Failure is something that most of us are not predisposed to in meritocratic Singapore. From the earliest years of our existence, we have been oriented towards achieving higher standards and being “the best”. For most of us, being successful means having a good paying job, a spouse and a couple of children.
Divorce is seen by most as a failure. It carries with it a stigma, even though it seems to be more prevalent now. Statistics indicate that one in three marriages ends in a divorce. The struggle to keep the marriage going, the trauma of being divorced, and the aftermath of a divorce and now being called a “divorcee” is painful, if not devastating. Those who have not gone through a divorce cannot fully understand the pain, the sense of betrayal and the hurt experienced by a person who is going through a divorce or has divorced.
Some well-intentioned but misinformed Catholics in the past have caused further hurt to those struggling with their divorce. There have been instances where divorced Catholics have not received the sacrament of Holy Communion for over 20 years because some Catholic friend of theirs had told them that once divorced, they could not receive Christ in the Eucharist!
A civil divorce is viewed as a separation in the eyes of the Church and therefore the person is still considered married before God. Therefore, like all other married persons, they can receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. God does not condemn a divorced person.
Some Catholics even go to the extent of saying that the divorced are excommunicated from the Church. There are divorced Catholics that feel they are no longer welcomed and they leave the Church. Some think that God has failed them!
As Jesus specifically speaks about divorce and remarriage as being wrong, the Catholic Church discourages and frowns upon divorce. However, like Jesus, the Catholic Church is compassionate towards those caught in this situation.
How Church helps
What can a divorcee do? The baptised divorcee who chooses not to enter into another marriage can fully participate in the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist, and Anointing of the Sick. If a non-baptised divorcee chooses to remain unmarried, he or she may receive the Sacrament of Baptism.
Should a Catholic divorcee choose to re-marry, he or she needs to first seek an annulment or dissolution from the Catholic Church. This is so that he or she may continue receiving the sacraments. Should a non-baptised divorcee, who has married again, want to receive the Sacrament of Baptism, he or she must seek an annulment or dissolution of the first marriage from the Catholic Church.
Many who have approached the Tribunal office of the Catholic Church have been helped with their situation. The Tribunal exists for those who want to live in a sacramental union in the sight of our Father in heaven.
Annulment is one of the areas the Tribunal office is tasked to undertake. Anyone who wants to get an annulment would first need to approach the Tribunal office for a brief consultation as to which process can best help.
A guide sheet will be given to assist the applicant in providing information about the marriage. The process of remembering one’s past prior to the divorce will always be difficult. At times the very process of writing out one’s past is itself a cathartic and a healing process. Sometimes, participants find themselves speaking for the first time about what took place during the marriage, without anyone condemning them.
Annulments are different from divorces. The annulment declared by the Church is a matter of Church law. A divorce is a matter of civil law. The two are separate issues and one does not affect the other.
An annulment declares that the wedding that took place had some essential elements missing when the vows were exchanged. If one’s marriage is annulled, it means that at the point of exchanging of vows a canonical marriage did not take place.
An annulment is strictly about the couple’s relationship. It is not a declaration about the rights or the standing of the children born within the legal marriage.
At the beginning of every case, there may be a possibility of an annulment or dissolution but one is never certain until the process ends. No one person can tell you definitely that you have, or do not have, a case until the process is completed.
One man who went through this process felt he had been “given this opportunity to return to full communion with the Church, and to live life to the fullest again – an experience worth more than its weight in gold!” (See story below.)
Individuals who need to find out if they have a case for an annulment may make an appointment with the Tribunal office secretary at 6288 4659. The Tribunal office is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 12 noon.
‘Annulment process has given me a sense of completion’
The journey towards the annulment of my first marriage and full reconciliation with the Church began in early 2012. However, I had been struggling with the psychological, physical and mental stresses of a failed marriage since 2007.
The end of the civil proceedings in 2011 allowed me to proceed with the petition for annulment in the Catholic Church.
Having just gone through a slow, painful and expensive civil divorce involving lawyers, sadness, anger and much negativity, I did not wish to have to live through the whole experience all over again. In addition, I knew little about what would be involved in the entire process.
In the meantime, I had also met my current wife, and it was far more tempting to continue our lives in a modern secular model.
By comparison, the Catholic Church’s firm stance against divorce and continued honouring of the marriage sacrament seemed archaic and wholly unfair. I was also made aware that I could not receive Holy Communion due to my new relationship, and this only increased the feeling of alienation from the Church.
Fortunately, I was repeatedly encouraged to make enquiries about the annulment process by family members and past mentors.
My new partner also started to attend RCIA sessions and I too began to feel a strong urge to reconcile fully with the Church.
My advocate, Fr Adrian Yeo was always sensitive and kind. During our meetings, he explained the implications, steps and procedures that would follow the application for annulment. The Tribunal members were very adept at probing for answers in an unobtrusive and sensitive manner.
The total cost of the annument was non-prohibitive and at no point did I feel as pressured, stressed or strung-out as in the civil proceedings. More importantly, I did not have to meet or deal with my ex-wife although she was called to participate in the process. The entire process was less intimidating and painful than I had feared.
The most challenging aspect of the annulment process had to be the writing of the pre-statement for the official petition.
There was much soul-searching, recollecting and raking up of past events: the flaws, mistakes, plastered-over cracks, blind spots, and most importantly, realisation of my errors and expectations. It was absolutely humbling.
The introspection helped to deepen my understanding of marriage. This helped me to identify and correct the critical mistakes made before, and to see what is truly essential in a successful marriage.
Taking that big leap in seeking the guidance of the tribunal has been one of the most important steps in the journey towards healing.
The ensuing feelings of closure, release and inner peace since receiving my annulment has been something that I cannot explain well with words alone. It has given me a sense of completion and wholeness. In a way, I felt almost like the prodigal son being welcomed back to the fold.
Being given this opportunity to return to full communion with the Church and to live life to the fullest again is an experience worth more than its weight in gold.
|Roles in the Tribunal
The Judge’s duty is to read through the file which contains the testimonies and facts of a case and to come to a decision with moral certitude.
The Defender of the Bond upholds the marriage bond and states his case as to why there should be no annulment.
The Advocate is the person who ensures the rights of the plaintiff and respondent are safeguarded. He also puts forward the case of the plaintiff and respondent. The advocate for the plaintiff must be a different person from the advocate for the respondent.
The work of the Notary is to notarise all tribunal case documents. The signature of the notary authenticates all these documents.
The Tribunal of Second Instance is independent of the above-mentioned tribunal. This tribunal may ratify the annulment decision or differ from it. When the latter happens the case will go up to Rome for review and final decision.