Dr. Edward Peters 

To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily

constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II







1983 Code



1917 Code


 Liber Extra



 Eastern Code


1152 x 864


17 jan 2013

Reviews of Annulments and the Catholic Church (2004)

previous title 100 Answers to Your Questions on Annulments (1997)


Joseph Koterski, sj, in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, (Jan 2005) =.





Few aspects of Catholicism provoke as many questions as does the topic of annulments. The cynical often regard it as “Catholic divorce,” available at least for the rich, but even well-meaning Catholics easily grow perplexed about just how annulment differs from divorce, except that annulments seem to require a lot more persistence to obtain.


In a volume that will be highly useful to priests anxious for a refresher course on the subject as well as to anyone thinking about seeking an annulment, Edward Peters clarifies many of the technical points of theology and canon law that have sparked confusion and controversy. This book will also be a tremendous resource for many educators, from teachers of high school marriage classes to seminary instructors. Peters has doctoral degrees in civil and canon law and has worked with tribunals in Maryland, Minnesota, and California, and his book is well annotated throughout with references to the relevant provisions of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.


Among the 100 questions with which he deals is the surprise people sometimes exhibit at finding a lay person (like Peters himself) as a tribunal judge, for canon law is still perceived by many as the preserve of priests. A few stories from his own experience as a husband and a father of six children add to this book a certain charm that compliments the confidence that his professional competence and years of tribunal experience inspire.


The topics that Peters treats range from the purely practical to the profoundly theological. In the area of procedure, he explains the steps to be taken at every stage, from early inquiries at the parish level, through the process used by the tribunal, to the rendering of a formal judgment and the possibilities of appeal. Throughout these sections Peters shows great good sense in explaining the general system that the Church uses while constantly exhorting the person who feels anxious over delays or is concerned that justice is not being done, to consult local officials rather than to perpetuate the stereotypical complaints made about annulments without giving the system an adequate chance to perform its designated function.


At the more theoretical level, Peters offers a well-balanced view of this delicate matter within a framework of great fidelity to the Church’s teaching on marriage. The annulment process, Peters explains, works both to maintain justice and to extend mercy. It starts from the presumption (somewhat analogous to the principle of common law whereby a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty) that a couple who have gone through a wedding ceremony are presumed to have married until the tribunal can legitimately establish that they did not in fact marry whether because of some problem with form, with the capacity of one or both of the parties to enter marriage, or with the consent of one or both of the parties. Yet there is an important difference: the annulment process is not like a criminal trial, for it is not a matter of discerning guilt, finding fault, or casting blame, but rather a forum for discovering the truth about whether there truly was a marriage from the beginning – even the “guilty party” (for instance, the spouse who broke up the relationship by adultery) may bring a petition for annulment!


By careful presentation of many examples typical in tribunal work today, Peters forcefully conveys sense of what does and what does not serve as grounds for the Church to declare that what might have been perceived as a true marriage was not one. On this precise point we can see one of the main reasons why annulment is not like divorce, for it is not the Church’s way of trying to terminate a marriage that for some reason or other has failed (or as Peters puts it, “good marriages that go tragically bad are not necessarily null.”) While information about the final breakdown of a couple’s relationship might shed light on the conditions that prevailed back at the time of the wedding ceremony, such information is not directly “evidence” that would be decisive for a judgment of nullity, in contrast to information, say, about a person’s canonical incapacity at the time of the wedding to make free commitment of self needed for a valid marriage. Peters explores such topics as alcoholism and drug addiction and explains the relatively high burden of proof that must be met to prove a psychological incapacity for giving sufficient free consent to marriage vows.


What is especially interesting to the reader concerned with the Church’s recent practice in granting annulments (some charging that there are now too many, some that there are still too few) is Peters’ comparison between the practice of American tribunals and the Roman Rota. In the course of defending, in general, the tribunal system in the United States, he explains the important changes that were made in canon law when the 1983 code replaced that of 1917 and the enormous effect those changes had on annulment jurisprudence. In his analysis, clearer legal and theological insight about the legitimate grounds for identifying invalidity in attempts at marriage also help to identify some of the causes of the current chaos in marriage and family life.


