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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Indissoluble marriage vs. the trivialization of Decrees of Nullity

by Catherine Frakas 29 Jan 2001

Indissoluble marriage vs. the trivialization of Decrees of Nullity QUESTION from A. Basto on April 10, 2003 Dear Brother Ignatius,
I have always placed great trust in this Forum orthodox and right interpretation of Faith and Sprirituality issues, and this trust remains as solid as ever.
However, I do have the impression, when reading your answers about anullment questions, that you have a view about the meaning and the scope of the Decrees of Nullity that is slightly broader than that which seems to be held by the Church.
OF COURSE, I MIGHT BE MISTAKEN, and furthermore, since you are the experts, and not me, I would like to hear from you, so that you can correct any misinterpretation on my part.
But I feel compelled to write about this question since the Holy Father Himself, in at least one adress to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (the Court of Last Resort for annulment questions), has condemned the current leniency on the analisys of annulment cases.
And I respectfully feel that, in some cases, you speak about annulments as if they were some kind of catholic equivalent to a divorce. Perhaps it is because of your workload, which might lead you to give brief, sharp answers. But we should strive to remember that annulments are of a totally different nature when compared to divorce. A divorce puts an end to a marriage. An anullment means that it was not valid from the moment it was contracted. And not all failed marriages are void from the beggining.
We should strive to remember that the ecclesiastical judge has the obligation of trying to reconcile the Spouses, and, even if he finds that the marriage is null, he is advised to try and obtain the ratification of the bond, in those cases where the impediment has been already elliminated. Furhermore, in case of doubt, the judge is commanded by canon law itself to judge in favour of the validity of the bond.
Also, and most importantly, we should remember that not every marriage that ends in civil divorce is a null marriage in the eyes of Canon Law.
Many failed marriages are valid. Just because the marriage has failed, it does not mean that the bond can be declared null.
The nullity or validity of the Church's marriage has to do ONLY with the legality of the marriage before canon law on the moment of the exchange of consent, and with the quality of the consent that was expressed at the moment when they entered the contract.
For the consent to be of sufficient quality, the parties must understand the fundamental meaning and the essential properties of the catholic marriage, they must agree to enter into it in good reason and with freedom of conscience, and their consent be given without fraud, cohertion, error or other impairing circumnstances.
The will of the parties is fundamental to the validity of the marriage; but until the contrary is proven, the mental wishes of the parties are presumed to correspond to the words and gestures that they employ when expressing their consent.
If a good consent is obtained, and there are no other obstacles in Canon Law for the validity of the contract, a valid marriage is obtained.
And in the Church, a valid and consumated marriage, by virtue of it being an indellible Sacrament instituted by Christ, cannot be dissolved by any power other than death.
Valid unconsumated marriages can be dissolved by the Supreme Pontiff, because the Sacrament only exists after consummation of the valid marriage. This power of dissolution is known as Petrine privilege. It exists because the sexual intercourse, capable of generating offspring, is part of the matter of the Sacrament. Thus, non consummated marriages are not yet undissolveble.
Valid marriages that include a non baptized party can be also dissolved in favour of the Faith (in certain cases and conditions). This is because only a valid consumated marriage is only a Sacrament between baptized christians. Mariages with the unbaptized can be valid, but they will never have nature of the Sacrament, and their dissolution is authorized under certain cases. The power to grant such dissolution is known as Pauline privilege.
BUT A VALID CONSUMATED MARRIAGE BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE WHO ARE BAPTIZED is not subject to being annuled. Thus, if the marriage was perfect on the moment when it was contracted, subsequent troubles cannot affect its validity, and no Decree of Nullity should be granted.
Of course, the fact that a marriage is a disaster MAY, PERHAPS, be a sign that it was never valid, perhaps because of immaturity, or some other cause, that hampered the validity of the bond from the beggining, by affecting the consent itself, on the moment of the wedding.
But the norm is clear: once valid, always valid. Annulment is no catholic equivalent of a divorce. It is supposed to look only at the dispositions of the Parties in the moment when they exchanged the consent to bring the marriage into existance.
One should not ask for a divorce unless he believes that he has a case to argue that the marriage contract was flawed, either due to a problem in the consent of one of the parties, or because of an impediment of some other sort imposed by canon law.
That is my view. I would very much like to submit it to your analisys.
Respectfully yours,
A. Basto
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on April 17, 2003 Dear Mr. Basto:
I can always count on you to keep me on my toes :) and that is good.
But you are mistaken. I have no personal opinions or ideas about the discipline of the Nullity of Marriages. I only repeat what is technically provided in Canon Law.
As for the fuller explanation, which you have done a wonderful job of doing, I have made that sort of explanation in the past. But I received dozens if not hundreds of questions are the issue of marriage Nullity that I cannot possibly have time to go into a lengthy discussion each and every time.
What I need to do, and I have been meaning to do it -- just as soon God grants my prayer to make the day 36 hours -- is to creat an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) file.
In fact, I may borrow some of your narrative when I do get an FAQ page together.
If there is any confusion about the matter, I apologize.
Thanks for the more complete discussion of the subject.
God Bless, Bro. Ignatius
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