|VATICAN CITY, 8 FEB 2005 (VIS)
This morning in the Holy See Press
Office, there was the presentation of "'Dignitas connubii' (Dignity of
Marriage), Instruction to be Observed by Diocesan and Interdiocesan
Tribunals in Handling Causes of the Nullity of Marriage. The Instruction
was prepared by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, with the
collaboration of other dicasteries.
Participants included: Cardinal Julian Herranz, president of the
Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Archbishop Angelo Amato S.D.B.,
secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop
Domenico Sorrentino, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of Sacraments, Bishop Velasio De Paolis C.S.,
secretary of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and Bishop
Antoni Stankiewicz, dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.
Cardinal Julian Herranz explained that the Instruction Dignitas
connubii aims to offer judges in ecclesial courts "a practical document,
a kind of vademecum to use as a ready guide for carrying out their
duties in canonical hearings on the nullity of marriage." A similar
document, the Instruction "Provida Mater," was published in 1936,
relating to the Code of Canon Law of 1917.
Dignitas connubii, said Cardinal Herranz, seeks to facilitate the
consultation and application of the 1983 edition of the Code of Canon
Law, bringing together all norms referring to the canonical process for
nullity of marriage (unlike the CIC where these norms are scattered in
different places through the text) and includes the juridical
developments that have arisen since the publication of the Code:
authentic interpretations of the Pontifical Council for Legislative
Texts, answers of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura,
jurisprudence of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. The Instruction "does
not limit itself to repeating the text of the Canons, but contains
interpretations, clarifications on the provisions of law, and further
provisions on procedures for its implementation."
"This Instruction comes as a confirmation of the need to submit the
question of the validity or nullity of the marriage of the faithful to a
truly judicial process." At times, said Cardinal Herranz, "simpler"
solutions are suggested, which would even solve the problem directly "in
the heart of individuals, through the so-called 'nullity of conscience'"
in which the Church "has no other role than taking note of the
conviction of the spouses themselves concerning the validity or
otherwise of their marriage." At other times the hope is expressed "that
the Church renounce any form of hearing, leaving these juridical
problems in the hands of civil courts."
"On the contrary, the Church reiterates her competency to concern
herself with these causes, because on them depend the existence of the
marriage" of her faithful, "above all considering that marriage is one
of the seven Sacraments instituted by Christ Himself." To ignore this
problem would in practice "be tantamount to casting a shadow over the
sacramental nature of marriage itself. This would be even more
incomprehensible in the current circumstances of confusion on the
natural identity of marriage and of the family in certain forms of civil
legislation that not only welcome and facilitate divorce but even, in
some cases, cast doubt on heterosexuality as an essential aspect of
In closing, Cardinal Herranz confirmed that in the context of a "divorcist"
mentality, "even canonical nullity hearings can easily be
misinterpreted, as if they were nothing more than ways to obtain a
divorce with the apparent approval of the Church." The difference
between annulment and divorce would thus be "purely nominal, and by the
skillful manipulation of causes of nullity, all failed marriages would
be nullified." By contrast, the Roman Pontiffs "have often expressed the
true sense of nullity of marriage, inseparable from the search for truth
because the declaration of nullity does not mean dissolving an existing
bond, but rather the recognition, in the name of the Church, of the
nonexistence of a true marriage right from the beginning. Moreover, the
Church favors the validation of nullified marriages when this is
possible. John Paul II explained it in these words: 'The spouses
themselves must be the first to realize that only in the loyal quest for
the truth can they find their true good, without excluding a priori the
possible validation of a union that, although it is not yet a
sacramental marriage, contains elements of good, for themselves and
their children, that should be carefully evaluated in conscience before
reaching a different decision'." (Address to the Roman Rota, January 28,
Also on the subject of the search for truth in hearings on the
nullity of marriage, Archbishop Angelo Amato S.D.B. highlighted the fact
that article 65, para. 2 of the Instruction states that the judge must
urge the parties to a sincere search for the truth. If he does not
manage to bring the spouses to validate their marriage and re-establish
conjugal life "the judge is to urge the spouses to work together
sincerely, putting aside any personal desire and living the truth in
charity, in order to arrive at the objective truth, as the very nature
of a marriage cause demands."
Bishop De Paolis noted that the "Instruction concerns nearly 800
diocesan or interdiocesan tribunals of the Latin Church that almost
exclusively deal with cases of marriage nullity," which "have increased
enormously in recent decades, especially in countries of long Christian
tradition." He added that, among the causes, are: "widespread
secularization which has an erroneous concept of marriage compared to
the ideal proposed by the Church; a more precise knowledge of human
psychology allowing for a better determination that matrimonial consent
was not sufficient, and the fact that "many faithful, having obtained a
civil divorce and the possibility to remarry according to civil law, ask
for a declaration of nullity because they know that for a Catholic a
valid marriage can only be that celebrated according to Church laws."
He then gave some statistics for the year 2002: of the 56,236
ordinary hearings for a declaration of nullity, 46,092 received an
affirmative sentence. Of these, 343 were handed out in Africa, 676 in
Oceania, 1,562 in Asia, 8,855 in Europe and 36,656 in America, of which
30,968 in North America and 5,688 in Central and South America.
Bishop Antoni Stankiewicz explained that "the just-presented
Instruction disciplines in 61 articles (155-216 in Title VII, "Proofs")
the instruments, that is, the means of proof in the search for objective
truth in matrimonial hearings, placed at the disposition of the parties
and of the judge, to allow for the ascertainment of facts alleged by the
spouses-parties to the cause, and relevant for the nullity of the
contested marriage. Only on the basis of the effectiveness of the
results of the means of proof, admitted in the marriage causes, such as
the declarations of the parties (art. 177-182), the documents (art.
183-192), the witnesses (art. 193-202), the experts (art. 203- 213), and
the presumptions (art. 214-216) can the judge reach moral certainty on
the cause to decide with a confirmatory sentence or decree."
"It is not a question," he said, "of absolute certainty, ... or
purely subjective certainty, ... but of moral objective certainty, based
objectively on the acts and the results of the proofs. In fact,
according to the new norm, 'In order to declare the nullity of marriage
there is required in the mind of the judge moral certainty of its
nullity (art 247, para 1)'."
Dignitas Connubii is available in the official Latin text with
English translation and also in Latin/Italian. It consists of a "Proemium"
or Introduction, Preliminary Articles and 15 Titles, most of which are
subdivided into Chapters.