Christopher Ferrara: Vandals in Rome to Sack Marriage?

Vandals in Rome: Will They Sack Christian Marriage? Featured Written by 

Cardinal Walter Kasper Cardinal Walter Kasper

“The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law.”   -Benedict XVI

Editor’s Note: The following article is quite lengthy. But like Chris Ferrara’s other more lengthy contributions to this journal, it “reads short” while providing a clear and comprehensive overview of a complex situation. Francis’s Blitzkrieg “reform” of the annulment process is a turning point in Church and world history that deserves the thorough treatment it receives here.


At this point in the progress of Pope Bergoglio’s banana republic-style pontificate, no one should be surprised at the canonical sneak attack by which, on only 24 hours’ notice to the world, he destroyed the traditional exacting procedure for determining matrimonial nullity with a series of new canons whose drafting was hidden from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Apostolic Signatura, and every other Vatican dicastery that would ordinarily be involved in vetting proposed universal legislation for the Church.



Francis gets what Francis wants. He wanted more and easier annulments in a hurry, knew he couldn’t get them with the cooperation of the CDF or the Signatura, and so he created a closed-door commission that threw together a few new canons to make it all happen right away.

We should have seen this coming at the very beginning of the pontificate when Francis declared during his in-flight press conference on the way from Rio to Rome:

The Orthodox follow the theology of economy, as they call it, and they give a second chance of marriage [sic], they allow it. I believe that this problem must be studied.

And in this also pastoral care of marriage is a factor. And also the judicial problem of the nullity of marriage, that must be revisited, because the ecclesiastical courts aren’t enough for this.

Francis likes the Orthodox heresy of “a second chance of marriage.” A “second chance of marriage” seems very good to him. The “problem” to be “studied,” as he intimated during the press conference, is how to introduce “a second chance of marriage,” or something like it, into the Catholic Church.

Another Bastion Demolished

Francis gets what Francis wants, and no Gospel or 2,000-year-old Catholic teaching and related discipline on the indissolubility of marriage will stand in his way. In Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (“The Gentle Judge, The Lord Jesus”—get it?), and a corresponding motu proprio for the Eastern churches, Francis pays lip service to what he pointedly describes as the “the principle of the indissolubility of the matrimonial bond” (Mitis, Preface) while making it all but a dead letter in practice. But that is what Modernists always do: affirm what they deny while denying what they affirm. And Francis is a Modernist. Full stop. There, I’ve said it. We all know it, of course, but the time has come to declare it openly and explicitly so that as many other members of the faithful as possible may awaken to the clear and present danger this dictatorial, megalomaniacal visionary poses to the Church.

Overly harsh? Way over the top? Anyone who thinks so should recall the alarming “dream”—more like a threat—that Francis unbosomed before the whole world in his sprawling personal manifesto, Evangelii Gaudium:

I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation….

More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe

With Mitis, then, Francis is only making good on his threat to wreak havoc on the Church. His canonically amateurish “reform” of the process for determining the alleged nullity of marriages demolishes the centuries-old safeguards erected by Benedict XIV in his Bull Dei Miseratione (1741), replacing them with what a professor of canon law at Catholic University of America called “a path that looks like the Catholic version of no-fault divorce.” Here are the generally applicable features of this canonical train wreck:

·         The traditional three-judge marriage tribunal of canonist-priests is replaced by a panel that can consist of a majority of laymen or laywomen who need not have canon law training, or even by a single priest. The rubber stamps are ready and waiting. Can. 1673(4).
·         The traditional confirmatory second sentence is abolished, eliminating any check on error at the diocesan level. Can. 1679.
·         Appeals from a declaration of nullity may be denied summarily, without a hearing, if deemed “dilatory,” that is, interposed for alleged purposes of delay. Cann. 1680(2) and 1687(4). In practice, “dilatory” will mean simply that the opposing spouse, usually with children in view, is trying to prevent the precipitous nullification of the marriage by exhausting appeals. The potential for cruel oppression of spouses with children, fighting to defend marriages against spouses who have “moved on” to other “unions” and even other children, is obvious.
·         Mere uncorroborated statements or admissions by parties seeking nullity will now qualify as “full proof” of a fact asserted or self-servingly “admitted,” even though, under the superseded provision of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (can. 1536, § 2), such assertions did not have the status of full proof unless “there are other elements which wholly corroborate them.” Can. 1678 (1) Now, for example, the mere claim or self-serving “admission” that one never intended to be bound for life in Holy Matrimony could be accepted as fully probative of lack of consent. The potential for abuse in this provision alone is staggering.

