First things first! September 8, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Happy Birthday to Our Lady!
Even though yesterday was, of course, Labor Day in the U.S. and a holiday for EWTN employees, I fully intended to write a column but I’ve been down for several days with a strange bug that I had heard was travelling around Italy. I don’t know if we “met” at the airport” or where! I wrote about this on Facebook and know I owe a note of apology to my blog readers who do not have access to Facebook. However, I also want to thank my Facebook followers for the prayers for a speedy recovery and best wishes for continued good health! Grazie! It seems they have helped as I am much better today, can sit up for longer periods and the fever broke this morning.
I only posted a few blogs during my vacation but I did post a lot of photos and videos, principally from Hawaii, on Facebook and I’m sorry those of you who don’t have a Facebook page missed out on some great Travelblogue© material! I missed being with you as well!
Today’s post is exclusively about a very important piece of news from Pope Francis – the reform of the process of nullity of marriage in the Code of Canon Law in the Latin Church and in the Code of Canons for the Oriental Churches.
The first article is some background material I have provided for you, the second ia Vatican Radio’s look at today’s press conference and the third is another Vatican Radio piece on the basic content of the papal Motu proprio.
BACKGROUND ON THE PAPAL MOTU PROPRIO REFORMING THE PROCESS OF NULLITY
Pope Francis’ two Motu Proprio in which he reformed the process of nullity of marriage were presented at the Holy See Press Office this morning. The papal Letter Motu proprio (by his own hand)“Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (“The Lord Jesus, Clement Judge”), speaks to the reform of canonical processes for the declaration of nullity of marriage in the Code of Canon Law (CIC) for the Latin Church. The Letter Motu proprio “Mitis et misericors Iesus” (“Clement and merciful Jesus”) speaks to the canons regarding nullity in the CCEO, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO).
Book VI of the Code of Canon Law (CIC part III, title I, chapter I) on processes for the declaration of the nullity of marriage (canons 1671 to 1691) will be entirely substituted by the new norms, with effect from December 8, 2015, the opening day of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
In Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus”, Pope Francis writes, in part:
“Throughout the centuries, the Church, in matters of marriage, acquiring a clearer awareness of the Words of Christ, has understood and explained in greater depth the doctrine of the indissolubility of the sacred conjugal bond, has developed the system for the annulment of matrimonial consent, and has more suitably disciplined the relevant judicial process, so that ecclesiastical discipline is more consistent with the truth of the professed faith”.
“All this has always been done with the supreme law of the salvation of souls as a guide. … Aware of the above, I have undertaken to reform the processes for the declaration of nullity of marriage, and for this purpose I have constituted a Group of persons eminent for their competence in legal doctrine, their pastoral prudence and their forensic experience who, under the guidance of the Most Excellent Dean of the Roman Rota, have drafted a plan for reform, without prejudice to the principle of the indissolubility of the marriage bond. … This Group has developed a framework for reform which, after thoughtful consideration with the assistance of other experts, has provided the basis for this ‘Motu proprio’”.
“It is therefore the concern for the salvation of souls that, today as yesterday, remains the supreme objective of the institutions and laws, and drives the Bishop of Rome to offer to the Bishops this reform document, insofar as they share with him the task of the Church to protect unity in faith and in discipline regarding marriage, the cornerstone and origin of the Christian family. The drive to reform has been fuelled by the enormous number of faithful who, while wishing to be at peace with their conscience, are too often separated from the legal structures of the Churches due to physical or moral distance; charity and mercy therefore require that the same Church, as a mother, to be closer to her children who consider themselves separated”.
“This direction was also indicated by the votes of the majority of my Brothers in the Episcopate, gathered in the recent extraordinary Synod, who called for faster and more accessible processes. In full harmony with this desire I have decided to introduce, by this Motu proprio, provisions that favour not the nullity of marriage but rather the speed of processes, along with the appropriate simplicity, so that the heart of the faithful who await clarification of their status is not long oppressed by the darkness of doubt due to the lengthy wait for a conclusion.”
As was stated in the lengthy press conference today that introduced the two papal Letters, “the reforms do not touch the nature and purpose either of marriage, or of the Church’s marriage law: marriage is a sacrament and is by its nature indissoluble; when a marriage is accused of nullity, the Church merely investigates to see whether the parties presumed to be married ever actually executed a valid marriage contract in the eyes of the Church.”
Nullity, to be clearly understood, means that conditions never existed the day of the marriage, even though a Catholic Mass had been celebrated for example, for a valid marriage to have taken place. For example, if one of the parties does not wish to have children, is a party is underage, if consent was not willing but forced, if there is too close a degree of consanguinity (blood relationships), if the contract is defective of will because of “mental incapacity, ignorance, error about the person, error about marriage, fraud, knowledge of nullity, simulation, conditioned consent, force or grave fear” or the contract is defective of capacity if either party was married to another and thus unable to enter into the contract.
An annulment, therefore, is a declaration that “the marriage never existed.” However, it must be stressed that children born of such a marriage are considered legitimate.
A declaration of nullity is in NO way a “Catholic divorce.” It is a statement that a valid marriage in fact never took place.
Pope Francis intends for the changes in the nullity process – including greatly streamlining the process and reducing waiting times – to be seen as acts of mercy towards couples whose waiting period for a decree might have extended to years, during which time their lives have been put on hold.
POPE FRANCIS REFORMS THE PROCESS OF NULLITY
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis issued two Apostolic Letters motu proprio on Tuesday, by which he introduced reforms to the legal structures of the Church, which deal with questions of marital nullity. At a news conference presenting the reforms to journalists at the Holy See Press Office on Tuesday, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio – who was also a member of the Special Commission appointed to study the issue and make the recommendations on which the reform is based – explained that the reforms do not touch the nature and purpose either of marriage, or of the Church’s marriage law: marriage is a sacrament and is by its nature indissoluble; when a marriage is accused of nullity, the Church merely investigates to see whether the parties presumed to be married ever actually executed a valid marriage contract in the eyes of the Church.
Cardinal Coccopalmerio (R): (news.va)
“We are not strictly talking then, about a legal process that leads to the ‘annulment’ of a marriage,” as though the act of the Church court were one of nullification. “Nullity,” Cardinal Coccopalmerio explained, “is different from annulment – declaring the nullity of a marriage is absolutely different from decreeing the annulment of a marriage.”
The President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts went on to explain that the concern of the Holy Father is in the first place for the good of all the faithful, especially those of the faithful whose situations have been a cause of difficulty in living the Christian life as fully as possible. “The problem,” he said, “is rather of an exquisitely pastoral nature, and consists in rendering marriage nullity trials more swift and speedy, so as the more solicitously to serve the faithful who find themselves in such situations.”
Three specific changes most directly address the question of speed in the process: the removal of the need for a twofold conforming sentence from both the court of first instance and then from the appellate court, which automatically reviewed the acts of the first instance trial – meaning that a single trial in the first instance will be considered sufficient for persons, whose presumed marriage has been declared null, to enter into new marriages under Church law; the introduction of the possibility for a single judge to try and issue rulings on individual cases; the creation of an expedited trial process for certain cases, in which the evidence of nullity is abundant, and both parties accuse the marriage of nullity.
“The power of the keys of Peter remains ever unchanged,” explained the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, SJ, who was also a member of the reform commission and present at the press conference on Tuesday. “In this [nullity] process as well, the appeal to the Apostolic See is open to all, in order that the bond between the See of Peter and the particular Churches be confirmed.” Archbishop Ladaria concluded his remarks saying, “We all hope that this reform of the Code of Canon Law will bring with it the fruit the Holy Father desires, and that many Pastors and faithful desire with him as well.”
INSIDE THE REFORMED PROCESS OF NULLITY
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis issued two Apostolic Letters motu proprio on Tuesday, by which he introduced reforms to the legal structures of the Church which deal with questions of marital nullity. One of the Letters motu proprio, known by its Latin title, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus – or “The Lord Jesus, Clement Judge” – reforms the Code of Canon Law (CIC) governing the Latin Church, while the other, Mitis et misericors Iesus or “Clement and merciful Jesus” – reforms the Code of Canon Law for Oriental Churches (CCEO).
According to the prefatory remarks attached to both Letters, the reforms are the result of an expert group appointed to study the current state of law and practice in the Church as far as marriage law is concerned. The Holy Father goes on in the preface to explain that the reforms are guided by seven specific criteria, ample excerpts of which Vatican Radio offers below in its own unofficial English translation:
- That there be only one sentence in favor of executive nullity – It appeared opportune, in the first place, that there no longer be required a twofold decision in favor of marital nullity, in order that the parties be admitted to new canonically valid marriages: the moral certainty reached by the first judge according to law should be sufficient.
- A single judge under the responsibility of the Bishop – The constitution of a single judge in the first instance, who shall always be a cleric, is placed under the responsibility of the Bishop, who, in the pastoral exercise of his own proper judicial power shall guarantee that no laxity be indulged in this matter.
3 The Bishop is judge – In order that the teaching of the II Vatican Council be finally translated into practice in an area of great importance, the decision was made to make evident the fact that the Bishop is, in his Church – of which he is constituted pastor and head – is by that same constitution judge among the faithful entrusted to him. It is desired that, in Dioceses both great and small, the Bishop himself should offer a sign of the conversion of ecclesiastical structures, and not leave the judicial function completely delegated to the offices of the diocesan curia, as far as matters pertaining to marriage are concerned.
4. Increased brevity in the legal process – In fact, beyond making the marriage annulment process more agile, a briefer form of trying nullity cases has been designed – in addition to the documentary process already approved and in use – which is to be applied in cases in which the accusation of marital nullity is supported by particularly evident arguments. In any case, the extent to which an abbreviated process of judgment might put the principle of the indissolubility of marriage at risk, did not escape me [writes Pope Francis – ed.]: thus, I have desired that, in such cases the Bishop himself shall be constituted judge, who, by force of his pastoral office is with Peter the greatest guarantor of Catholic unity in faith and in discipline.
5. Appeal to the Metropolitcan See – It is fitting that the appeal to the Metropolitan See be re-introduced, since that office of headship of an Ecclesiastical province, stably in place through the centuries, is a distinctive sign of the synodality of the Church
6. The proper role of the Bishops’ Conferences – The Bishops’ Conferences, which must be driven above all by the anxious apostolic desire to reach the far-off faithful, should formally recognize the duty to share the aforesaid conversion, and respect absolutely the right of the Bishops to organize judicial power each within his own particular Church.
The re-establishment of vicinity between the judge and the faithful, in fact, shall not be successful if the stimulus does not come from the Conferences to the single Bishops, along with the necessary assistance, to put into practice the reform of the marital nullity process.
7. Appeal to the Apostolic See – It is fitting that the appeal to the ordinary Tribunal of the Apostolic See, i.e. the Roman Rota, be maintained: this, in respect of a most ancient juridical principle, so that the bond between the See of Peter and the particular Churches be reinforced – having care, in any case, in the discipline of the use of said appeal, to contain any and all abuse of right, in order that the salvation of souls be given no cause for harm.
Pope Francis and the Roman Rota (news.va):
Indeed, the prefatory remarks make clear from the very start, that the single most important principle guiding the Holy Father’s action and the work of reform undertaken, is that of salus animarum – the salvation of souls – which is the suprema Ecclesiae lex – the supreme law of the Church.