Pope Francis insists on reform of marriage annulments in Italy

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Recall that, in the 2015 document, Pope Francis envisaged the possibility of declaring a marriage null and void via a single judgment, based solely on the declarations of the bride and groom, and possibly with a faster formula allowing the bishop to issue a sentence within one month.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law had already facilitated declarations of matrimonial nullity, the rule allowing nullity “for want of judgment” (can. 1095) of one or both spouses, de facto assimilating any imprudence of consent to marriage. nullity of the sacrament.

However, due process, which must include at least two penalties, continues to be the rule to prove the existence of grounds for invalidity; such a process has become almost symbolic with the 2015 reform.

In Italy, from the motu proprio Qua Cura (1938) of Pius XI, regional ecclesiastical courts were created because small dioceses, especially in the South, were unable to maintain their own courts, both for lack of funds and for lack of expertise.

Pope Francis considered that this measure was abolished by his motu proprio, as he had already indicated during the Italian Episcopal Conference (CIS) in a speech of May 20, 2019. Despite this, the implementation of the decree of 2015 has been slow in Italian dioceses, and regional courts are still largely active.

In addition, the apparatus of judicial vicars and lawyers tends to avoid the new regime and to apply the procedure with a semblance of rigor – while making intensive use of canon 1095 – notably because in Italy these judgments are then valid. to the civil court, to which they are communicated. (Just as Catholic marriage has a civil value in Italy.)

Pope Francis wants to control the activity of the Italian ecclesiastical courts, creating a commission whose members are the dean and two auditors of the Rote – the supreme court of the Church – as well as the bishop of Oria, in Puglia .

They will have full powers for a “full and immediate application” of the motu proprio of 2015, including the dismantling of regional courts and the establishment of diocesan courts that will apply the reduced and rapid procedures envisaged by the Pope.

Paradoxically, the long-awaited decentralization takes place through the massive intervention of the commissioners of the Roman Curia, without giving any importance to local circumstances and to the Episcopal Conference itself.

While it was recognized that it would be great if each diocese had its own tribunal, it should not be forgotten that the regional courts were created precisely to ensure legally serious trials everywhere, administered with rigor and competence, by joining forces. , including economic.

The Pope, who rightly insists on free trials, at least for the needy – which, moreover, has always existed – risks in reality increasing expenses.

The pope’s view of the nullity process, on the other hand, is vaguely legal, and it is clear, as he said in the CIS speech in 2019, that the best would be a discussion of the spouses with the bishop, who would then personally grant them the desired nullity.

This is why there is no need for competent courts, working legally, even if the rules are now weak. In the spirit of Pope Francis, as has been repeatedly manifested, the legal aspect of the Church is not a constitutive element of a perfect society, but a human superstructure and a cage which imprisons the Christian spirit. , with which it would be done if possible.

In his homilies, Pope Francis often reminds us that the organization and the external structure of the Church are not a sign of the presence of God (cf. his homily in Santa Marta on September 30, 2013); thus, the formalities of marriage cannot simply be a sign of sacramental grace.

In his speech of June 16, 2016 at the Lateran for the opening of the Ecclesial Conference of the Diocese of Rome, Francis affirmed on the one hand that “most [text then transformed into “part,” Editor’s note] of our sacramental marriages are void, because they [the spouses] are of good will, but they do not realize it.

On the other hand, in the same speech, he considered as “real marriages” nourished by “the grace of marriage” the simple cohabitations in use in the Argentinian countryside, where one founds a “family” when one is young and where ‘we get married later.

There are therefore formally celebrated marriages which are insignificant, and de facto unions which would even produce the grace of the sacrament. We could therefore say that legal or even sacramental formalities – which coincide in marriage – are a defect, an inconvenience.

The serious errors of Lumen gentium still present

The document contains, and this is perhaps the most serious, an assertion which comes directly from Lumen gentium with the doctrinal errors it contains, errors theorized and developed by Cardinal Ratzinger, then included in the Code of Canon Law of 1983.

In fact, in the new moto proprio, we read in point 1: “by episcopal consecration, the Bishop becomes, among other things, iudex natus (cf. can. 375, §2). He receives the potestas iudicandi to guide the People of God even when it is necessary to resolve controversies… ”.

According to Catholic doctrine, reaffirmed as explicitly as possible in dozens of papal acts up to and including Pius XII, the bishop’s power of jurisdiction does not derive from his episcopal consecration – which only confers powers of sanctification, i.e. that is, ordination and confirmation; but follows from the Pontiff who appoints him ordinary bishop of a diocese.

Bishops who are consecrated but who do not have a diocese have no power of government, according to traditional doctrine.

On the basis of such a theory, contrary to the definitions of the Church, one can wonder what would happen if a faithful submitted his marriage to an “emeritus” or titular bishop – or schismatic, or heretic. Would a possible declaration of nullity be only illegal or also invalid? After all, a consecrated bishop remains so even without a diocese, and has, according to them, the power to judge.

The Nota praevia in Lumen gentium already foresaw the problem, and explicitly avoided taking sides, in these terms: “Without hierarchical communion, the ontologico-sacramental function [munus], which is to be distinguished from the juridico-canonical aspect, cannot be exercised. However, the Commission decided that it should not question the legality and validity. These questions are left to the theologians to discuss, in particular the quest for de facto power exercised between the separated Eastern Churches, about which there are various explanations.

This measure of Pope Francis for Italy, beyond its canonical aspect, is the sign of a distorted vision of the Church, which is rooted in the conciliar documents, and which underlines that the external and legal structure of the Roman Church is purely human, preventing the manifestation of the divine.

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