Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
There is real danger in the decision, announced on Saturday some 7 weeks after the fact, Pope Francis has decided to establish a Special Commission for the study of the reform of the matrimonial processes in canon law, read annulments.
The Holy See Press Office states that the commission has as "its goal to prepare a proposal of reform of the matrimonial process, with the objective of simplifying its procedure, making it more streamlined, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony."
Simpler and more streamlined while safeguarding principles, who could possibly be opposed to that?
Let's just get this out of the way and state that if the result of the commission is in line with the stated goals, that will be a good thing. It goes without saying that any process can be improved. Recommendations for standardized processes, more resources, and shorter processing time are all potentially good things that could come out of such a commission. Yet, the safeguarding of marriage must be the primary and overriding goal of any such commission.
The real risk is that this commission will streamline the process to such a degree that valid marriages are regularly declared null because a false sense of mercy is preferred over truth.
Over six months ago I warned of these very real dangers of the Synod on the Family chose annulment process reform as a possible method of extricating themselves from the doctrinal box Jesus has imposed upon them with his un-modern and unmerciful assertions that "But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
Doctrinally, they are in a box. The Church teaching on the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage is clear and irrefutable. There is nowhere for them to go without doing great harm to the Church and violating the direct command of our Lord that what “what God has joined, let no one separate.”
However the Pope and Cardinals can hardly come out of this synod with the status quo or all the hope and change they have fostered among the moderns will be squandered. As such, they are eager to to cut a deal, and the only real avenue available is the annulment process.
Do not get me wrong, there are marriages that never really occurred and are truly null and void due to real circumstances. The annulment process is necessary. But I fear that the door will be opened up so wide, that almost everyone will pass.
And let's face it, whatever the text of the instruction that comes out of the synod, the message will be loud and clear to progressive Bishops and annulment panels across the world. Grant as many as you possibly can. And many will do just that. We can expect annulments in Germany and elsewhere to be granted by the millions and upon the flimsiest pretext. And the word will be out. Get your Catholic divorces, cheap and easy.
If this happens, I think that the Church will have done more harm to marriage in this one instance than the entire gay marriage movement.
These past months in advance of the Synod, opposition to the proposals of Cardinal Kasper has been steady and forceful. The presentation of this opposition is made clear on the eve of the Synod with the the publication of a book by five Cardinals.
This makes it abundantly clear that the Synod, by itself, will be a difficult vehicle for the progressive reform minded in the Church to deliver any meaningful change on the scale of the wide expectations set over the past year.
But now this commission, separate and parallel to the Synod, has the potential to do what perhaps the Synod cannot.
The real danger is that if reform to the annulment process, no matter how well intentioned, practically results in readily obtainable Catholic divorce, it will not just be valid marriages that are being annulled, but so will the very words of Jesus.