Rorate Caeli

Catholic Divorce - Head of Vatican Commission Admits in Official Paper: Surge in Number of "Annulments" Intended

Since Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and its companion document Mitis et misericors Iesus were published on September 8, there has been little reference to the article published by L'Osservatore Romano on that same day to explain the thinking behind the reforms of Canon law. This is a pity, as this article was written by no other than the head of the Commission for the reform of the canonical matrimonial process, the Dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto: 

La riforma del processo matrimoniale per la dichiarazione di nullità - Voluta e decisa da Papa Francesco.

As such this article is of even greater importance than Vatican Radio's summary and introduction of the reforms as a guide to understanding the intentions behind the reforms. The second part of the title forthrightly states that the reforms were "desired and decided by Pope Francis", which should help preempt any future attempts to explain away these reforms as an abuse or a misunderstanding of the Pope's will (the typical excuse of certain quarters once a measure or reform ordered by a Pope goes terribly wrong). This article is not an expression of the Magisterium but without doubt offers irrefutable insight into the mentality behind the current Pontiff's approach to the very important topic of divorce and "remarriage".

It is clear from this article -- from which we present significant passages here, in a translation made expressly for Rorate -- that we are facing not a mere procedural reform but a true revolution regarding the "divorced and remarried" and the Church's very understanding of justice and mercy. The reforms are bluntly described as coming from 'Our Lord' and from the 'Holy Spirit', acting through Francis. The "divorced and remarried" are now redefined as forming part of "the poor" for which the Church should have a special solicitude; anyone aware of the heightened place held by "the poor" (e.g . the "preferential option for the poor") in the post-Conciliar Magisterium should be aware of the magnitude of the shift involved here.

The reforms are frankly described as part of the Pope's call to the bishops to undergo "metànoia" (conversion, specifically the conversion of one's mind, attitudes and way of life -- a very strong word) regarding "divorce and remarriage"; they are clearly invited to facilitate an enormous increase in declarations of nullity. Judgment is passed on the pre-Francis Church as a Church that merely spoke or thought about mercy and collegiality but did not actually practice these. Furthermore the Holy See's intention to help the bishops expedite declarations of nullity will be given concrete form by the multiplication of short formation courses to be held by the Roman Rota for priests and laypeople designated by their bishops to assist them in their judicial ministry. (The formation course described below was held in Mexico City from August 31 to September 4, 2015.)

Perhaps this is one reason why this commentary has been ignored by most of the English-language Catholic press and commentariat: it stands in the way of any and all attempts to pretend that it is still business as usual in the Church.

The reform of the matrimonial process for the declaration of nullity -- desired and decided by Pope Francis. (Excerpts)
Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto
 Dean of  the Roman Rota
September 8, 2015 - L'Osservatore Romano.

... But there exists an essential novelty that is defining Pope Francis’ actual mission. It is no longer time simply for analyses, it is time for action in order to begin that work of justice and mercy so long awaited -  by re-ordering the pastoral practice and canon law, to a large extent in effect for almost three centuries. Francis  had already announced this at that the beginning of his pontificate on July 28th 2013, at the conclusion of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.


So, with this fundamental law, Francis makes a real beginning to his reform: by putting the poor at the center, that is, the divorced and remarried, considered set apart and distant, and asking bishops for a true and proper metànoia. That is to say, a “conversion”, a change of mentality which convinces and sustains them in following the invitation of Christ, present in their brother, the Bishop of Rome, to pass from the restricted number of a few thousand annulments to that immeasurable [number] of unfortunates who might have a declaration of nullity -- because of evident absence of faith as a bridge to knowledge and thus to the free will [necessary] to give sacramental consent -- but are left on the outside by the current system.

In the two motu proprios - placed by the Pope under the protection of the Mother of God - the diocesan bishop, or the eparch, is the anima (soul) of the so-called short process, which will be implemented in accordance with the strict conditions set out: the evident nullity [found] in the incontestable facts (already outlined above), the agreement of the parties (or at least the declared absence of the Respondent in the process), the immediate affirmative sentence, considering with gravity the writings [testimony or declarations] of the parties and the Defender of the Bond; or referring [the case] back to the ordinary process, if [the bishop or eparch], always assisted by the instructor and the Assessor, is unable to reach moral certainty for the declaration of nullity.

But how will the bishops or eparchs, most of all in large dioceses, be able to guarantee, at least in part and as a sign, their role as shepherds and judges?  What is important is that the spirit of collegiality and communion among bishops under obedience to the Pontiff, begins to permeate the hearts and minds of the shepherds. The faithful are waiting with eagerness and love for such a metànoia and will nonetheless be patient in the Lord when faced with the good faith of their shepherds. The Jubilee Year of Mercy expects this sign of humble obedience (on the part of  the Churches’ shepherds) to the Spirit who speaks to them through Francis.

The recent formation course of the Roman Rota in Mexico City offers high hopes, with the participation of around four hundred priests and laypeople, men and women from all the Central American Nations, sent by their shepherds and enthusiastic about serving the poor in their Churches, by assisting the judiciary ministry of their bishops.  Francis sent a letter expressing his confidence that such courses can be multiplied as “a service of the Pope and particular Churches, remembering the first “Peter” according to the testimony of “his third successor, Pope Clement I, who, in his letter to the Corinthians intervenes by regulating the matters distinct (peculiar) to that local community”.  

In the case of evident nullity of marriage, the process is short – terms like “brief” and “administrative” need to be avoided – and here the judge is the bishop, who has two assessors with whom he discusses the moral certitude of the facts accepted for the marriage annulment. If the bishop reaches this certitude, he pronounces his decision, otherwise he defers the case to the ordinary process.

In the short process, appeal is rare, since the parties are in agreement and the facts about the nullity evident; and in the presence of elements that induce belief that the appeal is merely dilatory and specious, this might be rejected for lack of juridical conditions.

The ordinary process, on the other hand, may last a year at most, the double conforming sentence is abolished and in short, the non-appealed affirmative sentence ipso facto becomes (is) enforced. If an appeal is made after an affirmative sentence, this may be rejected in the case of  the evident lack of arguments; for example, in the case of a specious appeal to harm the opposite party. 

The reform holds in consideration the main reason for the request of the (declaration of) matrimonial nullity: this is requested for reasons of conscience, for example: to receive the Sacraments of the Church or to improve a new stable, happy bond (relationship), different from that of the first.


{Translation: Rorate contributor Francesca Romana}