CHARLESTON — “The end of a marriage can be a truly heart-wrenching time, and it is necessary that we be very gentle and understanding,” said Dr. Lou Verroi, an annulment caseworker for Blessed Sacrament Church.
By definition annulment is a “declaration by the Catholic Church that after careful investigation, flaws were discovered in the relationship that prevented it from becoming a marriage. The church has decided that a marriage as the church understands marriage was not valid,” according to an “Our Sunday Visitor” resource pamphlet.
The Diocese of Charleston deals with 80-100 cases each year. Not all of the requests for annulment are granted.
“Each case is evaluated on its own precedence,” said Msgr. Charles Rowland, the judicial vicar for the Tribunal, the diocesan office that oversees the annulment process.
As a caseworker, Verroi makes it his mission to gather information which could ultimately lead to an annulment and present it to Msgr. Rowland and the Tribunal Office.
“We need to know why [the couple] made the decision to divorce and try to paint a picture of what their married life was like,” said Verroi. “This process of collecting information could take anywhere from two months to six months, at which point I turn it over [to the Tribunal].”
“I have never worked with a better bunch of people,” said Verroi.
He added that the Tribunal Office personnel go to great lengths to do all they can during the process.
The council is comprised of Bishop Robert J. Baker, Msgr. Rowland, Msgr. Thomas Hofmann and Mary McKenzie. For Verroi the most difficult obstacle in the process is getting rid of all the misconceptions about annulment.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that once an annulment is granted the children become illegitimate, and that is not at all true,” said Verroi.
“The church would never have anything in place to make children illegitimate,” Verroi said. “What we do is question the blessing on the marriage, not the civil process. The records will remain on the books with regard to the children.”
Verroi said that people often are concerned with the privacy of the information they share.
“We discuss very sensitive subjects, and some need a lot of encouragement to finish the process to completion,” he said. “I really encourage people to finish because the experience has always been worth it. The feeling of being reunited with the church brings a sense of relief in the end.”
And although annulment is not necessary in instances of divorce without remarriage, the church requires it when remarriage has taken place.
“We view these marriages as irregular unions,” said Msgr. Rowland. “People in these types of unions can’t participate in the sacraments and in fullness of life until annulment is granted.”
Msgr. Rowland said that although the process takes anywhere from 12-14 months, he has found that people are very patient, holy and understanding as they await an annulment.
The opportunity to help people in these situations has been rewarding for Verroi.