Analytical Article by Marc Aupiais
An issue which recently caused some concern, and which resulted in our service being contacted for comment, is the papacy's recent comments about annulments. The Pope believes tribunals have not been strict enough in applying the law. We were corresponded with due to concern over his comments and their effects on valid annulment cases.
Firstly, the pope's comments:
"JUSTICE, CHARITY AND TRUTH MUST GUIDE THE ROMAN ROTA
VATICAN CITY, 29 JAN 2010 (VIS) - This morning in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received the dean, judges, promoters of justice, defenders of the bond, officials and lawyers of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, for the occasion of the inauguration of the judicial year.
In his address the Holy Father focused his attention on the role of that institution, from the triple perspective of the justice, charity and truth which must inspire it.
"It is necessary to take account of the tendency - widespread and well-rooted though not always obvious - to contrast justice with charity, almost as if the one excluded the other", said the Pope. "Some people maintain that pastoral charity justifies any measures taken towards the declaration of nullity of the marriage bond. ... Truth itself ... would thus tend to be seen in a functional perspective, adapting itself to the different requirements that arise in each case".
"Your ministry", he continued, "is essentially a work of justice, a virtue ... of which it is more important than ever to rediscover the human and Christian value, also within the Church. Canon Law ... must always be considered in its essential relationship with justice, maintaining an awareness that the Church's juridical activity has as its goal the salvation of souls".
"In this perspective it must be borne in mind that, whatever the situation, trial and sentence are fundamentally linked to, and at the service of, justice", said Benedict XVI, and he went on: "Apart from this 'objective' dimension of justice, there exists another dimension ... which concerns the 'operators of the law'; that is, those who make law possible. ... They must be characterised by their exalted practice of human and Christian virtues, in particular those of prudence and justice, but also that of strength".
This latter virtue "becomes more important when injustice seems the easiest path to follow, in as much as it involves giving in to the desires and expectations of the parties involved, or to the conditioning of the social environment".
"Everyone who works in the field of the Law, each in his or her own role, must be guided by justice", said Pope Benedict. "I am thinking in particular of lawyers, who must not only take great care to respect the truth of the evidence, but also to avoid taking on ... cases which they know in their conscience to be objectively unsustainable.
"The action of those who administer justice cannot neglect charity", he added. "A charitable perspective and charitable measures will help us not to forget that those before us are always people marked by problems and suffering. The principle whereby 'charity goes beyond justice' also holds good in the specific field of the work of 'operators of justice'".
"Our dealings with people", the Pope explained, "must take account of each specific case in order, with delicacy and attentiveness, to facilitate the parties' contact with the tribunal". Likewise, "it is important 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. It is also vital not to stint efforts to establish a climate of human and Christian openness between the parties, founded on the search for truth".
The Holy Father then highlighted another important question, "that of avoiding pseudo-pastoral demands which place the issue on a merely horizontal plain, in which what counts is satisfying subjective requests in order to achieve a declaration of nullity at any cost, with the aim of overcoming, among other things, the obstacles to receiving the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. ... It would however be a false advantage", he said, "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".
"Both justice and charity require love for truth, and essentially involve the search for what is true. ... Without truth charity slides into sentimentalism. Love becomes an empty shell to be filled arbitrarily. This is the fatal risk of love in a culture without truth".
This can happen, the Pope went on, "not only in the practical activity of passing judgment, but also in theoretical studies which have such an influence on concrete judgements. The problem arises when the essence itself of marriage becomes more or less obscured. ... Examination of the conjugal bond in existential, personalist and relational terms must never be undertaken at the expense of indissolubility, an essential property which in Christian marriage has, with unity, a special firmness by virtue of the Sacrament".
"Marriage enjoys the favour of the law. Hence, in case of doubt, a marriage must be held to be valid until the contrary is proven. Otherwise we run the serious risk of remaining without an objective point of reference for pronouncements of nullity, transforming all conjugal difficulties into a symptom of a failed union whose essential nucleus of justice - the indissoluble bond - is thus effectively denied".
AC/.../ROMAN ROTA VIS 100129 (850)"
Having noted the comments of the Pope, we must note, he is talking about the case where Canon law is ignored out of empathy or sympathy for those seeking annulments. The Pope desires that marriages be presumed rebuttably to be valid first and foremost, and for annulments to only be granted when it is reasonable to believe there was not a valid marriage. His comments have no bearing on a valid claim. One must simply remember to argue correctly and to present the truth with the correct evidence if need be. I am not a canon lawyer, and one follows my advice at their own risk. I do not see any serious change in the way canon law should be viewed.