Rorate Caeli

After the Synod, the Kasper party opens a second front: "Catholic Divorce"

We are very honored to post this new article by a very wise, knowledgeable, and highly influential cleric, writing under the pen name of don Pio Pace.

After the Synod, the Kasper party opens a second front: 
"Catholic Divorce"

by Don Pio Pace

The extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops had barely ended, and the partisans of the liberalization of the Church's discipline concerning the indissolubility of marriage open a second front, that of the "simplification" of the canonical procedures of the declaration of nullity.

The demotion of Cardinal Burke from his position as Prefect of Apostolic Signatura finds in this matter its true meaning. His role in the nominations of bishops for the United States under Benedict XVI was not enough to explain his demotion, because in order to neutralize his influence, it sufficed (as it was done) to remove him from the Congregation for Bishops, where he was replaced by Cardinal Wuerl. On the other hand, in his place as "Senior Judge" of the Roman church, he was always a serious obstacle to the accomplishment of a project now under study: to turn annulment procedures into a "Catholic divorce" in all but name.

The great lines of this project, undoubtedly already relatively settled in secret, can be summarized in four points:

1) Considerable speeding up and simplification of the procedure. Currently, the procedure (organization of the files, instruction with hearings of the spouses, testimonies, experts, petitions, first and then second sentences) usually takes one and a half year, which is not very long, considering that it means declaring nonexistent a promise made for the whole life. It would be reduced to a few months. This would presuppose an enlargement of the personnel in diocesan offices that are already bursting with other issues, which is practically impossible in many nations. What is envisaged, therefore, is a very simplified, summary, examination of each cause.

2) Suppression of the double confirmation. In the current discipline, extremely wise and prudent considering the relevance of what is at stake, in order to reach with certainty a decision that is as objective as possible, when a judgment of nullity is reached by a panel of three judges, the whole process is mandatorily submitted in automatic appeal for confirmation by a second panel, that examines once again the files and pronounces a new decision. If the second decision is identical to the first, the first judgment (of nullity or not) is confirmed. If not, it is rejected. The party demanding a declaration of nullity may then file an appeal to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, that serves as a third level of judgment. In the project currently under consideration, there would be no more need for a second decision.

3) A declaration of nullity means saying that, at the time of marriage, the consent of the spouses did not really exist. The Code of Canon Law foresees a certain number of cases of matrimonial nullity: incapability of contracting marriage due to the lack of a sufficient use of reason (Can. 1095); exclusion of marriage itself due to the absence of essential elements, such as fidelity to one spouse alone or indissolubility (Can. 1101); error concerning the person, deception, violence, incapability on reasons of a psychic nature (1095, 3). In fact, the most important cases of matrimonial nullity are that the parties suffer "of a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties." Lax tribunals (those in the United States are often mentioned, but there are many others) base themselves mostly on this last reason: the lack of maturity of the spouses, or of one of them. A very simple way to transform the declarations of nullity in a "Catholic divorce" would therefore be to broaden the precedents on the issue of the definition of immaturity, rendering consent non-existent, which decisions of the Roman tribunals could easily accomplish. At 20 or 30 years of age, or even later, one is always more or less immature...

4) The analysis of the absense of faith of one of the spouses. A concept that moves upwards in the ecclesiastical world is that, in a certain number of cases, the spouses contracting a sacramental marriage do not have the Catholic faith, and their marriage is thereby invalid. This thesis goes against Catholic doctrine on the sacraments, that distinguishes their validity from their fruitfulness. Sacramental realism demands in fact that the sacramental act be a humanly noticeable act, constituded from a rite established by the Church. If the rite is used in a serious manner, the validity of the sacramental act is presumed, even if the minister or the subject does not have the Catholic faith (the ex opere operato principle). The faithful who attend a Mass have no obligation of verifiying if the priest celebrating it believes or not in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, as long as he accomplishes with propriety the rite prescribed by the Church. Seminarians receiving Orders in Communist nations did not have to worry about the possibility that their bishop was a hidden Communist agent. We can (alas!) receive Baptism validly, or ordination for bad purposes, without having the faith. Naturally, the act will be sacrilegious, and sacramental grace will be impaired, but there will be no possibility of reiterating or contesting it. In the same way, if one of the spouses does not have the Catholic faith, or both, but if they are both baptized in the Church and want to submit themselves freely to the Catholic rite of marriage, they do so validly.

It is true that in this case, the lack of faith may influence the acceptance of the ends of marriage, which are of the natural order, the Catholic Church being one of the few organizations to recognize them. In fact, the true reason of nullity in such a case will be not the absence of faith, but, for example, the refusal of the indissolubility of marriage. But the construction of a "non-faith" argument would lead to absurdities: the sacrament would have to be refused when one of the prospective spouses (or both of them) says he does not have the Catholic faith (more often they ask themselves if they truly have the faith). If a "dispensation of faith" is to be granted by a bishop for a marriage to be valid between two Catholics, how could a marriage ever be valid in the current cases of dispensation (when there is certainty of non-faith), as a marriage with one non-baptized person or with one baptized in another Christian confession?


The men who carry on the project of liberal reform of the declaration of nullity are quite diverse: from the "politicians", such as the Honduran Cardinal Óscar Maradiaga, chairman of the Council of Nine cardinals named by the Pope to reflect upon the reform of the Roman Curia, "thinkers", such as Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Council for the Family, who dazzled Benedict XVI with his panache of "Sociologist Theologian" and his knowledge of contemporary anthropologists, high members of the judicial apparatus of the Holu See, such as Msgr. Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota, "accomplices", such as Msgr Maurice Monier, auditor of the Roman Rota, who would like annulments based on lack of Faith to increase.

It is undeniable that a major pastoral problem exists today: the verification of the truthfulness of the consent of the spouses concerning the indissolubility of marriage and the welcoming of children. We often hear that the majority of sacramental marriages currently contracted are not truly valid. From which the conclusion: the possibility of the expansion of annulments must be greatly increased. It is a specious argument. If it is true, in fact, that a great number of the currently contracted marriages are null and void, this fact is caused by the insufficient taking of precautions when the candidates to holy matrimony are received in order to ensure their consent. In fact, the affirmation that 80% of currently celebrated marriages are null and void - an affirmation that is attributed to pope Francis, who underlined that numerous annulments were granted by the Buenos Aires ecclesiastical courts - should obviously lead to a greater "rigorism": it would be necessary to refuse the celebration of the sacrament of marriage to 80% of those who ask for it and admit only those 20% considered "worthy"! Because to keep celebrating marriages that we affirm are worthless, because they are afterwards declared null and void with a summary procedure as soon as difficulties arise between the spouses, is to mock the sacrament and scandalize those who receive it. It is true that this new sacramental marriage so easy to undo would be much more attractive to modern couples: the number of marriages, the new discount marriages, would not cease to increase...

And in order to advance this project in the general ecclesiastical opinion, especially among bishops, the project must be presented as a "reasonable" and "centrist" solution, that takes into account "pastoral" realities, equally distant from the "extremes" that were manifest at the Synod: in the name of pastoral "common sense", the indissolubility of marriage would be circumvented. 

The fact remains that the situation of Catholic marriage today is extremely alarming. It is undeniable that great efforts must be made regarding the preparation of engaged couples in order to educate them on the beauty and the demands that they envisage. There, as in so many other domains, the challenge for the Church of tomorrow is the correct transmission of the catechism.