Up Front and Personal

What God Has Joined Together…

 by Father John Catoir

Everyone agrees with Jesus, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder” – Mark 10:9. When a marriage case comes before any Diocesan Tribunal, the question before the Chief Judge is this: Was this marriage joined together by God, or not? In other words, the presumption of validity can be challenged.

If the presumption of validity turns out to false, the contract can be annulled. An annulment is merely an authorized statement that the marriage contract is not legally valid. The Church grants thousands of annulments world-wide every year because of contractual invalidity.

The grounds for an annulment vary. For example, if one party never intended a permanent union, or an exclusive union, it is “fraud going to the heart of the contract.” Having a hidden mistress from day one is a breach of contract.

Before 1960, annulments were rare. The records show that most small dioceses only produced one or two annulments a year. Petitioners were turned away in droves. Judges were hamstrung by canonical laws that reduced the flow of cases to a near standstill.

In response to the widespread feeling of unfairness, the Canon Law Society of America and Canada appointed a special committee to study the whole issue. In 1968, they came up with a plan for reform, and presented 27 Norms to the American Bishops.

A year later, the U.S. Hierarchy made a few edits, and forwarded these norms to the Holy See for approval. To everyone’s relief, Rome approved 23 of the 27 norms, and gave us permission to begin implementing them in July of 1970.

Many of the reform items had to do with the specific procedures that caused needless delay. For instance, in understaffed Tribunals permission was given to appoint one judge to hear each case, instead of the normal three-judge panel. This expedited the process considerably.

We also learned about new grounds for granting an annulment. A 1968 annulment was based on “immaturity.” “Immaturity” as grounds for an annulment, was unheard of before 1970. In the past, so many petitioners, who had a legitimate case, were turned away because of canonical rigidity. This should tell you that judging the validity of marital consent is not an exact science.

I mention all this, by way of background to the controversy you may have been reading about between two contending forces in the Vatican, on the issue of divorce and remarriage. Pope Francis, and a clear majority of Cardinals prefer “Mercy.” A small minority of opponents stress canonical rigidity.

Pope Francis is right. The word “mercy” doesn’t change the doctrine of indissolubility. Marriage is a life-long commitment. Neither does it approve of adultery. It merely means that the Spirit of Mercy should infuse our use of the latest jurisprudence. By offering a second chance to people in need, and looking after the well-being of children we are offering justice tempered with mercy. Jesus said, “Help bear one

another’s burdens,” – Gal 6:2

4 thoughts on “What God Has Joined Together…

  1. If we begin to bias towards invalidity rather than the presumption that marriages are valid (Can. 1060), then this “mercy” does practically change the doctrine of indissolubility. Mercy is very important in all areas of Christian life. The person seeking the annulment is most often the person who chose to end the family life, very often with very weak reasoning that would not stand up to the commitment lived by most of the faithful in marriage throughout Church history. The choice for mercy in cases like these is mutually exclusive between the perpetrator of the breaking of a family and the committed spouse plus the children. Getting soft on doling out annulments is not truly merciful to the most innocent in these cases. It’s prioritizing the wants of the more guilty party, which is a violation of both justice and mercy. We’ve got to start steering back towards protecting the innocent and the faithful. The Church will be greatly damaged if these are the people that we alienate and push out, which is what happens due to complicity with disposable families.

  2. Fr. Catoir, what have you told people about the use of artificial methods of birth control over the years since Humanae Vitae?

    I argue that anyone who is involved in judging the validity of marriages and who believes that couples can in good conscience use artificial methods to limit the number of children they have, is not capable of issuing valid declarations of nullity.

    If you are not faithful on one issue, you cannot be trusted on others. Especially on one so intimately connected with the lives and salvation of millions.

  3. https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/05/on-arguments-that-may-be-and-sometimes-must-be-made/
    Father Catoir,
    Mercy without truth is not true mercy; it is a false mercy as I think you know. Please don’t be afraid to make it clear that “the latest jurisprudence” can be error ridden. And where in “jurisprudence” or official Church teaching does it state the Church gives its divorced Catholics a “second chance”? Sounds like your referring to the Orthodox Chrisitian Church somewhere and their accommodation.

  4. Father Catoir, as a Catholic who sought and was granted an annulment I must agree with Pope Francis’ call for “mercy.” The views expressed in the previous comments seem to be judgmental and harsh. Brad calls the person seeking the annulment a “perpetrator” of the breaking up of the family.” A civil divorce has usually already been granted prior to the annulment process. Often the divorce has been granted years before and the family has already dealt with the breakup. Either spouse can seek an anullment whether they are the “perpetrator” or the “committed” spouse. It would seem to me that it would be the spouse more committed to the Catholic faith who has the desire to remain within the Church who seeks the annulment.
    I would ask Sheryl Temaat to look around at the congregation on church on Sundays. How many families with four, five, or six children does she see? The use of birth control by Catholic women is evidenced in the smaller families seen since the 1970’s. To deny a petitioner an annulment on the grounds of birth control use is totally ridiculous.
    Mark Colorado seems to feel that divorced Catholics do not deserve a second chance. Who is he to judge others and the circumstances that brought them to divorce?
    There are many reasons for seeking an annulment in the Church. Despite the changes made to streamline the process, it remains a difficult and soul-searching process for the petitioner. If mercy is in the hearts of the Tribunal members then so be it.