Victoria Vondenberger, rsm, in The Jurist 59 (1999) 495-497.


The information in this text will assist people in many varied life circumstances to understand tribunal processes. This beautifully bound book with large print that is easy on the eyes presents clear and basic information. Dr. Peters clarifies that not every petitioner will receive an affirmative decision, that not every marriage that is questioned can be declared null.


The author avoids technical terms as much as possible. He is careful to explain what a declaration of nullity is as well as what it is not, gently correcting common misunderstandings, and debunking myths in very comprehensible language. The author chooses not to specify minute details of any one local tribunal organization aware that each tribunal appropriately carries out procedural law depending on the size of a diocese or the number of people on a particular tribunal staff. Misinformation about the local scene is well avoided.


In [197] pages of basic text framed as responses to questions about marriage cases, Dr. Peters offers concise information. His text is usually clear. Readers will find that the author occasionally succumbs to the canonist’s eternal temptation to include tangential information that clarifies for those schooled in the law, while sometimes clouding the issues for those without a canon law background. It is amazing that Dr. Peters so seldom falls into the typical canonist’s dilemma of trying to explain a related issue (which any canon lawyer might raise) which may confuse one who is unaware of the complexity involved and the very precise use of language in the discipline of canon law, (Questions 2, 16, 28).


Unobtrusive insertion of references to the canons and detailed footnotes will satisfy those with some canonical knowledge while not disturbing the flow of information for the person with knowledge of Church law. Clever analogies (Questions 3 and 9) such as comparing divorce and annulment to the differences between leaving work in a car or an ambulance help readers understand law in very simple yet adequate terms.


Respondents and witnesses will find this book helpful and precise as will petitioners and parish priests who do not frequently participate in tribunal processes. The author is careful to indicate the rights of respondents in the process. The organization of topics and the index make it easy to research a particular question that may arise. This text is obviously written by a practicing canonist who enriches the facts about law with personal insights as in offering comments about siblings and parents as witnesses in the response to Question 68. Dr. Peters tries to alleviate common fears of witnesses about testifying in a Church court.


In the final chapter, Dr. Peters responds to frequently heard criticisms of American tribunal practice offering information about context and revisions of procedural law, stating solid facts, and using more clever analogies....This book presents information about a complicated process in clear and concise language that will invite understanding.


Jimmy Akin, in This Rock (Feb 1998) =.





There are certain questions I hate answering as an apologist. Among them are questions about annulments. The subject is not only a sensitive one for many people, it is also very complicated. People feel confused by the issue, and that alone (apart from touchy marital situations) makes them uncomfortable with it. Fortunately, Edward N. Peters, a tribunal judge and canon lawyer with the Diocese of San Diego, has written a book on the subject that will spare me having to answer a lot of questions. Before this book’s publication, I had no in-depth resource on annulments to which I could point people.

There have been annulment-related books on the market, but I haven’t been able to recommend any of them to inquirers. Some have titles such as Annulment: Do You Have a Case? and Annulment: Your Chance to Remarry within the Catholic Church. I can’t recommend books like these because they are too narrowly focused on how to get an annulment (rather than offering a general treatment of the issue) and are often written by unreliable authors.

Other books are outright attacks on the concept of annulments and are written by people who do not understand the difference between divorce and annulments or the reason why annulments exist. Books of this kind include sensationalistic works like Sheila Rauch Kennedy’s Shattered Faith (an odd title, since she had no Catholic faith to shatter—she’s an Episcopalian) and Divorce—Vatican Style.

Fortunately, the new book by Peters provides just what is needed to cut through the fog surrounding the issue of annulments. No other work on the subject comes close to his book. This is partly because Peters is an orthodox, Catholic author. He has a firm commitment to representing the teachings and laws of the Church accurately, and a spirit of honest openness suffuses the work. He also knows his stuff. After years of serving on a diocesan marriage tribunal, he has thought through the issue of annulments so many ways that he has a real knack for explaining complex concepts in a crisp, matter-of-fact manner.

