Please consider the following response to Monsignor Campion's Trusting Tribunals (OSV, 12/30/12), which itself seemed to be a response to perceptions that dramatic increases in declarations of marital nullity (at least in the United States) have legitimized Catholic divorce and remarriage. That original perception merits much more serious consideration.
In his quarter century of annual addresses to the Roman Rota, (the Vatican's "Supreme Court", if you will), it is my opinion that Pope John Paul II evidenced growing dis-ease about possible misuse of marriage tribunals, triggering the Vatican's 2005 Dignitas Connubii. In his own addresses to the Roman Rota, I believe that Pope Benedict XVI continued in the same vane:
- "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...has also spread in certain ecclesiastical milieus" [emphasis added] (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....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.... real incapacity...is always an exception to the natural principle of the capacity necessary" (1/29/09)
- "some maintain that pastoral charity could justify every step towards declaring the nullity of the marriage bond in order to assist people who find themselves in irregular matrimonial situations. Truth itself, even if lip service [sic] be paid to it, tends thus to be viewed through a manipulative lens that would seek to adapt it, case by case, to the different requirements that emerge....Charity without justice is not charity, but a counterfeit" (1/28/10).
- "The good that the Church and society as a whole expect from marriage and from the family founded upon marriage is so great as to call for full pastoral commitment to this particular area" (1/22/11).
- "Christian maturity leads one to love the law ever more and want to understand it and to apply it faithfully.... These reflections acquire a special relevance in the area of laws regarding the constitutive act of Matrimony and its consummation, and the reception of Holy Orders, and of those [laws] pertaining to the respective Processes" (1/21/12).
From what I can tell, the English translation of Pope Benedict XVI's 1/26/13 address to the Roman Rota first appeared on the Vatican's web site on the very day that the Holy Father announced his resignation (In the absence of official English translations, some extremely poor reporting on that address could have promoted the impression that the Holy Father was expanding justifications for declarations of nullity (e.g., Lack of faith can hurt marriage, may affect validity, pope says (Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, 1/28/13))! I quote in part from the Holy Father:
- "1. In the context of the Year of Faith, I would like to reflect in particular on several aspects of the relationship between faith and marriage, noting that the current crisis of faith, which is affecting various parts of the world, brings with it a crisis of the conjugal society with the whole burden of suffering and hardship that this entails, also for the offspring. We can take as a starting point the linguistic root that the Latin terms fides and foedus have in common. Foedus is a word with which the Code of Canon Law designates the natural reality of matrimony as an irrevocable covenant between a man and a woman (cf. can. 1055 § 1). Mutual entrustment is in fact the indispensable basis for any pact or covenant."At the theological level, the relationship between faith and marriage acquires an even deeper meaning. Indeed, although the spousal bond is a natural reality, it has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized (cf. ibid.)."The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does...."2. Contemporary culture, marked by accentuated subjectivism and ethical and religious relativism, places the person and the family before pressing challenges. Firstly, it is faced with the question about the capacity of the human being to bind him or herself, and about whether a bond that lasts a lifetime really is possible and corresponds with human nature or whether, rather, it contradicts man’s freedom and self-fulfilment. In fact, the very idea that a person fulfills him or herself living an 'autonomous' existence and only entering into a relationship with the other when it can be broken off at any time forms part of a widespread mindset (cf. Discourse to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2012)."It escapes no one that the basic decision of each person to enter into a lifetime bond, influences the basic view of each one according to whether or not he or she is anchored to a merely human level or is open to the light of faith in the Lord. It is only in opening oneself to God’s truth, in fact, that it is possible to understand and achieve in the concrete reality of both conjugal and family life the truth of men and women as his children, regenerated by Baptism...."Faith in God, sustained by divine grace, is thus a very important element for living mutual dedication and conjugal fidelity (Catechesis, General Audience. 8 June 2011). In saying this, there is no intention to affirm that fidelity and likewise the other properties are not possible in natural marriage, contracted between people who have not been baptized [emphasis added]....Yet, closure to God or the rejection of the sacred dimension of the conjugal union and of its value in the order of grace certainly makes arduous the practical embodiment of the most lofty model of marriage...and can even undermine the actual validity of the pact, should it be expressed — as the consolidated jurisprudence of this Tribunal assumes — in a rejection of the principle of the conjugal obligation of fidelity itself, that is, of the other essential elements or properties of matrimony [He appears to simply be commenting on the need to recognize children, steadfast fidelity, and indissolubility as the goods of marriage, even in a "natural marriage." He is far from expanding rationales for declarations of nullity!]....."the sacrifice offered by the abandoned spouse or the spouse who has suffered divorce, is still precious today, if — recognizing the indissolubility of the valid matrimonial bond — they refrain from 'becoming involved in a new union…. In such cases their example of fidelity and Christian consistency takes on particular value as a witness before the world and the Church' (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio [22 November 1981], n. 83) [Wow! Far from expanding justifications for declarations of nullity, the Holy Father is standing in solidarity with victims of spousal abandonment like Catherine of Aragon!]."3....faith makes the love of the spouses grow and brings it to fruition, making room for the presence of God the Trinity and making married life itself, lived in this way, 'good news' in the eyes of the world...."With these reflections, I certainly do not intend to suggest any facile automatism between the lack of faith and the invalidity of the matrimonial union, but rather to highlight how such a lack may, although not necessarily, also damage the goods of the marriage, since the reference to the natural order desired by God is inherent in the conjugal pact (cf. Gen 2:24)."
In light of his resignation, it is stirring to know that these are Pope Benedict XVI's last words on declarations of marital nullity, as Holy Father. We can best honor this Vicar of Christ by following his concern for victims of spousal abandonment and the preservation of marriage/family.