Presentation of Instruction About Norms in Marriage Cases
Vatican Information Service
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 marriage."
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, 2002).
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.