Misunderstanding of process yields to release, closure, elation

When I was going through the divorce process, a priest who was a good friend of mine suggested I get the materials and begin looking into an annulment. My first reaction: No way. As far as I was concerned, nothing in my failed four-year marriage could possibly rise to the level of annulment. 

I got married in my mid-20s, so obviously I wasn’t too immature. There was no abuse or addictions, or anything that might seem like an obvious reason — in my mind — for an annulment. There had even been three priests on the altar at my wedding Mass. As far as I was concerned, not only didn’t I have a chance at annulment, I didn’t deserve an annulment. 

But he persisted. “Just look at the materials,” he said. Reluctantly, I agreed. When the packet arrived at my apartment one day, I dove right in, desperate to get this “promise” over with and out of my life. 

I flipped through the pages and stopped cold. There, mixed in with the usual questions about address and education and sacraments received, was a long list of questions that seemed to strike right at my core. Questions about whether there had been a significant death in my family close to the wedding. There had. About whether I’d ever called off the wedding before finally saying, “I do.” I had. About whether ours had been a long-distance courtship. It had. 

On and on, as I read through questions, I began to see that I had been approaching the idea if an annulment from a mistaken and misguided place. With each nod of my head in response to a question, I realized that the Church recognized something I had not: No matter how many priests were on the altar, my ex-spouse and I had not entered into the marriage in a way that could possibly make it truly sacramental. It couldn’t succeed because it had been damaged from the start. 

Although I was not allowed to begin annulment proceedings until my civil divorce was final — standard operating procedure for all tribunals — I began to write my autobiography, using the guidelines provided by my archdiocese. As I reflected on my childhood, my own parents’ marriage, my dating experience, my family life and, of course, my relationship with my ex-spouse, it became clear that the idea of annulment wasn’t some Catholic version of divorce, as I had originally suspected, but a thoughtful and careful process designed to peel back the layers of my life and my marriage to reveal what was — or was not — at play the day I walked down the aisle. 

As soon as I was able, I submitted my paperwork and asked my aunt and my stepmother to serve as my witnesses. I went to the tribunal to give my oral testimony. I called constantly to check on its status. When the final declaration of nullity came through a year after I began, I felt a real sense of relief, elation and closure — something my civil divorce could not provide. I felt whole.

Read additional articles from the In Focus:

Clearing up annulment misconceptions

Top 10 annulment myths