Pope urges bishops to exercise authority as judges in annulments

| Carol Glatz | November 27, 2017 | 1 Comment

A diocesan bishop is the sole judge in the streamlined process for handling marriage annulments, Pope Francis said.

Annulments

Doves and interlocking wedding bands symbolizing the sacrament of marriage are depicted in a stained-glass window at Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church in Deer Park, N.Y. A diocesan bishop is the sole judge in the streamlined process for handling marriage annulments, Pope Francis said. CNS photo/Gregory Shemitz

The simplified process “is not an option that the diocesan bishop can choose, but rather an obligation that derives from his consecration and from the mission received,” making the bishop the sole and exclusive authority in charge throughout the three phases of the briefer process, the pope said.

The pope made his remarks during an audience Nov. 25 with canon lawyers, priests and pastoral workers attending a course sponsored by the Roman Rota, a Vatican tribunal that mainly deals with marriage annulment cases.

The pope encouraged them to be close to those who are suffering and who expect help “to restore peace to their consciences and God’s will on readmission to the Eucharist.”

The new process “is an expression of the church that is able to welcome and care for those who are wounded in various ways by life and, at the same time, it is an appeal for the defense of the sacredness of the marriage bond,” he said.

Pope Francis used the occasion to clarify and strongly emphasize how a bishop should not delegate completely the duty of deciding marriage cases to the offices of his curia, especially in the streamlined process for handling cases of clear nullity that were established with new norms that took effect at the end of 2015. The norms were outlined in two papal documents, “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” (“The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge”) for the Latin-rite church and “Mitis et misericors Iesus,” (“The Meek and Merciful Jesus”) for the Eastern Catholic churches.

Pointing out the clear role of the diocesan bishop as sole judge in the briefer process was meant to help apply the new laws and increasingly recover an appropriate practice of synodality, he said.

The diocesan bishop has always been charged with exercising judicial power personally or through others; but, the pope said, that principle has been interpreted in such a way that the bishop no longer personally exercises that power and delegates “almost everything to the tribunals.”

Given the unique nature of the abbreviated process in determining the nullity of marriages, the pope set out a number of points that he deemed to be “decisive and exclusive in the personal exercise of the role of judge by the diocesan bishop.”

The abbreviated process was instituted not to facilitate annulments, but to simplify and speed up the processes necessary to determine and declare the truth about the nullity of a marriage, in other words, declaring that it never existed as a valid sacrament.

The changes, the pope wrote in 2015, were motivated by “concern for the salvation of souls,” and particularly “charity and mercy” toward those who feel alienated from the church because of their marriage situations and the perceived complexity of the church’s annulment process.

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Category: U.S. & World News

  • Charles C.

    “Speaking at a conference in Rome, [in May of 2012) the dean of the Roman Rota
    suggested the need for a more rigorous interpretation of a provision in canon law that is cited in many annulment cases.

    “Bishop Antoni Stankiewicz said that the current reading of Canon 1095 would suggest that ‘it’s almost impossible to get married, in view of the current cultural situation.’ Canon 1095 stipulates that a valid marriage may be impossible because of ’causes of a psychological nature.’ Some Church tribunals—particularly in the US—have interpreted that canon liberally to mean that a marriage can be annulled if the parties show any signs of psychological problems.

    “Noting that very few people are entirely free of psychological problems, Bishop Stankiewicz suggested that the canon should be understood to refer to psychological problems serious enough to prevent someone from giving proper consent in a marital vow. ‘We must reaffirm the innate human capacity to marry,’ he said.”

    The Pope himself has declared on several occasions that he believes that about half of Catholic marriages are invalid.

    American annulments went from 338 in 1968 to 63,933 in 1991, and accounted for 80% of the world’s decrees of nullity. By inserting a level of the appeals process within the country, and reducing the role of the Roman Rota, the prevailing American culture will play a stronger role in the decision.

    Quicker annulments will please the spouses, but what will it do to the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage?