Monday, September 22, 2014
By Dr. Edward Peters
(In the Light of the Law) There are basically two groups agitating for annulment reform, one saying that there are too many annulments, the other saying that there are too few. Let me suggest that (a) the first group is mistaken if it thinks the annulment problem lies in the annulment process (ie, Book VII of the 1983 Code and Dignitas connubii) and (b) the second group seeks not so much reform of the annulment process as its effective abolishment.
The first group (those holding that there are too many annulments), can scarcely suggest any procedural reforms (short of requiring tribunals to stamp DENIED on every annulment petition) for nothing about current canon and special law makes declaring marriage nullity easy. Under current ecclesiastical law, nullity must be proven, on specific grounds, based on sworn declarations and testimony, over the arguments of an independent officer, and confirmed on appeal. There are, that I can see, no gaps in the process through which marriage cases may slip quietly but wrongly into nullity. Not even the oft-reviled Canon 1095 (the “psychological” canon upon which most annulments around the world are based) can be written off as a mere legislative novelty for it articulates (as best positive law can) jurisprudence developed by the Roman Rota itself over the last 60 or 70 years.
No, the objections of the first group to the number of annulments being declared is, I suggest, not to the annulment process but to the people running that process. Tribunal officers are, it is alleged, too naive, too heterodox, or just too lazy to reach sound decisions on nullity petitions; they treat annulments as tickets to a second chance at happiness owed to people who care enough to fill out the forms. How exactly members of this first group can reach their conclusion without extended experience in tribunal work and without adverting to the cascade of evidence that five decades of social collapse in the West and a concomitant collapse of catechetical and canonical work in the Church is wreaking exactly the disastrous effects on real people trying to enter real marriages that the Church has always warned about, escapes me. Nevertheless that is essentially their claim: the process needs no major reform, processors do.
Neither can the second group (those holding that there are too few annulments) credibly point to specific reforms of the annulment process for (with two exceptions noted below) every phase of the current annulment process is required by natural law to serve the ends of justice (and, as Pope St. John Paul II repeatedly reminded us, the annulment process is about justice—not mercy, not charity, not warm fuzzy feelings, but justice); to eliminate any of these steps would be to gut the unavoidably juridic nature of the annulment process. Natural law requires that presumptions (here, of validity) be overturned only for specific reasons (here, grounds) demonstrated by objective information (here, declarations and testimony) weighed by independent minds (here, judges) subject to review by superiors (here, appeal). Remove any of these steps and, whatever ‘process’ one is left with, it’s not a legal one. Thus I say, push proponents of the second school to be clear, and what most of them must admit seeking is the “de-juridicization” of the annulment process. It’s their right, of course, to make such a proposal, but one should not confuse calls tantamount to elimination of a process with calls for reform of a process. More about that call, below.
First, though, it must be acknowledged that two aspects of the current annulment process are not required by natural law to achieve justice, namely... (continued)