VATICAN CITY, FEB 8, 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.


Pope's Address to Roman Rota on Marriage Annulment

"Unjust Sentences Are Never a True Pastoral Solution"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 14, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II delivered Jan. 29 to the prelate judges, defenders of the bond, and lawyers of the Roman Rota, for the opening of the judicial year.

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Saturday, 29 January 2005

1. This annual appointment with you, dear Prelate Auditors of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota, highlights the essential connection between your precious work and the judicial aspect of the Petrine ministry. The words of the Dean of your College have expressed your common commitment to full fidelity in your ecclesial service.

It is in this perspective that I would like to place certain considerations concerning the moral dimension of the activity of all who work at the ecclesiastical tribunals, especially the duty to conform to the truth about marriage as the Church teaches it.

2. The ethical question has always been asked very pointedly in any kind of judicial proceedings. In fact, individual or collective interests can induce the parties to resort to various kinds of duplicity and even bribery in order to attain a favorable sentence.

Nor are canonical proceedings, in which an attempt is made to discover the truth about whether or not a marriage exists, immune from this risk. The unquestionable importance of this for the moral conscience of the parties involved reduces the likelihood of acquiescence to interests alien to the quest for the truth. Nevertheless, cases can exist in which a similar acquiescence is expressed that jeopardizes the regularity of the proceedings. The firm reaction of canon law to such behavior is well known (cf. CIC, cann. 1389, 1391, 1457, 1488, 1489).

3. However, in the current circumstances there is also the threat of another risk. In the name of what they claim to be pastoral requirements, some voices have been raised proposing to declare marriages that have totally failed null and void. These persons propose that in order to obtain this result, recourse should be made to the expedient of retaining the substantial features of the proceedings, simulating the existence of an authentic judicial verdict. Such persons have been tempted to provide reasons for nullity and to prove them in comparison with the most elementary principles of the body of norms and of the Church's Magisterium.

The objective juridical and moral gravity of such conduct, which in no way constitutes a pastorally valid solution to the problems posed by matrimonial crises, is obvious. Thanks be to God, there is no lack of faithful people who refuse to let their consciences be deceived. Moreover, many of them, despite being personally involved in a conjugal crisis, are not prepared to solve it except by keeping to the path of truth.

4. In my annual Addresses to the Roman Rota, I have referred several times to the essential relationship that the process has with the search for objective truth. It is primarily the Bishops, by divine law judges in their own communities, who must be responsible for this. It is on their behalf that the tribunals administer justice. Bishops are therefore called to be personally involved in ensuring the suitability of the members of the tribunals, diocesan or interdiocesan, of which they are the Moderators, and in verifying that the sentences passed conform to right doctrine.
Sacred Pastors cannot presume that the activity of their tribunals is merely a "technical" matter from which they can remain detached, entrusting it entirely to their judicial vicars (cf. CIC, cann. 391, 1419, 1423 1).

5. The criterion that inspires the deontology of the judge is his love for the truth. First and foremost, therefore, he must be convinced that the truth exists. The truth must therefore be sought with a genuine desire to know it, despite all the inconveniences that may derive from such knowledge. It is necessary to resist the fear of the truth that can, at times, stem from the dread of annoying people. The truth, which is Christ himself (cf. John 8:32,36), sets us free from every form of compromise with interested falsehoods.

The judge who truly acts as a judge, in other words, with justice, neither lets himself be conditioned by feelings of false compassion for people, nor by false models of thought, however widespread these may be in his milieu. He knows that unjust sentences are never a true pastoral solution, and that God's judgment of his own actions is what counts for eternity.

6. The judge must then abide by canonical laws, correctly interpreted. Hence, he must never lose sight of the intrinsic connection of juridical norms with Church doctrine. Indeed, people sometimes presume to separate Church law from the Church's magisterial teaching as though they belonged to two separate spheres; they suppose the former alone to have juridically binding force, whereas they value the latter merely as a directive or an exhortation.

Such an approach basically reveals a positivist mindset which is in contradiction with the best of the classical and Christian juridical tradition concerning the law. In fact, the authentic interpretation of God's Word, exercised by the Magisterium of the Church (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum," No. 10), has juridical value to the extent that it concerns the context of law, without requiring any further formal procedure in order to become juridically and morally binding.

For a healthy juridical interpretation, it is indispensable to understand the whole body of the Church's teachings, and to place every affirmation systematically in the flow of tradition. It will thus be possible to avoid selective and distorted interpretations and useless criticisms at every step.

Lastly, the preliminary investigation of the case is an important stage in the search for the truth. The very reason for its existence is endangered and degenerates into pure formalism when the outcome of the proceedings is taken for granted. It is true that the entitlement to timely justice is also part of the concrete service to the truth and constitutes a personal right. Yet false speed to the detriment of the truth is even more seriously unjust.

7. I would like to end this Meeting by offering my truly heartfelt thanks to you, Prelate Auditors, Officials, Advocates and all who work at this Apostolic Tribunal, as well as to the members of the "Studium Rotale."

You know that you can count on the prayers of the Pope and of many people of good will who recognize the value of your work at the service of the truth. The Lord will repay your daily efforts with peace and joy of conscience and with the esteem and support of those who love justice, not only in the life to come but already in this life.

In expressing the wish that the truth of justice will shine out ever more brightly in the Church and in your lives, I cordially impart my Blessing to you all.