In several comments to a recent post, Gareth and Catherine AGREED on something! Here is Catherine’s comment (with my emphasis):
Gareth, for once I agree with you, The whole annulment business is pretty dodgy. No offence intended to anyone who has an annulment [none taken!]. I am delighted that people can remarry, but find it ” interesting ” the technicalities that some people can get out of a marriage on, yet other people won’t be granted an annulment, yet I would consider they were far more deserving.
At the end of that comment, Catherine called annulments a “get out of jail free card”.
It is important to note that annulments are not given for “moral” reasons, but for “legal” reasons. Even the State has the power to annul a marriage if in some respect or other the law concerning marriage was not properly observed when the marriage contract was entered into.
All annulments are on the basis of a legal “technicality”. They are never given for “moral” reasons to the “most deserving”. The Church has laws regarding what is required for a valid marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is worth consulting. I quote the relevant sections (again, with my emphasis):
1625 The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent; “to be free” means:
– not being under constraint;
– not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law.
1626 The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that “makes the marriage”125 [CIC, can. 1057# 1]. If consent is lacking there is no marriage.
1627 The consent consists in a “human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other”: “I take you to be my wife” – “I take you to be my husband” [GS 48# 1; OCM 45; cf. CIC, can. 1057# 2]. This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two “becoming one flesh” [Gen 2:24; cf. Mt 10:8; Eph 5:31].
1628 The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear [cf. CIC, can. 1103]. No human power can substitute for this consent [cf. CIC, can. 1057# 1]. If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.
1629 For this reason (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed [cf. CIC, cann. 1095-1107]. In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged [cf. CIC, can. 1071].
If on any of these legal “technicalities” – such as not abiding by Church law (eg. a Catholic who marries without dispensation outside of the Church) or the consent not being entirely free (which could be due to immaturity or financial pressure or some other such “technicality”) – it can be shown that the marriage was not, under Canon Law, a valid marriage, an annulment may be granted.
Law – both Church and State – is full of “technicalities”. But the technicalities matter, and it is always on such “technicalities” that annulments are granted.
The duty of marriage tribunals is to ascertain that such a “technicality” really does exist. I grant that it may be that some tribunals have been a little ready to find “technicalities” where they do not exist, but the abuse of the law does not negate the law itself.