I’m certainly no canon lawyer; I don’t even play one on TV! However, I have read all of Pope John Paul II’s & Pope Benedict XVI’s annual addresses to the Roman Rota. Over a quarter century, it appears that JP II had growing concern about possible misuse of tribunal processes (cf., <www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/index_spe-roman-rota.htm>). These concerns no doubt led to the Vatican’s 2005 Dignitas Connubii (Instruction to Be Observed by Diocesan & Interdiocesan Tribunals in Handling Causes of the Nullity of Marriage) <www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/intrptxt/documents/rc_pc_intrptxt_doc_20050125>, which I have also read in its entirety. From Benedict’s own addresses (especially the most recent), it very much appears that the concerns of the Holy Fathers about possible tribunal misuse have not subsided….
- “The canonical proceedings for the nullity of marriage are essentially a means of ascertaining the truth about the conjugal bond….marriage is not a good that spouses can dispose of nor, given its social and public nature, can any kind of self-declaration be conjectured….pastoral love can sometimes be contaminated by complacent attitudes….by avoiding confrontation with the truth that saves, they can even turn out to be counterproductive with regard to each person's saving encounter with Christ….[The indissolubility of marriage] is sometimes obscured in the consciences of Christians and of people of good will….pastoral sensitivity must be directed to avoiding matrimonial nullity when the couple seeks to marry and to striving to help the spouses solve their possible problems and find the path to reconciliation” (1/28/06)
- “the conviction that the pastoral good of the person in an irregular marital situation requires a sort of canonical regularization, independently of the validity or nullity of his/her marriage, independently, that is, of the ‘truth’ of his/her personal status, has also spread in certain ecclesiastical milieus….the relativistic mindset, in more or less open or subtle ways, can also insinuate itself into the ecclesial community” (1/27/07)
- “The value of interventions of the Ecclesiastical Magisterium on matrimonial and juridical issues, including the Roman Pontiff's Discourses to the Roman Rota....are a ready guide for the work of all Church tribunals, since they authoritatively teach the essential aspects of the reality of marriage” (1/26/08)
- "a problem that continues to be very real is visible to everyone....that of preserving the ecclesial community 'from the scandal of seeing in practice the value of Christian marriage being destroyed by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity,...on the pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness....
“recall again...distinctions...between 'psychic maturity which is seen as the goal of human development' and 'canonical maturity which instead, is the basic minimum required for establishing the validity of marriage'....'only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent and in realizing a true community of life and love invalidates a marriage'....for this incapacity to be recognized, there must be a particular mental anomaly (art. 209 1) that seriously disturbs the use of reason (art. 209 2, n. 1; can. 1095, n. 1), at the time of the celebration of marriage and the use of reason or the critical and elective faculty in regard to grave decisions, particularly in freely choosing a state of life (art. 209 2, n. 2; can. 1095, n. 2) or that puts the contracting party not only under a serious difficulty but even the impossibility of sustaining the actions inherent in the obligations of marriage....
“one cannot confuse the real difficulties confronting many, especially young people who conclude that marital union is normally unthinkable and impracticable with the true incapacity of consent....It is true that this freedom of human nature, 'wounded in the natural powers' and 'inclined to sin' (Catechism of the Catholic Church,n. 405), is limited and imperfect, but not for this reason does it become inauthentic and insufficient....some anthropological and 'humanistic' currents aimed at self-realization and egocentric self-transcendence idealize human beings and marriage to such an extent that they then deny the mental capacity of many people, basing this on elements that do not correspond to the essential requirements of the conjugal bond....real incapacity...is always an exception to the natural principle of the capacity necessary"” (1/29/09)
So where am I going with this? I believe that parish bulletin announcements, such as "DO YOU KNOW YOUR TRIBUNAL?” and "DIVORCE AND BEYOND", can subtly undermine the respect owed to the Sacrament of Marriage (We certainly never read of information sessions on clerical laicization or on dispensation from vows.). I suspect that the former blurb came from the Archdiocese, but whoever worded it appears to lack familiarity with what Pope Benedict XVI has most recently said. While Benedict has warned of a “pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness”, the Tribunal’s announcement seems to encourage a fishing trip – specifically for “some weakness in the consent”!
In my opinion, the second announcement seems entirely too cavalier about divorce. Even secular sources, such as the July 2nd issue of Time Magazine <www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1908243,00.html>, are recognizing that Americans enter divorce far too easily - and that children are its biggest victims! Young people need reassurance that the Church remains a bulwark in defense of the indissolubility of marriage....
"DO YOU KNOW YOUR TRIBUNAL?
The Tribunal is a group of specially qualified priests, sisters, and lay persons whose responsibility is to come to the help of people who have experienced divorce. When a divorce occurs, the Catholic Church always seeks to balance two realities. One is the unbreakableness of the bond of marriage. This is God’s law. It cannot be broken by human intervention. On the other hand, the Church is concerned about the spiritual welfare of the people involved. Was this a true marriage? Even though a Catholic marriage was celebrated, was there perhaps some weakness in the consent of the parties involved? The annulment procedure addresses this problem without affixing blame on either party. If you are divorced or married outside the Catholic Church, please telephone the Tribunal Office. Have no fear. All interviews are private and confidential.
222 NORTH 17TH STREET
PHILADELPHIA, PA 19103
"DIVORCE AND BEYOND
Recovery from divorce is not done alone. “Divorce and Beyond” is a program for men and women who are already divorced or have filed for divorce and are working to heal the wounds of divorce. Designed to provide a safe place during a critical life transition, this 10-session program provides the participants an opportunity to gain perspective on their divorce, cope with the stress of divorcing, explore the range of feelings, and find ways of adjusting to their new life. Sessions are confidential, hosted by a team of trained facilitators who are themselves divorced. Topics include: The Process of Divorce; Self-Image; Stress; Anger; Blame and Guilt; Loneliness; Forgiveness, Happiness, and Pathways to Growth. Sessions are held at St. Bede the Venerable’s Trailer on Tuesdays, from 7:00PM to 9:00PM. The next program runs from September 15, 2009 through November 17, 2009. The Divorce and Beyond Ministry is sponsored by the parishes of Cluster #31. For more information contact St. Bede’s at 215-357-5720, 1071 Holland Road, Holland, PA."