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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Presentation of the Holy Father's Motu proprio on the reform of procedures for declaration of marriage nullity

Vatican City, 8 September 2015 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy Press Office a press conference was held for the presentation of the two letters issued “Motu proprio” by the Holy Father Francis, “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus” and “Mitis et misericors Iesus” on the reform of canonical processes for the declaration of nullity of marriage in the Code of Canon Law (CIC) and the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches (CCEO) respectively.

The speakers at the conference were Msgr. Vito Pinto, dean of the Roman Rota and president of the Special Commission for the Reform of Matrimonial Processes in Canon Law; Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and member of the Special Commission; Bishop Dimitrios Salachas, apostolic exarch of Athens for Greek Catholics of Byzantine Rite and member of the Special Commission; Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and member of the Special Commission; Msgr. Alejandro W. Bunge, prelate auditor of the Roman Rota and secretary of the Special Commission; and Fr. Nikolaus Schoch, O.F.M., substitute promoter of Justice at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and secretary of the Special Commission.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio specified that the reform regards the canonical process for the declaration of nullity of marriage. “It is a process that leads to the declaration of nullity, or in other words, which leads first to establish whether a marriage may be declared null and, if so, to declare its nullity. It is not, therefore, a process that leads to the annulment of the marriage. Nullity is distinct from annulment, and declaring the nullity of a marriage is entirely different to decreeing its annulment.

Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., recalled the necessary requisites according to canon law for the validation of a marriage between Catholics which, aside from the absence of diriment impediments and the observance of canonical form, including the free consent of the spouses.

“According to the teaching of the Church”, he said, “marriage is one, only a man and a woman may unite in marriage, and it is impossible to undertake a new matrimonial union during the life of the spouse. Marriage is indissoluble, as Jesus taught, and we have many examples of this teaching in the Gospel. The Letter to the Ephesians explains to us that sacramental marriage cannot be broken as it is the image and expression of Christ's love for His Church. … Marriage must be open to the transmission of life”.

“In our traditional civilisation, it was possible to suppose that these teachings of the Church were known and shared. In recent times there has emerged the doubt, that would seem not without basis, as to whether all those who marry in the Church are sufficiently aware of these teachings and, therefore, as to whether their consent truly refers to them. If it is not the case, their marriage would be null; that is, it would not exist in fact. And precisely because there are these doubts, many would like to be able to offer a rapid but reliable means for resolving the problem and contributing to pacifying the conscience of many Catholics”.

The key points of the reform were explained by the prelate auditor of the Roman Rota, Msgr. Bunge: “1) the central role of the diocesan bishop, to be applied in the spirit of collegiality.

As well as the regional, interdiocesan and synodal tribunals, according to the various methods of the Church and taking into account the good of the faithful and the appropriateness of accessibility of pastoral remedies for wounded faithful, the diocesan bishops are enabled to have their own diocesan tribunals, and if necessary, also to decide that in this tribunal, if it impossible to have a collegial tribunal (always chaired by a member of the clergy), there may be a single judge (again clerical).

2) Short procedure (avoiding the terms 'summary' or 'administrative') for clear cases of nullity of marriage, to render it more accessible to the 'masses'. In these cases the judge would be the bishop, assisted in ascertaining the facts by two assessors, with whom he will discuss in advance the moral certainty of the facts adopted in deciding on the nullity of the marriage. If the bishop is convinced of the moral certainty, he will pronounce the decision; otherwise the case will be referred to the ordinary process.

It may be objected that a bishop would be unable to decide a high number of cases, to which there is a dual response: in a region there would be not only the regional and interdiocesan tribunals, but also the bishop in each diocese for cases that are obviously clear; secondly, the bishop would be assisted by the staff of his tribunal. Ongoing formation would ensure that each bishop, with his tribunal for these cases of marriage nullity, would discover the ministry appropriate to him, entrusted to him in his holy ordination, as the judge of his faithful.

3) Appeal would be rare, as there would exist agreement between the parties and there would be evident facts regarding nullity; in the presence of elements that would lead the appeal to be considered merely dilatory or instrumental, it would be rejected a limine.

4) Ordinary process:

- Fast (a maximum of one year)

- Abolition of the double conforming decision (that is, the need according to canon law in the procedures for the declaration of nullity of marriage to have two conforming decisions to enable the spouses to be free to contract a new marriage. This implies that two tribunals of distinct grade declare the nullity of the marriage for the same reasons in fact and in law, Ed.).

- The affirmative non-appellate judgement ipso facto becomes executive.

- If an appeal is sought following an affirmative judgement this can be rejected a limine due to an evident lack of supporting arguments.

This may occur in the case of instrumental appeal, intended to harm the other party; often the non-Catholic appellant has already undertaken a civil remarriage.

There emerges in the reform the situation which is by now the reason why the majority of Catholics seek the declaration of nullity of marriage: 'consulere conscientiae', that is, aside from the civil law aspects, for reasons of conscience (to partake in the sacraments of the Church and to perfect a new bond which, unlike the first, is stable and happy).

5. The speed of the procedure favours the limitation of appeals to the Holy See and therefore to the Roman Rota, or appeals to the Apostolic Signatura to newly present a case previously rejected by the Rota.

In conclusion; the glory of God s living man, and may I add, man saved by the diligent ministry of the justice and mercy of the Church”.

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