Monday, September 14, 2015

Marriage and annulment reform

Christ the Judge
The canonist Edward Peters has done a great service to the Church with his short series of posts on Pope Francis' reform of the annulment process, with the motu proprio Mitis Iudex.

First thoughts, including the abolition of second instance.

More thoughts, including worries about the effects of the reform.

Lengthy procedures in Argentina

More on the causing of unnecessary doubts about the validity of marriages

Unlike Roberto de Mattei, whose article on the subject can be seen on Rorate Caeli, Peters is not too worried about the abolition of the requirement of 'second instance'. Until now, declarations of nullity have had to be confirmed by another tribunal, which obviously adds to the time and expense of the process. The new rules make this unnecessary.

While I agree with de Mattei that the change is clearly moving things in the direction of taking less seriously the marriage bond, I can see Peters' point as well. Where the canonical procedure is weak, for whatever reason, adding another weak tribunal to the process may do little to help.

Peters identifies three aspects of the reform which really do worry him, and I urge readers to see what he says in detail. They are:

1. Making relevant to the way cases are heard, whether both spouses agree to seek an annulment. Why should it be relevant? The rule will encourage an attitude of conspiring between estranged spouses to get the desired result - or pressure by one on the other to agree, for the sake of a quick result.

2. The rag-bag list of reasons to allow an accelerated procedure, which includes issues related to grounds for nullity such as lack of discretion in making the vows, with issues utterly unrelated, such as 'brevity of marriage', and issues expressed in terribly vague terms. As Peters says, this is going to lead people to have doubts about the validity of their marriages who should not. ('Gosh, I was pregnant when we married; I'd be able to have a quickie annulment. Doesn't that mean there is something wrong with my marriage?')

3. The accelerated procedure itself, which can be undertaken by a bishop assisted by people without any training in Canon Law. Bishops may have the authority, by virtue of their office, to judge cases, but putting them personally in the hot seat without the support of experts is a recipe for disaster.

I want to devote another post to some reflections of my own on this topic.

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