An Italian professor of law has written a letter to Pope Francis pointing out the flaws of the pontiff’s annulment reform and its doctrinal and canonical break with Tradition.
DICI (#327) is now available and from this issue we have republished a piece concerning Pope Francis’ new annulment process.
Letter to the pope about the reform for annulment processes
Shortly after new canonical norms went into effect, on December 8, 2015, simplifying the process for recognizing cases of nullity of marriage, a rescript from Pope Francis was made public on December 11, in which he states that the new laws abrogate all previous laws and must be observed. The dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, acknowledged that the pope’s decision to speed the procedures by requiring only one ruling instead of two, as was the rule until now, and by establishing more rapid procedures for certain cases of nullity, has met with some resistance in certain dioceses.
On November 30, Paolo Pasqualucci, professor emeritus of the philosophy of law at the University of Perugia and a contributor to the newspaper Courrier de Rome, had addressed, on his blog Chiesa e post concilio, a letter to the pope asking him to delay the implementation of this reform, which is dangerous for the faith. Here are the more significant excerpts from this well-reasoned request, which unfortunately has remained a dead letter.
Most Holy Father, I am one of the 790,190 Catholics from all over the world who signed the Petition that was addressed to you in early October of 2015, begging Your Holiness for “a word of clarification” that would dispel the serious confusion that has spread through the Church about some fundamental teachings, following the “overtures” proposed in the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family in Autumn 2014. These ‘overtures’ implied no less than the de facto legitimization of adultery and of sin, for they aimed, among other things, at admitting to Holy Communion Catholics who have divorced and remarried civilly. Not only that: they could even lead to the acceptance of homosexual cohabitation, which has always been condemned categorically by the Church because it is expressly contrary to the divine and natural law.
But this Magisterial word, the word of the Supreme Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ Our Lord on earth, was not heard. And the Petition remained unheeded. Instead, on September 12, 2015, there was the motu proprio Mitis Judex Dominus Jesus, “on the reform of the canonical process for causes of declaration of nullity of marriage in the Code of Canon Law”. In Section V, this motu proprio institutes, “the shorter matrimonial process before the Bishop“, an absolute novelty for the Church—which has prompted a lot of discussion—that was implemented with an explicit reference to the spirit of Vatican II.
The motu proprio abolishes the institution of the “conforming double sentence” (which has always been defended by the best canonists) for the purpose of simplifying the procedures for obtaining a declaration of nullity—a simplification that does not seem to be in keeping with the centuries-old tradition of presuming the validity of marriage, which is to be defended by all legal means.
In addition, the new “shorter” procedure, besides attributing to the bishops [i.e., local Ordinaries] an entirely unprecedented competence, presents (in article 14 §1) a list of “circumstances that may allow a cause of nullity to be dealt with by means of a shorter process.” The list of these circumstances is long: among them we find “the spouses’ lack of faith” at the moment when the marriage was contracted and “brevity of conjugal life together“. The admission of such “circumstances” has created considerable perplexity, leading some to speak about de facto “Catholic divorce”, obtained precisely by this “shorter” procedure; all the more so because the list of the aforementioned “circumstances” is left open-ended; the reader finds an “etc.” at the end, as though a list of this sort could be extended ad infinitum. This is a rather odd way of making law, and a fortiori canon law, which in the past was the beacon of true juridical civilization even for the secular world.
This informal way of proceeding is justified by Your Holiness through an appeal to the principle of mercy. It must not stop at the letter, it must grasp and put into action the spirit of the norms, laws and divine commandments. Today anyone who tenaciously defends the fundamental principles of doctrine is branded by Your Holiness as a hypocrite, as someone who wants to “indoctrinate the Gospel in dead stones to throw at others“. Of course, as Your Holiness has recalled,
the first duty of the Church is not to issue condemnations and anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion and to lead all human beings to the salvation of the Lord” (cf. Jn 12:44-50).
But in fact, I take the liberty of pointing out, there must be “conversion” in order to be able to obtain salvation. We know very well what this means. “Conversion” of the heart to Christ with the help of grace and therefore repentance and a change of life so as to be able to become His disciple in faith and works; so as to become that new man, reborn in Christ, to whom alone it will be granted to “see the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3). Living in Christ (and therefore according to the traditional teachings of the Church) in the works of one’s own daily sanctification: doesn’t this mean having to take up one’s own cross in imitation of Christ? It is true that the Church has the mission to lead “all human beings to the salvation of the Lord“. Nevertheless we know that not all, or even many will not be saved. The Incarnate Word himself said so:
Enter ye in at the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction: and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!” (Mt 7:13-14).
All those who prefer “the broad way” of the children of this godless, unbelieving age have rejected divine mercy. If they persist in their rejection, they will be condemned by God’s justice, without that being a contradiction with his mercy.
Article 55 of the Final Report of the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family recalls a sentence dear to Your Holiness, of which the article itself is practically the exegesis: “Mercy is the center of the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, by the sacrifice of His death on the Cross, didn’t Our Lord obtain for us mercy (propitiatio) for our sins? Your Holiness also cites St. Thomas who, in the Summa Theologiae, wrote: “In mercy God’s omnipotence is chiefly manifested” (II-II, q. 30, art. 4). This is a very precise concept. Nevertheless St. Thomas, I make so bold as to add, quotes St. Augustine, for whom mercy is a virtue that must always be in conformity with reason and thus “preserve justice“, and then he also writes that “mercy, [understood as] a passion unregulated by reason, impedes the counselling of reason, by making it wander from justice“ (ibid., art. 3 ad 1).
In other words: a misunderstood mercy (even if motivated by the best intentions) leads to latitudinarianism and laxism, setting many persons on the path of the “broad way” to perdition. And for those who utilize the principle of mercy advocated by Your Holiness to try to administer Holy Communion to persons who are living in sin and continue do to so, or else to accept de facto cohabitation of all sorts, hasn’t “mercy” become an irrational principle that leads them to a ‘counselling’ or deliberation that is not in conformity with reason, thus violating justice? Which here means in the first place divine justice. This is why St. Paul teaches us, concerning sacrilegious Holy Communion: “Therefore, whoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27), thus falling under the ax of His justice….
For all these reasons Paolo Pasqualucci concluded his letter with this urgent petition:
I implore Your Holiness to reject the demands for ‘openness’ that have been presented, including those to divorced-and-remarried persons, and to postpone the date on which the motu proprio on the reform of procedures for obtaining a declaration of nullity of marriage goes into effect: to suspend this motu proprio, or else to rescind it….”
(Sources: apic/imedia/chiesaepostconcilio—Translated into English from Italian by MJM. Emphasis in bold type by the editors.—DICI no. 327, 12-18-2015)