Almost 20 years ago, Barbara McCain Williams realized that she was called in a different direction in her faith.
Longtime Lutheran and active member of the Trinity Lutheran Church, McCain Williams said she felt something was missing; she yearned to be closer to God.
What she described as a spiritual vacuum led to a months-long search for a new church. She didn’t expect to fall in love with the Catholic tradition, but it wooed her enough to convert to the faith.
âI went to all the churches in town and tried them all, really. But then I started to attend mass. Something struck me one evening during a midnight worship service. It was like, ‘wow’, and that feeling never left me, âsaid McCain Williams, a real estate agent from Victoria.
Alone, she sued the Catholic Church, attended compulsory classes, and officially took formal steps to convert.
A few years later, she started dating again. He was Catholic, and after several months the couple decided to get married.
In accordance with Catholic Church regulations, and since McCain Williams had previously been married for 21 years, her fiancÃ© asked her to go through the Catholic cancellation process.
Annulments, or declarations of nullity, in the Catholic Church is a process by which an applicant’s case is reviewed by a tribunal of priests in each diocese, which then reviews and determines whether the applicant’s previous marriage qualifies for l cancellation in the eyes of the church.
The process, which can take anywhere from six months to several years, has no effect on civil divorce and annulment cases that go through the state.
âI was very open to it and of course I liked it, so it wasn’t really a concern for me,â said McCain Williams, reflecting. âGoing through the process allowed me to open the wounds of my first marriage and find healing and understand why it ended. It was almost like going to confession.
McCain Williams said her annulment case was approved after six months by the court for the Diocese of Victoria, but after a few months of deliberation, the relationship with her fiancÃ© fizzled out.
She eventually remarried several years later. She fell in love with a non-Catholic, Fred Williams, who had also been married before. Before he could get married, McCain Williams made a humble request. Even though he was not a Catholic, she asked her current husband if he would go through the cancellation process.
âTo get married in the Catholic Church, and for Barbara to receive the sacraments, I needed a cancellation. Not being a Catholic, it wasn’t something I felt compelled to do. However, I knew how important the Catholic faith was to Barbara and I agreed to do it for her, âWilliams said.
Since his conversion to Catholicism, McCain Williams has dedicated himself to the church. She has volunteered several times, served as a Eucharistic minister, and heads the Gabriel Project in Victoria, a Catholic organization that provides help and resources to pregnant women in crisis.
As much as she loved her husband, so much her other love, the Catholic Church, beckoned to him.
To continue to serve in the church as she always had done, to receive the sacraments, the Eucharist and to have their marriage presided over and recognized by the Catholic Church, her husband’s previous marriages should be recognized as lacking in least one essential element required for a binding union.
In the Catholic Church, marriages are considered binding covenants, so for another marriage to take place and be recognized by the Church, previous marriages must end with the death of a spouse or the process of marriage. cancellation of the Church.
The Right Reverend Matthew Huehlefeld, judicial vicar of the Court Office for the Diocese of Victoria, said he oversees around 80 to 100 annulment cases each year. Some meet the conditions for invalidity, others do not.
The petitions process is often misunderstood, he said, especially when it comes to children from previous marriages.
“There is still among many the feeling that when an annulment is granted it means the children are illegitimate, and we stress very clearly that this does not in any way make a child illegitimate,” Huehlefeld said. “It is simply an ecclesial process and involves only the two people who were married.”
When an applicant presents a case, they must present the history of the marriage and the reasons why the union ended in divorce. The court determines whether there were any obstacles to marriage and whether the couple were truly free to marry.
This may include a situation, for example, of a woman who is knowingly pregnant at the altar and feels pressured – if only psychologically – to get married. This would not make her entirely free to give her consent.
Other circumstances for a declaration of nullity may include infidelity, a party not being open to having children, or physical or emotional abuse.
The tribunal is made up of three judges, two lawyers and a “bond advocate,” whose job it is to point out flaws in the petition, find arguments to preserve the marriage in the eyes of the church, and bring a balance. to the claims presented. arguments.
Huehlefeld, who is also pastor at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Yoakum, said some couples go through the cancellation process after having been married for many years, some marry in civil ceremonies while waiting for the The church decides the case, and some follow the process on their own.
It can take six months to a year to get a response, although the process has been streamlined in recent years by Pope Francis, Huehlefeld said, speeding up decisions in many cases.
McCain Williams said her husband’s case took two years, but they married civilly in 2013, and again at Holy Family Church with his blessing in 2016.
McCain Williams said her non-Catholic husband made a huge sacrifice to go through the process for him. She added that she was lucky he had accepted as many non-Catholics are unwilling to make arrangements for the spouse.
âI think it’s worth it if you love someone Catholic and want to marry them,â McCain Williams said. âHe knew I wanted to practice my faith and knew I had to practice the way I needed to. He made a great sacrifice for me, and that’s what you do in marriage because that’s what God has done for us.
Jennifer Preyss-Mathlouthi writes on religion and faith for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her on jenniferpreyss.com or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss.