Justice Is the Heart of Annulment Process, Pope Says
In an address to canonists, the Holy Father emphasized that decisions about the nullity of marriages must be just and delivered without undue delay.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis gave a brief address to canonists on Wednesday, discussing the grave importance of justice in the process of marriage annulment and in the salvation of souls.
“In the extraordinary synod, there was talk about procedures, processes, and there was a preoccupation with streamlining the procedures, in the interest of justice,” the Pope said Nov. 5 in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
“Justice, because decisions must be just and because there must be justice for the people who are waiting.”
The Pope noted “how many wait for years without a judgment,” suggesting that such delays are contrary to justice.
He was speaking to participants in a course at the Roman Rota concerning the dispensation of marriages which are ratum et non consummatum — ratified but unconsummated.
A marriage that is both ratified and consummated “can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death,” (Canon 1141), while a non-consummated marriage can be dispensed from for a just cause by the Pope.
The Roman Rota is one of three tribunals in the Roman Curia; it is the court of higher instance, usually at the appellate stage, with the purpose of safeguarding rights within the Church.
The dean of the Roman Rota, Father Pio Pinto, also chairs a commission established Aug. 27 to study reform of the annulment process.
Pope Francis referred to this commission in his address, noting it is “to prepare diverse possibilities” in the interest of justice and charity.
“A path of justice and also of charity, because there are so many people who need a word from the Church about their marital situation, be it a Yes or a No, because this is just.”
The procedure of annulment is at times “so long and so weighty” that “people give up,” he said.
He recounted, as an example, the regional tribunal at the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, where he was archbishop from 1998 until 2013.
The Buenos Aires tribunal “had, I do not remember for sure, but I believe, 15 dioceses in the first instance; I believe the furthest was 240 kilometers (150 miles) away. … You can’t do it: It is impossible to imagine that simple, common people can go to the tribunal; they would need to go on a trip, missing days of work and also the days’ wages.”
In the face of uncertainty, Pope Francis said, “Mother Church must judge and say, ‘Yes, it is true; your marriage is null’ or ‘No, your marriage is valid.’ But she must make a judgment and tell them, so that it is possible to go forward without this doubt, this darkness in the soul.”
Not a Matter of Money
He then turned to the matter of treating the annulment process like business — something he warned strongly against.
The Church should “be very attentive that the procedures are not within the framework of business: And I don’t speak of strange things,” he observed, noting how scandals have arisen due to this very topic.
“I had to dismiss a person from a tribunal some time ago, who said, ‘Give me $10,000, and I’ll take care of both processes: the civil and the ecclesiastical.’”
“Please, not this!” Pope Francis begged.
He recalled how during the synod the question of the cost of annulments was discussed. He then stated that “when you attach economic interests to spiritual interests, it is not of God!”
“Mother Church has so much generosity to be able to do justice freely, freely as we have been justified by Jesus Christ. This point is important: Separate these two things.”
Pope Francis concluded, thanking the participants for coming to the Rota’s course.
“You have to study and to proceed looking always for the salvation of souls, which is not necessarily found outside of justice; indeed, it is with justice.”