As a child my religious education was scanty (though sufficient enough to allow me to come to my own conclusion). More recently; however, I received a rather unexpected edification: I experienced an annulment.
I must confess that my marriage was, in fact, consummated repeatedly for approximately four years prior to my divorce. Fortunately (for the spouse of my former spouse) the Catholic church has been able to expand the definition of a null marriage from one characterized by abstinence to include one which was not entered into with a mature understanding of the institution and the responsibilities which lie therein. With the help of modern psychiatry and the present day epidemic of psychoses, personality disorders, homosexuality and substance abuse, there are numerous evils that can prevent us from making an informed decision.
When evaluating the "validity" of a marriage, the Catholic church considers the fundamental consent in two parts: Quality of consent ("consent must be free and discerning") and capacity to carry out consent ("...maturity to establish and sustain a mutually supportive communal relationship with one another.") It is the latter category that provides the framework to declare almost all of us emotionally handicapped, particularly in hindsight when we search for previously missed predictors of the now "failed" marriage. Who among us could not describe ourselves at some point as selfish, immature, insecure, fearful of dependency, lacking a sense of self-worthlessness!
In order to address the church's vague rationale for granting annulments I have developed a guideline that gives stricter definition to the consent process. If followed, the immediate consequence may be a decrease in the number of marriages; however, those that do take place will be entered into with more certainty. And, of course, they could be exited with more precision as well. This marriage consent form is an adaptation of the Food and Drug Administration's guidelines for general requirements for Informed Consent for research involving human beings as subjects which consists of the following:
1. A statement that the study involves research, an explanation of the purposes of the research and the expected duration of the subject's participation, a description of the procedures to be followed, and identification of any procedures which are experimental.
2. A description of any reasonably foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject.
3. A description of any benefits to the subject or to others which may reasonably be expected from the research.
4. A disclosure of appropriate alternative procedures or courses of treatment, if any, that might be advantageous to the subject.
5. A statement describing the extent, if any, to which confidentiality of records identifying the subject will be maintained and that notes the possibility that the Food and Drug Administration may inspect the records.
6. For research involving more than minimal risk, an explanation as to whether any compensation and an explanation as to whether any medical treatments are available if injury occurs and, if so, what they consist of, or where further information may be obtained.
7. An explanation of whom to contact for answers to pertinent questions about the research and research subjects' rights, and whom to contact in the event of a research-related injury to the subject.
8. A statement that participation is voluntary, that refusal to participate will involve no penalty or loss of benefits to which the subject is otherwise entitled, and that the subject may discontinue participation at any time without penalty or loss of benefits to which the subject is otherwise entitled.
Additional elements, when appropriate include among others:
- Research may involve unforeseeable risks to subject or to embryo, or fetus if subject becomes pregnant.
- Approximate number of subjects involved in the study.
Based on these guidelines, a typical marriage consent form might read:
CONSENT TO PARTICIPATE IN A CATHOLIC MARITAL UNION
1. The purpose of this marriage is the procreation and rearing of children and has a 50% chance or less of enduring until death do you part.
2. Risks typically associated with marriage include divorce and/or annulment, mild to severe arguments that may result in psychological or physical harm, pregnancy, loss of individuality, weight gain and change in financial status.
3. Benefits to marriage may include pregnancy, companionship, intimacy including physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual community and change in financial status.
4. If you chose not to marry, you can remain single, you can cohabitate or you can adopt a homosexual lifestyle; however the latter two options are sins that carry associated risks and may not be forgiven.
5. Should the marriage tribunal of your diocese be requested to investigate your marriage, no records or details will be considered confidential.
6. If injury occurs the church will provide spiritual, but not monetary support for any psychological disorders described in item 2.
7. You may contact a member of your clergy or a Procurator-Advocate of the Tribunal for your diocese if you have any questions.
8. Your participation in this marriage is voluntary and you may leave it at any time without consequence, except possible change in financial status and ex-communication from the church.
- Pregnancy may and should result from participation in this marriage. The outcome of this pregnancy is not guaranteed; however, abortion will not be permitted should complications arise.
- This marriage will consist of two people. Should the inclusion of additional subjects occur at any time, a full, oral confession will be provided by the offending spouse.
I have reviewed and understand the above material and realize that by signing this document I am providing complete and quality consent to marriage and hereby waive the right to annulment. I understand that by signing this form I do not waive my right to legal council.
Full disclosure prior to marriage would obviate the need for the currently obtuse annulment process obviously derived to minimize the attrition rate of members of the Catholic church.
By the way, in case you were wondering, the wife of my ex-husband-who-never-really-married-me is seeking a divorce...
1. Jeffrey Keefe: Why the Church is Granting More Annulments. Catholic Update, 1980 (St. Anthony Messenger Press).
2. Code of Federal Regulations: Food and Drugs, 21 CFR ¤50.25.