With these general norms Francis has vastly facilitated the abuse of the annulment process, reversing precisely what Benedict XIV put in place centuries ago to prevent its abuse. And that is just the beginning.

Smuggling the Orthodox Practice into the Catholic Church

The primary novelty of this brutal and disgraceful “reform” is a “fast-track annulment” proceeding that can be completed in as little as 45 days and can be based, as noted above, on nothing more than the uncorroborated statements of the very party seeking the annulment. The new canons provide a mere 30 days’ notice of the evidentiary hearing, now to be limited to a single session whenever possible, and a piddling 15 days for the defender of the bond to present arguments and defenses in favor of the marriage. Cann. 1685-1686

The “fast-track” proceeding is available to couples who agree upon using it—that is, couples who collude in obtaining a speedy annulment. The provision that the parties’ agreement should determine the speed and thus the thoroughness of the manner in which claims of nullity are examined stealthily imports into canon law the civil law concept of consensual divorce. Given the parties’ already suspect agreement to get the annulment over with quickly, the “fast-track” procedure is allowed when one of the following criteria are present:

·         lack of faith [!] that results in simulation of consent or an error that determines the will;
·         brevity of married life;
·         abortion procured to prevent procreation [?];
·         stubborn persistence in an extramarital affair at the time of or just after the wedding;
·         improper concealment of sterility or of a serious and contagious disease;
·         concealment of children from a previous relationship;
·         concealment of incarceration;
·         entering marriage for reasons completely foreign to married life;
·         unplanned pregnancy of the woman;
·         physical violence inflicted to extort consent;
·         lack of use of reason proved by medical documents;
·         and so on [!].

Cf. Art. 14, § 1.

In view of the astonishing phrase “and so on”—which has no place in a legal document, especially one affecting the eternal welfare of souls—the result is no fixed criteria whatsoever for invoking the “fast-track” procedure. The list is merely suggestive, not prescriptive, and creative bishops will supply any number of other grounds for allowing quickie annulment proceedings. As the internationally respected canonist and civil lawyer Edward Peters, a consultant to no less than the Apostolic Signatura, observes: “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?”

Worse, the jumble of criteria for fast-tracking annulments lumps certain traditional grounds for annulment together with novel reasons for invoking the speedy process, thereby creating the impression that all the listed criteria would constitute grounds for annulment. What do such matters as an “unplanned pregnancy,” an abortion to “prevent procreation,” the “brevity of married life” or “an extra-marital affair” have to do with annulment proceedings as a search for the truth about the objective existence of a sacramental marriage bond arising at the time of vows, regardless of whether parties to a marriage currently feel aggrieved or have a subjective belief that the marriage has “failed”?

And what does “lack of faith” mean? Granted, one who feigns consent to marriage—that is, one who recites the marriage vows with a hidden intention not to be bound and is thus simply a liar—does not validly contract a marriage. Can. 1101, § 2. But this is not a question of “faith” as opposed to veracity, for the Church has never required more than that the party to a marriage “at least not be ignorant of the fact that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman, ordered to the procreation of children through some form of sexual cooperation.” Can. 1096 § 2. That is precisely why a non-Catholic, with a special dispensation, can marry a Catholic in the Catholic Church and be perpetually bound by the sacrament without any obligation to profess the Catholic faith. Cann. 1124-1125. My own wife married me under such a dispensation, converting shortly after our marriage and receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation from Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre before his alleged excommunication. (Naturally, she is a better Catholic than I will ever be.)

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