I believe the term for these types of annulments that you speak of is "defective consent." I am not sure how I feel about the whole situation. On the one hand, it is good that the Church allows people who are in bad situations a solution rather than just being stuck with two options: A. to stay in a bad relationship and remain in good standing with the Church, or B. to get a civil divorce, but still be considered married by the Church and either have to remain single the rest of your life or else get remarried (invalidly) and be cut off from the Holy Eucharist since your new marriage is considered adulterous. It's messy...but marriage is messy. Life is messy. Striving to follow Christ as a sinful and imperfect human in a fallen society is messy.
My opinion is that whether it is divorce or using some legalistic method of divorcing but not calling it divorce, its all the same.The number of marriage annulments granted by the RCC has increased quite drastically since Vatican II. Before Vatican II, marriage annulments were granted for only quite serious reasons, such as your wife had concealed from you that she was already married and you didn't know about it. In 1930 there were about 10 marriage annulments in the USA for that year, whereas recently it has gone as high as 60,000 per year in the USA. And since the reasons for granting the marriage annulments have been vastly expanded to include psychological grounds such as lack of due discretion: "Many people believe that virtually any failed marriage can be annulled on the basis of incapacity and immaturity. It is not all that difficult to prove that someone was immature at the time of the marriage or did not fully understand all the obligations and developments involved in a lifelong marriage,"
Fr. Doherty quotes a Tribunal official as saying:
"There is no marriage which, given a little time for investigation, we cannot declare invalid."
And this site will do all the paperwork for filing the annulment for you within 24 hours for $149. http://www.divorcehelp.net/annulment.html
Newt Gingrich is on his third marriage, with a Catholic wife, as he has had his first two marriages annulled by the Catholic Church. The moderators at CAF have shut down any discussion on this, removing posts which question the wisdom of granting him two annulments.
But what I am wondering about here is whether or not the Orthodox system of simply granting a divorce is more honest than saying that there never was a marriage in the first place? I suppose it is unfair to single out Gingrich for this, but consider this: if a person had not been unfaithful to the marriage, the question of the validity of the marriage would never have arisen.
If these marriage annulments are so easy to get and just about anyone can get an annulment, then who out there in the Catholic world is really married?
In the Orthodox system, it is said that there was a marriage, but it failed and the couple divorces, which is a sin. But it can be forgiven, as other sins can be forgiven. And then a second marriage is allowed. However, in the Catholic world, it is not a sin to get a marriage annulment, is it? And anyway, the tribunal demands that the couple get a divorce before the annulment hearing, so how credible is it if the Pope says he is against divorce, when the Catholic tribunal demands that the couple seeking an annulment first get a civil divorce?