Springboard for potential abuse? Pope Francis Changes Church’s Annulment Procedure
Pope Francis Changes Church’s Annulment Procedure
A springboard for potential abuse?
By John Vennari
Pope Francis has substantially altered of the Church’s system for granting annulments. The announcement was made at a Vatican press conference at noon, September 8.
The new procedure contains changes that dispense with various aspects of the traditional annulment procedure, some of which had been previously noted by Cardinal Raymond Burke as crucial to the annulment process.
Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (for Latin Church) and Mitis et misericors Iesus (for Easter Rite Churches in Union with Rome) are the names in Latin of the two Motu Proprio. The first one translates to “The Gentle Judge, The Lord Jesus,” the second to “The Meek and Merciful Jesus.”
Crux News summarizes the changes imposed by Pope Francis for the Latin Church which include the following:
• One sentence of nullity is enough.
• One judge under the responsibility of the bishop is enough to oversee the process.
• Under certain circumstances, each bishop can himself serve as the judge.
• In case of the annulment being “evident,” there will be an even shorter process.
• The local bishops’ conferences are called to help individual bishops through the reform process, and are called to help guarantee, save for the “just and decent remuneration of workers of the courts,” that the process be free of charge.
• Appeal of a sentence, in case it’s required, can be dealt with locally (on the level of the nearest archdiocese) instead of taking it to the Vatican.
• A second appeal can be made to the Apostolic See, meaning the Vatican.
Francis also calls upon bishops to make the annulment process free of charge.
The National Catholic Reporter already noted the new procedure serves to decentralize the procedure and increase the autonomy of bishops in these cases.
Though much will be written about this topic in the future, at the moment we will focus on the first change mentioned: “one sentence of nullity is enough.”
Necessity of the “Double Confirming Sentence”
In the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, writes on the traditional procedure of granting annulments. He notes that each aspect of the traditional procedure is not cumbersome or time-consuming to no purpose, but exists to arrive at a true and accurate verdict of nullity.
Cardinal Burke quotes Pope Benedict XVI regarding those who want to emphasize compassion over truth. Benedict said, “Charity without justice is not charity, but counterfeit because charity itself requires that objectivity which is typical of justice and which must not be confused with inhuman coldness …” Benedict went on to quote Pope John Paul II who warned, “The judge … must always guard against the risk of misplaced compassion which could degenerate into sentimentality, itself pastoral only in appearance.”
In the annulment process, to ensure objectivity and proper procedure, a second sentence of nullity was always required. It is what Cardinal Burke calls “The Requirement of the Double Confirming Sentence.”
Cardinal Burke answers those who believe this double confirmation unnecessary burdensome juridicism in the traditional process of annulments.
“First of all,” writes Cardinal Burke, “I observe that, if the process is done well in the first instance, the process to arrive at a double agreeing decision, with the decree of ratification, will not take too long. By done well I mean that the case was well instructed and discussed, the acts are complete and well-ordered, and the sentence demonstrates the objective basis for the decision indicating in a clear but prudent manner by what path the judge or judges, on the basis of the law and the facts of the case, reached moral certitude that the nullity of marriage had been proven.”
The Cardinal also points out the “Good judges, conscious of the fundamental importance of the marriage union for the life of the Church and society in general, and of the normal challenges in reaching a just decision in a cause of nullity of marriage, are grateful that their judgment will be examined by other judges in a second sentence.”
Cardinal Burke goes on to say that this objective second review helps to ensure the annulment procedure is properly carried out.
“From the practically point of view” he writes, “the fact that the obligatory review of the second instance is an incentive to do one’s best. Without the second instance, there is a risk of carelessness in the treatment of the case.”
The Cardinal goes on to sight that this carelessness was, “tragically evident during the period in which the so-called American Procedural Norms were in effect for the ecclesiastical tribunals for the United States of America. From July 1971 to November 1983, the obligatory double conforming sentence was in reality eliminated in the United States of American by means of a faculty given to the conference of bishops to dispense from the same in ‘those exceptional cases where in the judgment of the defender of the bond and his Ordinary appeal against an affirmative decision would be clearly be superfluous’.” Cardinal Burke observed this exception became the rule of practice, and the second judgment was always dismissed as superfluous.
The result of this, noted Cardinal Burke, was the procedure being referred to as “Catholic divorce”.
The absence of the “Double Confirming Sentence” is a blueprint for abuse. This suppression of the double confirmation is now “codified” in Francis’ new procedure for annulments.
We could sense trouble coming when the headlines leading up to the new annulment procedure constantly stated the new rules will place the emphasis on mercy.
Yet the emphasis on so crucial a procedure should always be on objective truth.
Thus even Pope John Paul II warned, “The judge … must always guard against the risk of misplaced compassion which could degenerate into sentimentality, itself pastoral only in appearance.”
Stay tuned for more CFN coverage of Francis’ new annulment procedure.
- on all quotes, emphasis added
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