Last month I wrote about the control that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) seeks to exercise over marriage. One example is their claim to have the power to annul marriages – ‘putting asunder’ what God has joined together. Let us look at this more closely.
Human nature being what it is, it is sadly necessary for the State to provide a legal framework for divorce. It is quite a different matter, however, for a church to legislate for and administer divorce — in direct disobedience to Christ’s teaching on marriage.
Of course, the RCC does not call it divorce but ‘annulment’. In practice, however, there is little difference (except that annulment pretends that the broken marriage never happened!).
Grounds for annulment
One of the chief grounds for annulment is a ‘diriment impediment’. This means an obstacle that is so detrimental as to nullify a marriage automatically. Examples are the lack of consent of either party or a deficiency in the actual procedure of the ceremony or ‘form of marriage’ (which Rome requires to be performed before a RC priest and two witnesses).
However, this is another case of making laws and then suspending them conditionally — so as to maintain control over lives and families. Marriages declared null because of the law of ‘diriment impediments’ can be validated retrospectively by a decree of ‘radical sanation’.
RCC canon law states: ‘The radical sanation of an invalid marriage is its convalidation without the renewal of consent, which is granted by the competent authority and entails the dispensation from an impediment, if there is one, and from canonical form, if it was not observed, and the retroactivity of canonical effects’ (Canon 1161).
Like Ali Baba’s open sesame — magical words that opened the treasure cave in the children’s story — the Vatican’s intricate command structure is used to retroactively validate a marriage that their own rules had declared null and void!
Such making and unmaking of marriages contravenes the law of marriage that God himself laid down for all Adam’s posterity saying, ‘therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh’ (Matthew 19:5). God’s law cannot be manipulated and stage-managed by the decrees of any system.
The making and the unmaking of marriage is claimed to be within the apostolic power of the RCC, which exercises such power even if both parties know nothing of what is being done.
Thus Rome proclaims, ‘A sanation can be granted validly even when one or both of the parties are unaware of it; but it is not to be granted except for serious reason’ (Canon 1164). This mysterious power to heal a marriage that never existed is purportedly held in the heart of Rome herself, ‘The Apostolic See can grant a radical sanation’ (Canon 1165).
But marriage cannot be made valid at the command of Rome. The Lord Christ Jesus said ‘a man [shall] leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife’. This alone is how a marriage becomes valid before God. To decree that celibate prelates in Rome can make a marriage, even though the parties themselves do not know about it, is authoritarianism gone wild.
This bizarre power is claimed because Rome considers marriage to be a sacrament. It is therefore within her power to make or break marriages according to her own will and purposes.
The unmaking of marriages is sometimes done by what is called ‘interior consent’ — the consent that either the man or woman did or did not give from the beginning. This can be used either to make or break a marriage, but it is the latter that concerns us here.
Catholic annulments are big business. A web site states, ‘The statistics are interesting. In 1968 there were in the US a total of 338 annulments. In 1992 there were no less than 59,030, that is 175 times as many.
Another interesting figure is that the total number of annulments in the Catholic Church worldwide in 1992 was 76,286, which means that no less than 75% of all annulments were from the US, that is, from a little over 5% of the world’s Catholic population.
Moreover, not only do one in two Catholic marriages in the States end up with a divorce, but one in five is officially annulled, 90% of the demands for annulment being successful’.1
This casual and arrogant manner of dealing with marriage and the dissolution of marriage is not surprising. Like Indulgences, the whole annulment industry of the Roman Catholic Church, from the propounding of the laws to the ‘sale’ of the desired object, is in total violation of Scripture.
The sanctity of marriage
The incarnate Son of God spoke clearly of the dignity and sanctity of marriage. When asked about it, he went back to the narrative in Genesis; ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh”?’ (Matthew 19:4-5).
Jesus’ endorsement of the sanctity of marriage was simply a re-statement of the original revelation given by God. Marriage is a creation ordinance. It is not like baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which are ordinances for believers only. Marriage is from the beginning and comes under the jurisdiction of the civil state as instituted by God.
For Christians, the laws regarding marriage are clearly laid out in the Bible. A Christian pastor can counsel a couple regarding their marriage according to these biblical norms — but he is never to take jurisdiction over their marriage to make it or break it.
The Lord Jesus Christ is abundantly clear when he states that what God has joined together, no man should put asunder. The only biblical grounds for divorce are what the Lord himself allows in the case of sexual unfaithfulness and what the apostle Paul allows in the case of desertion of a believer by an unbelieving spouse.
Rome says she upholds the sanctity of marriage, but she allows marriages to be declared null and void based on a terminology of her own making. For example, ‘nullity’ (the decree that a marriage is null and void) when granted by Rome’s ecclesial courts is not just a simple statement. It allows for different interpretations.
Thus Canon 1684 states, ‘After the sentence which first declared the nullity of the marriage has been confirmed at the appellate grade either by a decree or by a second sentence, the persons whose marriage has been declared null can contract a new marriage as soon as the decree or second sentence has been communicated to them unless a prohibition attached to the sentence or decree or established by the local ordinary [the bishop] has forbidden this’.
Thus the very decree that a marriage is null and void is muddied by Catholic terminology. It requires trained Catholic lawyers to lead one through the labyrinth of canon law!
Using this smokescreen, papal Rome has granted hundreds of thousands of annulments and allowed remarriage — many of which unions are, before the Lord and his Word, nothing more than officially blessed adultery.
The extravagant demands of Roman Catholic law impinge on God-given freedoms. Marriage is the very basis of society, but for millions of Catholics it is being controlled and manipulated by Rome. This applies not only to Catholics but also to those who become ensnared by canon law by marrying Catholics.
If Catholicism is to be addressed seriously, this violation of marriage must be dealt with scripturally, since it stands at the very heart and structure of civil society as given by God.
It is impossible to be a Bible-believing Christian — accepting both the inspiration and authority of the Bible — and accept Roman Catholicism which forthrightly rejects that authority, as their laws on marriage show.
It is no surprise that the same Church of Rome officially declares, ‘the church has the innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faithful with penal sanctions’ (Canon 1311).
Jesus said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. Compare the oppressive laws of the Vatican with the requirements of Christ Jesus the Lord, and see how true it is that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Jesus Christ will give assured rest to every weary soul that comes to him: rest from the terror of sin, rest from the legalism that increases the power of sin, and most of all, rest in the Lord God.
Footnote and reference
This topic is close to Richard Bennett’s heart. As a Catholic priest, he celebrated the weddings of over 1000 couples. It was a great distress to him over 21 years of ministry to know that a large percentage of the marriages he had performed eventually failed. Since his salvation through God’s grace alone, and formally leaving the Roman Catholic Church, he has founded an evangelistic ministry (visit www.bereanbeacon.org).