Why did Pope Francis make Catholic annulments easier?

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - September 11, 2015 - 10:00am

A lot of eyebrows had been raised among traditional Catholics all over the world, murmurs are being heard in and outside the Church, and many of the conservatives inside the Roman Curia itself, as well as among the bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters, and the Catholic laity, have been reported to have expressed grave concerns about the policy decisions that Pope Francis seems to be following. Without waiting for, or even jumping the gun on, the synod that is about to be convened in Rome, where the institutions of marriage and family are going to be re-examined by the pillars of this biggest and most durable Christian religion of 1.2 billion faithfuls, the Pope issued a new set of rules that make it easy to declare the nullity of marriages.

The critics submit that if the Church is to remain faithful to the teachings in the Bible, then "whoever God has joined together, let no man put asunder." Making it easy to break a marriage, to some people in and outside the Church, is a grave departure from the teaching that when a man and a woman enter into the sacrament of matrimony, each ceases to be separate. The two shall become one flesh. Of course, in fairness to Pope Francis, we need to understand that a declaration of nullity is not like a divorce that breaks the bond. It is merely an official declaration, after due-process, that there had been no bond, at all. There was no valid marriage to break as there has been no marriage in fact.

The ecclesiastical tribunal is the Roman Catholic Church's duly constituted authority vested with the power to hear and decide petitions for declaration of nullity. This is separate and distinct from the Philippine government's own judicial process of annulment based on the Civil Code. The Catholic annulment is anchored on its Canon law. There are various grounds and most of them are based on the consent of one or both of the putative spouses were unlawfully or unjustifiably obtained, which therefore result to no valid consent at all. The grounds include deliberate deceit on the part of one party to withhold vital information about his or her capacity to fulfill the obligations of a married person.

The absence of an authentic consent could also be due to a severe lack of discretion or judgment concerning essential rights and obligations of matrimony. It also includes the Philippine Family Code's too much abused and too little understood "psychological incapacity" 'to undertake the essential obligations of marriage. The annulment can also be granted when there are impediments like when the woman is below 14 years of age and the man is below 16. (Under our Family Code, the required age is 18 for both). Or when one of them suffers from impotence (not to be equated with sterility). Thus, marriage is null when one is incapable of consummation, or incapable of the sexual act.

The impediments also include: a previous valid marriage involving one of the spouses; or when one of them is a non-Catholic and their matrimony was solemnized without the required papal dispensation; or when the man was previously ordained to Holy Orders; or has made a perpetual vow of chastity in a religious institution; or when one of the spouses was abducted to force her or him to marry the erring party; or an impediment of crime as when one of the parties killed the previous wife or husband of the other in order to marry the latter; or when there is a very close relations of consanguinity or affinity. Under this, a man whose wife died cannot marry the mother of his late wife.

Pope Francis has proceeded to even make annulment much easier. This is against the pronouncements of John Paul II, now a saint, who criticized "the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declaration of nullity of marriage, on the pretext of some immaturity, or psychic weakness on the part of the contracting parties." The saint insisted in 1987 that "only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent invalidates a marriage." Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the saint's words in 1989 in his address to the Roman Rota. Now that Pope Francis has gone against the stand of his two eminent predecessors, he has to explain it clearly to the faithful. First of all, he has to explain it to the synod of all the bishops next month. This is a very draconian issue that can weaken or strengthen the Church. What matters most is that Pope Francis enjoys a wide popularity, and he speaks "ex-cathedra."


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