Dear Editor: With all respect to Msgr. Steven Aguggia, allow me to share my two cents on his series about the Marriage Tribunal.
Going through a divorce and annulment is a painful experience. I know this since I have gone through one myself. It is important to keep in mind that the Tribunal’s work of mercy should not be interpreted as giving someone a declaration of nullity for the sake of being merciful. That in itself is false mercy.
Rather, its job is to uncover the truth about the purported marriage, and not to steer Canon Law to a favorable outcome. Dr. James Provost, an American Canon Lawyer at Catholic University of America once said, “Mercy without competence is a cruel hoax.”
Most marriages are valid marriages. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. There are thousands of ways to uncover flaws in a marriage and declare it null. Only Joseph and Mary’s was perfect.
The late Pope John Paul II once said, “The breakdown of a marriage is never proof of incapacity. Both spouses may have neglected, both supernatural and natural means to preserve their marriage, at their disposal.”
That being said, reconciliation should always be encourage and pursued.
Dear Editor: It is curious that Msgr. Aguggia says an autobiography is required (for an annulment), but he doesn’t mention that a petition is required (called a lIbellus).
I imagine that those applying for annulments would be interested in knowing that in order for a case to be accepted for judgment, a petition must be signed that identifies the particular ground for nullity being alleged against the parties’ marriage. The petition must also include the facts and proofs in a general way supporting the particular ground for nullity.
For example, someone who is eligible for a decree of invalidity due to Canon 1095.2, should explain who suffered from a “grave psychic anomaly” and describe in a general way what facts are going to prove that allegation. Those who are eligible for a annulment because of simulation should show which party “lied” when making marriage vows and never intended permanence, openness to children, sexual fidelity or to do anything toward helping the other spouse.
Mary’s Advocates works to keep families together before either party gets his or her civil divorce.
Rocky River, Ohio
Dear Editor: I know a couple who were married for 32 years, and all the requirements for a valid marriage were present for them.
However, the man decided that after three decades, he had never been happy; he wanted to be happy, and he had the woman who would make it happen.
He has been “married” to her for the past 20 years, compliments of the insights of the psychological sciences that tribunals have been using since Vatican II. His wife, the lawful, first one, was devastated by his forcing divorce upon her, and she was crushed by the Tribunal’s forcing a decree of nullity upon her. Their children and grandchildren were nearly destroyed.
Msgr. Aguggia Responds
Dear Editor: The recent reflections on the ministry of the Tribunal elicited some reactions. Perhaps some clarification is necessary regarding some of the finer points.
In describing the process for preparing a petition for a declaration of nullity, not every step in the process was outlined in my articles. Some pointed out that a libellus or formal petition is necessary. This is quite true and is an important document in which a person asks the Tribunal to accept a case based on the grounds he or she feels apply in the case. A person will be required to state in basic terms why such grounds are thought to be appropriate. The article wasn’t intended to describe all the steps in the process but rather to offer an overview of the process. The whole process is explicated in the initial meetings with the advocates.
A more important critique was that it was felt that the Tribunal did not do enough to attempt to reconcile couples. Obviously, it is every priest’s desire to see couples reconciled. All marriages are presumed valid ones until and unless they are proven otherwise. That is why the type of ministry and intervention that must take place for reconciliation, takes place at the parish level. When a case is presented at the Tribunal, the situation has gone farther.
When a divorce has occurred, it is usually a good indication that there is little to no chance of reconciliation. At that point, the ministry offered by the Tribunal begins and attempts to help people begin anew.
A third objection is that sometimes couples are together many years and have built families. While this is true, as was stated in the article, a declaration of nullity does not nullify a relationship or a family. It is a declaration that at the time of consent, an essential element of that consent was lacking. Even though it may have seemed apparently that it was valid, it may not have been, something that becomes clearer only after investigation. It may be impossible to tell looking at the marriage from the “outside” as it were.
Mercy is what drives our ministry but obviously it is at the service of the truth and should the truth of the validity of a marriage be determined, it would be so stated.
Mercy is not real mercy unless people are helped to walk in the truth.
Msgr. Steven Aguggia