Non-Catholic annulments; ‘reborn’ and the ‘rapture’

| Father Kenneth Doyle | January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

Q. Why does the Catholic Church ask non-Catholics to receive a Catholic annulment to a previous marriage in order to get married in a Catholic church? (I understand the requirement for Catholics, but it doesn’t seem to make sense for non-Catholics.)

A. Many, many Catholics believe — erroneously — that any marriage not performed by a Catholic priest or deacon (or with the approval of the Catholic Church) does not “count” in the Church’s eyes. But, of course, this is not so. Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if the Church were to declare as invalid every marriage between two Protestants, simply because no Catholic priest was there to officiate?

So the Catholic Church begins with the presupposition that a marriage between two non-Catholics is valid. But the Church has the right to determine who can get married by the Catholic Church — and to do so, one has to be free of any previous marriages, and that might require an annulment process. (Some of the more common grounds for annulment are: lack of consent, intention to preclude children permanently, deep-seated psychological immaturity or instability, etc.)

For someone from another faith who wants to become Catholic, that person needs to be in “good standing” in the eyes of the Catholic Church; for a married person, this means living currently in a marriage recognized by the Church as valid. So any previous marriages on the part of either spouse would first have to be annulled.

Q. My husband of 40 years has been “born again.” He says that this is the only way to get to heaven when “the rapture” happens and that the rest of us will be left behind for seven years of terror. He thinks Jesus is going to come any day now. . . .

Last night, he brought this up to our parish priest who said that he does not believe in the rapture and that, as long as we are ready to meet God by living a good life, we will be saved. What is your own take on this?

A. The Catholic view links being “reborn” to the sacrament of baptism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in No. 1265 says that “baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God.”

Evangelical Christianity links being “born again” to an adult “conversion experience” in which a person consciously accepts Jesus as his or her personal savior.

As for “rapture,” many evangelical Christians, particularly fundamentalists, link it to the end times (the return of Jesus) when those who are right with God will be silently and secretly taken up into heaven and those who are living in sin will remain on earth for a period of tribulation and chaos.

Catholic theology does not support this type of event and views the theory as a misinterpretation of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The Catholic Church does not believe that being “born again” is the only route to salvation.
The Second Vatican Council asserted in “Lumen Gentium” (No. 16) that “those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or his church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”

I agree with your pastor. Since no one knows when Christ is going to return (and the odds are that your life on earth will end long before that), why not play it safe? Try to live by the Gospel and you won’t have to worry when you meet the Lord, whenever that occurs.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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