Confusion, chaos spreading in wake of annulment Motu Proprio September 9, 2015Posted by Tantumblogo in abdication of duty, Basics, different religion, Domestic Church, episcopate, error, family, foolishness, General Catholic, Papa, Sacraments, sadness, scandals, secularism, Society, SOD, the struggle for the Church.
I have been waiting to see some reaction to Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus before commenting, and now I have some from a somewhat surprising source. It’s not surprising that a canon lawyer would comment on this encyclical, which is certainly right up his alley, but when Ed Peters starts to loudly lament that this Motu Proprio is already causing great confusion and alarm, that’s something worthy of notice:
The most confusing point about this list [of grounds for annulment] is that some of these factors, though presented as reasons for hearing a petition quickly, are actually grounds for nullity (e.g., simulation, force or fear); other factors, however, are most emphatically not grounds for annulment (e.g., brevity of married life); and others might, or might not, be suggestive of grounds for nullity (e.g., an extra-marital affair near the time of the wedding might show a grave lack of discretion of judgement or an inability to assume matrimonial rights and duties). Because traditional grounds of nullity have been mixed in among things that could b eevidence for other grounds of nullity, and further mixed with things that are not grounds for nullity and often are not even evidence of grounds for nullity, confusion will—and already has, judging from questions I have already received from the faithful—erupt as to whether these factors are not just reasons to hear a case speedily, but are themselves proof of matrimonial nullity. Try to explain to non-canonists why one thing the pope listed (say, simulation) is grounds for an annulment but another thing he listed (say, pregnancy) is not grounds for an annulment. [And here I must interject my continuing concern over what I term, with a bit of hyperbole, hypermontanism. You have Catholics now actively fretting whether their 30 year marriage might be invalid because of something the Pope said. Look, my wife and I have had our ups and downs, I was a committed addict, for crying out loud, but neither of us have ever doubted whether our marriage was valid sacramentally. Even though I wasn’t a Catholic at the time, of course it was, I knew what I was doing, and so did my lovely bride. Hopefully some of this concern is tongue in cheek, but if a bunch of folks are now seriously wondering whether their marriage is valid because the wife was pregnant at the time…….how sad]
Worse, many, many married couples have experienced one or more of these events in their lives. Unfortunately—again I say this has already started!—people with any of these factors in their lives are going to wonder, logically and sincerely, whether their marriage might be null. They will worry, for example, whether the fact that she was pregnant at the time of the wedding means their marriage is null. If not, why does it mean that an annulment case could be heard more quickly? Or, if he was not very active in the Faith when they married, did he just pretend for (technically, simulate) his wedding promises? Many of these questions are obviously highly dependent on fact analysis (e.g., what is “improper concealment” of infertility, what counts as “incarceration”?), and so one must ask, how are such cases reliably to be investigated, considered, and decided by a bishop (a man with about a hundred other things to do at any given time) in a matter of a few weeks?
Of course, in no time, this list of reasons to hear nullity cases quickly will lengthen greatly. And why not? If physical violence to extort marriage consent justifies a speedy hearing from a bishop, should not physical violence inflicted during the marriage also qualify? If pregnancy at the time of the wedding is grounds for a quick process, should not drug or alcohol or sexual abuse qualify as well? Last year Cdl. Kasper recklessly, but perhaps accurately, claimed that Francis believes half of all marriages to be null. I think that assertion, no matter who said it, is wrong, but it will take little imagination to conclude that half of all marriage cases should qualify for quick adjudication by diocesan bishops. Finally, if factors such as previous jail terms, abortions, or affairs leave a couple’s marriage liable to expedited annulment processing, is there now an obligation on couples to disclose such matters to each other—regardless of the implications such disclosures might portend for personal privacy and the internal forum? [For goodness sake, no! What on earth would be the point, to encourage a possible divorce?!? Yeah, that’s just brilliant advice]
At the pope’s request, a tiny group of experts, most from just one country, developed these new canons and explanations in a very short time. [Incredibly short. Just under a year. That is unprecedented, and indicates not careful thought, but a rush to put something, anything out just prior to the Ordinary Synod.] I find, however, the implications of some of these norms for marriage law in general, and for diocesan bishops in particular, stunning, and I join Dr. Kurt Martens of CUA in wondering how bishops must feel at having such significant burdens thrust on them just in time for Christmas with, as far as one can see, virtually no prior consultation. I expressly cautioned against this approach last year and sound that claxon again. Assuming, in any event, that I have read the new norms correctly, and assuming that there are no easy resolutions to my concerns, what might one suggest? [A random thought. We know from painful experience how many bishops have chosen to ignore, or just sit on, a previous Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum. Could that not occur in this case?]
First, and most importantly, the vacatio legis (a delay period before new laws go into effect per Canon 8) indicated for Mitis should be extended from this December until well into next year at the very least. If, as some assert, Francis’ annulment reforms are the most significant in the last three hundred years, a considerably longer period than three months is needed to prepare for them. If necessary, a request for an extension could be proposed by the upcoming Synod of Bishops. [Don’t hold yer breath]
Second, a much wider consultation about annulment reform should be conducted, a consultation that would involve, at a minimum, many identified diocesan bishops (identified precisely so observers could forward remarks to them) and canonists from several countries, especially from countries with extensive tribunal operational experience.
I have also read the considered opinion of some observers that not only does this new annulment process make uncontested petitions for annulment (where both parties agree/desire the annulment) much easier/more likely, it also makes contested ones (where one party is opposed to the declaration of nullity) easier and thus more likely to occur, as well.
But I think the process by which this document was developed and released, obviously in such haste and without due consideration of the implications (or knowing the implications full well, and actually desiring the chaos that would result), is the most disconcerting, and revealing, aspect of all this. If Pope Francis’ intent was to dispel the “darkness of doubt” that some souls – he claims – are experiencing with regard to their marital status (after an already accomplished divorce?), the vagueness and imprecision of terms used in this Motu Proprio certainly do little to put that doubt to rest, but in fact seem to have caused an explosion of doubt among souls in untroubled, long-standing marriages, if canonist Peters is to be believed (and I have no reason not to).
It must be noted that the Church in these United States “experimented” with a major element of Pope Francis’ “reforms” 40 years ago. It was an unmitigated disaster and something that was directly corrected by the 1983 Code of Canon Law. That element was the removal of the automatic appeal process. What happened in practice is that no one knew, or was told, that appeal was even possible and a huge number of annulments were pushed through, including some highly dubious ones. The lack of automatic appeal seems, from the American experience, to almost invite abuse of the process, as Patrick Archbold notes.
Look, I get the desire to allow people who had genuinely invalid marriages (in whatever percentages they exist, my own surmise is that the numbers are quite small) to move on with their lives, but every single divorce/annulment must be viewed as an enormous tragedy to be avoided at almost all costs, save true neglect/danger/abuse. I generally fear and loathe anything that tends to give legitimacy to divorce and make it easier to obtain. I can’t conclude that definitively about these reforms, yet, but the initial overview does not look good. This reads much more like a focused attempt at the imposition of a certain ideology rather than a truly pastoral action with the best for souls in mind. It was simply too rushed to be well considered, and I tend to agree with Mr. Archbold that this will not end well.