A favorite example of mine is a comment he makes when discussing why people are often asked to pay court costs for researching and adjudicating their annulment case. He asks, "The state required you to get a civil divorce before it would allow you to remarry under its laws, right? Before you got that divorce, the state also required you to pay certain fees and court costs, right? Do you think it was unfair of the state . . . ?"

This is a wonderful analogy. Because the Church is responsible to God for protecting the inviolability of Christian marriage, it has an even greater responsibility than the state to ensure that marriage cases are adjudicated properly. When it asks to be reimbursed for its costs (canon lawyers have to eat, too), this is no more unreasonable than when secular parties ask remuneration for handling a civil divorce.

Peters goes on to point out that there are procedures for reducing or waiving the costs involved for those who are truly unable to afford them: "No one is ever denied their ‘day in the tribunal’ because of an inability to pay."

And he adds important facts that few people outside a diocesan tribunal would realize: "No one should think . . . that diocesan tribunals, American or otherwise, are making money on the annulment process, and indeed no diocesan tribunal I know of operates in the black. American tribunals generally charge users about one-half of the real cost of a marriage case, and, in almost all cases, the out-of-pocket expenses incurred in an ecclesiastical annulment fall far below those incurred in the civil divorce."

Another often-sensitive question that Peters tackles in a no-nonsense style is whether an annulment declares the children of a marriage illegitimate. "No, but this answer requires some nuance. First, let’s say a few words about the notion of illegitimacy. It stinks. Babies are not illegitimate, no matter how illegitimate might have been the acts by which they were conceived. Babies are conceived in the image and likeness of God."

The fact that illegitimacy is a legal category, rather than a moral stain on the child, is something that needs pointing out. Peters goes on to say that illegitimacy no longer carries any canonical consequences that he can discern and speculates that the only reason it is even mentioned in the 1983 Code of Canon Law is that some nations use it to decide questions of child-support and inheritance rights.

He explains that, under canon law, the children of any valid or putatively valid marriage are legitimate. A putatively valid marriage is one which, even though it may actually be invalid, was celebrated in good faith by one or both of the parties. It remains putatively valid until both parties become certain of its nullity, but any children conceived or born before that time are legitimate under canon law.

The book is divided into twelve chapters. Among other things, they cover the officials who are part of the annulment process, the courts in which annulment cases can be heard, when an annulment might be needed, and those who are eligible to file cases. Also included are three appendices containing Vatican documents on mixed marriages and why divorced and civilly remarried Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist. A glossary helps people catch the nuances of key canon law terms.

For many, the most interesting chapter of the book will be the one that discusses the possible grounds for an annulment. Peters explains that there are three things which can make a marriage invalid: one or both spouses lacked the capacity for marriage, one or both spouses did not give proper matrimonial consent, or one or both spouses failed to manifest consent in the proper way.

The first would be the case, for example, if one of the spouses already was married, meaning he lacked the capacity to contract a new marriage. An example of the second would be if the parties agreed to marry only if they could sleep around with other people. An example of the third would be if one or both were Catholic but they married outside the Church without a dispensation to do so.

Peters runs through the common grounds of annulments, as well as circumstances which are often thought to be grounds but actually are not (for example, infertility) or which are not themselves grounds but which may point to the existence of a ground (for example, alcoholism, which is not itself an impediment to marriage but which could impact a person’s ability to give valid matrimonial consent, if it is severe enough).

Another important chapter, "If the Answer Is No," deals with the fact that not all annulments are granted. Though a couple may be civilly divorced, that does not mean that their marriage is invalid before God, and this has consequences for their lives. Peters explains what happens and what the Church expects in these cases.

If I had any criticism of the book, I would like to have seen it include more biblical and theological material relating to annulments. This would be somewhat outside the area the book carves out for itself—it is meant to be a canon law-oriented guide to the issue. But I think it would have been nice if the book strayed a little further afield to show the biblical and theological basis for the annulment process. Nevertheless, this is by far the best book on annulments that’s out there.



Keith Bower, Couple to Couple League's Family Foundations (May-June 2005) 30-31.