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Reject easy annulments, Pope tells Vatican tribunal

January 29, 2010

Granting easy access to marriage annulments is an offense against both justice and charity, said Pope Benedict XVI on January 29.

The Pope’s message has a particular resonance in the US, whose Catholic Church tribunals account for more than half of the world’s annulment decrees. Pope Benedict, like Pope John Paul II before him, has repeatedly argued for a more vigorous defense of the marital bond.

In an address to the Church’s highest tribunal for marriage cases, the Holy Father warned against “the tendency—widespread and well-rooted though not always obvious—to contrast justice with charity, almost as if the one excluded the other.” He reminded the tribunal’s judges and advocated that the marriage laws of the Church are oriented toward the spiritual welfare of the individuals, and applying those laws properly is itself a work of charity. Ultimately, he reminded them, “the Church's juridical activity has as its goal the salvation of souls.”

“Without truth charity slides into sentimentalism,” the Pope told officials of the Roman Rota, at the opening of its judicial term. “Love becomes an empty shell to be filled arbitrarily. This is the fatal risk of love in a culture without truth.”

Pope Benedict acknowledged that a marriage tribunal comes under pressure to announce the nullity of a marriage, due to “the desires and expectations of the parties involved, or to the conditioning of the social environment.” But he argued strenuously against lowering the standards of canon law in order to “achieve a declaration of nullity at any cost.” He decried the use of pseudo-psychological theories that see any marital problems as evidence of nullity, observing that this approach has the deleterious effect of “transforming all conjugal difficulties into a symptom of a failed union whose essential nucleus of justice-- the indissoluble bond-- is thus effectively denied.”

The Pope went so far as to suggest that tribunals should do their best to save marriages intact whenever that is possible. In most American dioceses, couples are required to file for a civil divorce before submitting an annulment application. But the Pontiff suggest that “effective efforts be made, whenever there seems to be hope of a successful outcome, to encourage the spouses to convalidate their marriage and restore conjugal cohabitation.”

Recognizing that some Catholics who have divorced and remarried want to obtain annulments in order to resume their active membership in the Church, and regain access to the sacraments, the Pope expressed sympathy for their goals but cautioned against offering a “false advantage.” If the first marriage was valid, he reasoned, then the remarried couple is living an objectively immoral situation. Under those circumstances, he said, it is wrong for a tribunal “to ease the way towards receiving the Sacraments, at the risk of causing people to live in objective contrast with the truth of their own individual state.”


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  • Posted by: New Sister - Feb. 19, 2010 10:25 AM ET USA

    "reconciliation and restoration..." - I understand the Pope wants to preserve natural marriage, e.g., for a Catholic married outside the Church to TRY to validate his bond in marriage; however, if one becomes aware that his *Catholic* vows were not valid, e.g., closed to life, blackmail, refusal by one to support Catholic education, not for the good of the other, etc., how can he "restore" it? It seems sinful to prolong a situation that is offensive to God. What does one do? Canon lawyer?

  • Posted by: alencon - Jan. 31, 2010 5:52 PM ET USA

    If you truly listen with your heart (and not your eyes, ears, brain, etc.) to what Pope JP II, and Pope Benedict have said to the Rota - Annulment is the solution in just a microcosm of cases (we're talking 1 in a million). In all cases, even when annulment may seem justifiable, reconciliation and restoration is where Christ points to. I'm always astonished how every individual believes in this for themselves but not for marriage. Christ Himself points back to Genesis - "It was not always thus".

  • Posted by: damian.riggs8445 - Jan. 30, 2010 8:32 PM ET USA

    Yes Pope Benedict did call for a tightening of the annulment process, but more important than that, I think, is his call to the Church to support marriages. Increasingly today, marriages come under attack. These attacks come in a variety of forms, but the one that is perhaps most obvious is the portrayal of marriage in the media. Too seldom do couples apply themselves or find adequate support in the hard times. Rather, as in a bad job, too many quit to find another; where is the Church?

  • Posted by: Don Vicente - Jan. 29, 2010 9:07 PM ET USA

    As a canon lawyer, I believe that US tribunals grant the most annulments because US Catholics take their faith more seriously than most Europeans. It actually MATTERS to many US Catholics whether or not they can go to Communion. How many Italian or French Catholics care about that? Until recently, German bishops allowed divorced and remarried Catholics to recieve Communion. What would be the point of getting an annulment under those circumstances? In the US, Catholics actually CARE about it.

  • Posted by: Lisa Nicholas, PhD - Jan. 29, 2010 7:03 PM ET USA

    I'm glad to hear that the Holy Father wishes to tighten up the annulment process, and especially to hear him say that a decree of nullity resulting from a lax process may not actually reflect the objective moral truth of the partners' state. I'm afraid most people, even believing that annulments are given too easily assume that, if the Church says it is so, then it must be so. I've always suspected otherwise, but this is the first time I've heard anyone authoritative say that it is so.