Today we received the texts of the two Letters Motu Proprio from His Holiness Pope Francis which change the Codes of Canon Law concerning the procedures for declarations of nullity for both the Latin and the Eastern Church. The texts are in Latin and Italian only right now.
Remember, we put “annulments” in “…”, because the Church doesn’t annul. The Church determines, with moral certainty (we hope and pray) that there wasn’t a marriage bond, that it was always null. So, properly, we talk about declarations of nullity, not “annulments”, though in shorthand and common parlance we resort to the inaccurate term.
After reading through the new rules and after reading the interventions of the presenters at the presser this morning, and after talking with two trusted canonists by phone and after reading a few reactions online, I have to take seriously the summation point made by the canonist Kurt Martens, professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America. He was cited in today’s WaPo.
Martens said that essentially the Church is providing a path that looks like the Catholic version of no-fault divorce.
In a nutshell, it is now possible to reduce the number of full judges in a tribunal to one cleric with the assistance of some lay people, who can now be in the majority. Diocesan bishops are encouraged by the new procedures to look at cases themselves (which would mean that – in their copious free time – bishops who aren’t canonists may be in over their heads and will have to rely on experts anyway… like a judicial vicar). Fees will be reduced (what do you want to bet the Rota will find a way to charge). There will be a streamlined procedure for ex-couples who are in agreement and where the situation seems evident (which is rare, because though a case might seem evident on the surface, all sorts of things can come out in the process) to take 30-45 days (and how that will work in cases when expert testimony is needed as in claims of psychological incapacity I can only guess). And, most troubling, the requirement of a conforming opinion of another tribunal is eliminated. There can still be appeals, etc. Some Metropolitan sees will have to appeal to senior suffragan sees.
The elimination of the necessity of a second conforming judgment from a different tribunal will probably result in almost no submission of opinions to different tribunals.
It looks a lot like a return to the norms that were in place in the 70’s in these USA, which were catastrophic, and “annulments” were being handed out like aspirin to brides with headaches on their wedding days.
One canonist suggested to me that this reflects the personal frustration of Papa Bergoglio who, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, had to cope with seriously flawed tribunals in his region. One of the men on the commission was, I believe, his former judicial vicar.
It strikes me that, with rumors of the changes and the reduction of fees, cases (some frivolous) will multiply, thus driving up costs to the tribunals… to be offset … how? I suspect tribunals will need more personnel.
Time to digest this is needed, but this seems like another antinomian blow leveled at Roman centralism. I’ll add that we learned by watching Protestant chaos what happens when there is no oversight from an authority.
Justice has a deliberative nature to thwart corruption and arrive at the truth of cases, rather than a predetermined result. This is why the Church developed over the centuries certain procedures.
Back to Martens in WaPo for a moment:
The changes move the church away from a set of 18th-century safeguards meant to make sure that the annulment process wasn’t subject to abuse, Martens said. Those changes, set up by Pope Benedict XIV, included a provision that would require a mandatory appeal of the lower court’s decision.
“What guarantee do you have for a fair trial if you take away those guarantees that were put in the past?” Martens said. “Sometimes you want to go so quickly, you miss elements and make mistakes. Procedure law takes time to unfold.”
Martens said the way Francis changed the annulment process was unusual, because he did not go through the Synod on the Family, as expected, in October. [It takes some things off the table for the Synod, which explains something of the timing of this.]
“If I were a bishop, I would be upset,” Martens said. “It’s a bit strange and even a sign of contradiction that a pope who is big on consultation and collegiality seems to forget that on something like this. It’s highly unusual for legislation like this to get through that way.”
Not to mention that this will create horrific work and pressure for bishops.
This all goes into effect 8 December. That probably means that cases which are in limbo between tribunals with different judgments will have to still be sorted.
It could be worse, I guess. They could have eviscerated the Defender of the Bond.
BTW… in today’s L’Osservatore Romano, Msgr. Pinto (head of the commission who put this together) has argued that this is a reform of mercy for “the poor”, and the “the poor” are the divorced and remarried.
PS: I wonder if anyone will notice that this procedure will probably favor men who dump their wives and kids for a younger model.
There is a lot more to say, but I just can’t do it right now.
The moderation queue is ON.