared null and void by a Catholic court.

"My inner condition was: I was terribly wrong about my first marriage. And I made the wrong decision."

Even with him - so the court found - the will to marry was not sufficient. Wolfgang Hussmann remembers.

"There was such a thought that caught me on the eve of the marriage: Why are we getting married? I noticed: On the eve of the marriage, I was not able to answer this question. That is something I then do I noticed: If you had had more guts back then, you would have had to say that evening: We're not getting married. "

Intimate partner violence is not a reason for annulment

Another criterion for annulling a marriage retrospectively is the exclusion of offspring. Christian Wirtz explains:

"The church assumes that a marriage is essentially geared to fathering and raising children. If the deliberate rule out of wanting to have children, then that would be a reason why the marriage would become invalid."

Another reason: psychological problems such as an excessive attachment to the mother. Or a lack of internal or external freedom: family or social conventions cause someone to marry - for example, because a child is on their way.

In contrast, intimate partner violence is usually not a reason to annul a marriage:

"This is often put forward in cases of psychological incapacity for marriage, that women report that their husbands have been violent. The difficulty for us is that we have to prove that this has been the case from the start."

And even if a spouse cheats some time after the wedding, this is no reason for a declaration of nullity, explains the church judge.

"... what else is it if someone becomes unfaithful after a month or after six months. Then one can ask the legitimate question whether he had the right view a month before and had the right will to marry."

Many Catholics who want to have their marriage annulled give the same reason for the procedure as Wolfgang Hussmann:

"At first it was a very disgraceful reason: I work in church service, and because of the work rules it was clear that if I want to get married again, that is not possible in my position."

If the marriage is investigated before the church court, then usually only one of the ex-partners is interested in the proceedings. This is also the case with Wolfgang Hussmann and his ex-wife:

"She refused because she could not be convinced that this trial is not about finding any guilt."

Christian Wirtz is also aware of the fear that dirty laundry will be washed in the process:

"The danger is there, and many are afraid of it and for this reason do not want to take the proceedings. But it is not the spouse who is accused in these nullity proceedings, but the marriage as such is accused of being invalid."

1,200 annulment proceedings in one year

One difficulty of the procedure is that you have to reconstruct moods, statements, sensations that sometimes went a long way back:

"If you have to think about what happened over 20 years ago, who said what, there are still people who were there. It's a bit difficult then."

Christian Weissner from the Catholic Church People's Movement "We are Church" thinks nothing of the whole marriage nullity procedure anyway.

"This procedure is like snooping in diaries, statements from acquaintances are evaluated. One has the impression that the Catholic Church is officially investigating the private life, the soul life of a family, which has to reveal its innermost being there."

Weissner demands that his church deal with the reality of life of divorced people. The marriage annulment procedure is the wrong way:

"You can't just cancel something in your life, cross it out again with Tipp-Ex and say: That was wrong. And I think: What does that mean, for example, for the children who emerged from such a marriage? According to the Church, marriage, where I was born, did not even exist? "

But Pope Francis relies on the Catholic way of getting divorced. He has shortened the length of the proceedings in order to make marriage annulment more attractive to Catholics.

"It is a confirmation that these procedures should exist."

Despite all the criticism - after all, around 1,200 Catholics in Germany applied for nullity proceedings last year - most of them with success. Over two thirds of marriages are then actually - according to the Catholic reading - declared null and void.