There is one last popular attack that Rudd, to his credit, did not repeat in his essay: Fundamentalism’s allegation that “annulment is divorce.” I suspect Rudd knows his own sect is actually quite diverse on issues of divorce, and any accusation towards the Catholic Church brings attention to his own sect’s quiet acceptance of divorce and multiple “marriages”. However, there are many voices within his sect that indicatively represent the common Fundamentalist charge.
Johnny T. Polk is a minister in the same Fundamentalist sect as Rudd, and he is a contributor for a different anti-Catholic in-house Apologetics website called fellowshiproom.com. Polk is one of his sect’s anti-Catholic caricatures, and his material fills the gap in Rudd’s essay; it completes the normative Protestant laundry list of attacks in regards to Catholic beliefs about Marriage. Like Rudd, Polk is not a straw man. In 2015 he wrote a short article with the single intention of painting Catholics as sinners. The article was titled “Roman Catholic Church Annuls Marriages”, and reads:
. . . It’s sad to think that sin could be labeled “not sin.” Jesus 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?’[sic] So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5-6 NKJV). Calling “divorce” an “annulment” doesn’t change it, and human reasons” [sic] for “annulment” are not reasons for divorce. What God joins, no man can separate by calling it “annulment.”5
And to help assure you Polk’s words are indicative, the Fundamentalist Apologetics website biblequestions.org, a “work of the Holly Street Church of Christ” in Denver, Colorado, addresses the subject of Catholic annulment:
Beloved, man, no man, whether civil or religious, has the right to dissolve a marriage (only God can dissolve the marriage bond) on grounds other that [sic] what God has expressly said! (Rev. 22: 18, 19.) [sic] . . . God has revealed his will on the subject of marriage.6
The manner in which Fundamentalists present the Catholic understanding of annulment might seem honest, or intelligent, or true to those who can use the Internet to learn what other Fundamentalists say about the Catholic Church, yet are incapable of using the Internet to learn what annulment actually is. As I wrote earlier, intellectual endeavor does not create Fundamentalists. Fundamentalists like Polk and the minds behind biblequestions.org hope people do not think, do not venture outside the Fundamentalist echo chamber, do not read the readily available definition of a word.
My own Google search for “Catholic Annulment” just now led me directly to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It defines the word as “a declaration . . . that a marriage thought to be valid . . . actually fell short.”7 In other words, an annulment is a declaration—a realization—that there was never a valid Marriage in the first place. Put differently, there was no Marriage, and therefore, “divorce” is an impossibility. However, Fundamentalists are determined to either misrepresent the Catholic Church or are determined to remain ignorant of basic facts; either knowingly lie, or attack what they have no interest in understanding. At the same time, they write their “words of wisdom” (Polk’s branding) and want the world to believe they teach the words of eternal life.
To most of Fundamentalism’s credit, it, like the Catholic Church, believes God established Marriage as a permanent union. The same website page I quoted the definition of “annulment” from (and that evades so many Fundamentalists’ research) also reads:
When two people marry, they form an unbreakable bond. Jesus himself taught that marriage is permanent . . . and St. Paul reinforced this teaching. . . . The Church does not recognize a civil divorce because the State cannot dissolve what is indissoluble.8
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is just as easily accessible online as well as print, yet Fundamentalists insist on pretending that “annulment” is Catholic code for “divorce”. The Catechism, of course, is not Scripture; it is an interpretation—an exegesis—of the Scriptures. All Christian groups have a catechism, even if Fundamentalists try to present themselves as “Bible-only” Christians and keep their creeds (beliefs, written or not) and catechisms invisible—in their minds. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:
Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign (CCC #2384).
In this way, Fundamentalism is largely in agreement with Catholicism, yet Fundamentalists pretend that they are not in agreement with the Catholic Church; Catholicism offers no enthusiasm for divorce. And even though there is agreement, the Fundamentalist ethic of “the ends justify the means” allows many of its adherents to bear false witness and teach that the Catholic Church calls sin “not sin” (Polk’s profundity).
A valid Catholic Marriage consists of specific elements, and when those elements are not present, there is no Marriage. A declaration of nullity is a declaration that a Marriage’s elements were not all present. Consider a legal analogy: if all of the specific elements of a crime are not present, there is no crime. A declaration of nullity is when the judge declares, “No crime was committed.”
The Catholic Church has the authority given by her Founder, Christ Jesus, to hear the case and to determine if a man and a woman entered into a valid Marriage. The Catholic Church does not recognize the State’s bureaucracy as a determining authority if a Marriage is valid because Marriage is a sacrament of divine institution. Conversely, Fundamentalism recognizes the State’s authority as the judge of what is a Christian Marriage; if a man and a woman civilly marry, then they are, in the eyes of the Fundamentalist, validly married.
The elements that create a valid Catholic Marriage are few, but essential. If the baptized spouses were not free (available) to marry, they did not have a valid Marriage. If the spouses did not freely exchange their consent, they did not have a valid Marriage. If the spouses were not open to life (children)—part of the Christian purpose of Marriage—they did not have a valid Marriage. If there were no witnesses or if the ceremony was not before a minister, they did not have a valid Marriage.
For a declaration of nullity to be granted, an element must be proved missing. The Catholic Church normally treats Marriage more seriously than any Christian group; only the most antagonistic critic could imply anything different. One of Protestantism’s first ecclesial organizations was created when King Henry VIII demanded a divorce and was denied it. He proceeded to invent a counterfeit Catholic Church, which is now the Anglican Church, the initial home of what became the Puritans—the first “Protestant Evangelicals”. The Catholic Church’s stance on Marriage’s permanence fills the history books, and no amount of Fundamentalist attacks can change the facts: “annulment” means there was never a valid Marriage, and “divorce” is a covenantal break between two people before God.
In good conscience, I must include some commentary. As I wrote earlier, the Catholic Church “normally” treats Marriage more seriously than any Christian group, but the health of the modern American Church is not well in this regard. So, the responsible Christian must recognize that Catholicism never changes, but Catholics have free will and are often poor ambassadors to the world.
I am playing loose with figures because I have found so many, but I am conservative. The United States is home to only six percent of the world’s Catholics, yet sixty to seventy percent of the world’s annulments are granted in the United States. The number has increased over twenty thousand percent since 1960. The Church’s teachings have not changed; she—clergy and laypeople—have been influenced and weakened by American society in this regard.
The scandal, of course, is not only the injustice of handing annulments to people who have most likely abused the process; it is the often-accurate impression she gives the world: the Church dispenses annulments as flippantly and easily as the state grants divorces. Catholics and Protestants alike should pray for the Church to return to her former position and moral authority.
5 Available at http://fellowshiproom.com/9-10-2015-roman-catholic-church-annuls-marriages/ as of December 24, 2018.
6 Available at www.biblequestions.org/bqar012.html as of February 20, 2016.
7 Available at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/annulment/ as of February 20, 2016.