This is one of those stories I waited a bit for posting because, once again, translation issues could have been problematic. Time has passed (well, a couple of days), and so CwNews has a more thorough report than that which first appeared in the secular reports: What Benedict said to the Roman Rota, the …
The tribunal of the Roman Rota acts as an appeals court in marriage cases (and other canonical proceedings), hearing appeals of judgments that have been rendered by any of the 3,000 canonical tribunals around the world. In 2004 (the last year for which full statistics are available) the Roman Rota received 246 appeals regarding marriage annulments. Of these, 163 came from dioceses in Europe, 73 from the Americas, and 10 from Asia; there were no such appeals from Africa, Australia, or Oceania.
The secular reports emphasized the Pope’s call for efficiency in processing annullment cases, and somehow implying that this represented a weakening in the Church’s teaching on marriage or something. It doesn’t. Here’s what he said:
Pope Benedict acknowledged the lively public discussion of the Church’s discipline barring Catholics who are divorced and remarried from receiving the Eucharist. He observed that the Synod of Bishops, meeting last October to discuss the Eucharist, had "called on ecclesiastical courts to make every effort to ensure that members of the faithful not canonically married may, as soon as possible, regularize their domestic situations," and thus be admitted to communion.
But the Pope flatly rejected the idea that the canonical process involved in annulment is merely a matter of "legal formalities." That idea, he said, implies "a supposed conflict between law and pastoral care in general." To counter that notion, Pope Benedict reminded the officials of the Roman Rota that the purpose of Church tribunals is to arrive at a "declaration of truth by an impartial third party."
Some, of course, would prefer that the Pope encourage dragging the process out and making everyone even more miserable than they already are. Sorry. The Pope indicates that if persons have this possibility open to them by the Church, the Church should respond as quickly as is possible, while maintaining its own standards.
He also lays a burden on pastors and marriage preparation:
As he concluded his remarks, Pope Benedict said that the Church should also be working "to prevent nullity of marriage," by preparing couples more fully for Christian matrimony and by helping married couples to resolve conflicts and form a deeper mutual commitment.
And to me, this translates (properly or not) into: stop witnessing the marriage of every baptized Catholic who walks into the rectory and asks for one.
There is much discussion of the high number of annulment cases processed in the US, in particular, but I have just a couple of things to say. First, the majority of couples coming to the Catholic Church to be married are a)living together and b)contracepting and are c)rarely challenged on this by those preparing them for marriage. Many of them are barely catechized on anything, are not regular Mass-goers until Mama gets it into her head that they must be married in the Church and the pastor sternly berates them for not being registered and not having envelopes – a far greater sin that cohabitating, you know – and you’re telling me that these marriages are not rife with potential problems with validity?
You might also want to go back and read this old thread from this blog – a way down, I post a link to something canonist Pete Vere once wrote. The link is no longer working, so my link is the best I can do.
It was with some reluctance that I first got involved with Tribunal ministry, since as a Traditional Catholic I bemoan the annulment crisis in North America. The fact I was extremely also suspicious of canon 1095, the canon with lists the psychological grounds vitiating marital consent, and the canon under which most marriages before a tribunal are declared null, didn’t help either.
However, my Tribunal experience has been a real eye-opener, especially in light of the contraceptive and divorce mentality I encounter in most people, including Catholics. In fact, these mentalities are so pervasive within North American society that after four days on the Tribunal I found myself declaring as many marriages invalid as the next judge, often on a canon 1095 basis, and wondering to myself whether any marriage attempted today in North America is valid. In short, as a Traditional Catholic canonist, I can safely say that since the sexual devolution of the sixties, the rise in marriage annulments has not been because of the Second Vatican Council and a more liberal application of canon law, but because of a selfish and unrealistic understanding of what marriage entails by your average person entering into it.
But then again, we’re often looking at people who have grown up watching pornographic sitcoms, who have been subjected to sex-ed programs more graphic than a gynecologist textbook fifty years ago, engaged in pre-marital sex since their early teens, most often shacked up two or three times by the time they marry, see children as an inconvenience, and suddenly we expect them to enter into a sacramental Christian marriage?